It’s not unusual to get a religious education. But a spiritual education may be a more rare and precious commodity.
The 470+ pre K – 8th grade students at Canton’s Crescent Academy International are getting just that.
“What sets us apart,” says Crescent Principal Sr. Kareemah Abbas, “is that we are a school with a very particular vision and mission.”
Crescent Academy International was created by educational professionals based on the goals set forth in the Tarbiyah project. The Tarbiyah Project is a document, authored by Br. Dawud At-Tauhidi in 2001, that proposes reshaping the curriculum of Islamic education to put values and character development at the core of everything that is taught. Tarbiyah refers to “the raising up of the education, making sure that our young people are raised up in a very holistic sense,” says Abbas. “It’s about developing a spiritual being in a child. We’re always relating everything back to God. We have a fundamental belief that all knowledge is sacred because all knowledge comes from God.”
One of the challenges facing Crescent is creating a spiritual community in the context of a secular society. “We teach them how to have dignity, modesty, how to keep it intact,” says Abbas, emphasizing that students are “taught the proper way to behave toward the opposite sex. We have a culture that really tries to sanctify the marriage.”
Because the mission is driven by educational professionals rather than the lay community, says Abbas, “We can do things you mostly read about in books.”
Abbas gives much of the credit with implementing the Tarbiyah plan within the curriculum of the Crescent Academy to the school’s director Sr. Pembe Yasarlar.
“It comes from leadership,” says Abbas. “As the leader of the school, she’s the one that is able to promote that. She’s deeply, deeply spiritual. The school has a certain amount of flavor that comes from her spirituality. A lot of what Crescent is emanates from who she is.”
Abbas, who is an American born convert, has been the principal of the school for five years. She had taught there previously, and says that when the opportunity came to rejoin the staff, she “didn’t even think twice about returning to Crescent.”
The school is unusual in its diversity. Fully one third of the staff is non-Muslim. Among the students and staff there is a huge range of cultural and national identities, individuals from, and descended from countries including Turkey, Yemen, Palestine, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.
“I totally fell in love with the whole project.” She says the culture is very positive and collaborative. “It’s a great place to teach because you really get to teach.”
“More than an academic institution, we’re so much more than that and we strive to be so much more than that. It’s a school for the whole child including the spirit, most especially the spirit,” says Abbas. “That’s what makes Crescent Crescent.”