School /sko͞ol/ Noun : an institution now commonly understood to provide a space for learning and development.
Thankfully, in the Western world we are inundated with an extensive list of schooling options that can allow us the freedom to choose what is best for us and our children. From Montessori and Waldorf approaches to homeschooling and unschooling, to the more commonplace public school system, and nowadays, Islamic schools, we have a breadth of choices.
Any choice you make presupposes that the schooling option will play a significant role in raising and shaping your child into who they will become, from forming their thoughts and beliefs, creating norms and values, and most of all, developing their worldview.
So how do you make this choice?
Here are three ways to break this down to help you understand education and the Islamic perspective:
- The Purpose of the School System in the Western World
The purpose of a Western education, specifically focusing on the American system of education, had a priority in creating a mass of individuals who could be trained to develop certain skills that would be of value in the societal workforce.1 If a child went to school, they were given opportunities to develop a varied level of skill sets that would allow them to be an investment into the society as a productive and working member. If a child does not join the workforce, they are considered to be a failure as per the definition of the educational system.
This “vocational” perspective of the purpose of education is still relevant today, however the country also needed to become competitive with other nations, and therefore the importance of state testing and test scores came into play.
Schools now offer different options to cater to the passions and aspirations of students rather than a typical, straight forward, limited vocational track. At the end of the day, the purpose ends in one goal: have a job or a career, make money, and exist as a consumer within a capitalist and constitutionally democratic society.
- The Islamic Concept of Education and Schooling
The Islamic idea and concept of education reveres the importance of education and the gaining of knowledge. Such is the value of knowledge that the Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) has said, “He who traverses a path in order to gain knowledge thereupon, Allah makes him traverse the path to Paradise.”2
The importance of the pursuit of knowledge is uncontested, however what then is the actual purpose of education and schooling from an Islamic perspective?
In Sūrah al-Baqarah, verse 129, we read, “Our Lord! Raise from among them a messenger who will recite to them Your revelations, teach them the Book and wisdom, and purify them. Indeed, You alone are the Almighty, All-Wise.” This verse encapsulates the concept of education and educators – the greatest educators being the Prophet (ṣ) and consequently the Ahlul Bayt (ʿa) and the greatest education is that which purifies the human being. What does purification mean? It entails developing a moral and ethical human being guided by Islamic principles and attaining closeness to Allah (swt).
From the lecture of Syed Ali Imran3 on the Objectives of Education he explains, education must create a sense of harmony in the human being between an individual’s internal state (belief, emotions, and intention) and their external state (what you say and what you do).4 A core facet of ethical and moral living is to be truthful and this truthfulness must be manifested through a harmony of our internal and external state. Therefore, if an educational system is rooted in purely a materialistic and/or anti-God philosophy, this harmony that is required in the human being will be in a constant state of unrest when the contradictions arise between what a person is physically aiming for versus what they may believe internally. For example, if a child is raised to value and uphold Islamic principles, the importance of sacrifice, humility, and submission towards Allah (swt), then a schooling system that advocates for the freedom of all human desires, unbridled arrogance and self-love, and obedience to oneself, would then stand in direct opposition of this child’s internal state. And if that ego-driven worldview was to be taught day in and day out throughout all subjects, then to say that this would not have an effect on the worldview of the child, could be considered naive to say the least.
- Current Contradictory Values in Western Schooling System
The current schooling system in the West acts as a conduit for social change and the evolution of values and ideals. It is not merely an institution of passing on textbook or academic knowledge, but rather, focuses on the development of the mind and thoughts.
One example is evidenced from the progression of how the LGBTQ population has been viewed over the last 50 years and the role the school has played in normalizing this lifestyle. From literary material, teachers who identify as LGBTQ, extracurricular activities, “drag” storytime, and development of safe spaces for those who identify within that community are all ways that a particular narrative and ideal is pushed onto young and impressionable minds for the purposes of social change. Just a couple of other examples include the removal of the concept of God from science and human development and creation, and the normalization of sexual relations and dating from a young age.
As parents it is important to be mindful of what is the wisest schooling decision we can make for our children as we are responsible for their upbringing. The right of the child over the parent is, “[…] that you should know that he is from you and will be ascribed to you, through both his good and his bad deeds, in the affairs of this world and in the hereafter. You are responsible for his upbringing. You have been entrusted with educating him in good conduct (ḥusnul adāb), pointing him in the direction of his Lord, and helping him to obey Him. So act toward him (your child) with the actions of one who knows that he will be rewarded for good doing toward him and punished for doing wrong to him.” 5
Does this mean that an Islamic school is the only option for a Muslim child?
It definitely is one option if it is available for you, and if it adheres to the concept of an Islamic education, in which it aims to create a moral and ethical human being at its core. This does not mean it is the only option for families, especially considering many cities do not have Muslim schools. There is a dire need for more accessible and wholesome educational opportunities for Muslim families.
The home and the lap of the mother is an indispensable tool in the raising and education of a well-rounded and ethical human being. Sayyid Muhammad Sohofi writes, “To educate a child requires constant care, and this can be provided by parents alone, since it is they and especially the mother who, at the commencement of the child’s life, recognizes those physical and psychological characteristics and aptitudes of the child whose training is considered the goal of education. The blunder committed by the present-day society is to replace the family hearth and mother’s lap by kindergarten and elementary schools. The mothers who send their children to the nurseries in order to free themselves for undertaking office jobs, following their whims, engaging in their own literary and artistic activities […] are actually extinguishing the family hearth where their children may learn many things.”6
This is not to say that the burden rests solely on the shoulders of the mother. Rather, the importance of the father in the above scenario lies in creating a space in which the mother can carry out the task of educating their children. This may mean creating a physical environment for education, increasing assistance in the home to take away certain burdens from the mom, and/or participating in the physical task of educating children as well.
However, when this “homeschooling” is not an option due to financial constraints or physical incapabilities, we run the risk of choosing morally inferior educational systems when left with the options provided by the Western world.
InshāʾAllāh may we all make the choices for educating our children that are pleasing to Allah (swt) and may He make the path towards it easy for us.
- Mīzān al-Ḥikmah, Ḥadīth #2206
- Man lā Yaḥḍuruhu al-Faqīh, Vol. 2, P. 622, Ḥadīth #3214; Al-Khiṣāl, P. 568, Ḥadīth #1