Metro reporter Michael Luo continues the paper's sporadic pro-Muslim PR pushwith Wednesday's"To Heaven, Verse by Verse - Young Muslims in Queens Take On the Koran Full Time."
"The children, ages 7 to 14, are full-time students, in class 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, even in the summer. But they are not studying math, science or English. Instead, they are memorizing all 6,200 verses in the Koran, a task that usually takes two to three years."
Apparently there's not much diversity among these "children," though the Times doesn't press the matter: "The Muslim Center's program, which began as a full-time school in 1999, has roughly 20 year-round students and 20 more attending just for the summer, all boys."
Luo explains that "The students who finish memorizing the Koran earn the title hafiz, an exalted accomplishment in the Muslim world that is relatively rare in the United States. A hafiz plays an important role during Ramadan, when the entire Koran must be recited over 30 days to mosque members. But becoming a hafiz is also believed to bring rewards in the hereafter, guaranteeing the person entrance to heaven, along with 10 other people of his choosing, provided he does not forget the verses and continues to practice Islam."
"Because the task is so difficult, most of the children at the Muslim Center study only the Koran while they are enrolled in the class. Some parents try to tutor their children in other subjects on the side. But for the most part, it is after the children finish that they work to catch up in other subjects in preparation for going back to regular school.
"By not offering instruction in other subjects, the school may be inadvertently running afoul of state law, according to city and state education officials. Private religious schools like the Muslim Center's program are required to provide 'substantially equivalent' instruction to that offered in public schools, they said. But tracking every school-age child who leaves the public school system can be difficult.
"Several parents said they were not worried about their children falling behind because they are smart enough to make up the academic work. Some students from the class have, in fact, gone on to the city's best high schools, parents and school officials said.
"Nevertheless, next year, the school plans to introduce two hours of instruction in math, science, English and social studies, said Mohammad Tariq Sherwani, director of the Muslim Center."
Times Watch wonders if Christian home-schoolers who taught the Bible and nothing else would get that same "inadvertently" break from the Times, and be allowed to make the thin excuse that their kids (all boys, no girls) "are smart enough to make up the academic work"? In that case, the Times would probably have called for an investigation amid dark lamentations about separation of church and state.