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 Western Education vs. Muslim Children

by Khadija Anderson

"Understanding Islamic Education" is the title of a tape by Imam Hamza Yusuf that I have been listening to recently. Interestingly, just last week, an article came to me via the internet called "The Impact of Western Hegemony on Muslim Thought" by Prof. Yusuf Progler. First of all, I had to look up "hegemony" in the dictionary. According to the dictionary, it means, "predominance of one state over others". As I had hoped, the article was a link to understanding the differences between Islamic and Western Education. In both articles, the authors spoke about the contradiction of Western education and Islamic education, the effects of Western education on the Ummah in recent history, and most importantly, the effects on us and the next generation of Muslims, our children.

In my family, this has recently become a predominent topic of study and conversation as my 3 1/2 year old daughter is rapidly becoming the human sponge that Allah Subhanahu wa ta `ala created children to be. The important thing about this phenomenon is the way that children learn from watching and imitating what is around them. I did not realize this fully until one day during Maghrib prayer she recited the Fatiha and two other surahs . Just like that. I was pretty surprised and upon coaxing, I found out that she also knew two more surahs and could call the Iqama. Subhana Allah ! The need for formal education for her in another year and a half has led me to investigate different avenues available to us; private Islamic school, homeschooling, or public school.

In Prof. Yusuf Progler`s paper, he warns against Muslims participating in the Western educational system. He says that by using it, one adopts Western assumptions on the nature of existence. "Most Western practices of education have institutionalized (their) one version of what it means to be a human being...Muslims ought to re-evaluate their situation because the Western understanding of existence is quite different than the teachings of Islam. Islam has its own explanation..."

Western colonizers of Muslim countries knew the importance of taking Islam out of the minds of Muslims, and achieved this by secularizing schools and teaching Islam only in an historic context at the end of the school day when the student`s concentration was at its lowest. Results of this can be seen in many immigrant Muslims in America. When someone suggested to an immigrant sister that she should not let her children watch so much TV, and instead, teach them about their deen, she said that only Allah made people Muslims and she prayed that Allah would make her children Muslims. She honestly didn`t understand the concept of educating her children about Islam.

Another family has fought the battle of raising their children in an Islamic household and then sending them to local public schools. They seemed to be a good example of how the two opposite institutions could coexist. After many years of this apparently good mixture of two worlds, things began to fall apart. The peer pressure of participating in Western culture raises it`s ugly head during the teen years. A typical problem is teenage daughters refusing to wear hijab unless praying or attending Islamic functions.

According to Imam Yusuf in "Understanding Islamic Education", Arabic has to be a foundation for Islamic education. Knowledge is obtained by first learning the tools of knowledge; language, reasoning and the ability to articulate. The Arabic language has been preserved since the time of the Qur`anic revelations. This allows one to perceive the meanings of the Quran as it was intended and revealed to the people of that time, which is crucial as the Qur`an is not interpreted through conjecture, but through knowledge. That is why The Prophet, may peace be upon him, said that whoever interprets the Qur`an from his own opinion is mistaken, even if he is correct. Also, traditional Islamic education teaches children to memorize the whole Qur`an between the ages of 7 and 9. This, Yusuf says, "...develops a memory in a child that will surpass others in any school system." From a purely academic point of view, "the idea is to empower a child with the ability to absorb information, as a good deal of learning is based on that ability."

The next step after Arabic and Qur`an according to Imam Yusuf, is the study of Hadith, followed by fiqh. He then commented that at least one or two people in every family should dedicate themselves to this learning, or we will seriously decrease our knowledge in the future. We need to produce scholars to lead the future ummah. The Prophet, may peace be upon him, said that the two parents of a child who memorizes the whole Qur`an will be given crowns of light on Yauma Qiyauma. Why would we rather teach our children to be engineers or doctors? Imam Yusuf and Prof. Progler both quoted the following hadith in their works: The Prophet, upon whom be peace, walked into a mosque where there was a group of people surrounding a man. The Prophet inquired, "Who is that?" He was told, "That is a very learned man." The Prophet asked, "What is a learned man?" They told him, "He is the most learned man regarding Arab genealogies, past heroic episodes, the days of Jahiliyyah, and Arabic poetry." The Prophet said, "That is knowledge whose ignorance does not harm one nor is its possession of any benefit to one ."

We know the history of the Islamic state since the time of the Prophet, may peace be upon him. We have had successes and failures. The Prophet, may peace be upon him, said that the believers are a mirror to each other. It is imperative that we look in the mirror of history and see that the successes were achieved through seeking Allah. To do this, we must ask ourselves some serious questions. What are we living this life for? What do we want to teach our children to live their lives for? To work for Microsoft, or to work for the pleasure of Allah Subhanahu wa t`ala ?

Many warnings about this life are given by Allah throughout the Qur`an, as in surah 31:33; "...Indeed, the promise of Allah is truth, so let not the worldly life delude you and be not decieved about Allah by the Deciever (i.e.,Satan)."

This ayat appears again in surah 35:5. To ignore this would be to participate in the deception of our children. It is our responsibility as parents to give them the education they need in order to not be deluded by this worldly life. What this is ascribing us to is an ideal Islamic life. There are difficulties, but it is our responsibility to build ourselves and our children up to the Islamic excellence that Allah and His Messenger, may peace be upon him, have provided us with the guidance to achieve.