From The Oregonian
By Samantha Swindler
Crescent Islamic Montessori School is easy to miss. You might confuse it with Faith Bible Christian School next door, which has several large signs announcing its presence.
Crescent Islamic has none.
The Beaverton school's board of directors recently voted to remove a vinyl banner announcing the school was "now enrolling" and a roughly six-foot wide sign fixed to the front of the building. Each contained a logo of a yellow crescent moon above a blue dome and a single word that sparked concern from parents: "Islamic."
The de-signing came shortly after a radicalized Muslim couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California on Dec. 2.
"Parents raised the concern that if we have a big sign that says 'Islamic institution,' are we inviting the backlash?" said board president Ahmed Ebeid.
"It's really because of the nature of the business we're in. No single person would want to hang on his conscience that we didn't do everything we can to protect the children."
Classes at Crescent Islamic are similar to any Montessori-style preschool in America, except here the children also learn Arabic and take time for Islamic prayers. The school has five teachers and about 32 students, ages 3 to 12.
I met with several board members at the school last week. We had a sobering conversation about xenophobia and violence while squeezed into tiny plastic pre-school chairs. Children giggled and played in the adjacent room.
Nadia Hasan, a teacher at Beaverton High School, has a son in the Montessori school. Her mother, Shagufta Hasan, serves on the board.
"When we learned that the shooters in San Bernardino were Muslim, it felt like the landscape was changing," Nadia said. She began lobbying her mom to remove the signs. Even the nearby Bilal Mosque doesn't have exterior signage, she said.
But Shagufta balked; board members had worked hard to raise money for a new building two years ago, and they were proud of their achievement. How can you grow if you can't advertise? Besides, they've never had any threats.
"I was pretty much against the whole thing," Shagufta said.
But the more she thought about it, the more she realized she might be wrong. "Maybe I do live in a bubble," said Shagufta, who has a private family medical practice.
Listening to her daughter's worries changed her mind. What wouldn't you do to protect your kids?
"There's a part of me that wishes I felt some of what my mom felt – like, how can we take down the sign, you are letting people dictate who you are and you're hiding who you are," Nadia said. "I think I'm too busy being a mom to think about that."
By next fall, the school hopes to be back on track with plans to install a permanent, lighted sign in front of the building. They want to be visible to attract new students.
"Unless Trump is winning," Shagufta added. She meant it as a joke, but... that could actually happen.
Given that they removed their signs to draw less attention to themselves, I was surprised the board was willing to talk to me for a story. A sign has no context, Ebeid said. It's four words. It's impersonal. It's a symbol.
But a story? A story is about people. And when we learn about other people, more than anything, we learn how much we have in common.
"Any time there is coverage, hopefully it will be coverage that enhances our relationship with our neighbors," he said.
Do I even need to write this next part? The vast, vast, vast majority of Muslims are not seeking a jihad for ISIS. They are people of faith and peace. Even knowing that, it can be tricky to talk openly about religion. I worried that the hour I spent Googling "Islamic beliefs" before my meeting with the school's board would not save me from making a cultural faux pas.
At one point, Ebeid tried explaining Eid al-Fitr, a celebration that comes at the end of fasting throughout Ramadan. I was raised a New Orleans Catholic, so I replied, "Oh, kind of like a reverse Mardi Gras?"
He looked confused and was surprised to learn Mardi Gras is a religious holiday.
"Forgive my ignorance," he said.
Oh, thank Allah. I laughed, because for the first time in our meeting, I realized maybe I wasn't the only one feeling illiterate about other faiths.
That's one more thing we have in common.