My Faith in Faith Schools

// November 8th, 2006 // Blog

I recently discovered a handy website called They Work For You.com. You select an MP and/or a keyword and the service alerts you via email whenever said MP makes a contribution in the House, or when your topic of interest is mentioned in a debate. I am currently keeping tabs on my local MP and am also informed whenever the word “Islam” pops up (surprise, surprise). My MP is involved with the Treasury, so his alerts aren't always very interesting (to me anyway), however the “Islam” alert did remind me of a recent political hot-topic; that of faith schools. Warning: the debate does go on for a bit – in fact, I was too lazy to read the whole thing. As a side, I find the manner of address “hon. gentlemen” rather quaint. I wonder if it encourages civilized dialogue?

From a political perspective one long-running question has been should a secular state sponsor religious schools? I was under the mistaken impression that they were all privately-funded institutions until the recent quota proposal. I myself attended private Christian primary and secondary schools: the first was a convent and the second was a boarding school run by Rosmini Christians, though like me, most students were day pupils. I'm not very well versed in politics so questions like the one I posed above are beyond my current understanding. I welcome the debate though, so if anyone has any views, feel free to air them here.

I have wondered about the faith school issue for a while now. I am tempted by the idea of sending my as-yet-unborn child to Islamic school due to my own experiences of growing up in England. Though my community are traditionally Muslim, I have lived most of my life in ignorance with regards to what Islam means and how it should be practiced. I believed in God and prayed to Him whenever I was in trouble (!), and like other “good” Muslims, my parents made me attend a madressa a few times a week after school and on weekends to learn how to read the Qur'an (in Arabic), memorize a few chapters (in Arabic), and learn some traditional invocations (in Arabic). I hated going there. It was boring, and stuffy, and the “apa” teaching us was a right meany. The whole experience was so academic and superficial; no wonder I gave it up as soon as I had the chance. I wasn't taught about morality, or the meaning of the Qur'an, or the life of the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him), i.e., all the information one would need to decide whether Islam has any truth in it, and thus practice it with conviction. Add to that the fact that the majority of my friends, from nursery to university, have been white, middle-class, Christians/ athiests/ agnostics, it was no surprise that I was no more than a “cultural” Muslim. Islam was just a label, and my practice restricted to token acts such as abstaining from alcohol, pork, and non-halal meat.

It was only when I started my PhD that I ever met a practising Muslim, i.e., someone who believes because they've made a conscious decision to, and not just so they can fit in with the folks back home. My friendship with this sister did not transform me overnight, but the experience was a real eye-opener to a world I never knew existed. Anyway, that's a story for another time.

As with most conscientious parents, I don't want my children to have to go through the same painful experiences as I did during my period of “ignorance”. Of course I cannot force them to believe, but by teaching them the real lessons of Islam, and most importantly, acting as a good role model, I trust that the truth of this beautiful deen will shine through and act as a guiding light, enabling them to lead contented lives and become productive members of society, inshā’Allāh.

Of course, this may be accomplished without resorting to an Islamic school, but I believe the advantage of this form of education is how it teaches Muslim children that Islam is not a part-time calling – it is not something to do after school, or on a Sunday morning (or Friday afternoon in our case). The practising adult Muslim is well aware of how Islam rules over all aspects of life – from worship to work, from family to finances and so on – because life is all about the worship of Allāh. For a Muslim, every mundane act can be magically transformed into an act of devotion, simply through forming the correct intention. By being in an environment that nurtures this idea, the transition from innocent child to accountable citizen should be made much smoother, inshā’Allāh. Plus I cannot stand the idea that my child will be put off performing something as essential as the salaat because the school timetable does not allow for it, or because the school being secular, will not provide a prayer room (as is the case at University College London), or due to bullying or other such peer pressure.

Saying all this, an important matter to consider is the other political hot-topic of “integration”. My comment about my childhood friends mainly being “white, middle-class, Christians/ athiests/ agnostics” was not derogatory. Yes, I wish my circle had been more balanced, but I am far from ungrateful for the experiences these friendships have granted me. We all follow a path in life and I sincerely believe that God put me on this particular path for a reason. I have seen the other side, and lived to tell the tale! I have learnt what makes them tick, their loveable points and their loathable ones. The fact that they are unique individuals that cannot be categorised by race, religion and wealth alone. I may not share their life view, and they certainly do not share mine, but I know there is something that binds us – and I won't lie, I truly wish there was more. How could I not? Is it not the most natural desire to want to share your most beloved possession with the ones who are most beloved to you?

A sister suggested what I feel to be a good compromise – the best of both worlds if you will. If possible, send the children to an Islamic school but then encourage them to form friendships with non-Muslim children via after-school activities such as a sports club or library book club (i can imagine my kids being nerdy enough to go for that!). You see, it's not about hiding my children away from dirty, little, white kids – what a disgusting thought; all children are innocents in the sight of Allāh.

In addition, I am sure that peer pressure can be a positive thing. If I manage to instil some good Islamic morals into my children, inshā’Allāh, would it be so impossible for some of this to rub off onto their non-Muslim comrades? That is what the youth of this country are begging for – some decent role models – and a pinch of discipline wouldn't harm none. Everyone is hiding indoors after dark to escape the curse of the “terrible teenagers” – the worst in Europe no less. What a wonderful change it would make if every Muslim teen was equipped to provide a little guidance and support to their peers through the potentially darkest period of their development. This alone would be worth every penny of the potentially exorbitant tuition fees.

Anyway, alhamdulillah, I am a long way off having to make this important decision as I'm currently unmarried, and not looking to be a single mother any time soon, a'authobillah! Sadly, if things continue the way they are going in the U.K., especially with the rise of anti-Muslim propaganda, the decision won't be Islamic vs secular school, it will be Islamic vs secular country

6 Responses to “My Faith in Faith Schools”

  1. Daniel says:

    Certainly the moral code that once prevailed is in a state of rapid decline in this me-first world!

    Even Christianity has been corrupted to allow for greed and infinite self-interest.

    Not sure what the answer is though!

  2. Lucyp says:

    The problem i have with faith schools is that is seprates people. I would prefer a school where all religions and creeds are together and learn to deal with one another as they grow up . To have muslims, christians, jews etc to be seperated in their formative years can only hurt relations when we should all be coming together.

  3. Sumera says:

    Asalaam alaykum Sis

    I personally believe children can thrive under most situations and circumstances. I was sent to a state comp school, where frankly results were dire, had a bad reputation but my father maintained children who are interested in academia can thrive if they so wish to and so insisted we attend this school as opposed to the private school up the road. And…alhumdulillah, we came out fine :-)

    As far as faith schools go…they can potentially be beneficial. However, parents should not expect the schools to solely educate their children for education begins in the home via the mother. Its the same as with the issue of sex education. Over reliance on schools to educate your child must be avoided.

    As Mark Twain put it “I never let my schooling interefere with my education”

    On a lighter note, interesting blog sis! I’ll be sure to come back :-)

  4. iMuslim says:

    Thanks all for your comments guys! I also received a crazily long comment from one random individual that had nothing to do with the topic, but everything to do with denigrating Islam. If said person is reading, i have not deleted your comment but i have partially responded to it on Drunken Tune’s blog.

    Anyhow…

    Daniel: the moral code was set by God through his earliest revelations to mankind. Yes, He has equipped every human soul with the basic ability to differentiate between right and wrong, so i don’t claim that muslims have the monopoly on morals! But certainly things are a lot clearer for us on many issues, though we do have our own in-house debates. In Christian Europe and America, people are revolting en masse from the false doctrines they were force-fed growing up. However, rather then searching for other faiths that might be closer to the truth [i.e., Islam – hint hint], many simply are enjoying the “freedom” of not having to deal with the guilt that comes with God-consciousness and rejecting religion as a concept altogether. If there was ever a fitting example of the phrase “false sense of security” then this would be it.

    The best form of self-control is that which is observed for God – in part because He is the All-Seeing, All-Knowing; in part because believers fear their Lord, know they will be questioned and potentially punished by Him for bad deeds and thus do not wish to anger Him; because the same believers love their Lord, know that He rewards every good deed and wish to please Him by observing His commands; and also they trust that God’s commands were born of the most perfect Wisdom which will thus make their short lives in this world more bearable.

    Sumera: Most of the sisters i know at present went to state school (and some say i wouldn’t have lasted five minutes!) so i know what you say can be done. I completely agree that it is ultimately the parent’s responsibility to bring up their children to be good people. Most parents are failing now as they wish the schools to do the hard work, forgetting that the teachers have no power to discipline (even verbally) as they are scared stiff of being falsely accused of sexual misconduct if they “cross” difficult pupils.

    So although state school may do, I still think Islamic school would be my ideal choice for the reasons i mentioned in my entry. My child will have a say too, so no guarantees, hehe.

    Lucy: I do share your concern. I actually thought the 25% quota proposal was not the worst idea ever. I think it would be an excellent opportunity for children and parents to witness first hand the true teachings of Islam and not the tabloid headline version. I’m not sure how workable it is though. For example, would non-muslim teenage girls have to wear the hijab (it isn’t an issue for children as the command doesn’t apply to them)? I don’t see why they should, as for one, they’re not muslims! And secondly, muslim secondary schools tend to be single-sex environments so as long as there were no male teachers, even the muslim girls wouldn’t have to wear their hijab indoors!!

  5. iMuslim says:

    i have a doppleganger! that is AWESOME. :D

    i shall come back and read some of your posts sometime.. you know, see if we’re on the same brainwaves and whatnot…

    although i know one thing — we both like to run late for stuff. ;]

  6. Daniel says:

    Imuslim, once I entertained ideas of being a Minister of religion. I ran about with Bible in pocket, ever ready to quote a verse or two.

    Gradually, over time, I began to seriously question things. Two plus two never made four. There was what I was told and what I could see.

    I understand exactly how you feel and think. Once I was the same. I’ve never forgotten but I can never return. Cheers!

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