- Yasmeen Mannan and Naisha Chowdhury
PVS. It is our second home. Many of us have been at PVS since we were babies. Our parents volunteer here, attend countless soccer matches, spend late nights baking for bake sales. But why PVS? Why is PVS our second home? How did we end up at PVS?
While PVS is our reality, for a group of Muslim men nearly 30 years ago, it was just a dream.
Founded in the 1980s, the community Sunday school was an avenue for Muslim children to learn about the Islamic faith while attending other full-time schools. The Sunday school was conducted in tight makeshift spaces in Masjid Al-Salam. It was an avenue for Muslim children to learn about their faith.
In 1993, the first directory of Muslims in Memphis was published by a group of Muslims who were conducting the Sunday school operation.* It detailed the total number of Muslim families in Memphis with the names, ages, and genders of each member and their family size, telephone number, geographic location (zipcode), and postal address. The survey found that there were at least 1,000 Muslim children below the age of 18 in Memphis at the time. With this survey, the idea of a full-time Islamic school was born.
The bigger challenge, however, was the question of whether teaching children basic Islamic concepts once a weekend would help build the strong Islamic foundation and character that every child needs. The founders all saw the limitations. One of the founders, Dr. Muhammad Zaman, said in regards to the Sunday school, “[We] did not have any opportunity to impart moral values as exemplified in a practical and applied setting or practicing what we preach.” Another founder, Dr. Ibrahim Benter, said, “It was obvious that conditions had to be improved.” This is when the founders realized that only a full-time Islamic school could achieve the goal of imparting Islamic values in children, while simultaneously providing them with a necessary education.
The impact of the Sunday weekend school was too little for too few children on the Islamic practice and life in America. There were many space and time constraints that prevented them from fulfilling the basic needs of the Sunday school. There were also limitations of parental involvement in the school, communication gap between teachers and parents, shortage of qualified volunteer teachers, lack of allegiance of the students to the teachers due to limited contact time, lack of an established curriculum for Sunday school and many more.
In 1994, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) hosted various workshops at their annual convention, providing expertise in establishing full-time Islamic schools. One of the founders attended a workshop and took the new ideas back to Memphis. The founders, Dr. Mohammad Ayub Ayubi, Dr. Ibrahim F. Benter, Dr. Mubarack Muthalif, Dr. Mounir Shazly, and Dr. Muhammad K. Zaman, then embraced this idea of a full-time Islamic school and presented this to the Muslim Society of Memphis Shura Council. The founders also shared this idea with the rest of the community at community gatherings and private settings.
The initial response was unenthusiastic. A full time Islamic school? People wondered how such an institution would even function with such a small community. Others argued that the already-existing Sunday school was enough to sustain the Islamic foundation needed for the Memphis youth. Even though the community’s response wasn't entirely positive, the five brothers decided they would continue advancing this idea and they began to discuss the idea further and devise ways to move the concept into execution.
*Disclaimer: this survey did not encompass the Muslim community of Masjid Al-Mu’minun, which was already operating a full-time Islamic School (Sister Clara Muhammad School) in South-West Memphis.