Rola Awwad
Town: Wayne
Children: Adam, 10; Amana, 7; Miriam, 3
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom; Arabic teacher

Rola
Awwad wasn’t angry at first. Her son Adam’s elementary school in Wayne
had denied requests for the Muslim fifth-grader to pray in a private
room during school, citing safety concerns.

But
then Awwad learned from chatting with a woman at her mosque that the
Constitution protected the right to practice religion and that children
in nearby public schools had been praying in school for decades without
incident.

“I
never knew he had the right to pray, as long as it’s not interfering
with education and others,” said Awwad, a Palestinian raised in Jordan.

Awwad
sprung into action, pressing the school district to allow her son to
perform the obligatory afternoon prayer in a quiet, private space, such
as the library or the principal’s office. The Council on American
Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, intervened on Awwad’s
behalf and a compromise was reached in February. Adam was growing weary
of the public attention surrounding the case. Adam agreed to pray
during recess, while other children played nearby, either outdoors or
in the back of the classroom.

“This
was a lesson for my son not to give up on your rights. Be proud you are
a Muslim and to be proud you’re an American and born here,” she said on
a recent afternoon in her Wayne living room. Relenting on the issue for
now, she still worries about her son praying outside during recess when
it’s cold or rainy or when he enters middle school next year, when his
peers may be more apt to bully him.

Awwad
says she’s more outspoken than her husband, an engineering professor.
Her first foray into community activism was as a graduate student in
Jordan. She and a group of women built a social services center that
was controversial in the community. On a trip home, she brought her
kids to the site. “I wanted them to see it,” she said.

As
the clock struck 4, a recording of the afternoon call to prayer floated
from her kitchen while the children played in their rooms upstairs.
Awwad explained that she is intent on raising her kids with strong
Muslim values.

“I
want my kids to have a relationship with God,” said Awwad. “That will
protect them, and they will grow up to be good citizens,” she said.