A Muslim Woman Visits Catholic Kindergarten: Ecumenical Practices and Lessons to Be Learned

By Bronkhorst, Suzanne | Journal of Catholic Education, October 2016 | Go to article overview

A Muslim Woman Visits Catholic Kindergarten: Ecumenical Practices and Lessons to Be Learned


Bronkhorst, Suzanne, Journal of Catholic Education


October 2016

Prior to beginning my Master's program at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), I did not feel compelled to formally address ecumenical practices within our Kindergarten classroom. It was my belief that, as a Catholic educator, it was my job to instruct our students in the doctrine of the Catholic Church and that such a responsibility did not require me to address the numerous other faiths that permeated our classroom. On the rare occasion, when a child from a different faith referred to his or her own religion, customs, or practices, I would affirm the comment with a slight nod and not fully attend to the child's comment. In my mind, non-Catholic beliefs were a minefield that I did not feel I had the necessary skills to enter into. Children, I believed, simply needed to love and respect all people. Surely that was good enough?

As I began a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education, I learned a great deal about the value of parent knowledge and honoring the knowledge parents impart to their children. As comments such as, "In my religion we do not cross ourselves the same way," or, "In your Church you call them Saints but in ours they are called spirits," were innocently stated by my Kindergartners, I tucked these remarks into the back of my mind. As I wrote my thesis entitled, Painting a Picture: Why Diverse Parents Choose Catholic French Immersion for their School-Aged Child (Bronkhurst, 2015), my students' comments nagged at me and invited me to explore their significance within my research. I began to consider that, as a Catholic educator, it was important to honor people of different faiths who selected to attend our school division. I was inspired by Pope Francis's remarks in July 2013, when he chose to personally address the Muslim faith at the end of Ramadan in a talk entitled, Mutual Respect through Education (Hafiz, 2013, n.p.). He spoke specifically about the roles of the media, family, schools and, religious educators in achieving a foundation of mutual respect and caring, "We have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers." I began to wonder how I could model and promote ecumenical practices.

Momina Khan: A Brief History

At the time of my wondering, Momina Khan and I were classmates at the University of Saskatchewan, both taking a graduate-level class on parent and family engagement in education. Momina is a soft-spoken, intelligent woman and a devout Muslim. She immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 2000, arriving in Toronto with her husband, a physician, and three children. Their fourth child was born in Canada. The course required us, as graduate students, to visit different cultural and educational venues to become more familiar with diverse circumstances of families in regard to schooling, teacher practices, and cultural beliefs within our province. While some of us planned to visit a First Nations (1) Early Childhood Center in Northern Saskatchewan and others visited classrooms in schools or communities that were unlike the ones in which they taught, Momina led a trip to the local Mosque. Working together, we decided she would visit my Kindergarten classroom to teach the class about her culture. As a Kindergarten teacher, I have deliberately set out to create a curriculum and atmosphere of inclusivity. While outwardly, Momina's appearance is somewhat different than what students in a Catholic school would expect to encounter, it was my hope that Momina's presentation would strengthen their understanding of this message.

Momina Visits Kindergarten

Momina arrived on a sunny but cold morning in November. She was wearing a long grey wool coat and over her head a lovely burnt-orange hijab that was more elegant than the ones she typically wore. In the classroom, Momina removed her winter jacket and I observed her ornate green and gold outfit. She explained that the ensemble, a loose pyjama like pant and shirt, is called salwar kameez, and is typically worn for celebrations such as Eid or festivities such as weddings and engagements. …

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