Many Muslim parents in the U.S. make heartfelt du’a for guidance as to how to meet the challenge of deciding on the education of their children.
The seriousness of having an approach to education and rearing within the family (taribiyah) that leans toward the best of this life and the next for their offspring makes the choice of education difficult and one that is not taken lightly.
The decision is further complicated by the fact that it is often guided not just by deeply held religious beliefs, but also sociopolitical factors. This is true whether the parent is American born and bred or has migrated to the U.S. and embraced its culture and identity.
For many Muslim parents the desire to nurture the psychic of their child by providing an environment that is free of influences that conflict with Islamic beliefs and principles is balanced with the desire to provide an education that is beneficial and competitive with the world around them.
Muslim parents who have migrated to the U.S. are overwhelmingly from less developed countries whether second or third world. Muslims born in the U.S. are largely ethnic minorities within America. The result is that neither is part of the larger American society and thus will have a cultural and historical preponderance to understanding the negative reality of substandard education.
Islamic or Public Schools?
Thus, parents are faced with two choices; either put their children in an Islam based school or not. When choosing an Islam based school experience, this may include homeschooling; a full time school run by Muslims with the intent of providing a particular madhab of Islamic beliefs as part of the curriculum or a weekend religious instruction. Each of these choices has benefits and disadvantages.
Parents who choose to homeschool may not have the knowledge, disposition or even patience to educate all aspects for their children. Those who choose a full time or weekend religious experience are often faced with inexperienced teachers, falsely exaggerated credentials, conflicting teaching methodologies, limited capital resources and experimental policies that absolutely compromise their child’s education.
On the other hand, parents who place their children in the alternative, public or privately run American schools, may face student, teacher or school system bias, discrimination, racism, and curriculum and policies that run contrary to their values and/or beliefs and limited economic or political power to make any changes all of which absolutely compromise their child’s education.
Thus, choosing an educational experience for their children with a heart to adhere to the command of Allah, The Most High, in the Holy Quran Surah 66 ayah 6 is far from easy.
The human condition and psyche is complex. Even with the best of intentions and sincerity decisions as to where to place Muslim children in the educational options is guided by a sociopolitical component. Culturally, Muslim parents in the U.S. face a social pressure from within the Muslim community to place their children in the available school ran by Muslims. I believe this has a basis in the sincere desire and requirement for Muslims to create community life and this is of course connected to children.
Allah, commands us in holy Qur’an to come into Islam completely. In order for the human condition to be complete it involves more than just me as an individual, but also that of my family and community. Our lives are not separated from our fellow believers; the interests of the total community impact us all, thus we fast during Ramadan alone as an individual, while the whole world of Muslims on the earth fasts with us and we perform the rites of Hajj alone as an individual yet in a sea of humanity.
O you who have believed, enter into Islam completely [and perfectly] and do
not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy. (2:208)
So as we attempt to embrace Islam fully, that community shared experience is part of our way as Muslims. Thus, there is a quiet reprimand of parents who make the decision not to place their children in nearby Muslim run schools, regardless of how valid their reasoning may be – economic, distance, teacher credentials, etc. -because not supporting the effort is seen as an affront to establishing that complete community life.
As this quiet social pressure exists it is flawed by overt corruptions. Some schools are relatively inexperienced with limited resources and personnel that are often expected to be ‘overlooked’ by potential parents. Many schools run by Muslims have rigid madhab affiliations, which may or may not reflect that of the parents living nearby.
Even more debilitating than disagreements in school of thought is unconcealed racial and ethnic contempt many U.S. Muslims have for each other. It is not uncommon to go into a school run by Muslims and find ninety percent or more of the students in the school to have a homogenous racial or ethnic make-up. Regardless of the excuses given for this phenomenon, the reality is a nationwide shame for Muslims in America.
Thus, in addition to choosing a school run by Muslims attempting to teach an Islamic based curriculum, parents must decide whether to stay true to ethnic, political and cultural ties or not. My personal observation has been that American born Muslims will cross ethnic lines at a much greater percentage rate than Muslims who have migrated to the U.S.
Faith, Culture and Ethnicity…
In one city, a school with Islamic based curriculum was opened by a group of African American Muslims each with more than 25 years of educational experience, doctoral degrees and published research recognized in academia and even accreditation by U.S. educational governing authorities; all of which has been met with complete indifference from areas where Muslim parents are not of the same ethnic group.
These types of ‘elephant in the room’ obstacles contribute to parents opting out of the ‘Muslim school’ experience altogether and placing their children in private and public held educational institutions. Some parents are culturally American and believe the policy of ‘inclusion’ and appreciation for ‘diversity’ that American schools are supposed to follow procedurally, protects their children from patent religious indoctrination.
Other parents who have migrated to the U.S. deliberately seek to assimilate within the society and choose these educational options for their children as part of that assimilation process. Still, other Muslim parents simply have no viable alternative near their homes or no discretionary income and therefore send their children to public or private American schools.
For whatever reason Muslim parents choose this educational option, they will usually fall within two categories; they will either comply with whatever policies the school has in place and keep an open communication with their children to interpret those things that are not keeping with their family or religious culture; or become politically involved.
Those parents who choose to adhere to school procedures will often not seek to make systemic change, but instead opt for personal appeals to individual teachers for accommodations for their child. This may be a note asking for a child to be excused from a holiday activity to a request to make a class presentation for the Eid. Other parents simply ignore all school issues and send their children with the idea of not doing or saying anything remarkable about school policies or procedures.
Those Muslim parents who opt to become politically involved usually join the PTA and take their concerns to the school board which may include everything from defining pork products on the lunch menu to reduced physical education during Ramadan to modifying dress code rules to accommodate head scarves for girls. These parents work towards teacher sensitivity training and Muslim holiday inclusion on school calendars. However, these parents often face open resistance, hostility and racism from the larger society.
Thus, there are no easy educational choices for Muslim parents in the United States. Muslim parents truly have to make salatul-istikara for help in guiding them with the circumstances given and to trust the choice they make is beneficial to their offspring and most pleasing to Allah.
First published: September 2015