Recently I was approached by a family asking my opinion on the value of sending children to Islamic schools. Put another way, this family was essentially wondering, and debating, the merits of sending their children to an Islamic school compared to other options.
So then, should families send their kids to Islamic schools? As a professional educator who is Muslim and who has worked in Islamic schools in the past, the initial gut reaction is, “Yes, of course!” As a parent of a young child, however, my answer is, “Well, it depends.”
I have questions and need answers. When I merge my hats of educator and parent —and reflect on this question of sending young learners to Islamic schools, my answer is “Yes,” if it meets the needs of the children and families, and “No” if the situation is lacking in meeting the needs for students. To simply answer “yes” and assume that Islamic schools are always the best option for learners is naïve, and even irresponsible to some degree. The converse is also true; automatically rejecting Islamic schools as a possibility for educating young, Muslim children is also a mistake.
Philosophically speaking, Islamic schools would always be the best choice for educating young Muslim children. However, this situation does not always turn out to be ideal, or even possible. There are various factors to consider. For example, while Islamic K-12 schools are growing in the United States, not all states or cities have an established Muslim school. If relocation is not an option for a Muslim family, then the various other education avenues will need to be considered.
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Moving past geographical limitations, let’s assume there is a local Islamic school to attend in your area. What should parents do? The first recommendation that I offer is to keep an open mind about enrolling children in the Islamic school, but also not to assume it is necessarily the best, or only option. It is important to conduct research and ask questions.
Perhaps the most important question to start with is asking, “What are the religious and educational needs of my children?” Once this question is answered, find out if the local Islamic school can meet the needs you deem important for your children. Visit the school, attend the Open House, and speak with administrators, teachers, parents, and so on.
As a parent myself, I had to go through such a process. I enrolled my own son for Pre-K in an Islamic school. The board, administrators, teachers, and all involved with this school were wonderful and it was a good experience for my son, but caring and good hearts were not enough. My son was ultimately diagnosed with autism and was considered high functioning. He is an intelligent boy and can thrive academically and socially in the right environment, but that ‘right environment’ in his case was not at our particular local Islamic school.
This situation is not a negative reflection on the Islamic school per se because many private schools are likewise not equipped or trained to work with students who have special needs. As a result, my wife and I pursued other options that best served my/our son’s needs.
Also, as a professional educator who has worked in Islamic schools and conducted academic research on Islamic K-12 schools in the United States, I can safely say that there is no uniformity among the various Muslim schools. For a variety of reasons which are beyond the scope of this article, there are quality Islamic schools who meet the religious needs of families and excel academically, and others that do not and need improvement.
It is for these reasons that parents must truly know what they want for their children and do the research accordingly. It is the duty of parents to do so if they are going to ensure the best for each child.
Fast forward and let’s assume that families have conducted the necessary research and that the local Islamic school is a real possibility for their child. In this scenario, parents should seriously consider enrolling their child if the Islamic school meets both the religious and academic needs of their children.
Now, keep in mind that Islam is a strong supporter of any kind of useful knowledge. First, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was personally admonished, starting with his reception of the revealed verses, to seek understanding of the ‘signs’ of Allah which were being conveyed to him.
And so it is that We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran and varied the warnings therein—so that they [who receive it] may become God-fearing, or that it might induce in them the remembrance [of Him]. For most high [above all] is God, The King, the Truth! Thus make no haste with the Quran, [O Prophet,] before its revelation to you is completed. But say [only]: O my Lord! Increase in me knowledge. [Surah Ṭâ Hâ, 20:113-114]
Secondly, the Quran refers to ‘signs’ not only as Quranic verses, but also to truths pointing to the Creator in the world we see around us, and even to our understanding of ourselves as part of His creation.
The revelation of this Book is from God [on high], the Overpowering [One], the All-Wise. Indeed in the heavens and [in] the earth, there are sure signs [of God] for all [who would be] believers. Thus, in your [own] creation, and in [that of] every kind of creature He [diversifies and] spreads about [in the earth], there are [natural] signs [of God’s creative might], for a people who would have certainty [of faith]. … These [verses, as well,] are the [revealed] signs [of the last message] of God [to humankind]. We recite them to you [O Prophet,] with the [very essence of all] truth… [Surah Al-Jâthiyah 45:2-4, 6]
Furthermore, the Prophet’s emphasis on seeking and teaching knowledge is also prominent in the Hadith.
It was narrated from Jabir that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Ask Allah for beneficial knowledge and seek refuge with Allah from knowledge that is of no benefit.” (Ibn Majah)
Abu al-Darda’ reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “He who follows a path in quest of knowledge, Allah will make the path of Jannah easy to him. The angels lower their wings over the seeker of knowledge, being pleased with what he does. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth and even the fish in the depth of the oceans seek forgiveness for him. The superiority of the learned man over the devout worshipper is like that of the full moon to the rest of the stars (i.e., in brightness). The learned are the heirs of the Prophets who bequeath neither dinar nor dirham but only knowledge; and he who acquires it, has in fact acquired an abundant portion.” (Abu Dawud and Al-Tirmidhi)
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “The best of charity is when a Muslim gains knowledge, then he teaches it to his Muslim brother.” (Ibn Majah)
When it comes to the religious, academic, and social needs of the Muslim youth, an established Islamic school may be the best option to increase him/her in knowledge. Why? Below are my top five reasons on the importance of considering Islamic day schools—by which I mean full-time Islamic K-12 (Kindergarden through 12th grade) schools in North America—as real options for educating our Muslim learners.
- Muslim children are the future leaders of the Ummah in North America. As such, they need the training and confidence to practice the Islamic faith in North America while also being active participants in civic society so as to enrich their own lives personally, and possibly also to advance Islamic causes in general. Established Islamic schools provide an environment where children can study, learn, reflect on, and love Islam.
- In conjunction with family efforts, Islamic schools can lay the foundation and teach correct knowledge of Islam. In particular, they can also take western society and influences into account when addressing religious matters, past successes, and new challenges.
- A homogeneity of values and beliefs, when they come from both the school and the home, can contribute to emotional stability and can influence success in religious and academic instruction.
- Effective Islamic schools can provide the right balance and mixture of religious education and academic instruction. Both entities are needed for the holistic growth and development of young learners.
- Perhaps most importantly, Islamic schools help to keep the beauty of Islam at the forefront in the life of children, and they nurture a sense of belonging to the Muslim Ummah in general.
When you find that your local Islamic school is a real and viable option for families and children, why not seriously pursue the option of supporting it for the sake of your own local community and of benefiting from it personally for your own child!