My Problem with The High Cost of Islamic Schooling

25 November, 2017
Q Asalaam Alaikum, our question pertains to schooling: currently, we are fortunate enough to have our school aged daughter enrolled in a good private Islamic school. However, due to the expense of the school and the grade limit of the school (the school only goes up to the 8th grade), we are not sure how much longer we can send her there. In addition, we have two other daughters who will be in school in the coming years, and it might be way too expensive to send all three to the Islamic school. I am so afraid to send my Muslim girls to a public school as I was raised as a non-Muslim here in America. So I perfectly know how it is in public schools and it has gotten worse.I don't know how a good, modest Muslim girl can go to public school and not be harassed or negatively influenced - especially after being sheltered for so long in an Islamic school with mostly Muslim friends. So, my question is this: is it better to send our girls to a public school (if we can't continue the private school), or should we send her to an all-girls catholic school? I hate the idea of them going to a catholic school; however we know Muslims who are doing this, so at least their girls can be in an all-girls school. The parents make sure the girls wear hijab, and get much Islamic training outside of the school.In addition, they are not forced to participate in religious activities in the school. But still this seems risky to me. In your opinion which choice is better: public mixed gender school or all girls' catholic school? Thank you very much. Asalaam Alaikum

Answer

As-salamu `alaykum my dear sister.

As a parent, I can say that the situation that you present to us is one where you can never be absolutely sure that you are doing the best. When we are so committed to our children in this way, we just act with one hand and pray for guidance with the other. When we send our children to school, whatever type of school it may be, the fact remains that we are sending our children into an environment that ends up playing a large role in their lives. With the demands of everyday life, and without realizing it, we give up parenting. The time left in the evening is limited, and the energy available to both the child and the parents fluctuates, subject to the daily pressures and the demands of homework and, in some cases, private lessons.

When this happens, we give up our role as parents to the school and whatever social system that tags along with it. Before we know, years have passed and the role played in developing our children has not been ours, but the school’s. You have obviously made a fundamental decision as to your child’s education, subhan Allah, as education for life: the maturing of the whole person, which is what education is supposed to be. This gives society hope for the future, in sha’ Allah. Maybe it is time that Islamic schools received adequate funding from all the mosques that we have, which in turn receive zakah and other forms of charity that could at least help to reduce the cost of school fees, and maybe individuals who are in a position to give charity would also contribute under such circumstances.

Al hamdu-lillah, you are a full time mum, which means that you can be there for your children as they grow. You can no longer afford the financial cost of sending your eldest daughter to an Islamic school that you are happy with, but what is the school providing that you cannot provide? If it meant you learning more about your Islam, would this not be better for the family as a whole? You would be sharing a learning experience together which would improve your Islamic parenting skills and would increase your role as a teacher in the lives of your children. After all, you are their first teacher. Even if you feel ambivalent about your own Islamic knowledge, take a look at the parents you refer to who get additional support from extracurricular activities in the community around you.

As to whether you should send your child to a Catholic school, from what I have heard and from what you have said, there seems to be no harm there, especially as Catholics are considerate of the religious needs of Muslim students. The Catholic Church and Islam have had a long ongoing relationship with issues of common concern. Did you know, for instance, that the Islamic way of prayer is actually cited in the Bible? Convert to Islam Thomas McElwain, who is conversant with the ancient Hebrew and Greek translations of the Bible, tells us in one of his London lectures:

The example of Jesus praying in prostration is mentioned in Matthew 26:39 “And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed.” Prayer as specific times in the day is also mentioned in the Bible in Psalm 32:6, “For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found.” Also, Psalm 69:13, “But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O Lord, in an acceptable time.” The cry “Allahu Akbar” is mentioned as belonging to prayer in Psalm 35:27; 18:5-6; 30:8; 34:3; and 55:16. Standing, bowing, kneeling, and prostrating are all gestures of prayer in the Psalms. Prayer towards the house of God is commended in Psalm 5:7 “But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy; and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.”

No one expects you to go beyond your means, and as a parent who is doing the best she can and more, if you have the example of Catholic schools within your community that can provide a healthy and balanced education that will not undermine your daughter’s sense of self-worth as a young Muslim lady and there are facilities within the community that can help to compensate for what you feel is lacking in terms of Islamic knowledge, where is the problem? In this way,

  • You will play a more active life in the lives of your children as this will make you more diligent and less dependent on others to provide for your children’s all-round development.
  • You and your husband will learn more about Islam, about yourselves, and about each other.
  • What you are considering will help strengthen the family, as you will all be actively involved.
  • Your children will not be ignorant about people from other religions, which is important in a secular society, as this increases understanding of others.
  • Your children will widen their Muslim social network through the extracurricular activities in the community.
  • As your children grow, you will learn about what suitable facilities exist within your community on a social level. This, too, will increase support between Muslim families as you get to know more about each other through your children.
  • Your children will learn social skills, with your help, and will be more able to relate to others in the society in which you live and who are not Muslim.

My dear sister, Islamic education is not confined between four walls, but is everywhere:

“Most surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day there are signs for men who understand. And Allah’s is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth; and Allah has power over all things”(Aal `Imran 3:189-190).

Investigate the schools and your community further and see what role you can play in addressing the balance. Make Istikharah (Prayer for guidance) before you make your final decision.


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About Hwaa Irfan
Late Hwaa Irfan, may her soul rest in peace, served as consultant, counselor and freelance writer. Her main focus was on traditional healing mechanisms as practiced in various communities, as opposed to Western healing mechanisms.