POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The grade of the students involved has been incorrectly identified. They are sixth-graders.
GUY RAZ, host:
In the city of Baltimore, one school is trying to get children out of the classroom and into a mosque. It's the way teachers at the Friends School introduce Islam to their eighth-grade social studies classes.
NPR's Jamie Tarabay went along on one of their yearly mini-pilgrimages and sent this report.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified People: (Singing) (Unintelligible).
JAMIE TARABAY: The school bus is a tangle of North Face fleeces, UGG boots and braces. The bus hurdles along Interstate 95 towards Washington, D.C., tossing middle-schoolers about and making at least one student sick.
While some of them make up songs about each other, 12-year-old Julia Potter counts off her fingers the five pillars of Islam. There's charity, prayer five times a day, the Shahada - reciting the creed.
Ms.�JULIA POTTER (Student): A Hajj is a holy pilgrimage to Mecca that you have to make once in your lifetime if you can afford it, and then there's Ramadan, which is a holiday where the Muslims have to fast from sunup to sundown.
TARABAY: Most of these kids are pretty well-versed in the basics: In class, they're taught the founding of not just Islam but Judaism, Hinduism and Christianity. They learn about prophets, taboos and requirements. Tilly Cornblatt(ph) knows there are different interpretations of the term jihad.
Ms.�TILLY CORNBLATT: Jihad is struggling or striving in the way of God. But there's another definition; it's called holy war, and that means you can defend yourself and Islam, but you can't keep fighting when your opponents stop.
TARABAY: This is an annual pilgrimage of sorts for the eighth-graders. Every year, teacher Deloris Jones and her colleagues attempt this field trip, and every year
Ms.�DELORIS JONES (Teacher): There's absolutely nothing over the years I have been able to do to keep this thing on time. It just doesn't work.
TARABAY: By the time they arrive at the Islamic Center in the heart of Washington, D.C., they're way behind schedule. The girls pull out bright scarves to cover their heads, giggling as they tuck each others' ponytails out of sight. Everyone takes off their shoes, and as they enter the mosaic-filled mosque, they separate. Boys sit on the left, girls on the right. It's something the kids bring up with imam Abassie Jarrkoroma(ph) almost immediately.
The Reverend ABASSIE JARRKOROMA: The traditional way when we pray, the men would be in the front, the children in the middle, and the women at the back. So it's a tradition that is not unique to Islam but rather, that's come down through the Judaic and the Christian faith.
TARABAY: The room is still as the middle-schoolers listen while the imam talks about the religious obligations of his faith. He says men, especially, are expected to come to the mosque for each prayer, but those who can't get away from work or home must pray wherever they are.
The quiet, reflective mood is quickly broken as they pile out of the mosque and back onto the bus. The field trip is one way the class learns about different religions. They also have readings, lectures, role-plays and visiting speakers. Their next stop: The embassy of Saudi Arabia.
Ms.�JONES: I have to let them know we're here. We're a little late, OK?
TARABAY: Through metal detectors and into an auditorium where Tarik Allegany, from the Saudi embassy, plays a video - much as he does every year. It's a sweeping montage of deserts, oilfields, men at computers, and women peering through microscopes. The focus on Islam prompts a question from 11-year-old Jenna Johnson(ph).
Ms.�JENNA JOHNSON (Student): In the slide show, it said that Saudi Arabia likes to help Islam. Is that the only religion in Saudi Arabia?
Mr.�TARIK ALLEGANY (Spokesman, Saudi Embassy, Washington, D.C.): Well, all you know, the land which is now called Saudi Arabia is where the religion of Islam originated.
TARABAY: Allegany goes into a long description of Saudi society and its inextricable connection with Islam. But as to Jenna's question, he doesn't actually answer it. The students also asked Allegany about Saudi Arabia's treatment of women.
Mr.�ALLEGANY: Saudi Arabia is a very family oriented society and historically, women in Saudi Arabia have been housewives and homemakers. And up until the 1960s, we didn't even used to have any schools for women.
TARABAY: Afterwards, as the children scramble to get lunch before the trip back to Baltimore, Deloris Jones points to the obvious gaps in Allegany's answers.
Ms.�JONES: He does it every year, and then we go back to school, and we talk about what the truth possibly really is, and how he diplomatically answered the question.
TARABAY: Despite those issues, Jones and her colleagues continue to bring their eighth-graders here because it's the next best thing to being in the Middle East.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.