Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Islamic school simulates the hajj during a journey to open minds


“Congratulations," Mahmoud Gomaa said to a class of first-graders standing under a model airplane. "You've just arrived in the holy city of Mecca."

Gomaa, vice principal of the American Youth Academy, came to the school seven years ago and brought the annual hajj simulation to teach children about the rite, the fifth pillar of Islam.

The annual five-day pilgrimage to Islam's holiest city starts Sunday. But in Tampa, more than 400 students at the private Islamic school started early, re-enacting significant events in the lives of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael as chronicled in the Koran.

Older students had built replicas of buildings and a mountain that students might see in Mecca more than 7,000 miles away.

Gomaa welcomed students into the large room and told the children they were in a safe place. First, they would get clean and put on special clothes — a white drape exposing the right shoulders of the boys and modest clothes covering all but the hands and faces of the girls. Then they lay under a tent.

Gomaa said the simulation is the best way to educate people, and invites anyone interested to call the office to schedule a visit. He said the journey of Abraham, commanded by God to sacrifice his son, is similar to stories in Judaism and Christianity.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Gomaa said, people heard things about Islam that misrepresent what most Muslims believe. He is working to change that. The school hires non-Muslim teachers to expose children to those outside the religion. Currently, about 40 percent of the school's teachers are not Muslim.

• • •

Kindergarten teacher June Page started at the school in 1996, and said her students were excited to see the simulation. Page, who is not Muslim, served as principal for seven months during a time when the school nearly closed and many teachers left because there was no money for pay. It earned her the unofficial title of mother to the school.

It's the second to operate at 5905 E 130th Ave. The first was co-founded by former USF professor Sami Al-Arian in 1992 as the Islamic Academy of Florida. In 2003, that school lost a third of its funding, about $350,000, from a state program that paid private school tuition for poor children after Al-Arian was charged with using it as a front to raise money for Palestinian terrorists.

The American Youth Academy opened on the property the next year. This year, the school became a candidate for the prestigious International Baccalaureate program.

Gomaa said that many people still don't know much about Islam.

"The best way is to open our doors so they will see and hear and then they will get the right message," he said.

He works to teach the students to relate to different types of people and still maintain their identity.

"Outside our gates, we're a minority," Gomaa said.

• • •

Layalee Ahmad, 8, pointed out the mountain of Arafat, where sins are forgiven by God. Layalee likes to wear her hijab on Fridays, although girls don't have to until they enter sixth grade.

She picked up a pebble from many strewn on a tarp next to the mountain. The children threw them into a bin, representing Satan, who tempted Abraham to not listen to God.

The rites continued with a cotton sheep presented by God as a substitute sacrifice. Then the students cut a locket of hair, an act of submission, and circled a sacred house called the ka'bah with a stone made black by sin.

"The prophet put it there when he and his son were building the ka'bah," Layalee said.

Salman Alnashir, also 8, went to Mecca when he was 4 and said walking around the ka'bah is his favorite part.

The students then traced the steps of Abraham's wife Hagar and son Ishmael in the desert and end the ritual with a drink from a spring called Zamzam, which still flows today.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.

Islamic school simulates the hajj during a journey to open minds 10/09/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 6:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Dirk Koetter, not Jameis Winston, has to make the call


    “Touchdown” Tom Jones, the best Bucs columnist in town, htook it to the house Tuesday when he wrote that Jameis Winston should do the right thing and take a seat if he’s not perfectly healthy to play at Buffalo.

    Dirk Koetter and Jameis Winston
  2. This is no time for Jameis Winston to play hero


    Don't be a hero, Jameis.

    Do the right thing. Do what's best.

     Quarterback Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sits on the bench during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 15, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) 700070683
  3. NBA off and running to its usual ending


    The NBA season began Tuesday night.

    It ends in June.

    Call me when the Warriors win.

    True, there was news Tuesday night, bad news, grisly news, as Celtics small forward and newcomer Gordon Hayward dislocated his ankle and broke his tibia in a look-away injury early in Boston’s opener at LeBron.

    Golden State's Steph Curry drives on the Houston Rockets on NBA Opening Night
  4. It's time for the Dodgers to be back in the World Series


    It’s hard to believe that it’s been 29 years since the Los Angeles Dodgers made the World Series. That’s far too long. I still remember being at Chavez Ravine for the 1988 World Series, watching Kirk Gibson homer into the right field stands to beat the Oakland A’s in Game 1.

    Been a long …

    The Los Angeles Dodgers congratulate each other after beating the Chicago Cubs in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series
  5. Kenny Chesney coming to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa


    Used to be you could set your watch to a Kenny Chesney concert at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium.