Growing up, there was one Islamic school that started in our local mosque. Fortunately (you’ll understand in a moment), I was a year too old to attend. Teachers weren’t certified, classrooms were lacking basic furniture, the parking lot doubled as a gym and playground, and the Imam’s living room housed the preschool. Horror stories emerged during the first 5 years about punishment methods found in an old-school Egyptian public school system, students lacking basic reading skills, and a lack of funds to cover daily operations. Fast forward 10 years and the same school has flourished and grown proudly in the face of its critics. Students graduate to go on to Ivy League universities, a brand new building with state of the art equipment is erected, and the waiting list to get accepted is longer than the list of attending students.
When it came time to choose a school for my daughter, there were many options. Although I am extremely happy with the quality of education and care my daughter – only in preschool right now – receives, I find myself questioning if it really is worth the money, time and energy to keep her in Islamic school — especially as a single mom. After all, I went to public school and turned out OK. I sat down with a pen and paper and jotted down some things I felt were valuable from the past two years of Islamic school. This topic is endless with pros and cons, and some points that I could write a book about. Here are my top pros and my biggest concerns.
Community – My favorite thing about the Islamic school is that it builds more than just a school. It builds another smaller community within the larger Islamic community. My child has a group she belongs to that she can relate to and feel comfortable with. Depending on the school you choose (hopefully you have more than one choice), the group of families usually share the same ideals, financial status and Islamic teachings as your own family.
Identity– Along with a great supportive community, the Islamic school really helps Muslim children develop a strong sense of identity. There is nothing like your 4-year-old coming home and declaring “I am a Muslim” proudly. Or reading Curious George’s 1st Ramadan in school and being able to relate. I still remember the sad day in first grade when my teacher was discussing the first WTC bombing and a kid turned around and told me “Your people did this.” First grade! I felt ashamed and confused, who were “my people” and how was I suddenly on the outside? My stomach gets in knots every time I remember that incident which has been engraved in my memory. It scares me even more now and I would never want my daughter to experience Islamophobia until she is old enough to understand how to deal with it.
Parents care– When your child goes to an Islamic school you are more than likely paying a hefty price. If you pay that much for your child’s education, then you better be on top of every little thing. I love that the parents really care about their children’s education and well-being. As a result, the standard of learning and the environment is uplifted and charged to foster the best atmosphere possible. Sometimes parent involvement can be too much and cause some unnecessary drama, but for the most part, it comes from a good place of wanting the best for their children.
No Weekend School– I dreaded Saturday afternoons because while other kids in my class enjoyed the day off, I was stuck in a side classroom at the masjid learning Quran, Islamic studies and Arabic from someone’s mom who I couldn’t relate to one bit. Having a week between each class had me forgetting everything we learned as my mother only had time to review last week’s lessons that morning. As an adult, I sure do not want to “waste” my precious weekend. I believe weekend Islamic school is the most ineffective use of weekend time. Unless you are dedicated to spending at least an hour a day during the week to review the lessons and surahs that were taught that weekend — the effort to learn anything is lost. Full time Islamic school takes the pressure off trying to teach at home after a long day of work, housework, sports practices, and homework. Weekends are left open for social events, sports, and valuable family time.
…and it is long overdue to create a space for our children to grow with healthy Muslim American identities
There are arguments on both sides of the fence for and against Islamic school. But one thing is certainly true, we have come such a long way as a Muslim American Community and it is long overdue to create a space for our children to grow with healthy Muslim American identities. If you are thinking of enrolling your child in an Islamic School be forewarned of some of the cons that come with it.
Drama for your mamas– Most schools have a lot of politics and issues within the governing bodies. If you get too involved you may feel overwhelmed and grow to dislike the school. If you are hands-off, you may be missing out on an opportunity to bring some experience and expertise to building the future of the school and your child. A good rule of thumb is to always remember your Muslim manners when handling any unfavorable circumstance.
The bubble– Creating a Muslim American bubble is also an extreme you want to avoid. Remember the part “American” in “Muslim American.” Enroll your child in after-school activities, sports and play dates outside of the Muslim community. Allowing your children to understand other faiths and traditions will help them later on in their life and avoid that social awkwardness when they are out in the real world. I engage my neighbors and friends of other faiths for play dates and my daughter does gymnastics once a week. I am careful she doesn’t encounter any negativity but at the same time opens her eyes to a world other than the one she is used to.
“Safe Zone”– Assuming that Islamic school is a safe zone for your child from all haram is the worst thing you could do. People are human wherever you go and the devil don’t discriminate! That being said, you are not immune from some of the scary things that happen out in the real world so learn to take certain precautions. Talk to your kids, especially the young ones, about sexual harassment. Girls and boys still like each other and are tempted to experiment in high school regardless of the atmosphere. Talk to your kids! Bullying is a universal behavior unfortunately, so stay in touch with the teachers and class parents to make sure you catch any behavior before it’s too late. If your child for any reason does not feel comfortable in the atmosphere, listen to what he/she says and make the best decision for their well-being.
I am also very excited that there is a young 1st generation of Muslim American teachers who are dedicated heart and soul to teach our children in a refreshing Muslim American atmosphere. As our communities grow and our expertise are really put to positive use, I have no doubt that our Islamic schools will be ones to model in America. The level of dedication and enthusiasm poured into every school year increases year after year. I am confident that I am making the right choice for my daughter by keeping her in Islamic school as she prepares for this life and the next, Alhamdullilah.