The Rockford Files

Through A Glass, Darkly

“We have an Islamic school in Rockford?” my friend said in surprise.  His reaction was typical.  Rockford, as the local Gannett paper never ceases to remind us, is stubbornly average—in population, ethnic composition, income level—with a few notable exceptions, particularly astronomic property taxes and abysmal public-school test scores.  The idea that there is a sufficient Muslim population to sustain a school out here in the middle of Middle America seems inconceivable.  But here, on a cold, clear January morning, Chronicles’ assistant editor, Aaron Wolf, and I are pulling into the parking lot of the Rockford Iqra School.

The building, owned by the Muslim Community Foundation of Rockford, which rents half of it to a private Montessori academy, is a former public school, shut down in the round of school closings that triggered Rockford’s 12-year-long desegregation suit.  The Muslim Community Foundation, founded in 1985, purchased Vandercook Elementary School from District 205 in 1989 and converted the administrative offices into a mosque.  For several years, they used it simply as a meeting place, but a growing desire among local Muslims to provide their children with a better education—both academic and moral—than the public schools could provide led the foundation to start the school four years ago.

We are met just inside the front...

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