Four years ago, the International Leadership School started with 85 students in a commercial space off Parnell Avenue.  By the next year, the Muslim-based religious school had grown to 147.

This year there are 379 students. It’s grown from a K-5 to K-12 in the last year when 11th and 12th grades were added this year. With the quick growth, school officials added another location and now grades 6-12 are located at the former Emmaus Lutheran Church on Broadway that most recently housed the now-defunct Horizon Christian Academy.

Abdulwahab Abashaar, school principal, isn’t sure they’ll keep if the school will continue leasing the Broadway building or build their own. With two campuses – one on North Clinton that was home to Harrison College and the one on Broadway – total expansion would be limited to 600 students. They may have to build a new school.

“The demand in the city of Fort Wayne is big because the growth of the Muslim community in Fort Wayne is big and there was no Islamic school at all,” Abashaar said during a sit-down interview with WANE TV Wednesday. “We found out we have more than 3,000 Muslim students in the public school system and they would love to have an Islamic school that they can go to get the proper Islamic education. And that’s why when we started back in 2019, the enrollment was like too fast. We filled all the classes we had in kindergarten to 5th grade in two weeks.”

Abdulwahab Abashaar, principl, International Leadership School.

Students come from 15 different countries, but the school’s common language is English. The Qur’an is taught in Arabic, the language of origin.

Abashaar says he has families moving from other areas of the country to Fort Wayne because of the school. Wednesday, he got a call from a U.S. Army veteran helping an Afghan family whose family member worked as an interpreter.

Abashaar, originally from Yemen, was in Indianapolis where there are six Islamic schools, he said, when he took the job in Fort Wayne. The growth of Islamic schools can be tracked at Council of Islamic Schools in North America, a support organization that lists 83 schools in the U.S. and has an accreditation program.

The Fort Wayne school is registered with the Indiana Department of Education and follows the state’s curriculum which includes math, science, English and art among other subjects that would include Honors and AP courses. Since it’s a religious-based school, it also offers schooling in the Islamic faith, including the Qur’an. A local imam — a person who leads prayers in a mosque — through the Islamic Center of Fort Wayne takes care of that, Abashaar said. Class sizes are kept at 25 students or less. Female students wear the hijab, but other than that, the rules are no jeans or tight clothes.

About 85% of the students access the state’s school voucher system, a taxpayer-based program that picks up school fees for private schools on a sliding basis. Many Roman Catholic and Lutheran schools in the area tap into the voucher system created in 2011.

Otherwise, there are no fees for students, except for a $150 registration fee. Rather, the school has donors, many of them local doctors and other professionals who want their children to have an Islamic-based education, Abashaar said.

The International Leadership School is leasing the former Emmaus Lutheran Church for grades 6-12.

“There is no enforcement in beliefs,” said Abashaar. The majority of the school’s staff of 42 teachers and teacher assistants are non-Muslims who wondered about the religious component when they applied for a position there.

“I think just out of curiosity, they asked ‘So you are a faith-based Islamic school, so how can you accept me as a Christian? I said, ‘I have no problem. You come to teach.  They are here to learn. We teach our kids, math, English, science, computer science and others. We do that for eight hours and have a good day  The majority of my staff is non-Muslim. If you are qualified, you are a certified teacher and you have a certified background in the subject, you can join the team,” Abashaar said.

Wednesday, out in the recreation area, students played soccer or had a ball toss. When they saw Abashaar, they crowded around him. One student asked him about putting together a yearbook. Another said Abashaar wasn’t strict on the hijab and using cell phones.

A tour of the classrooms had the same kind of educational displays found in any American classroom.

“You have the chance to make a difference,” one poster of encouragement read. ”You change the world by being yourself,” read another.

Abashaar says religion’s prophets guide the education and religious teaching.

“You look at the beauty and peace that they lived,” Abashaar said. “ We try to have that kind of teaching.”