On Muslim Schools...

I’m surprised by the papers and articles I’ve browsed in the past few hours on Islamic Schools/Education in North America. Most authors believe that sending your child to a building labeled “Islamic School” will somehow transform him into the ideal muslim/muslimah, while sending your child to a public school will transform him into the illegitimate child of Britney Spears. Gulp?

Perhaps, I wouldn’t have ‘gulped’ if the following view was that of an uncle mullah or an auntie from back home but these views were of converts – Americans who’ve converted to Islam.

I went to a public school yet never tried drugs, wore small skirts, or had a bevy of boyfriends. I knew it was not part of the package to date before marriage even before I graduated kindergarten thanks to a very concerned mother. I don’t know why I didn’t try drugs, maybe because most students in my school weren’t selling drugs, or maybe because I was afraid my mother would whoop my arse (yes, we’re immigrants).
I’ve attended secular institutions all my life yet have always held a firm belief in God.

My learning of Islam began informally at an early age, at home. I grew up watching parents/grandparents reading salah, fasting, celebrating Ramadan and Eid. I learned maths and science in the morning and learned to read the quran in the afternoons. Solving mathematical problems or learning the Arabic language didn’t change my personality. Rather the change was the result of personal observation of models/stimuli around me.
I learned respecting elders was a virtue not from reading the Quran in Arabic but watching the way my mother treated her elders. I learned to love my elders not by reading salah in Arabic but by watching the lips of my grandfather which constantly moved sending durood on the Prophet (peace be upon him). My cousins and I used to try to outdo each other to bring water to one of my grandmothers sisters because she gave the best duas. Sometimes she would have to drink 5 glasses of water because we all wanted bonus points with Allah.

Having worked with two different Muslim Schools, I find it weird that the setting was only concerned with content but not how we learn to learn. Adding a Quranic Language and Islamic history course to a secular curriculum is somehow magically supposed to create an ideal muslim/muslimah? In most Muslim countries the practice of Islam is taught informally, outside of regular schools, not through formal settings like Islamic Schools or Sunday schools.

Learning is not something that takes place only in a classroom setting. In actuality, most of the learning takes place outside of the “classroom.” Even within the constructs of the classroom students not just observe the content but how the content is presented.
One could argue that learning how to learn is more important than the content itself.

Take Student X, a very bright child, placed in Hifz School XYZ at an early age. He can’t help peeking out of the door when ‘regular’ school-age students pass by during lunch break. He tells me he got hit by a hanger for doing it and is trying to learn his lesson so he can have his gaming rights back again from his parents. I wonder how much he’d love his religion when he grows up? (caution: example should not to be used to form ignorant generalizations about muslim schools in general.)
Meanwhile, theres student Y, an equally bright child, who is encouraged from an early age to question and explore, whose teachers treats him with unconditional respect, and whose parents lead a life that serves as a semi-good example for him. I wonder how different his perspective on life would be compared to student X?

I’m sure as new converts/reverts, lacking the moral support that comes with a practicing Muslim family unit, we strive to the best of our intentions and abilities to create an environment whose aim is to foster good moral values (Islamic values) and a desirability for God. But the creation of such environment isn’t found within cement or a concrete block with Arabic calligraphy; it is a process which begins with the birth of your child and ends with your last breath. If the child has the right support and role models from an early age, even a public/secular institution won’t lure him into sex and drugs. Similarly, abandoning your child to a poorly run Islamic school or once a week Sunday school won’t turn him into a Muslim scholar.

In conclusion, im not advocating one mode of schooling over another (heck, im thinking of home schooling, and I don’t even have kids, hah!), im just saying there are better arguments for creating Muslim schools than suggesting your kids will turn into cross-eyed-drugged out- sex offenders if you sent them to a public school. Really.