Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) -- named for the Muslim general who
conquered medieval Spain -- is a K-8 charter school in Inver Grove
Heights. Its approximately 300 students are mostly the children of
low-income Muslim immigrant families, many of them Somalis.
The school is in huge demand, with a waiting list of 1,500. Last fall,
it opened a second campus in Blaine.
TIZA uses the language of culture rather than religion to describe its
program in public documents. According to its mission statement, the
school "recognizes and appreciates the traditions, histories,
civilizations and accomplishments of the eastern world (Africa, Asia and
But the line between religion and culture is often blurry. There are
strong indications that religion plays a central role at TIZA, which is a
public school financed by Minnesota taxpayers. Under the U.S. and state
constitutions, a public school can accommodate students' religious beliefs
but cannot encourage or endorse religion.
TIZA raises troubling issues about taxpayer funding of schools that
cross that line.
Asad Zaman, TIZA's principal, declined to allow me to visit the school
or grant me an interview. He did not respond to e-mails seeking written
TIZA's strong religious connections date from its founding in 2003. Its
co-founders, Zaman and Hesham Hussein, were both imams, or Muslim
religious leaders, as well as leaders of the Muslim American Society of
Since then, they have played dual roles: Zaman as TIZA's principal and
the current vice-president of MAS-MN, and Hussein as TIZA's school board
chair and president of MAS-MN until his death in a car accident in Saudi
Arabia in January.
TIZA shares MAS-MN's headquarters building, along with a mosque.
MAS-MN came to Minnesotans' attention in 2006, when it issued a
"fatwa," warning Muslim taxi drivers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul
International Airport that transporting passengers with alcohol in their
baggage is a violation of Islamic law.
Journalists whom Zaman has permitted to visit TIZA have described the
school's Islamic atmosphere and practices.
"A visitor might well mistake Tarek ibn Ziyad for an Islamic school,"
reported Minnesota Monthly in 2007. "Head scarves are voluntary, but
virtually all the girls wear them." The school has a central carpeted
prayer space, and "vaguely religious-sounding language" is used.
According to the Pioneer Press, TIZA's student body prays daily and the
school's cafeteria serves halal food (permissible under Islamic law).
During Ramadan, all students fast from dawn to dusk, according to a parent
quoted in the article.
In fact, TIZA was originally envisioned as a private Islamic school. In
2001, MAS-MN negotiated to buy the current TIZA/MAS-MN building for Al-Amal
School, a private religious institution in Fridley, according to Bruce
Rimstad of the Inver Grove Heights School District. But many immigrant
families can't afford Al-Amal. In 2002, Islamic Relief -- headquartered in
California -- agreed to sponsor a publicly funded charter school, TIZA, at
the same location.
TIZA claims to be non-sectarian, as Minnesota law requires charters to
be. But "after-school Islamic learning" takes place on weekdays in the
same building under MAS-MN's auspices, according to the program for
MAS-MN's 2007 convention. At that convention, a TIZA representative at the
school's booth told me that students go directly to "Islamic studies"
classes at 3:30, when TIZA's day ends. There, they learn "Qur'anic
recitation, the Sunnah of the Prophet" and other religious subjects, he
TIZA's 2006 Contract Performance Review Report states that students
engage in unspecified "electives" after school or do homework.
Publicly, TIZA emphasizes that it uses standard curricular materials like
those found in other public schools. But when addressing Muslim audiences,
school officials make the link to Islam clear. At MAS-MN's 2007
convention, for example, the program featured an advertisement for the
"Muslim American Society of Minnesota," superimposed on a picture of a
mosque. Under the motto "Establishing Islam in Minnesota," it asked: "Did
you know that MAS-MN ... houses a full-time elementary school"? On the
adjacent page was an application for TIZA.
In addition to the issues
raised by TIZA's religious elements, there are reasons to be concerned
about the organizations with which it is connected.
Group linked to Hamas
Islamic Relief-USA, the school's sponsor, is compared to the Red Cross
in several TIZA documents. In 2006, however, the Israeli government
announced that Islamic Relief Worldwide, the organization's parent group,
"provides support and assistance" to Hamas, designated by the U.S.
government as a terrorist group.
Meanwhile, MAS-MN offers on its web site "beneficial and enlightening
information" about Islam, which includes statements like "Regularly make
the intention to go on jihad with the ambition to die as a martyr."
At its 2007 convention, MAS-MN featured the notorious Shayk Khalid
Yasin, who is well-known in Britain and Australia for teaching that
husbands can beat disobedient wives, that gays should be executed and that
the United States spreads the AIDS virus in Africa through vaccines for
Yasin's topic? "Building a Successful Muslim Community in Minnesota."
TIZA has improved the reading and math performance of its mostly
low-income students. That's commendable, but should Minnesota taxpayers be
funding an Islamic public school?
Katherine Kersten •