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High School Student Starts Muslim Prayer Group

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MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

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By NICHOLAS C. STERN

The Frederick News-Post

URBANA, Md. (AP) — When Hamzah Raza came up with the idea to form a Friday prayer group at Urbana High School, some of his fellow Muslim students were skeptical.

Friday is the Muslim equivalent of the Sabbath, a day for prayer and rest, said Raza, a 15-year-old student at the school. On this day, Muslims hold Jummah, a congregational prayer that is preceded by a sermon that can be led by any male believer who has reached puberty.

Students who wanted to attend the Jummah at the mosque at the Islamic Society of Frederick had to rush there after school to make it, Raza said. There was talk about organizing a car pool, but things didn’t work out. So in October, Raza proposed to hold Jummah at his home immediately after classes.

Some people asked him what would happen if the idea were shot down, he said.

Others said Muslim students already had the Muslim Student Association, a nonsponsored club at Urbana of about 20 to 30 students from different faiths who meet and discuss Islam and the culture associated with it. The group includes a tradition of charitable work; the MSA has raised thousands of dollars for the Frederick Food Bank over the past several years and hundreds for disaster relief in Somalia, said Raza and Deborah Winkles, the art department chairwoman at Urbana and an adviser to the MSA.

Asking for more, Raza said, might provoke a negative reaction, some members argued.

Haseeb Kahn, a MSA member, said he thought it might bring unwanted attention to Muslim students.

“I was afraid of what people might think,” he said. “They might get the wrong idea.”

Raza wasn’t worried, though. He knew there were other Christian prayer groups that met before or after class on school grounds and that the Constitution permits such meetings, he said.

He approached Winkles and she advised him to write the school’s principal, Kathy Campagnoli, who quickly replied with her approval.

The first sermon, known as the khutbah, which Raza led, did not go well, he said. He was nervous and didn’t really want to do it.

“I saw it as, `who else is going to give it,”‘ he said.

Prayers are led in Arabic, while the khutbah is held in English, Raza said. The sermons typically surround passages in the Quran concerning a prophet, such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Joseph.

Raza believes, though, that the process of developing the sermons has given him a deeper appreciation for what the imams do, as well as a better understanding of his faith.

Kahn has given a couple of sermons as well. The two said the gatherings are open to anyone curious about Islam.

They are also trying to center the prayer group around the idea of helping themselves and fellow students develop organizational and leadership skills.

“Kids need to have role models,” he said.

Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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