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Soap Box: Much Ado about Islamic Education

Maria Zain is tired of defending her family’s choices, but here goes…

“But, why would you homeschool?”



These whys usually transform into why on earth then to full interrogations of my knowledge of the legal and other ramifications of keeping my children out of institutionalised schooling. I know the drill. I’ve done the dance many times.



I dislike the back and forth over choices that are very family-centric and I’ve never crossed the line of questioning another parent’s choice to send his (normally her) children to school. After all, every mother’s parenting journey is a personal one and I try not to look into the rights and wrongs of others; after all, I don’t have time and energy left after constantly evaluating my own. In group settings, where I’m normally the homeschooling black sheep, the discussion usually escalates into this school vs that school, giving me some reprieve of not having to continuously “defend” my own choices.



Sometimes when I listen to other mothers and their constant concerns about the curriculum, the quality of the teachers, discrimination (as Muslims living in the West), poor peer relations, playground bullying, lack of camaraderie amongst parents (surprise, surprise), it often baffles me, making me cry out in my head “why NOT homeschool?”



Despite their reservations about homeschooling, many of the concerns brought up by those using institutionalised school can be quickly overturned by taking the less travelled path of the home educator. I honestly see that a lot of the problems parents face are a result of the breakdown of the family unit. After all, many school-related hours take place during the daytime and children are up before the crack of dawn and rushing to the school compound. They tend to get back very late and are bombarded with homework, if not extra classes, and have very little family time left, at least during the weekdays. And what are spending two days together as a family doing errands and chores, as compared to the five days lost to academic studies?



I love how Islam tells us that education starts at home and it falls upon the parents to fulfill the educational rights of a child, which includes quality family time and good manners. I think that parents can agree that it’s hard to imbue good manners in a classroom, let alone through textbooks. Fantastic adab (manners) is a grossly forgotten Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and the youth regularly around him were testament to his love and compassion towards them.





Adab: The Forgotten Knowledge

Join Ummu Abdir-Rahmaan in the first of her series on rediscovering the forgotten pearls of manners.



Anas bin Malik (RA), who spent his years serving the Prophet (SAW) and is recognised as one of the prominent narrators of the Prophetic hadith, relays that the Prophet (SAW) never so much as expressed a grimace of dissatisfaction towards his work (Bukhari & Muslim). Ali bin Abi Talib (RA), one of the most iconic youths of the time, was the first youngster to embrace Islam and pray in public during very sensitive times for his tribe. He would not have been able to do that – and at the same time defy his father’s religion (paganism) – had he not felt love towards the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as a result of undulating care and kindness he received from him in the first place. Needless to say, there were plenty of other youths, including Ali’s sons who came later and clung onto their grandfather during prayers and their cousin Umamah (who also did the same); there was also ‘Aishah bint Abi Bakr, the Prophet’s (SAW) young wife, who enjoyed probably the best education of the time, just by being so very close to the Messenger of Allah (SAW).


Fast forward to today. The love for the Prophet (SAW) still reigns supreme (in regards of love for another human) amongst Muslims, even amongst lesser practicing Muslims, but it’s barely emulated the way education has taken form. On one hand, the more “liberal” Muslim families from culturally-Muslim backgrounds have a very secular approach to education. Children are placed in the best schools, private ones even, with smaller classes and great track records. I think this is a great formula for academic success, but many private schools also have longer hours (increasing the separation period between parent and child during the day), more homework and more pressure to maintain the school’s reputation. It’s not uncommon in Asian countries as well that children of secondary school level are sent off to prestigious boarding schools in order to excel academically, only seeing their parents twice a month (if permitted) and during school holidays. This seems to be the formula for a child to emerge as a doctor, engineer, corporate lawyer, accountant or IT programmer. And inevitably, this child also represents his or her parents’ “pension fund.” While this is fine, culturally, this preference is often given to the child(ren) who exhibit intellectual prowess at a young age, whereas those who don’t, are often relegated to Islamic “state” or “normal” schools to be the “provision” for their parents’ Akhirah (afterlife).




I remember listening to a lecture by Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan and his concerns over this preference. Just like the pagan Arabs used to attribute daughters (babies they disliked, shunned and killed) to Allah Ta’ala (astaghfirullah), they chose to keep their sons for themselves (for worldly status and provisions of this world). The more sinister message behind this tidbit of history is that parents still “choose” to favour intelligent children to provide for them, while passing over the less preferred to the deen, in hopes of provision in the next life. Absurd, isn’t it?



On the other hand, Islamically progressive and modern Muslim families will look to private Islamic schools for the best education and reflection of the deen possible. Again, in some countries, due to the demand of the same, the Islamic education industry has turned into a lucrative sector, turning Islamic education into an elite commodity, providing for those who can afford that educational route. If the provision of a private Islamic school is unavailable, children are squished into post-school Islamic classes at the masjid or Islamic centres. Again, all these are great initiatives, but are more hours spent away from parents. What happened to education begins at home? Why is the family unit losing its pivotal role in educating their own children?



As a home educator, I admit I spend a lot of time with my children. They do join plenty of activities, clubs, sports and extra classes, but the bulk of their quality time is spent with me and their dad and each other.  So when people ask, “Why?” I relay that I really believe that education begins and flourishes at home. While I really may not be the best Muslim role model, my children have motivated me to get closer to Allah I in all aspects and to imbue similar encouragement upon them. I feel very conscious of my primary role as an educating parent to raise my children in this world, so that they are successful in the next.



When I hear of parents continuously sending their kids away to get an education – whether Islamic or not – I often hear the unwritten expectation that they will emerge as angels. Good manners are still desirable, yet there is resounding disappointment that it’s just not happening.



All this alludes to, again, the over-outsourcing of the parental role as the main educator of the family. If all of us were able to adopt even a fraction of the way Prophet Muhammad (SAW) educated the young, many more children would feel a calm in their early years and a passion to learn in their later years. They would also be more inclined to emulate their parents, rather than shun them as adults, just because the bond between parent and child was fortified during the impressionable years of growing up. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one has to homeschool, but this is my ultimate answer to the whys.






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Maria Zain was a prolific contributor to SISTERS magazine, writing extensively about issues including parenting, inter-cultural relationships, homeschooling and homebirthing, and even Muslim fashion. In December 2014 Maria Zain died, insha Allah a shaheedah, related to birthing her sixth child, who survived. SISTERS magazine will always be indebted to Maria for the immense work she did for the magazine as well as for the SISTERS family as a whole. We ask that readers consider donating to a fund for her six children in hopes to help their father continue to raise them in the loving and deen-centered style the parents worked so hard to foster.

Donations can be made at www.gofundme.com/mariazain