In late spring, when the school year is coming to a close, a teacher’s thoughts turn to field trips. And Boston, the Cradle of Liberty, is abounding with possibilities. Students can explore what Thoreau called “the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature” at Walden Pond. Then at the nearby Old North Bridge, they can relive the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
In town, the Prudential Skywalk Observatory offers a panorama. Close up, Beacon Hill and the Back Bay provide striking examples of architecture, like the culturally-rich Vilna Shul, Boston’s last immigrant-era synagogue. Of course, teachers would be careful to assure parents that there would be no proselytism of any kind taking place. A visit to a Jewish synagogue would be for educational purposes only.
And what Boston field trip would be complete without seeing the Old North Church, the oldest standing church in Boston, and the location of the “fateful event” that “ignited the American Revolution”? Of course, since this historical gem is still a functioning congregation, teachers would once again be vigilant to ensure that no proselytism occurred. They would also, of course, prohibit students from participating in anything that might be construed as “worship.”
On May 25, 2010, educators in a Boston suburb chose to eschew all these field trip opportunities. Instead, they brought sixth graders from Wellesley Middle School to one of the most controversial mosques in America, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT), a Boston-based human rights group, released a video of the excursion, with footage secretly filmed by a concerned mother acting as a chaperone on the social studies class field trip. The video demonstrates that in this case, teachers were not vigilant, proselytism did take place, and five of the sixth grade boys participated in Islamic worship.
The videographer/mom explained that Wellesley Middle School sent home a form, asking for parents’ permission to take her son’s social studies class to the mosque. “During our visit we will hear from Islam from members of the Cultural Center, learn about the architecture of a mosque, and observe a midday prayer service,” the permission slip informed.
The students, who looked well-behaved and attentive in the video, were told about Islam from an American women convert serving as a mosque volunteer. Maybe the volunteer should have read up a little more on Islam herself. She told the students that in the time of Mohammed, “women were allowed to express their opinions and vote” while in America, “women didn’t get that right until less than a hundred years ago.” Islam was “very advanced” in “recognizing women’s rights,” the mosque spokesperson declared. In his report for Big Peace, APT head Dr. Charles Jacobs said that the students were also told that the only meaning of Jihad was a “personal spiritual struggle” and “Jihad has historically had no relationship with holy war.”
Although the mother who filmed the mosque visit said that the encounter “sometimes came close to proselytizing,” the video points out that dawa (Islamic proselytism) is the duty of all Muslims. It cites the website DawaNet, which says that schools are “fertile grounds where the seeds of Islam can be sowed inside the hearts of non-Muslim students.”
When the videographer and all of the other females present were moved to a room adjacent to the prayer room, she noticed that five of the Middle School boys had joined in the prayers to Allah, including one Jewish boy. The boys were following the accustomed prayer format of the Muslim men, prostrating themselves. According to the mother, the teachers did nothing to intervene. Perhaps they were not aware that it only takes the recitation of one prayer, the Shahada, to be considered converted to Islam. Jacobs writes that the parents of these children were not told that their sons had joined in the worship. But it is not just the Wellesley public school teachers or administrators who have ignored the threat.