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First Islamic school in R.I. buys parish buildings

First Islamic school in R.I. buys parish buildings



Asiyah Bennwahhoud, 3, a pre-K student at the Islamic School of Rhode Island, is festively dressed for the celebration.

The Providence Journal / Ruben W. Perez

WEST WARWICK — Rhode Island’s Islamic community paused yesterday afternoon to mark a milestone: the purchase of a former Catholic school and adjacent gymnasium building to serve as an Islamic elementary and middle school.

The Islamic School of Rhode Island — the state’s first and only — had been renting space from Sacred Heart Church for the last five years. But, on Nov. 19, the Islamic School bought Sacred Heart’s former school and gym for $750,000.

Yesterday, the school held a dinner in the gym to celebrate the purchase. Among the guests was the Rev. Richard A. Bucci, pastor of Sacred Heart, which extended an interest-free mortgage to the school.

Before renting from Sacred Heart, Rhode Island Muslims had to send their children to an Islamic school in Sharon, Mass., or to secular schools in the Ocean State.


But leaders of the Islamic community, including Mohamed Abdul Rahman, Nasser Zawia, Jennifer Ead and Nieema Nurrideen, wanted to bring the state’s Muslims together in a way that would focus on their faith, according to Dr. Amjad Kinjawi, a dentist in Franklin, Mass., who is president of the school’s board of trustees.

“There’s a need of presenting Islam in a right way,” Kinjawi said yesterday, “trying to integrate our values into society ourselves, how to be a walking example of what Islam should be.”

The Islamic School is much like any other Rhode Island school for youngsters from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. The 117 students study reading, writing, math and other secular subjects from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in coed classes. But it also has classes in the Koran, Islam’s holy book; Arabic, the language of the Koran, and religious values. The school also has classes in physical education, including karate and kickboxing, to promote development of the body as well as the mind, Kinjawi said.

The school, on Providence Street, is a two-story building with 17,000 square feet of floor space. The gymnasium building is about 5,000 square feet.

A next step for the Islamic community will be to establish a high school in Rhode Island. Currently, students must travel to Mansfield, Mass., to attend an Islamic high school. That dream may have to wait awhile, Kinjawi said, as Rhode Island deals with the recession.

Source :

01:00 AM EST on Monday, December 15, 2008 -- By Paul Edward Parker

Journal Staff Writer