Muslim Children: Challenges and Opportunities
Ibrahim B. Syed,
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA
Education is the birth right of
every Muslim and Muslimah. Islam puts considerable emphasis on its followers to
acquire knowledge. Investment in education is the best investment one can make,
because it eventually leads to intellectual property. Intellectual property is
the intangible property, which no one can steal or destroy. This is the property
on which no Government can levy a tax. It was as a result of application of
knowledge that Muslims were the superpower of the world for twelve centuries.
Today, globally Muslims have the
lowest literacy rate. Education of Muslim children in the west has both
opportunities and challenges.
In the Western World the purpose
of education is to provide for the economic prosperity of a nation. At a
personal level the purpose of education is to acquire academic and professional
skills that enable one to earn a respectable living with riches and fame, and
also a luxurious and comfortable life. For a Muslim providing economic
prosperity of a nation does not contradict his/her Islamic beliefs, however
focusing the goals of education solely for the purpose of money making is
unpalatable. Muslims want to impart Islamic education. Vast majority of the
Muslims think that Islamic education means acquiring Islamic religious
knowledge-study of Qur'an, Arabic, Hadith, Sunnah, Seerah, Fiqh, Islamic
history, and allied subjects. As a matter of fact, in the present world broadly
speaking we have two types of Muslims. Those who have followed the Western type
of education or secular education and those who have acquired Deeni or Islamic
In the twentieth century, due to
Colonialism and Western influence, Muslim parents concentrated on imparting only
Secular education to their children. The weak or not so bright students were
sent to Deeni (religious) Madrasas (schools) in their own countries or to one of
the Middle Eastern countries. The Muslims who emigrated to Western countries
became aware of their religious identity and wanted to impart both Islamic and
Secular education, what is now known as "Integrated Education." When they lacked
the numbers and resources, they sent their children to public schools during the
week and to the Islamic schools in the Mosque or Islamic Center during the
weekends. As their numbers grew and acquired sufficient resources, they have
opened full-time Islamic Schools from kindergarten (K grade) to 12th
grade (senior or final year) in High School. In North America, an estimated 300
Islamic Schools are functioning which impart Integrated education. There are
even a few full-time Hifz schools in North America producing homegrown Huffaz
(plural of Hafeez-a scholar who has memorized the Qur'an). It takes about two to
three years of full-time study to become a Hafeez. During this time the student
takes an equivalent to sabbatical leave from his or her public or parochial
This paper analyzes the choice
the parents make in sending their children, to Public, Parochial, Private
non-parochial, Islamic, Virtual Islamic, or Home School. Their advantages and
The greatest objective of
education is to prepare the young generation for leadership. Islamic education
is of course has the highest objective, and more than that can hardly be
imagined. The aim of Islamic education is Character building. Growth and
development of an Islamic personality should be the final goal of any Islamic
School. Islamic values are the foundation of the Islamic personality. As Muslims
our educational aim is to develop the personalities of our children to the end
that they will be conscious of their responsibility to Allah (the Creator) and
to fellow humans. The aims and objectives of Islamic education has been defined
in the Recommendation of the Committee I of the First World Conference on Muslim
Education as under, "Education should aim at the balanced growth of the total
personality of man through training of the human spirit, intellect, rational
self, feelings and senses. The training imparted to a Muslim must be such that
faith is infused into the whole of his/her personality and creates in him/her an
emotional attachment to Islam and enables him to follow the Qur'an and Sunnah
and be governed by Islamic system of values willingly and joyfully so that
he/she may proceed to the realization of his/her status as Khalifatullah to whom
Allah has promised the authority of the universe."
We need to prepare the younger
generation having leadership quality and not to be the followers of alien
ideologies but to play the role of torchbearer by their excellence in knowledge,
character, and positive action. Some scholars believe that this quality can be
developed in Muslim youth by a direct study of the Qur'an with a view to solve
the problems of life in its light. A program of action to upbring the younger
generation for leadership has not yet been formulated.
Every Muslim parent is advised to
raise his or her children well and properly. A happy home, comfort, care and
love, providing the necessities of life and a good education are some of the
responsibilities that parents are required to fulfill. Prophet Muhammad (Peace
be upon him) said whoever is not kind to young people is not one of us and the
best teaching that a parent can give a child is the teaching of good manners and
character. The Muslim child absorbs the Islamic values from its parents,
teachers, peers, friends and the environment, including the care- givers. Nip it
in the bud is the best advice. Otherwise once the Muslim child develops
undesirable habits and unethical values, it becomes extremely difficult to make
the child into a good Muslim/Muslimah.
Parents play a vital role in the
education of their children. Early childhood education program emphasizes the
role of parents. It declares that learning begins in the first days of life and
continues for long. Parents should develop a habit to read with their children
every night. Parents should provide an Islamic environment, an Islamic culture.
It is hypocritical to do things differently and expect the child to have Islamic
values. Parents set the best examples for their children to imbibe. Like parents
the role of family has also been considered important in learning and upbringing
the children. As the children grow the teachers, community elders, their friends
exert deep influence on the character of the child. The parents should choose
the right schools for their children. Audio-Visual media such as TV, Video,
video games, Movies, peer pressure could play an effective role in erasing the
Islamic personality the parents are building and deeply influence the behavior
of the children for years. It takes constant and continuos effort on the part of
the parents and others to keep our youth on the path of Islamic values.
Otherwise they will become an American statistic. Character education, promotion
of order and discipline and ending the culture of guns and drugs from schools
are the important steps of Islamic education. Islamic education should open the
door of college education for every Muslim.
The frontiers of learning are
expanding across a lifetime. All the people, irrespective of age, must have a
chance to learn new skills. Internet is now the power of information. The
classroom, library and even the children's hospitals are planned to connect with
it for easy access to knowledge.
In America the parents of Muslim
children are facing the challenge of picking the right school for their
children. The parents have the choice to choose the school their children will
attend. Parents would like to send their children to a school that promotes
academic excellence and a value centered educational environment. The following
pages list the different types of schools available for Muslim children, their
advantages and disadvantages.
WHY ISLAMIC EDUCATION?
American society today is
drifting aimlessly in a sea of problems:
- Guns and violence including rape
- Sexual promiscuity and immorality
- Single parent families
- Children traumatized emotionally
and psychologically as a result of broken families
- Disrupted upbringing
- One million teen-age pregnancies
of unmarried mothers per year
- Sexually abused children
- Spousal abuse
- Child abuse
All of this has great influence
on and impacts the Muslims living in America, especially the children and youth.
The parents try to teach Islamic values and morals to the children, hence
children are to maintain these values at home environment. Outside the home, the
children are in a totally different environment. At times the outside social
environment is in opposition to what Muslim children are learning at home. As a
result of this conflict, children are fighting a psychological battle in their
minds. Islam is very deeply concerned with the welfare of human society and the
family is considered to be the cornerstone for building the right society.
Raising children in this culture and expecting Islamic values from them is a
unique and very tough challenge. Muslim families are at a disadvantage in
meeting the psychological and spiritual needs of the children. Giving more
religious teachings to children at home is not enough. It is extremely
important for parents to spend time with their children. Parents have to
find time to be with their children at home, school, games, on the playground,
field trips, picnics, and tours. The most essential element is to establish an
open channel of communication with the children. An effort should be made to
create an environment wherein children should not hesitate to say to their
parents their thinkings and feelings. The school system in America deals with
the teaching of Academic subjects. The system has also been gearing up to teach
life skills, such as prevention of smoking and drug abuse, prevention of heart
disease, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Children should get the
Islamic education at an early age. In an effort to inculcate Islamic values, the
teachings should be done at home as well as Islamic centers or Islamic schools.
Islamic schools should create opportunities for Muslim children to get together
to bond with each other as this would help in establishing confidence in an
Islamic identity and get psychological support. When children meet other
children who are Muslim, it enhances their confidence in being a Muslim and they
feel more comfortable about their identity and they assert their Islamic
identity in non-Muslim environment with more ease and comfort. Islamic identity,
according to some, refers to characteristics of thought, behavior, and attitudes
emanating from the Islamic beliefs; and it should be manifested in an Islamic
way of life. The practice of Islam gives Muslims a tangible identity that they
live with and project to the rest of the society. It can be preserved by their
dynamic interaction with the realities of the American system of life and
influencing and reforming the society through Islamic thoughts. The best role
model is the parent's character. The social support systems, such as Islamic
centers, weekend or full time Islamic schools should be built in communities
across the country.
Problems in Islamic Schools:
- No Adaab or Islamic etiquette
- Parents want teachers to be
- Some girls and boys meet secretly
in the basement.
- They have girl-friends and
- They do smoke
- Profanity is written on the walls,
desks, blackboards, etc.
- Behave roughly: laughing, talking,
screaming, rip off their Hijab on the buses.
- Discipline: Behavior is no
different from the Public Schools.
- Teachers are not fair. Spoiled
kids as their parents are rich or important
- Less school activities for girls.
Little opportunity to interact with other students.
- Islamic schools are running
without an Islamic curriculum, often without a syllabus
- No textbooks.
- No qualified and trained teachers
or certified teachers. (Quality in education is not possible without good
- Those who attend Muslim high
schools do not fare better in college.
- Non-Muslim teachers who are
qualified and certified. (Live-in boyfriend, rejects institution of
marriage. Wear tight and revealing outfit. Promote gay agenda, anti-religion
agenda, or insensitive to Islamic values and events)
- Qualified and certified Muslim
teachers work in Public schools. As Islamic schools do not offer viable
salaries, benefits (pension health benefits, etc.)
- When they leave Islamic schools
and graduate from colleges, some of them, they do marry non-Muslims as the
Muslim community and their parents have exerted zero influence on them.
- Chronic shortage of space, science
labs, auditoriums, gyms, playgrounds, libraries, bathrooms.
- High turnover rate (30 to 40
percent annually) of teachers.
- Parents' fear Islamic schools
trade off academics for Islamic environment.
- Organization, planning and
discipline -suffer most in Islamic schools.
- Governance is the big reason why
most Islamic schools suffer
- Do not develop an autonomous and
unique decision-making (governance) structure
- School Boards require training in
how to run a school
- School Boards rarely include women
- Parents do not play a part in
- No qualified administrators
- Some parents worry Islamic schools
offer an inferior quality of education.
- Children are not prepared to face
competitiveness and the challenges of the modern world.
- Seriously lacking in Muslim
literature and culture.
- For many Muslim families, Islamic
schools are not affordable.
- In sparse Muslim population areas,
Islamic schools are not financially viable.
- Very few trained Muslim
teachers in special education or none
In North America major problem is
the prevalent moral degradation of the society. In establishing the Islamic
Schools, Muslims lack a clear perception of their goals and seldom evaluate the
final result if it is worth the money in producing the desired results. Many
Islamic schools have run into financial difficulties. Their dreams have crumbled
down, resulting in scaled down projects after short-lived disastrous venture.
The best and safest place
for a Muslim child to be educated
- Home schooling is possible only
for a very small number.
- Requires motivated parents who are
- Parents should be trained and
willing to devote long hours every day.
- Parents should impart both
'Islamic' and 'secular' education
- Prepare the children to
successfully compete in the outside world.
- Parents rejoice in the
experiencing a child harvest the fruits of an education.
- Taking children from pre-reading
to reading is an exhilarating experience.
- Public and / or private schools
may have turned children away from being interested,
self-motivated learners and taken the
joy of learning away from them.
The public/private schools
are not as thorough as a parent wishes.
- There is no available or
affordable local full time Islamic school.
- The Islamic school does not
provide the entire K-12 educational experience.
- Public schools work against the
parent's authority and unfriendly to Muslim children-Hijab.
- Public school texts and classroom
materials may be destructive to Islamic values and parental authority.
- Parents develop their own
curriculum, pick out books, texts and workbooks that best suit
their needs and family or learners
Home schooling removes
children from an environment of drugs, violence, alcohol, sexual
Experimentation, gangs, and peer
It returns them to a
healthy, safe, Allah-centered learning environment.
- A school schedule that is
friendlier to the demands of an Islamic life can be followed.
- Classes can be held on Saturday
and Sunday, continued during Christian holidays,
lightened during Ramadan and stopped
When family moves and
relocates, continuity in education is preserved.
- Homeschoolers do not have to fit
the child to the curriculum
Homeschoolers make the
curriculum fit the individual child.
- Misconception: parents need to
know everything or spend all day teaching.
- School days need not be as long,
- One-on-one instruction is faster
- Home schooling is legal in all
fifty states, Canada, the United Kingdom and many other countries
- Homeschooling of children with
learning disabilities, special needs or gifted and talented is possible
- There are magazines, WEB sites,
distance learning programs and curriculum specifically designed for and
devoted to this segment of the homeschooling population.
Muslim families arrange weekly or monthly field trips or social events.
Participate in local Boy/Girl Scouts, sport teams, craft and sewing classes,
YMCA (physical education requirements).
Muslim organizations that
meet social needs of Muslim children: Muslim Youth Camps, MYNA,
local Masjid youth programs, summer
camps, vacation camps, Muslim Athletes United International
Home school students watch
much less television than students nationwide.
- Home school student achievement
test scores are exceptionally high.
- Home schooled students have higher
scholastic achievement test (SAT) scores than students who attended other
- Homeschooled children are
winning Spelling Bee and Geography Bee National Contests.
No tuition fees. Public
schools are run with tax-dollars to which Muslims contribute.
- Have qualified, trained and
- Teachers are paid well, with all
- Provide secular curriculum which
has many good skills-like critical thinking
- Tries to inculcate thirst for
- Teachers are strict about homework
- Classes are scheduled in blocks
with longer times.
- Provide college preparation with
emphasis on science, math, English and other core subjects.
- Provide real life experience-meet
children of all strata of society, diversity, co-ed
- Sufficient space for buildings,
libraries, labs, playgrounds, gyms, Internet and individual PCs
- Public schools in suburban areas
provide quality education, relatively in a safe environment
- Provide almost free Textbooks.
- Provide free or subsidized lunches
for low-income Muslim families.
- Provide advanced classes for
gifted and talented children.
- Provide education for special
children who are slow learners or mentally /physically handicapped
- Public schools provide an
excellent opportunity for advancing the cause of Islam
- Gives opportunities for Muslim
students and teachers to dispel misconceptions about Islam
Problems of Public
- Drug abuse
- Boyfriend-girlfriend -romantic
pair- starts early in pre-school
- Sexual Experimentation,
- Peer Pressure
- Secular curriculum places undue
emphasis on western culture and ignores Muslim culture
- English literature is devoid of
Muslim authors and Muslim topics
- Cultural heritage (provides
identity and belonging to a cultural group) taught is totally Western.
- Muslim youth torn between school
culture and Muslim culture at home
- Religious holidays are celebrated
but no Muslim holidays
- Lying is accepted as growing up
- Family concept is deeply eroded
- Social studies class does not give
credit to Muslim/Islamic contribution to the development of West
- Distance learning via the
World Wide Web and Internet.(
- Virtual Islamic Schools
- Non-Muslim Parochial Schools
- Non-Muslim Private Schools
- Charter Schools-funded by state
and local governments are Independent public schools formed by teachers,
parents and/or community members. Exempt from state and local laws and/or
policies in exchange for a written contract (or Charter) that specifies
certain results are achieved. NOT ALLOWED TO TEACH RELIGION. However
school's mission may emphasize on the study of a particular language,
cultural and ethnic traditions, and history infused with state's core
Charter schools provide
solid foundations of knowledge and skills to compete in the world.
- Admission is open to all state
residents and students pay no tuition.
In his state of the union address
on February 4, 1997, President Bill Clinton declared that if the United States
failed to accept the responsibilities of leadership, it could endanger the peace
of the world and its own welfare. He said, " The new promise of the global
economy, the Information Age, unimagined new works, life enhancing technology--
all these are ours to seize….. We must be shapers of events not observers."
President Clinton plans for strong economy, and democracy, job certainty to
Americans, harnessing the force of technology and science, strengthening
families and communities, saving the environment and making America the
strongest forces for peace, freedom and prosperity. In his address President
Clinton gave the topmost priority to education for the next four years. "
Education is a critical national issue for our future" he declared. His " Call
to Action for American Education" is based on ten principles ensuring that all
Americans will have the best education in the world. The President fixes the
goals of education at all levels. He observes that every 8-year-old must be able
to read; every 12-year-old must be able to log on to the Internet; every
18-year-old must be able to go to college and every adult must be able to
continue learning throughout one's life.
Islamic Horizons May/June
- The Message International May 2000