by Weldon B. Johnson -
May. 21, 2008 07:16 AM The Arizona Republic
believes the best tool to fight against fear and ignorance is education.
That's part of the reason he started Sultan Education, a south Chandler school
that teaches Arabic language and Islamic culture. Most of the school's 50 or so
students are the United States-born children of Muslims who have moved to the
city to work as doctors, engineers and other professionals.
"What I have is a lot of children of Indian and Pakistani descent who want to
learn how to read from the book - the Quran - the book which Muslims believe
in," Kaddoura said. "The parents enroll their students in the school with the
intention of having them learn how to read (Arabic)." He has a broader mission as well, and that's to educate the greater
community about who Muslims are and what their faith is about. That has been
particularly challenging since Sept. 11, 2001, the resulting political climate
and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"A lot of it, I would say, is just ignorance," Kaddoura said. "And with
ignorance comes fear."
Sultan Education has been in its current location since January, occupying a
space in a corner of a strip mall at Alma School and Germann roads that used to
hold a karate studio. There have been times when people have visited the school
hoping to find answers to their own questions.
"I wouldn't really say it's been harassment," Kaddoura said. "We've had a few
people come in and say, 'Do you guys believe in Jesus?' Of course, we believe in
Jesus, but not as the son of God, rather as a messenger. Then we've had some
people come in and say, 'Do you guys support the Taliban or these other extreme
groups?' Of course, we don't."
Kaddoura mixes in songs and games with lessons on language and culture to hold
the attention of his younger students. There also are some adults who study with
Kaddoura but those classes are separate from the children.
The children who study at Sultan Education also attend mainstream schools during
the week, so Kaddoura and Lisa Gopalan, who also teaches at the school, vary
their lessons to avoid overloading their young students.
"I like it when I learn pronunciation and when we play Islamic Jeopardy,"
9-year-old Amariah Chisti said. "We have two teams and we answer questions."
Kaddoura can relate to many of his students. He is a Muslim who grew up in a
non-Muslim community. His family is from Lebanon, but he spent his childhood in
Calgary, Alberta. He said he knows what it's like to be different, and growing
up in that mostly White community is what led him to want to learn more about
his own culture.
"We were called Pakis (Pakistani) by the people around us," Kaddoura said. "I
asked my brother, 'Are we Pakis?' He said, 'No, we're Arabs.' After that, it
sparked an interest to learn more about my culture."
It also led to Kaddoura developing an interest in teaching. He continued his
education in Philadelphia and moved to Arizona in 2000 after taking a job with
the Arizona Department of Corrections, where he taught Arabic and Islamic
studies in prisons.
Kaddoura hopes that through education he can increase the knowledge of his
students and help ease some of the tension that Muslims in the community face.
"Our goal is to be positive," Kaddoura said. "Our image as Muslims has been
tainted by Osama bin Laden and his gang and people like that. We're just trying
to be good Muslims and good American citizens. There is no contradiction between
those two things."