Why I took my fifth-grade Catholic class on a field trip to a mosque
Most of my students had questions about logistics. What sort of lunch should we bring? Can we please not wear our uniforms? Will we be back by the end of the day? Then I called on Jonathan. “So when we get there, I mean while we are at the mosque, are we going to pray?”
It was the perfect question. Our school community is one that prays together. It only made sense that we would do the same while visiting a place of prayer. But I didn’t have an answer. Could a fifth grade class from a Catholic school visit a Mosque and pray?
On Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, a series of coordinated attacks in Paris left 130 people dead and hundreds more injured. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. In religion class the following Monday, I asked my students what they knew about Islam. They were silent. Eyes darted about, looking to see if anyone could answer the question. Many students knew the word Muslim, and a few recognized that it referred to a people, but nobody knew that it refers to people who practice a specific religion.
Could a fifth grade class from a Catholic school visit a Mosque and pray?
I was relieved. I worried they would raise their hands to talk about ISIS or bring up terrorism. But in that moment, I pictured what my students’ impression of Islam would be in a couple of years if they learned about the religion by way of cable news.
The curriculum for religion in the schools of the Archdiocese of Washington calls for a study of Islam. But the fifth-grade religion standards are 44 pages long; the three standards pertaining to Islam are on page 42. The religion textbooks cover only Catholicism, and there are no curricular materials available in our school to support a study of other religions.
After Paris, after the presidential candidates began to feed off the country’s fear and after hate crimes against Muslims in the United States tripled, my co-teacher and I decided it was time to bring Islam into the classroom.
We approached our learning from both a religious perspective and through the lens of current news reports about the Muslim world. One morning, just a couple weeks after the attacks in Paris, I found an article that inspired an important conversation among my students. It reported about Pope Francis in a Muslim region of the Central African Republic, where he visited a mosque to pray.
“It’s like he’s telling Catholics—telling us—that we should feel comfortable with Islam.”
I asked if any students wanted to share their thoughts about the article. Hands shot up. Jocelyn told us, “I think it’s beautiful that the pope went there even though it might be dangerous.” Edgardo jumped in to talk about one of the photos in the article: “Look how happy all those people are to see the pope. I mean, you said it’s a Muslim region. So they’re not even Catholic, but they know he’s there for peace.” Canfield steered us toward the pope’s message: “And he went there to visit a mosque. It’s like he’s telling Catholics—telling us—that we should feel comfortable with Islam.”
“So what does that mean for us?” I asked the class. Someone called out, “We should go to a mosque on a field trip...just like the pope.” Heads nodded in agreement, and I knew I had a field trip to plan.
We sat on the carpeted floor of the mosque as people filtered in and began preparing for afternoon prayer. Our guide asked, “So, a question for all of you: What are Islam, Christianity and Judaism?” Hands went into the air. My students were ready for this question. Our guide pointed to Evelyn. “Um, they’re all religions?” Our guide nodded. “But what does that mean?” he continued. “What is a religion?” Hands slowly lowered.
Our guide relished the moment, “Ah, now I get to be the teacher,” he replied with a smile. “Islam, Christianity and Judaism are all ways of life, all different ways to the same God.” The guide spoke to students about the five pillars of Islam, Muhammad and the Quran. Then he demonstrated how a Muslim prays. Gesturing with his hands, he brought them up to beside his cheeks, and crossing his arms over his chest he prayed in Arabic as he prostrated himself.
The carpeted space filled while we sat with our guide. Then an imam stepped to the front and called the worshippers to prayer. Our guide excused himself and left us. My students and I sat watching the process of afternoon prayer. The congregants formed lines and prostrated themselves in unison, praying in Arabic.
Back in the classroom, my students reflected on what they had witnessed at the mosque. They found similarities between their own ways of worship and Muslim prayer. The prostrations reminded them of genuflecting and kneeling at Catholic Mass. They saw connections between the hand gestures that started the Islamic prayer and their own sign of the cross.
But my students were also aware of what was different between their Catholic faith and Islam. There were no statues in the mosque, no crucifix or holy water. Instead of the Hail Mary or Our Father, they heard unfamiliar prayers, chanted in a different language. Thanks to our field trip, students came to recognize elements of their faith as being uniquely Catholic, and this deepened their love for their own faith.
Which brings me back to my original question: Can Catholic fifth-grade students pray in a mosque?
Reflecting on our experience at the mosque, my answer is yes. My students understood the differences between Islam and Catholicism as ways of life. They recognized the unique forms of Catholic prayer and Muslim prayer. But they also recognized that authentic prayer, regardless of religion, leads to the same God. Pope Francis described prayer as “the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord.” This gazing, hearing and asking transcends the distinctions made by religious traditions. When we pray, God listens, whether we pray in a mosque or in a church.
Thank you Mr. Landrigan! This field trip is exactly the kind of thing that we Catholics should be doing to promote peace and justice here in the U.S. Meeting people who belong to other religions and ethnicities helps us overcome our biases and love our neighbor as Jesus taught us to. Our faith is then stregthened as your students' experience showed.
Keep up the good work!
Deacon Jim Hix
The way to learn about Islam is to study it. They believe the Quran is the unerring word of god and the Hadith is how to be a good Muslim.
Do the students know what is in the prayers that are said each day by Muslims? Does the author or anyone else who writes on Islam on this site know?
When will America the Magazine ever present the truth about Islam?
I'll bite, J Cosgrove. What is your take on the truth about Islam?
The author and other commenters seems to unaware of just what Islam entails. It is quite different from any form of
Christianity. My experience is that America the magazine and the Catholic Church in general distorts what Islam
is about. The Quran advocates the killing of non Muslims. The Hadith is even more direct on that. It
is kind of hard to hide the elephant in the room when one discusses the basic precepts of Islam but
yet this is much of what the Church is doing.
If one wants to understand what Islam is about they should read three texts, the Quran, the Hadith and the Sira. And
they should read the Quran in chronological order, reading the Mecca Quran before the Medina Quran. The Quran is
only a small part of Islamic belief. The Hadith is much more extensive and then there is the Sira or the life of
Muhammed. All three are essential to Islam.
There are several good sources. Some very good Catholic sources.
A good book to start with is by an Egyptian Jesuit, Samir Khalil Samir S.J.
111 Questions on Islam
He was raised in Egypt and his native language is Arabic so he has read the Quran in the Arabic.
Another question and answer book
Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics: 100 Questions and Answers
Here is a course by a Catholic on Now You Know Media, a Catholic site for course on religion
Christian and Islamic Theology
Prof. Gabriel S. Reynolds, Ph.D.
Tisch Family Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Theology
University of Notre Dame
The term "Sunni" means conduct or behavior and refers to the conduct of Muhammed who is considered the perfect human by Muslims. Muhammed killed personally or over saw the killing of thousands by beheading. Sunnis believe that true Islam was what Muhammed and his followers practiced at the time they were on earth. So a true Muslim will try to emulate that behavior. Muhammed had numerous wives and sex slaves so this is part of the behavior to be emulated. His favorite wife was 9 years old when he consummated the marriage, younger than the girls in the class taken to the Mosque.
Gregory J. Landrigan, you are a fine teacher of global studies as the way to peace. Students are most fortunate to be in your class. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. I would like to see this approach in all our schools.
On the teen and adult education level, our parish partners with the local mosque and other churches in an Interfaith Dialogue Program. We choose a topic, read from our sacred texts, hear brief comments from a variety of faith tradition representatives and participate in small group discussion. Last year we offered programs on neighbors, prayer, charity and humility. It is wonderful to realize how much we share with one another and to build local interfaith and intercultural relationships.
Obviously my three historically accurate comments on the "Truth about Islam" have been been censored, actually removed, no doubt for some politically correct reason.
As my comments on Islamic violence were deemed unworthy of appearing in a Jesuit magazine perhaps the words of an Islamic scholar are more worthy of its readers' attention
"Many Western politicians and intellectuals say that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. What is your view?
Western politicians should stop pretending that extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam. There is a clear relationship between fundamentalism, terrorism, and the basic assumptions of Islamic orthodoxy. So long as we lack consensus regarding this matter, we cannot gain victory over fundamentalist violence within Islam."
Read the complete interview at:
In Interview, Top Indonesian Muslim Scholar Says Stop Pretending That Orthodox Islam and Violence Aren't Linked
My question to J. Cosgrove is "when will you be wiilling to accept the truth about Islam?."
I am always willing to learn. Have I said anything that is untrue?
I would suggest that you provide us with your insight based on what Muslims believe.
Especially, what is the content of the prayer that Muslins say several times a day specifically the last line?