REGARDING THE Wellesley middle school students’ field trip to the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury: I have led middle-school groups to mosques in the Boston area — including the Roxbury Islamic center — as well as to Jewish, Hindu, Mormon, Catholic, and Evangelical Christian houses of worship, albeit under the auspices of a church youth group. At the Roxbury center, we were welcome observers, neither encouraged nor discouraged from participating in prayers, although a few of us did make a stab at it.
What differentiates a Muslim prayer service from Jewish or most Christian services is that the prayer is a physical act — kneeling on the ground and placing your forehead to the floor. It is relaxing and meditative, whether you are reciting the spoken prayer or not. I doubt any of the Wellesley children recited the prayer, since it is in Arabic. Perhaps they experienced the meditative quality in the same way that singing a hymn would impart a bit of the Christian or Jewish experience.
Yes, children are impressionable, which is precisely why they should be taught, with some direct experience, about the diversity of world religions. As a Unitarian and an atheist, I have found this experience to foster interest and perspective, instead of fear and misunderstanding.
Perhaps members of Americans for Peace and Tolerance (how Orwellian), who so vehemently object to the field trip, should try meditating instead of getting all worked up about it. Relax. Kneel on the ground. And place your forehead on the floor.
Russell Tanner Lexington