Al-Aqsa Islamic Academy is a private school for Muslims that was established in 1996 in Olde Kensington. Currently, the principal of the school is Abdur Rahman Crumpton, a resident of the North Philadelphia area for over 30 years. Crumpton prides himself on a small school of 251 students that follows the public school curriculum while emphasizing Islamic texts, practices and traditions.
On a day-to-day basis, what kind of tasks do you handle as the principal of the school?
It’s like if you’re a father of a family, there’s no such thing as a list. You’re doing this here – she needs this or he needs this. You know, you’re dealing with 15 adults, you’re dealing with 250 kids, and there are always all kinds of things to do. And also you’re concerned about their spiritual welfare. So it’s not a matter of just sitting on my ass here just reading the newspaper. I’m always into people’s lives trying to do whatever I can.
What do you feel is a major problem facing today’s students in your community?
My big concern with the parents is the electronic addiction. I wrote an essay in which I compared drug addiction to electronic addiction, and – with the exception of the product itself – they coalesce, they match. There is a perfect match between the addicted child electronically and the addicted child chemically. And, the problem is, over the long run, children have less social skills, they become more subject to peer pressure, they don’t really think too much and are more concerned about what other people think.
As the principal, do you feel your responsibilities carry outside the school’s doors and into the neighborhood?
In terms of being a part of the community, absolutely, yes. In that respect, with another individual who is a Christian pastor, I helped organize, we organized the interfaiths group of ministers and rabbis and Catholic priests. And our goal was, well, when we got together, we wanted to know: What can we do to help these kids in our community? And we’re talking about Philly, all of Philly, not just this area. And so we decided, well, we can’t do anything with the dudes who are out there selling grass and drugs, but we can start working with the little kids. So, we decided, these little kids need opportunities as they get older and when they get into high school because frequently when a youngster gets into high school he has no clue as to what he wants to do in life.
What are you doing with community organizations to combat problems seen in children?
With the interfaith [group], we developed what we call a Career Awareness Business Exploration program. In other words, what we wanted to do is introduce little kids from grade one through eight to different careers like to be a meteorologist, to be an electronic engineer, to be a chemist, to be a plumber, to be a real estate agent. We wanted to bring people from the outside inside to the classroom. I correlated this with our social studies program, which is in direct relation to the public school curriculum in Philadelphia, and it correlates exactly, from the first grade to the eighth grade.
Does the school host events for students or for the community?
We have a Qur’anic memorization contest every month. We work on that a lot. We have an annual one for people in the whole city. We have an art teacher, sports, the usual kinds of programs. But in terms of this community, it’s more related to spiritual matters – when there is an Eid, for example, an Islamic festival. There is a group around the city working on unemployment situations, they come to Aqsa and put on a program every now and then for people who are unemployed, like a workshop. We feed people, hungry people. We have clothing drives here.
Have the funding issues of the Philadelphia public school system affected your school in any way?
Not yet, but we’re anticipating something. First of all, from the Philadelphia school system, we get free bus service. We have three school buses assigned to us every year and that takes up about 90 kids. We get what is called Title I funding. But actually, we are not affected too much now by the catastrophe of what’s happening. See, I taught in the Philadelphia school system for 30 years and I was a union rep for 13 years – so my heart and soul is with the public school system, and what I see happening now is just deplorable.
-Text and images by Salma Attia and Christian Morris