Kensington: Building Community at the Al-Aqsa Islamic Day School

The Al-Aqsa Islamic Socieety center is an important community center for many Philadelphia Muslim and includes an Islamic day school.

Al-Aqsa Eman Mustafa is a teacher at Al-Aqsa School, a private Islamic day school that is part of Al-Aqsa Islamic Society mosque at 1501 Germantown Ave. Al-Aqsa is an important center for many Philadelphia Muslims, hosting religious services, a halal grocery store, and an Islamic school.

The school relies on donations from community members, philanthropic organizations, and different civic associations to provide extra opportunities to its students. Donations are also essential for the purchase of new textbooks, as well as various learning and handiwork materials. Currently, the school is raising money to purchase new game materials and a little jungle gym, Mustafa said.

Mustafa talks about the role of Al-Aqsa and the community and life inside the school.

The following interview has been lightly edited for grammar and style.

AL-Aqsa School Teacher Eman Mustafa (Khauryah Bahman/PN)

Could you please introduce yourself? 

My name is Eman Mustafa and I’m a teacher of 7 through 12 grade, but I also help with events and with the office downstairs. We are one team, so any help that they need, we’re able to provide that assistance. Even kids sometimes. They need that help and I would love. So yeah, basically, there are teachers upstairs and also help the administration as well.

What kind of donations does Al-Aqsa accept? When does Al-Aqsa request the donations?

It’s more of a nonprofit organization. You could donate all year long, but on particular days — on Fridays — we have lectures where everyone from the community comes and prays together, and they ask for weekly for donations. But that’s a really small amount. The big amount really is when people are most generous, and the holy month of Ramadan. That’s where people give the best and the most generous amounts of donation. So, there’s not particular times exactly — you could give any time — but yeah we do have specific times where people are more generous, and that is in the month of Ramadan.

What are the school rules?

Al-Aqsa school is just like any other skill, we do have rules that students have to follow: uniform, attendance, and disciplinary rules. It depends on which department, but in general, they need to come and uniform, they need to come on time, and if they are misbehaving in class they will have to have discipline. The disciplinary rules depend on the teachers. Some teachers give students a lot of work to do, some teachers take away their lunch or their recess, and some don’t make them have this detention. So, rules depend on the teacher and her disciplinary rules that students have to follow.

What subjects are taught to students?

We teach from kindergarten through 12th grade. We really have all the subjects like science, social studies, English, math, and we also add Arabic language and Islamic studies. We also add Quran, so students memorize the Quran and the meaning of it. We have the kids that are in high school upstairs and the lower grades are downstairs, so we have a floor just for the younger kids and a floor for the upper school.

Is the Al-Aqsa School connected to Al-Amana grocery? How does the school connect to the overall community center?

Here at Al-Aqsa, we’re very close. We are a new team and establishing our connections, but we have meetings and we try to have meetings as much as we can. We are also always building a connections in the community, telling people, “We’re thinking about you even in the month of Ramadan.” We also do, like, a Pollyanna where we just give a small gift to appreciate each other, just to have even stronger connections everyday.

We see each other every day, so, you know, might as well as grow as a family. We all have the same mission. We always remind each other that we’re one team. There’s no competition here. We’re all doing it together, so if someone falls, we try to pick them up, and we know how to work together as a team. We bring it into our meetings, like what we need to work on, or we’re lacking on, and we all take it in and learn from the meetings.

Does Al-Aqsa offer free meals during Ramadan or Eid Al-Adha?

Al-Aqsa does have meals that they provide on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday. They provide to anyone. It’s open to the community and anyone that wants to come. We also have iftar, so people are more than welcome to break their fast. So, everyone knows that on Saturday and Sunday they’re able to come, and Al-Aqsa provides iftar for them. We’re also having iftar for kids at our school, so we’re thinking about having iftar for big kids one day. Everyone gets cultural food or whatever food that they want, and we break our fast together just to have that connection during Ramadan too. 

What kind of events does Al-Aqsa usually have for kids? When will the next event be, and what will it be about?

For now, we are working on the International Day project. They are literally working on it today. They’re fixing up their words. An International Day project is basically I assigned each group a country that they have to represent in the best way, so they have to bring information on that country. They’re going to bring a poster board and they’re going to decorate it and make it look informational, if possible. They will also present on the countries, demonstrating the information that they are providing. They’re also going to bring cultural food that they have in the country that they are assigned, and they’re going to wear cultural clothing as well, all for International Day.

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