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Outside, In: From Public School to Home-school

By Sakina Binti Erik Marx

As parents, we worry about many things for our children. Their health, social skills, and provision are of great concern to us.

However, the greatest concern which plays into many of our decisions regarding our children is their education. As our children grow, we fantasize about what profession they will work at when they are adults.We make great sacrifices and even relocate to different places around the world to facilitate what we believe is the best way for our children to learn. The concern in the Muslim ummah for education resulted in a world conference in 1977, in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.

“The aims and objectives of Islamic education have been defined in the Recommendation of the Committee of the First World Conference on Muslim Education (Makkah, 1977) as:

“Education should aim at the balanced growth of the total personality of man through training of the human spirit, intellect, rational self, feelings and senses. The training imparted to a Muslim must be such that faith is infused into the whole of his/her personality and creates in him/her an emotional attachment to Islam and enables him to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah and be governed by Islamic system of values willingly and joyfully so that he or she may proceed to the realization of his/her status as Khalifatullah to whom God has promised the authority of the universe.” “(Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed, Education of Muslim Children: Challenges and Opportunities)

For most Muslim parents around the world, schooling starts with the memorisation of the Qur’an. Then we teach our children what we know until we think it is time they learn from someone else. However, there are a greater and greater number of Muslims worldwide that have taken charge of their children’s education. After having had their children in the public schools system, they have become disillusioned and untrusting of the school system’s ability to deliver the best education for their children. After having bad experiences of varying types and degrees they have pulled their children from public schools to take on the job themselves.

There are two main areas of trouble that have prompted Muslim parents to make the decision: suffering scholastically, and most prevalent, crisis in the child’s Islamic identity, which often results in motional problems.

A Lesson Learned

Um Ahmed’s* decision had been finalized by the fact that her son’s schoolwork was suffering. Placing him in the first grade not because of his skills but his age, she recalls,”When my son started first grade his reading level and math skills were above first grade level. He became very unhappy in the class room. He felt his teacher did not like him. One day my son came to the clinic sobbing in tears.They had to call me to come and get him. He felt picked on by the teacher. I made several conferences with the teacher and the school administration. Everyone was all smiles. Nothing really changed.” Um Ahmed had an instinct that something else was wrong. Allah allowed her to see after a short time that Ahmed was not receiving the proper education that would stimulate him to learn even though the school she had sent him to had been reputed as “the best school in the county.”

She waited patiently for her son to adapt to the school environment, but since her other children were homeschooled, she may have been just waiting for a valid enough reason to pull him from school altogether. Um Ahmed received such a signal in the midyear progress report. The teacher reported that her son, although above grade level, had not made any progress at all. So, she thought to herself, ‘My son is suffering emotionally and he is also not progressing’. Um Ahmed pulled her son out of school right away. Ahmed is now progressing happily at home.

Education or Indoctrination

If you are a parent or the relative of a Muslim child in the public schools system, you have no doubt observed for yourself the fitnah (trials) that can happen to them. Our way of life dictates that we try as much as we can to protect our children from corruption and danger when they are at a young age.

A friend told me that she overhead her public-schooled niece talking about a public school subculture surrounding colored plastic bracelets. Cheap and colorful, I remembered collecting, wearing and trading them as a schoolgirl. I learned from my friend’s report that they meant more than this in the current schoolgirl’s mind, and the minds of boys who would snatch them from the girl’s arms. The color he snatched had a shocking code, and a peer-pressured act resulting from it. The second conversation reaffirmed my decision to home-school my children, and became the last straw for Um Abdullah* who had her children in a public school. A mother of four, she spoke to me about how her daughter was asked by the school principal that day to remove her plastic bracelets and put them in her bag.These bracelets were banned from school, from now on, said her principal. My friend was confused at why the principal should make such a strict and seemingly ridiculous rule about a girl’s play jewelry.When I told her what my other friend explained to me about the bracelets,my friend with four kids took them all out of public school. She told me then and there that she had now heard enough; this subculture that the principal could do nothing about other than banning the bracelets demonstrated to her that she should home-school. She felt that her daughters were obviously not safe in that environment. Um Abdullah felt guilty to continue to allow her children to be in a) an un-Islamic environment and b) a place where lack of supervision and discipline can have dangerous results.

Um Hadiya* told me a story about her daughter at the age of five. She had been the only Muslim in her whole classroom, and the children were given a Christmas-themed page to color. Little Hadiya stood up, and in her highpitched voice, announced, “I’m a Muslim. I am not going to do this. Give me something else to do.” Apparently, her teacher ran to give her another type of coloring page and the issue was settled.

However, years later, Um Hadiya still has to remind her daughter’s teachers to avoid assigning projects or inclass work which has an obvious Christian theme. She is among those unsettled about the constant attacks on her daughter’s religious identity.

For Um Ahmed, her son’s teacher’s inability to respond to her input was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She became involved when the class was assigned world holidays projects. The teacher assigned the first of Muharram for the Islamic holiday (apparently in an imitation of the New Year’s holiday). Um Ahmed explained to the teacher that the first of the lunar year is not an Islamic religious holiday, and suggested Ramadhan and Eidul Fitr. Even though Eidul Fitr was at the same time as Christmas that year, the teacher firmly refused. Um Ahmed remembers, “As I looked around the classroom I saw a Christmas Tree and Christmas decorations. I thought, “Is this worth it?” Evidently, Um Ahmed answered herself in the negative.

Um Marwa’s* daughters were in grades four and seven when she realized that their Islamic identity was at stake.What her daughters brought home of sex education, music, and drama assignments disturbed her. Um Marwa felt that the curriculum at the school was geared towards stripping her daughters of their Muslim identity. She has now been home-schooling them for five years. The influences at public schools can take a nasty and more personal attack, aimed at the Muslim parents.

Cynthia Sulaiman, the founder of

MHSNR (Muslim Home-school Network and Resource) writes about the issues Muslim parents face in religious practices clashing with public school:

“Attendance at Salatul-Jumuah has become doubly important for Muslim children in this country to reinforce Islam and the Muslim identity.This can often be a source of trouble between parents and school administrators who see attendance at Friday salah as a truancy issue. Participating in Ramadhan can be fraught with problems too. Many parents report that school administrators have told them they consider the fast as child abuse.As parents know, when a teacher or administrator levels a charge of child abuse, action is often taken very quickly. Muslim parents, knowing this, hold their breath during Ramadhan.”

So it is clear the answer to the question, “Why?” After the decision has been made, what are the steps that homeschoolers then make to transform home into school?

Do you homework

Advising the pre-home-schooling Muslim parent, Um Marwa says that doing your homework is key to succeeding, both educationally and emotionally in making this monumental move. Researching the governmental and school board protocol is important.

Certain areas around the world and around your country will have laws set in place, papers to fill out. There is generally more paperwork and hassle when your children have been in public school, then home-schooled, than if you start off home-schooling before your children go to school. Um Marwa also advises that you should not make a hasty exit from your children’s school without having something in place at home to teach your children. Turning the home environment into a school environment comes with a lot of research, collecting materials, and making connections in your community and city. Internet is handy, but you will need to reach beyond the World Wide Web to arrange interesting and curriculumbased field trips, tutoring in the areas that you find you will need help, and activities for socialization.

For pre-home-schooling Muslim parents in the United States, Cynthia Sulaiman advises, “If a parent does choose home-schooling, it is important for him/her to find out about the laws of the state where he/she resides. This can be done without contacting the state itself, but by contacting Homeschool Legal Defence Association (HSLDA).The tradition of homeschooling has long been practised throughout different countries in the world. Individual states, provinces, and cities are sure to have support groups set up for home-schoolers, serving all faiths.

There are many supplies found in alternative locations for resourceful homeschoolers, which will cost them less money than the popular but often expensive educational supply stores. While it will not be necessary to build a whole classroom identical to the one their children are about to leave, Muslim home-schooling parents are going to have to prepare in order to facilitate the learning experience at home. It is about doing their homework and exploring their options, of budget, time, and facilities.

Home Sweat Home

“According to Dr. Muhammad Wasiullah Khan, there are basically four institutions through which education takes place.These are the family, the mosque, schools and the media. For Muslims in the West or in any region where they may be in minority, the only institutions that can be controlled are the family and the mosque, the other two being subject to local secular forces. It is through the family and the mosque that education which places Islam as a frame of reference can be imparted. The family and the mosque should indulge in an interactive program where proper moral, spiritual and religious education should be imparted.”( Munsif Bhimani, “Arise and Think”)

As a home-schooler, I know the special secret that seems to astonish other parents in popular new board games that help children learn various curriculum areas.They are designed and promoted to be played as a family.The game may have special, well-researched methods incorporated into it, but the real reason these kinds of games work with kids and learning is because they are played at home, with their family. The learning that goes on at home reaches several layers in a child’s mind and that knowledge sinks the deepest.

1. The child is comfortable at home, and feels he or she can be themselves without ridicule and relax.

2. The child feels safe and so the brain is open to new ideas and challenges instead of self-defense.

3. The child feels the love from the parents when they are teaching him a thing, because he is sure they are teaching him because they care for his wellbeing. For Muslim parents who have made this decision, there is a familiar theme as regards influence and care: they wanted to be the primary influences on their children. Only a child’s parent can truly have the child’s best interests at heart.

Common complaints in public schools are, “The teacher doesn’t have time to help me,” and “I don’t think my teacher likes me.” It could be a personal problem with the teacher, but more likely than that, the structure of the school system doesn’t allow the teacher to do what they might really like to achieve with the students. Muslim parents these days are not waiting for the teacher to get to that point. They are concerned that such an environment will stifle their children’s love of learning.

Children are under a lot of other influences in our societies. Parents tend to take a back seat to teachers, coaches, sports stars, etc. Muslim parents make the decision to home-school, because they want to take back the front seat in their children’s minds.They want to be considered an authority and a source of knowledge and guidance for their children. “A school administrator who objected to home-schooling told a Christian parent who did home-school, ‘If you educate your children at home you will give them your values.’ If school administrators object to Christian parents giving their children Christian values, one can imagine how much they object to Muslim parents giving their children Islamic values.'” (Cynthia Sulaiman, “Home-schooling: The Muslim Alternative”)

Get a Life!

Often the first thing that people think of when they hear,‘home-schooling’, is ‘alienation.’ One of Um Marwa’s daughters’complaints when their mother pulled them from public schools was that they wouldn’t have any socialization. A good parent realizes that a child cannot be content to stay with their family constantly and not need friends. In a public school, a child may accept any kind of person as a friend and be open to their influences. A home-schooling parent can guide their children through planning social activities to the kind of people appropriate for his or her children with whom to associate. Muslim home-schooling parents are more aware of who are their children’s influences. Um Marwa is active in her community, organizing events and camps not only for her daughters, but for the benefit of the community as well.

Home-school organizations are regular in arranging outings and gatherings. Because of the movement of Muslim children from public school to homeschool, many cities around the world have well-organized, consistent Muslim home-school support groups for socialization and field trips.

The Learning Never Stops

When asked if they would ever send their children back to public schools, the sisters interviewed gave a firm and unanimous, “Never, InshaAllah!”. The rewarding experience of teaching their children themselves and tailoring subjects and curriculum is not something that could be achieved any other way. While the Muslim families that homeschool may outsource with tutors or private classes for specific subject areas beyond their capacity, the sisters who home-school could never hand their children back to the public schools system. For home-schooling families, the learning never stops.A question asked while at the sink may become a whole area of study in home-school. An outing to the grocery store can become a health science field trip.Anything you say to your child is a learning experience for him or her. Whether you know it or not, you are probably already home-schooling to some extent any time you take the time to explain a thing, any thing, to your child.

Home-schooling is an option, of the options out there for Muslim parents today.We have seen in recent times a gradual and steady rise in the number of Muslims making the choice to homeschool their children.They are all from varying educational levels, from university graduates to those who have not completed secondary school. They are converts to Islam as well as Muslims born in Muslim countries. They share, however, the strong desire to replace their children’s present education with a better one, one found right at home.

Taken from Al-Jumuah Magazine (All rights belong to the Magazine)

Abu Abdullah • September 11, 2008

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