When school students, anywhere across the globe, are asked what their favorite subject is, we typically hear a variety of different answers; Math, Science, English, History, Art. Very rarely do we hear a response from students that their favorite subject is Islamic Studies, whether they attend weekend Islamic schools or a full-time Islamic private school. In a study conducted by Sultan Zainal Abidin University in Malaysia, researchers found that the majority of school students interviewed reported that they were not interested in attending Islamic education classes at school. [i]
Despite all the changes in education and teaching techniques, more often than not, Islamic education in the classroom is still taught using the traditional one-way method; the teacher does most of the talking and the student is the listener.
This can be particularly problematic for weekend Islamic schools in the West. From the children’s point-of-view, they are in school for a sixth day of their already cramped week, so our weekend schools need to offer them more —intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
More of Exactly What?
More dialogue, participation, group discussions, critical thinking, questioning, activities, games, demonstrations, and quiz bowls should take place in class. The class can play a game of jeopardy. The questions will be prepared by the teacher to reinforce a certain lesson. Students will have fun but they will also learn so much!
Sometimes to get students hyped about a certain topic, I start my class with a song. Before I began the chapter in our book on the obligatory prayer, we watched the video clip of Humud Al-Khuder’s song, Keep Me True. A friend of mine had his class perform a play on the story of the Prophet’s migration from Makkah to Madinah. The students included every minute detail in the story and they probably learned far more than if they had simply read the chapter from a book.
For older kids, share research with them. Here’s an example of bringing in research. In Islam, alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited. This is to be obeyed solely out of piety and fear of Allah. But high school kids in the West may have read or heard somewhere that in small, moderate amounts, alcohol is not necessarily harmful to one’s health. Now, even that is changing.
New research on alcohol and mortality, due to the rise in alcohol-related deaths in the US, is showing that even moderate levels of alcohol consumption has health-deteriorating effects. A study involving 600,000 participants, published in the Lancet, [ii]
The Price for Lack of Islamic Education
Why should we be so passionate about sparking interest in Islamic studies? We all know the answer: Nurturing faith and instilling moral guidelines in children from a young age is essential to producing young adults with a moral compass that guides them. It is not enough to churn out as many doctors and engineers as we can. In addition, we must mold these doctors and engineers to be adults who are responsible global citizens, who hold themselves accountable, who treat others as they themselves would like to be treated, who care for their family, neighborhood, community, and the environment, and who are God-conscious.
What is at stake when our youth are so apathetic about their faith? What is the price we are paying as more and more high schoolers and college kids are losing faith and are not adhering to the teachings of Islam? Here is one price to consider. Alcohol abuse is so prevalent in the U.S. that even among American Muslims, 47 percent of Muslim college students reported having consumed alcohol in the past year, according to The Family & Youth Institute.[iii]
Although most of available statistics are for the general US population,[iv] Muslim youth living in America are at risk as well.
- Teen alcohol abuseresults in 4,300 deaths each year among kids under 21.
- Nearly 3,300 teens try weed for the first time every day.
- Around 13% of people who start smoking pot as teenagers become dependent on it.
- Regular marijuana use can cause a drop in IQ of up to 8 points.
- Approximately 2.5% of high school seniors are caught up in cocaine use. This may seem small, but it amounts to a million teens doing drugs that could kill them.
- Nearly 44% of high school students know a classmate who sells drugs. Among the drugs they listed are: marijuana, prescription drugs, cocaine, and ecstasy.
Drug awareness programs held in schools and colleges are not enough. No amount of external rules, regulations, and penalties will be able to entirely curb the teen drug abuse endemic.
Circumventing Tragedy in the First Place
No, this may not be the full solution to an alcohol or drug addiction already established, but building strong faith and the love of Allah in our youth is the essential foundation for a happy and wholesome life. If a young person loves Allah, she will obey Him. She will do not only the obligatory acts of worship, but will go above and beyond. When a love of Allah is alive in the heart, when an internal change happens, the protection of Allah comes in.
In an authentic Hadîth of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), he reported that Allah had said,
“My servant draws near to Me with nothing more beloved to Me than the acts of worship that I have enjoined upon him. My servant continues to try to draw near to Me with more devotion, until I love him. When I love him, I will be his hearing with which he hears, his sight by which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, his feet on which he walks. When he asks Me for something, I will respond and when he takes refuge in Me, I will grant it to him.”
This is what our teens need, to love Allah and for Allah to love them.
If a 17 year old girl is offered the chance to try weed, her faith should cause her to reason, “I trust that Allah who created me and created my body and mind knows what is best and safest for me. If He, according to his infinite Wisdom and Knowledge has forbidden me to do drugs, then I trust that He has forbidden it for a good reason and for my own health and benefit.” She will be strong and confident enough to stand up to the negative peer pressure. Her faith should empower her to say, “No!”
Even when children spend hours in weekend Islamic schools or attend full-time Islamic schools, what they learn does not always translate into adhering to Islamic principles. This issue is multi-factorial, and I do not intend to oversimplify the matter. However, one positive step to take can be revamping Islamic Education in our Saturday and Sunday Islamic schools.
Implementing Core Islamic Education
Most schools do a great job in teaching the pillars of Islam and the pillars of faith, and how to correctly perform the acts of worship. And of course this is necessary but not sufficient if we want to produce young people who know and love Allah. Nor should teaching children about Islam be limited to drilling them on what is halal (permissible) and haram (forbidden). But rather these should come hand in hand with learning about Allah. In fact, the most noble and most important know-how to learn, is the discovery of how to know Allah.
As Imam Al-Ghazali said,
“The more you know Allah, the more you will love Him.”
The gateway to learning more about Allah, and thus to experiencing Him, is exploring Allah’s Beautiful Names and Attributes, as He has revealed them to us in the Holy Qur’an. Thus a serious study of the Beautiful Names and Attributes of Allah should be added to the Islamic Education program in all weekend schools, advancing in detail more as children advance in age.
What is so remarkable about learning and internalizing Allah’s Beautiful Names and Attributes is that it puts the believer’s heart in that harmonious balance between fear of Allah and His punishment on the one side, and hope in Allah’s immense mercy and forgiveness on the other. Ibn Al-Qayyim characterized the believer’s heart when he said,
“The heart on its journey towards Allah the Exalted is like that of a bird. Love is its head, and fear and hope are its two wings. When the head is healthy, then the two wings will fly well. When the head is cut off, the bird will die. When either of the two wings is damaged, the bird becomes vulnerable to every hunter and predator.”
Here are some practical examples of directly applicable benefits from highlighting Allah’s Names in our Islamic education curriculum.
- Allah’s Name Al-‘Alîm means that Allah knows everything, even the hidden matters. Allah is aware of all things, His knowledge is complete and perfect. If a boy understands the meaning of Al-‘Alîm, he may realize that even if he can hide something from his teachers and parents, he cannot hide it from Allah. Furthermore, the fact that Al-‘Alîm, the All-Knowing, is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an around 150 times emphasizes the importance Islam places on acquiring knowledge.
- The Name Al-Samî’ means the All-Hearing, the Ever-Listening. Allah hears every word and secret and He understands all languages. Allah hears every time we lie, gossip, curse, slander, and speak disrespectfully to our mothers, for example. Learning the meaning of Al-Samî’ could help teenage girls quit the ugly habit of backbiting and gossiping.
Fearing Allah in response to understanding His magnificence, power, and awareness helps Muslims avoid falling into sin. And when we do make mistakes, what motivates us to repent? It is the hope in Allah’s mercy and in the knowledge that Allah is:
- Al-Ghafûr meaning the One who forgives a lot, again and again for those who seek His forgiveness.
- Al-`Afuww meaning the Pardoner. Allah not only forgives, but He can completely remove sins from your record of deeds, leaving no trace of them!
- Al-Tawwâb meaning the One who continuously turns in forgiveness to those who turn to Him in repentance.
The regret we feel after committing sin is painful but it need not be a debilitating, immobilizing regret. On the contrary, it is a pro-active feeling that leads to sincere istighfâr (seeking forgiveness), the determination not to go back to the sin, and following that sin with good deeds to help erase the bad.
Learning these Names fills the believer’s heart with love, hope, and optimism. Each of Allah’s Beautiful Names and Attributes can have a beneficial impact on how we live our lives. For most of us, knowledge of Allah’s Names is an unexplored resource waiting for us to seek them. There are rich on-line resources for learning Allah’s Names and Attributes. To get started, check out these:
- For those who understand Arabic, I strongly recommend watching the series of the Beautiful Names of Allah, presented by Shaikh Mohammed Rateb Al-Nabulsi[v]. The episodes provide a wealth of knowledge and they are all available on YouTube.
- For creative ideas on teaching the Beautiful Names of Allah to younger students, and some games and fun on-line quizzes, check out the website faithfulkids.net.
- And be sure to listen with your class to the lovely song on the Beautiful Names of Allah by Sami Yusuf[vi] and also the one by Harmony Band[vii]!
Anyone involved in Islamic Education needs to know that there are approaches and materials for making learning enjoyable and effective. We can overcome the current widespread disinterest among students by using the best teaching methods and beginning with already available materials.
[i] Mustafa, Z. and Salim, H. (2012). Factors Affecting Students’ Interest in Learning Islamic Education. Journal of Education and Practice
[ii] Burton, R. and Sheron, N. (2018) The Lancet. No Level of Alcohol Consumption Improves Health
[iii] Ahmed, S., Patel, S., Hashem, H. (2015) The Family Youth Institute. Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. State of American Muslim Youth: Research & Recommendations