By Ibrahim Bowers
As long as our children are in the public school, Islamic education will take a back seat. However, we must do everything we can to minimize the harm of the public schools and to maximize the opportunities for Islamic education.
Here are a few suggestions for making the most of our children’s public school education:
Some Reasons why Parents Send Children to Public Schools
Many Muslims — because of lack of money, lack of available Islamic schools, lack of time, or lack of teaching ability — find it necessary to send our children to the American public schools. This may not be our first choice for our children’s education, but we may feel that we have no alternatives.
There, at least, our children are taught English, mathematics, social studies, history, science, sports, and other important subjects. Many of these subjects pose no problem. As far as our religion is concerned, they are relatively neutral. A few, such as history and social studies, however, may be quite harmful. None of the classes are really positive in the sense that they teach our children to be better Muslims. Therefore, if we send our children to the public school, it is essential that we provide some kind of Islamic education in addition to their public school classes.
Weekend Schools are Not Enough
Some Muslim communities try to do this by establishing Islamic Sunday schools, Islamic weekend schools, or part-time Islamic schools, and these are all good ways to supplement our children’s education. However, in many cases, they are not enough. We cannot send our kids to the American public schools from 30-to-40 hours per week and expect to give them an Islamic education in a 2-hour Sunday school. We really need more time for our children to learn about Islam and to be under the influence of Muslims.
Steps to Take
• Be aware of what they are learning at school
When they learn something wrong in school, we must be there to correct misinformation and re-educate them.
• Provide them with additional Islamic education
Provide the children with extra Islamic education either at home, in the mosque, at a part-time Islamic school, or with a Muslim tutor where they can learn the Quran, Hadith, the history of the Prophets and the Companions, the system of Islam, current events in the Muslim world, and Arabic.
• Take them to the masjid often
This is so that they will be immersed in Islamic life and be influenced by Muslims at least for a short time. This, too, is education. In the masjid, they will see the example of Muslims and hear people quoting the Quran and the hadith and discussing Islamic issues.
• Be careful about their friends
Some parents may not be as concerned as we are about what their children say and do. If our children are in the public school, they will probably have non-Muslim friends. This is not necessarily a problem, but if our children start coming home saying curse words or acting like Snoop Doggy Dog, we will probably need to try to supplement or replace their friendships as well. We should encourage them to make Muslim friends as much as possible, and going to the masjid regularly is an excellent way to provide this opportunity. In an article I read recently in The Message, Sadia Afzal, a young Muslim girl, told how she had begun to lose her Islamic identity by being involved in the wrong peer group and how she returned to an Islamic way of life after being exposed to dedicated Muslims. “Muslim parents must provide their kids maximum opportunities to interact with other Muslims, if they want us to grow as Muslims,” she wrote (The Message, Nov. 1994, 39).
All of this will be difficult, and we must be careful not to overwhelm our children with too much. We cannot expect them to spend 30-to-40 hours a week in public school and 30-to-40 hours a week getting additional Islamic education. However, we should do whatever is necessary to insure their proper upbringing. We cannot just drop them off at school in the morning, pick them up in the afternoon, and expect them to become the kind of children and Muslims we want them to be.