Burning boats in the Twin Cities

Yesterday a reader emailed us a link to the November 2004 St. Paul Pioneer Press story by Tammy Oseid that had been picked up by the AP: “A place to belong.” The story is about an Islamic charter school located in a Twin Cites suburb; the school serves a largely Islamic Somali immigrant student population. The story’s subhead is “At Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, students can study Arabic along with English, stay in touch with their culture and ‘just be themselves.'” The story is more or less what you might expect, with a twist or two.
Having never heard of the school’s namesake, I wondered who Tarek ibn Ziyad was. Here’s the entry from Islam Online:

General Tarek was an experienced warrior well known for his unconquerable courage and bravery. He was also looked upon as a hero by the rest of Muslims soldiers who were proud to serve under his leadership.
Tarek’s warrior skills are mostly highlighted in the Jabal Tarek’s battle (Tarek’s Hill), when the Muslims’ army defeated the Romans.
The narrow stretch of sea separating Spain from the African coast was crossed by Tarek and his men in small boats. They were ready for battle as soon as they landed on the shore.
King Roderick of Spain was both surprised and angry at the daring of the Muslims. Placing himself at the head of a huge army, the king publicly took an oath that he will defeat the Muslims army and throw them into the sea through which they had come.
Tariq at once noticed the uneasiness among his soldiers, but he knew that this was not caused by any feeling of fear, for they were perfectly trained soldiers, and the heroes of many famous battles. They were waiting for his lead to support them and give them strength.
The conflict was a bloody one, but Tarek was victorious, he acted quickly. After praying to Allah, the General gave orders that will always be remembered in the military history of the world. He ordered that all the boats that brought him and his men across the straits be burnt.
When this was done, he turned to his soldiers and said his famous quote: “Brothers in Islam! We now have the enemy in front of us and the deep sea behind us. We cannot return to our homes, because we have burnt our boats. We shall now either defeat the enemy and win or die a coward’s death by drowning in the sea. Who will follow me?”
The soldiers gave a mighty cry of “Allahu Akbar” and rushed towards the enemy like a whirlwind driving everything with them.
The Spaniards turned and ran bewildered and defeated leaving the battlefield to the Muslims.
This marked the beginning of the Muslim conquest of Spain. Muslims ruled the country for hundreds of years so gloriously and well that Spain became afterwards the fountain-head of culture and civilisation for the whole continent of Europe.

The general was accordingly a famous practitioner of Jihad, expanding the domain of Islam through martial conquest. Here’s how the Web site of the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy describes its namesake: “The historic example of Tarek Ibn Ziyad, 1,300 years ago, in his multifaceted role as an activist, leader, explorer, teacher, administrator and peacemaker, will instill in our youth the desire to achieve the heights of human greatness.” Here’s what Tammy Oseid has to say:

The name of the school itself is also based in religion.
General Tarek ibn Ziyad’s bloody battle marked the beginning of the Muslim rule of Spain in the eighth century. He famously burnt the boats his army used to cross the Mediterranean sea.
It’s ibn Ziyad’s later multicultural administration over Spain that primarily inspired the name, Zaman [the school’s principal] said.

I buy it completely. Tell me more. Oseid quotes the school’s principal:

Ziyad’s burning boats are a good metaphor for the role he wants the school to play for Tarek’s immigrant families.
“What does it mean to be an American citizen? To us, citizenship means involvement. It’s something our families need to learn, too.”
That’s why part of the school’s mission is to build “a diverse, virtuous and moral America,” he said.
“It shocks me that a large number of immigrants don’t have an opinion on local issues,” he said. “We might as well burn the boats…make America as good as we want it to be.”

The last sentence of the story notes that the school has sought to expand “its concept” by adding grades, “but an application to the Minnesota Department of Education for additional grades wasn’t approved.”


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