Education of Muslim Children - Challenges and Opportunities

by Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph.D analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of Public, Parochial, Private non-parochial, Islamic, Virtual Islamic, or Home Schools in the United States.

Education is the birth right of every Muslim and Muslimah. Islam puts considerable emphasis on its followers to acquire knowledge. Investment in education is the best investment one can make, because it eventually leads to intellectual property. Intellectual property is the intangible property, which no one can steal or destroy. This is the property on which no Government can levy a tax. It was as a result of application of knowledge that Muslims were the superpower of the world for twelve centuries.

Today, globally Muslims have the lowest literacy rate. Education of Muslim children in the west has both opportunities and challenges.

In the Western World the purpose of education is to provide for the economic prosperity of a nation. At a personal level the purpose of education is to acquire academic and professional skills that enable one to earn a respectable living with riches and fame, and also a luxurious and comfortable life. For a Muslim providing economic prosperity of a nation does not contradict his/her Islamic beliefs, however focusing the goals of education solely for the purpose of money making is unpalatable. Muslims want to impart Islamic education.

The vast majority of Muslims think that Islamic education means acquiring Islamic religious knowledge-study of Qur'an, Arabic, Hadith, Sunnah, Seerah, Fiqh, Islamic history, and allied subjects. As a matter of fact, in the present world broadly speaking we have two types of Muslims. Those who have followed the Western type of education or secular education and those who have acquired Deeni or Islamic education.

In the twentieth century, due to colonialism and Western influence, Muslim parents concentrated on imparting only Secular education to their children. The weak or not so bright students were sent to Deeni (religious) Madrasas (schools) in their own countries or to one of the Middle Eastern countries. The Muslims who emigrated to Western countries became aware of their religious identity and wanted to impart both Islamic and Secular education, what is now known as "Integrated Education." When they lacked the numbers and resources, they sent their children to public schools during the week and to the Islamic schools in the Mosque or Islamic Center during the weekends.

As their numbers grew and acquired sufficient resources, they have opened full-time Islamic Schools from kindergarten (K grade) to 12th grade (senior or final year) in High School. In North America, an estimated 300 Islamic Schools are functioning which impart Integrated education. There are even a few full-time Hifz schools in North America producing homegrown Huffaz (plural of Hafeez-a scholar who has memorized the Qur'an). It takes about two to three years of full-time study to become a Hafeez. During this time the student takes an equivalent to sabbatical leave from his or her public or parochial school.

This paper analyzes the choice the parents make in sending their children, to Public, Parochial, Private non-parochial, Islamic, Virtual Islamic, or Home School. Their advantages and disadvantages.

The greatest objective of education is to prepare the young generation for leadership. Islamic education is of course has the highest objective, and more than that can hardly be imagined. The aim of Islamic education is Character building. Growth and development of an Islamic personality should be the final goal of any Islamic School. Islamic values are the foundation of the Islamic personality. As Muslims our educational aim is to develop the personalities of our children to the end that they will be conscious of their responsibility to God (the Creator) and to fellow humans. The aims and objectives of Islamic education have been defined in the Recommendation of the Committee of the First World Conference on Muslim Education 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/she may proceed to the realization of his/her status as Khalifatullah to whom God has promised the authority of the universe."

We need to prepare the younger generation having leadership quality and not to be the followers of alien ideologies but to play the role of torchbearer by their excellence in knowledge, character, and positive action. Some scholars believe that this quality can be developed in Muslim youth by a direct study of the Qur'an with a view to solve the problems of life in its light. A program of action to bring up the younger generation for leadership has not yet been formulated.

Every Muslim parent is advised to raise his or her children well and properly. A happy home, comfort, care and love, providing the necessities of life and a good education are some of the responsibilities that parents are required to fulfill. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said whoever is not kind to young people is not one of us and the best teaching that a parent can give a child is the teaching of good manners and character. The Muslim child absorbs the Islamic values from its parents, teachers, peers, friends and the environment, including the care-givers. Nip it in the bud is the best advice. Otherwise once the Muslim child develops undesirable habits and unethical values, it becomes extremely difficult to make the child into a good Muslim/Muslimah.

Parents play a vital role in the education of their children. Early childhood education program emphasizes the role of parents. It declares that learning begins in the first days of life and continues for long. Parents should develop a habit to read with their children every night. Parents should provide an Islamic environment, an Islamic culture. It is hypocritical to do things differently and expect the child to have Islamic values. Parents set the best examples for their children to imbibe. Like parents the role of family has also been considered important in learning and upbringing the children.

As the children grow the teachers, community elders, their friends exert deep influence on the character of the child. The parents should choose the right schools for their children. Audio-Visual media such as TV, Video, video games, Movies, peer pressure could play an effective role in erasing the Islamic personality the parents are building and deeply influence the behavior of the children for years. It takes constant and continuous effort on the part of the parents and others to keep our youth on the path of Islamic values. Otherwise they will become an American statistic. Character education, promotion of order and discipline and ending the culture of guns and drugs from schools are the important steps of Islamic education. Islamic education should open the door of college education for every Muslim.

The frontiers of learning are expanding across a lifetime. All the people, irrespective of age, must have a chance to learn new skills. Internet is now the power of information. The classroom, library and even the children's hospitals are planned to connect with it for easy access to knowledge.

In America the parents of Muslim children are facing the challenge of picking the right school for their children. Parents can choose the school their children will attend. Parents would like to send their children to a school that promotes academic excellence and a value centered educational environment. The following pages list the different types of schools available for Muslim children, their advantages and disadvantages.

Why Islamic education?

American society today is drifting aimlessly in a sea of problems:


Guns and violence including rape

Sexual promiscuity and immorality





Single parent families

Children traumatized emotionally and psychologically as a result of broken families

Disrupted upbringing

One million teen-age pregnancies of unmarried mothers per year

Sexually abused children

Spousal abuse

Child abuse

All of this has great influence on and impacts the Muslims living in America, especially the children and youth. The parents try to teach Islamic values and morals to the children, hence children are to maintain these values at home environment. Outside the home, the children are in a totally different environment. At times the outside social environment is in opposition to what Muslim children are learning at home. As a result of this conflict, children are fighting a psychological battle in their minds.

Islam is very deeply concerned with the welfare of human society and the family is considered to be the cornerstone for building the right society. Raising children in this culture and expecting Islamic values from them is a unique and very tough challenge. Muslim families are at a disadvantage in meeting the psychological and spiritual needs of the children. Giving more religious teachings to children at home is not enough. It is extremely important for parents to spend time with their children. Parents have to find time to be with their children at home, school, games, on the playground, field trips, picnics, and tours. The most essential element is to establish an open channel of communication with the children. An effort should be made to create an environment wherein children should not hesitate to say to their parents their thinking and feelings.

The school system in America deals with the teaching of academic subjects. The system has also been gearing up to teach life skills, such as prevention of smoking and drug abuse, prevention of heart disease, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Children should get Islamic education at an early age. In an effort to inculcate Islamic values, the teachings should be done at home as well as Islamic centers or Islamic schools. Islamic schools should create opportunities for Muslim children to get together to bond with each other as this would help in establishing confidence in an Islamic identity and get psychological support. When children meet other children who are Muslim, it enhances their confidence in being a Muslim and they feel more comfortable about their identity and they assert their Islamic identity in non-Muslim environment with more ease and comfort.

Islamic identity, according to some, refers to characteristics of thought, behavior, and attitudes emanating from the Islamic beliefs; and it should be manifested in an Islamic way of life. The practice of Islam gives Muslims a tangible identity that they live with and project to the rest of the society. It can be preserved by their dynamic interaction with the realities of the American system of life and influencing and reforming the society through Islamic thoughts. The best role model is the parent's character. The social support systems, such as Islamic centers, weekend or full time Islamic schools should be built in communities across the country.

Problems in Islamic Schools

No Adaab or Islamic etiquette or behavior

Parents want teachers to be lenient

Some girls and boys meet secretly in the basement.

They have girl-friends and boy-friends

They do smoke

Profanity is written on the walls, desks, blackboards, etc.

Behave roughly: laughing, talking, screaming, rip off their Hijab on the buses.

Discipline: Behavior is no different from the Public Schools.

Teachers are not fair. Spoiled kids as their parents are rich or important

Less school activities for girls. Little opportunity to interact with other students.

Islamic schools are running without an Islamic curriculum, often without a syllabus

No textbooks.

No qualified and trained teachers or certified teachers. (Quality in education is not possible without good teachers.)

Those who attend Muslim high schools do not fare better in college.

Non-Muslim teachers who are qualified and certified. (Live-in boyfriend, rejects institution of marriage. Wear tight and revealing outfit. Promote gay agenda, anti-religion agenda, or insensitive to Islamic values and events)

Qualified and certified Muslim teachers work in Public schools. As Islamic schools do not offer viable salaries, benefits (pension health benefits, etc.)

When they leave Islamic schools and graduate from colleges, some of them, they do marry non-Muslims as the Muslim community and their parents have exerted zero influence on them.

Chronic shortage of space, science labs, auditoriums, gyms, playgrounds, libraries, bathrooms.

High turnover rate (30 to 40 percent annually) of teachers.

Parents' fear Islamic schools trade off academics for Islamic environment.

Organization, planning and discipline -suffer most in Islamic schools.

Governance is the big reason why most Islamic schools suffer

Do not develop an autonomous and unique decision-making (governance) structure

School Boards require training in how to run a school

School Boards rarely include women

Parents do not play a part in Governance structure

No qualified administrators

Some parents worry Islamic schools offer an inferior quality of education.

Children are not prepared to face competitiveness and the challenges of the modern world.

Seriously lacking in Muslim literature and culture.

For many Muslim families, Islamic schools are not affordable.

In sparse Muslim population areas, Islamic schools are not financially viable.

Very few trained Muslim teachers in special education or none

In North America a major problem is the prevalent moral degradation of the society. In establishing Islamic Schools, Muslims lack a clear perception of their goals and seldom evaluate the final result if it is worth the money in producing the desired results. Many Islamic schools have run into financial difficulties. Their dreams have crumbled down, resulting in scaled down projects after short-lived disastrous ventures.

Home Schooling

The best and safest place for a Muslim child to be educated

Home schooling is possible only for a very small number.

Requires motivated parents who are qualified.

Parents should be trained and willing to devote long hours every day.

Parents should impart both 'Islamic' and 'secular' education

Prepare the children to successfully compete in the outside world.

Parents rejoice in the experiencing a child harvest the fruits of an education.

Taking children from pre-reading to reading is an exhilarating experience.

Public and / or private schools may have turned children away from being interested, self-motivated learners and taken the joy of learning away from them.

The public/private schools are not as thorough as a parent wishes.

There is no available or affordable local full time Islamic school.

The Islamic school does not provide the entire K-12 educational experience.

Public schools work against the parent's authority and unfriendly to Muslim children-Hijab.

Public school texts and classroom materials may be destructive to Islamic values and parental authority.

Parents develop their own curriculum, pick out books, texts and workbooks that best suit their needs and family or learners style.

Home schooling removes children from an environment of drugs, violence, alcohol, sexual experimentation, gangs, and peer pressure.

It returns them to a healthy, safe, God-centered learning environment.

A school schedule that is friendlier to the demands of an Islamic life can be followed.

Classes can be held on Saturday and Sunday, continued during Christian holidays, lightened during Ramadan and stopped for Eids.

When family moves and relocates, continuity in education is preserved.

Homeschoolers do not have to fit the child to the curriculum

Homeschoolers make the curriculum fit the individual child.

Misconception: parents need to know everything or spend all day teaching.

School days need not be as long, either.

One-on-one instruction is faster than one-on-30.

Home schooling is legal in all fifty states, Canada, the United Kingdom and many other countries

Homeschooling of children with learning disabilities, special needs or gifted and talented is possible

There are magazines, WEB sites, distance learning programs and curriculum specifically designed for and devoted to this segment of the homeschooling population.

SOCIALIZATION: Muslim families arrange weekly or monthly field trips or social events. Participate in local Boy/Girl Scouts, sport teams, craft and sewing classes, YMCA (physical education requirements).

Muslim organizations that meet social needs of Muslim children: Muslim Youth Camps, MYNA, local Masjid youth programs, summer camps, vacation camps, Muslim Athletes United International

Home school students watch much less television than students nationwide.

Home school student achievement test scores are exceptionally high.

Home schooled students have higher scholastic achievement test (SAT) scores than students who attended other educational programs.

Homeschooled children are winning Spelling Bee and Geography Bee National Contests.

Public Education

No tuition fees. Public schools are run with tax-dollars to which Muslims contribute.

Have qualified, trained and certified teachers

Teachers are paid well, with all the benefits

Provide secular curriculum which has many good skills like critical thinking

Tries to inculcate thirst for knowledge

Teachers are strict about homework

Classes are scheduled in blocks with longer times.

Provide college preparation with emphasis on science, math, English and other core subjects.

Provide real life experience-meet children of all strata of society, diversity, co-ed

Sufficient space for buildings, libraries, labs, playgrounds, gyms, Internet and individual PCs

Public schools in suburban areas provide quality education, relatively in a safe environment

Provide almost free Textbooks.

Provide free or subsidized lunches for low-income Muslim families.

Provide advanced classes for gifted and talented children.

Provide education for special children who are slow learners or mentally /physically handicapped

Public schools provide an excellent opportunity for advancing the cause of Islam

Gives opportunities for Muslim students and teachers to dispel misconceptions about Islam

Problems of Public Education



Drug abuse

Boyfriend-girlfriend -romantic pair- starts early in pre-school

Sexual Experimentation,



Peer Pressure

Secular curriculum places undue emphasis on western culture and ignores Muslim culture

English literature is devoid of Muslim authors and Muslim topics

Cultural heritage (provides identity and belonging to a cultural group) taught is totally Western.

Muslim youth torn between school culture and Muslim culture at home

Religious holidays are celebrated but no Muslim holidays

Lying is accepted as growing up aspect.

Family concept is deeply eroded

Social studies class does not give credit to Muslim/Islamic contribution to the development of West


Correspondence courses

Distance learning via the World Wide Web and Internet. (

Virtual Islamic Schools

Non-Muslim Parochial Schools

Non-Muslim Private Schools

Charter Schools-funded by state and local governments are Independent public schools formed by teachers, parents and/or community members. Exempt from state and local laws and/or policies in exchange for a written contract (or Charter) that specifies certain results are achieved. NOT ALLOWED TO TEACH RELIGION. However school's mission may emphasize on the study of a particular language, cultural and ethnic traditions, and history infused with state's core curriculum.

Examples of Charter Schools: Star International Academy and Universal Academy. Both are in Detroit, Michigan. WEB page:

Charter schools provide solid foundations of knowledge and skills to compete in the world.

Admission is open to all state residents and students pay no tuition.


Islamic Horizons May/June 2000

The Message International May 2000

Copyright © 2001 All Rights Reserved.
Read other articles by Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph.D here.

Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph.D

Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, KY 40292 and President, Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc, 7102 W. Shefford Lane, Louisville, KY 40242-6462

Phone: (502) 894-6262
FAX: (502) 894-6935
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