The Problem with Islamic Education Today

  "Welcome to our school," hummed the principal delightedly as he ushered the new teacher into his office. "We've been looking for a good Islamic Studies teacher for months now.  Alhumdulillah, we're happy to have you."

    "I look forward to starting next week. How are the children? What can I expect on the first day?" replied the new teacher.

    "Great! We have some nice children. However, there are a few kids who will be coming straight from public school. You know what that means." Both men made a painful grimace with their faces, recalling their past experiences with "Muslim" kids who were raised virtually as non-Muslims.

    "Not every Muslim parent is very smart." the teacher intoned. "But I believe in the power of Allah's Message. Insha'llah, our program will be strong enough to handle such kids."

    "Yes, Insha'llah," answered the principal.

    "By the way," asked the new teacher, as he leaned forward in his seat. "Can I see a copy of your Islamic Studies curriculum. I'd like to get familiar with it before classes start next week. Also, can I get my copies of the Islamic Studies textbooks? I want to get my lessons done right away."

    The principal leaned back in his chair. He folded his hands in front of him and tilted his head to one side. "Brother," he began, "I'm sorry we don't really have anything to give you. Our last Islamic studies teacher taught his classes from photo-copies and lectures. The one before that used the "Red Book" for all the grades from KG to 9. So I'm afraid you'll have to develop your own program."

    The new teacher, who was just hired, opened his mouth in astonishment. "You mean there's no program?"

    The principal nodded in the affirmative.

    "And there's no books?"

    "You'll have to select some yourself and order them." he responded.

    The new teacher sat quietly for a moment. He knew he could probably throw some quick hodge-podge program together to last him a few weeks. But he had to design the whole Islamic Studies program? He had to choose and order the books? This school is quite a few years old and it's supposed to be an "Islamic" school--but it's minus the Islamic curriculum! Even if he ordered the books they wouldn't be there for the start of classes. He realized it was going to be a long year.

    The principal leaned forward and whispered, "I'm sorry. We've had so many things to keep up with, you know, with fundraising and all, that we just never had time to develop a proper curriculum. I wish it were different."

    This sort of conversation has been replayed in nearly every Islamic School, Masjid and Muslim learning institute in North America. If you deleted the word "Islamic" in the dialogue and replaced it with the word "Arabic studies" you would see the same story as well. Islamic Studies and Arabic Language programs are in disarray in most of our educational establishments.

    Volumes have been written on the importance of education in Islam, so I won't waste your time (and my space) in repeating what you already know. Instead, let's discuss your educational objectives in running an Islamically-based class, School or Sunday School.

    I believe that those Muslims who go through the trouble of opening up a full-time school or Sunday school do so only for the pleasure of Allah. Unless a person is committed, then why would they suffer the innumerable headaches associated with such a project? Parents, on the other hand, send their children to private Islamic schools for any of three reasons: 1) They wish to instill Islam in their off-spring. 2) The local public schools are dangerous for children and are racked by drugs and violence. 3) Parents want their children to get a "prep school" type of education with small classes and individual attention.

    But whatever the motivation, the children are in our schools. What are we going to do about it? If we simply want to provide a safe, academically-oriented environment, then we might as well shut our doors and send our children to Catholic schools, because in the end, if the student graduates from your school with good grades and escapes bodily harm and drugs, what difference does it make if- in the end- his or her soul is lost and he or she is headed on a path to hell-fire?

    Our students may become doctors, lawyers, presidents, millionaires even billionaires! But if they leave Eman aside or never were exposed to it and live the life of the world, what good will that pile of money do them in the grave?

    Therefore, the first objective of any Islamic school should be to "save the souls" of the young boys and girls placed in our care. So what if some of the families are Muslim in name only! So what if the family owns a liquor store or has riba-based businesses. It's not the fault of the child! The parents may have put their child in your school to keep them from getting pregnant or using drugs, but their motives do not prevent you from treating that child as a wandering soul in need of da'wah. Each and every student is our own future! If they are allowed to be spiritually aimless then we have weakened the future of Islam here by that much.

    Because Islam and Arabic are oftentimes the two most disorganized subjects in our schools, and because they are sometimes taught by people who have little command of English, our students look upon the two most precious subjects as irrelevant and backward -- even undesirable! (Especially if the teacher is one of those harsh, angry types who yell a lot.)

    We have teachers who teach from a jumble of photocopies, who are worn out from having to develop everything themselves, who are not appreciated by the administration as much as a math or science teacher is, and who have little in the way of curriculum guidance to help them measure the knowledge taught from grade to grade. Having a "degree" from a traditional "Madrassah" also is no qualification to develop curriculums for a modern educational institution. The teacher may be knowledgeable, but the fact remains that most teachers, even good ones, need guidance in what to teach, when to teach it and how much of it to explore.

    This bleak situation must change! We can't simply publish endless books, like some publishers do, that are not useful in the classroom, and then think that the state of Islam and Arabic education is improving. Instead, we must identify grade-specific books that can be organized into a coherent, cohesive program that any school can adopt. We also have to organize lists of objectives stating what each child should know in each grade as a core base of required knowledge. After these objectives are met, the teacher can teach whatever he or she wants by way of enrichment.

    The purpose of this web-site is clear. For both subjects, Islamic Studies and Arabic Language, we will present the most effective books we have seen and break them down by grade level. Second, we will provide a list of what the children should be taught in each grade. This is the basic curriculum that has been in the development process for five years running. In addition, to extend the reach of Islamic themes even further, we will provide the means to integrate Islamically-oriented reading materials into the reading and English programs of any school or classroom.

    With the grace of Allah this information is presented for your use. To adopt any curriculum is easy. Implementing it is the real challenge. If you have any suggestions for the improvement of this curriculum, feel free to write us at our e-mail address. 

    Also, if you are aware of a new book that may be useful for Islamic or Arabic studies, send us a copy or the info about it. The suggested changes can be integrated into future revisions of this on-line guide for the benefit of Muslims all over North America. Our ultimate plan, as was mentioned previously, is to continue to revise this web page as new materials become available and to update it often, reflecting the changes made. May your efforts bear success, Insha'llah.