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Revitalizing Islamic Education for Children

The Aqeedah syllabus in some high schools where I have taught or studied is no different from that of the primary levels. Nothing interesting, new or even important is taught which the students have not already learned. When the syllabus is too simple and students feel they already know a subject, their minds switch off and they lose interest. Islam is so vast and so deep, why is it that we underestimate our children and teenagers and limit their access to knowledge to only the basics?

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Can we organize an Islamic syllabus that gets children to enjoy the Qur'an?

In grade 7, I asked my Islamic studies teacher why we were studying Seerah again. He replied that we are studying it with a bit more detail this time. It was the fourth time we were studying Seerah since grade one and I could not see the benefit in the repeat syllabus. Reflecting back now, no one took Islamic Studies very seriously when we were in school.

A good example was when the teacher told us to memorize the 99 names of Allah for a test. I was the only boy in my class who did so, and even that I forgot a few months later. I am not proud of this but it shows something about the Islamic studies syllabus and how much students cared about it in a renowned Islamic school.

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Many years later, I would discover that Islamic knowledge is beautiful and exciting to learn and my life would begin to revolve around it. This raises the question as to why the Islamic studies syllabus in school did not have the same effect on me?

I have identified some of the problems and proposed some solutions. Feel free to add your own:

Problems:

1. The syllabus is too basic

In terms of Arabic, from grade 1 till 12, we only studied an amount which we could have learned in one year outside of school. In fact, the children whom I teach Arabic to privately are way ahead of their classes in school and get an average of 99-100% on school tests. This shows that children have the potential to learn a lot more Arabic in a shorter space of time. The Arabic syllabus in schools needs to be revamped and it should not downplay the potential of students to grasp the language.

It is not just Arabic. The Aqeedah syllabus in some high schools where I have taught or studied is no different from that of the primary levels. Nothing interesting, new or even important is taught which the students have not already learned. When the syllabus is too simple and students feel they already know a subject, their minds switch off and they lose interest. Islam is so vast and so deep, why is it that we underestimate our children and teenagers and limit their access to knowledge to only the basics?

2. Content is not relevant

The Seerah and stories of the other prophets (peace be upon them all) are a great way to teach young Muslims valuable lessons and provide them with role models. Sadly, many institutes teach these stories as historical facts without delving into any significant lessons. The Seerah, in particular, is taught with  a focus on the wars and battles, while not much time is spent on the issues of relevance to Muslim youth in Western countries.

There is so much potential to bring these stories to life and make them relevant. Many scholars today like Abdul Hakim Quick and Tariq Ramadan have done this for adults, it’s time we did this for children and teenagers as well. Not only would it make them more interested in history but it will increase their love for the prophets and companions.

3. Uninspiring teachers

Many Islamic studies teachers whom I have met just don’t seem motivated to make a difference. Teaching Islamic studies is their job, their source of income and that’s all. Such teachers cannot have an inspiring impact on their students. It is only those who teach Islam with passion, love, enthusiasm and the desire to ignite change that can motivate students and get them to love Islam and want to practice it. Parents and schools need to focus on such qualities when looking for teachers, and institutes need to work at training teachers who possess these qualities.

4. Teachers not being role models

Too often, I have seen Islamic studies teachers that make me cringe. Whether its  a sister who wears hijab in class but you spot her at the beach dressed in the most indecent of manners, or the Moulana who smokes with his students and makes inappropriate comments about their sisters. I have encountered many Islamic studies teachers whose practice is the opposite of what they preach.

Now nobody is perfect and everybody has their faults, and I also understand that there is a difference of opinion on some issues, but when a teacher openly teaches one thing in class but his/her practice in front of students is opposite to this, it causes students to lose respect for the teacher and the subject. As Islamic teachers, we need to be very careful regarding what we say, do or post on the internet.

Proposed Solutions

1. Choose the right syllabus

My favorite Islamic studies syllabus for teenagers is the four-part series written by Dr. Bilal Philips. However, this series is for Grade 7 onwards, I do not know of any syllabus for the grades below that which I am happy with, yet. That is why when I teach, I make my own syllabus as I go along. Any suggestions on a good syllabus for children?

2. Change of attitude

Teachers and parents should not look at Islamic education as a chore, job or burden. Islamic education is our chance to inspire a new generation to love, learn and live Islam. We cannot do this unless we are passionate about what we teach and the students feel this passion in our classes.

An average teacher imparts information, a true teacher inspires a generation!

3. Do not be afraid to do something different

Many times, teachers are discouraged from making any changes. They are put in a position in which, if they change something, it is seen as finding fault with their elders and their methods. Truth is that times change and our methods need to change in order to engage a new generation. Islam allows for such change and there is no one method of teaching which Islam restricts us to follow. As long as the means are permissible, it should be used as a tool in education.

Children and teenagers (even adults) enjoy lessons presented with nasheeds, videos, jokes and slideshows far more than straight up lectures. Teachers need to use their imagination and creativity and invent fun methods to impart their knowledge to others.

4. Goals need to be set

Islamic education should not be done just for the sake of it. There need to be goals in place, both short term and long term. Teachers and parents need to decide what they want children to accomplish by the age of nine, thirteen, seventeen, etc.

A lot of thought needs to be put into the priorities, objectives and purpose of Islamic education. When such goals are made, it becomes easier to see a bigger picture and thus formulate a syllabus that works towards such goals.

These are just some problems which I have observed as well as potential solutions. Feel free to add to this list or politely disagree.

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Ismail Kamdar, a.k.a Abu Muawiyah, is the Head Tutorial Assistant of the Islamic Online University, and the host of Living Islam on Radio Al-Ansaar. He began his study of Islam at the age of thirteen, and has completed both the Alim course and a BA in Islamic Studies. He is the author of multiple books including Having Fun the Halal Way: Entertainment in Islam, Getting The Barakah: An Islamic Guide to Time Management and Best of Creation: An Islamic Guide to Self-Confidence.

42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. Arif Kabir

    November 1, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    JazaakumAllahu Khayran for sharing this with us. I can empathize with you; growing up in an Islamic school, I thought that Aqeedah was just knowing about the six pillars of Iman (which we were taught several times). I now see that it’s so much more after reading up and studying more on the topic.

    It would be cool if you could write the books for people under the 7th grade :)
    MM.org would then be making Muslim children matter lol.

    • Ismail Kamdar

      November 1, 2010 at 11:37 PM

      That is actually a good idea, but I do not have the time currently.

      Perhaps I should add it to my long term list of books to write, inshaa Allah.

      • abu Nusaybah

        November 3, 2010 at 2:35 AM

        barak Allah fiikum and may Allah preserve you.

        If I may suggest, the following link speaks to unity, which I think needs also to be foundational, as well as how to understand and conceptualize differences – based on the practices of Uthman, ibn Mas’ud and AbdurRahman ibn Awf (may Allah be pleased with them).

        http://www.alhamdulilah.info/2010/11/unity.html

        InshaAllah the actions of the companions gives us much food for thought regarding the unity of Muslims, and how we and are to deal with one another when we face differences – in particular as educators!

  2. Umm Zayn

    November 1, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    Check this out, http://www.islamicteachereducation.com/

    Amazing new program for teachers of Islamic studies, to raise our standards of excellence and give our children better!

    “The Islamic Teacher Education Program is a one-year online certificate program designed specifically for teachers in Islamic schools. With support from University of Toronto’s OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), a world-renowned leader in education research and development, the program aims to fuse modern day classroom philosophies with Islamic Pedagogy”

    • Abdul Quader

      November 1, 2010 at 4:46 PM

      Woo UofT! I’m “studying” in our library right now!

    • M

      November 2, 2010 at 11:52 PM

      thanks for the link bro!

  3. anonymous

    November 1, 2010 at 1:43 PM

    another good series is the south African tasheel series. heres a link where you can buy them http://www.albalagh.net/bookstore/?action=view&item=0207

    • Ismail Kamdar

      November 1, 2010 at 11:40 PM

      Actually this is the same series I was teaching and found too basic and repetitive for High School.

      • Alizah Ali

        February 5, 2011 at 9:55 PM

        It is a very good syllabus. It does lack “appeal”. I have taken the same syllabus and added other enrichment activity to make it interesting for my son. For example, hadith on salat, we made a poster with craft on it, story of Ibrahim (AS) we made a fold out craft with clay, hajj ritual we acted out the hajj with little passports etc.
        The Islamic Studies teachers can learn a lot about hands on method of teaching from home schooling parents as well as a lot of the Christian based Sunday school lessons.

  4. Wael - IslamicAnswers.com

    November 1, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    As I was reading this I was agreeing with you completely and thinking that I was fortunate Alhamdulillah that I got a good Islamic education in high school, as my teacher was committed to making the material relevant and challenging. Then I got to where you said, “My favorite Islamic Studies syllabus for teenagers is the four part series written by Dr Bilal Philips.” That made me chuckle, because he was my high school Islamic studies teacher.

    • Ismail Kamdar

      November 1, 2010 at 11:43 PM

      Subhanallah!

      You were fortunate to have such an amazing teacher!

      I know, because it was when I studied Islam under him that I finally began to enjoy studying and appreciate Islam. :)

  5. ummi

    November 1, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    After watching the children from dr. zakir Naik school, i believe he has an excellant syllabus for islamic studies. I wonder if Dr Naik would be wiling to share it? Does anyone know how to contact him?

    • Ismail Kamdar

      November 1, 2010 at 11:44 PM

      No, I am also trying to get in contact with him as his school and the young Da’ees they produce are very impressive. I am hoping to learn some effective techniques from him one day, inshaa Allah.

    • abu Rumay-s.a.

      November 2, 2010 at 12:37 AM

      indeed, you took the words out of my mouth!! I was going to make the same comment.
      Those kids are masha`Allah another breed of Muslim youth, simply amazing, if you haven’t seen their abilities, you have to check out some of their yearly programs… The kids are speaking Fus-ha arabic in an amazingly natural dialect, plus english and their native languages.

      It’s very important to review their complete syllabus and their teaching methods. Some of it is on their website:
      http://www.irf.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=156&Itemid=168#

      If someone has more information on their program, please do share it.

      jazakum Allahu khairun..

  6. Abu Bilal

    November 1, 2010 at 5:26 PM

    Having taught Islamic Studies in different Muslim primary schools a think there are two good programmes which I would like to recommend:

    1-IC series: http://www.educatingmuslims.com/

    2-Darussalam series: http://www.darussalam.com/product_info.php?cPath=71_74&products_id=1064
    and http://www.darussalam.com/product_info.php?products_id=1408

    Barak Allahu feekum

  7. Kate

    November 1, 2010 at 7:04 PM

    For homeschoolers, Ad-Duha Institute (www.ad-duha.org) has good aqeedah books that read like stories (for the K-4 set).

  8. Sabour Al-Kandari

    November 1, 2010 at 7:32 PM

    Jazak’Allah khair for writing this bro.

    You know, a lot of what you say is true for what’s wrong with the public education system too. All my life in school and university, and even in my experience helping to teach high school and tutoring, I’ve been trying to figure out what makes a teacher brilliant.

    If I could sum everything I’ve learned into a couple of words, it would be the “coolness factor”. When you’re a positive role model, you’re cool. When you’re interesting and passionate, you’re cool. When you understand how your kids’ brains work and connect with them, you’re cool. When you have good aklhaq and adab, you’re cool. When you can cut through the fat and effectively get people to understand what they’re learning, you’re cool. When you’re smart, know your stuff and are respectable, you’re cool. Essentially, the people who you always want to hang around should be the ones leading the classroom. It’s so simple but so crazy powerful and works with everything from public speaking to counseling.

    Another huge contributing factor to the slump is the idea of “those who can’t do, teach” and people who choose teaching as last resorts. In reality, it’s such a fun, relaxing and powerful job that the most brilliant students should be aiming for it.

    Moral of the story: Find the coolest and most intelligent faculty, experience doesn’t mean squat if someone spends their whole life doing something wrong.

    • Ismail Kamdar

      November 1, 2010 at 11:48 PM

      If there was a ‘like’ button for comments, I would have pressed it for this one! :D

    • Sarah S.

      November 2, 2010 at 8:26 PM

      100% agree =D

  9. ummousama

    November 2, 2010 at 12:28 AM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Two comments:

    1. Arabic: It amazes me how, for the sake of dunya, it is so easy to set up schools that will teach you English and you will end up bilingual or even trilingual. Look at Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE. They have set up language schools where part of the curriculum is in English and part in Arabic. Why can’t we teach Arabic in Islamic Schools in the West?

    2. When my kids went to an English Islamic School, they had a very hard time with Islamic Studies. Why? Because we taught them Arabic at home and they had to learn the translation of difficult Qur’anic words into English. They understood the Arabic word but not the English word. If you teach Islamic Studies from Day 1 in Arabic, they will again be able to become bilingual. Why do you want them to learn ahadeeth in English instead of Arabic?

    • Ismail Kamdar

      November 2, 2010 at 1:03 AM

      Good point, although the Islamic schools in my country teach Arabic as part of the syllabus, but the Arabic is really weak and honestly, I learned more Arabic in one year at a Darul Uloom or University than they do in the entire twelve years at school.

      It seems that many schools are just going through the motions and offer Arabic to please parents, but they lack a goal and genuine desire to get their students to speak and understand the language.

      It should not take twelve years to learn what a Mubtada and a Khabr are!

  10. Yousuf

    November 2, 2010 at 1:11 AM

    Assalam O Alaikum,
    Totally agree with all of the points mentioned. Even in university level (General Islamic course), only the basics are taught that is the same we are being taught over and over again. Astonishing thing is even non-muslims who are studying about Islam (in muslim countries) get good scores in Islamic Studies, yet no influence on them.
    Bilal Philips’s style of teaching is truly incredible, learning 3 courses from him has been like ‘Why was i not taught about Islam like this for 20+ years?’ We need more motivated, exemplary (in and outside school) teachers like him, Inshallah.

  11. Fatimah

    November 2, 2010 at 1:42 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum.

    An excellent set of books designed for children are available at this site below. They are wonderful. Full of colour, activities etc. The kids will enjoy. Check it out here: http://www.iconetwork.com

    Fi Amanallah,
    Fatimah.

  12. Olivia

    November 2, 2010 at 1:56 AM

    from a very young age, children need to learn a love for God, his Prophet, and their religion. They need to feel connected to Allah and his Signs, appreciative and awe-struck. i think this is a very important foundation and it’s something that generally cannot be achieved in a school setting. its a sort of way of looking at the world and thinking about Allah that is developed from the cradle.

    personally, i think we need to remove the academic aura of Islamic studies for the beginning years, until the child needs to start learning fiqh and things like that. aside from learning how to read the qur’an and arabic, i think subjects like aqeedah are best taught through discussion and reflection. i think relegating religious knowledge to textbooks and worksheets often develops an immediate aversion or attitude toward Islam that is not desireable. the Prophet spent his young years as a shepherd amongst Allah’s signs in the desert, and i think there is a valuable lesson in this. this is just my opinion but really is the parents’ responsibility. not the school’s.

    • Algebera

      November 2, 2010 at 12:47 PM

      Aslamu-alaikum:
      I CONCUR with you OLIVIA. GREAT OBSERVATION!!!!!!MashAllah
      salam

  13. Pingback: Revitalizing Islamic Education for Children : MuslimMums

  14. Nayma

    November 2, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    Assalamu alikum. I too believe the teacher has to be “cool” and interactive with the children. They have to try their best to relate to the kids. I’ve always tried to find teachers for my children who they can emulate.
    I too am looking for good Islamic curricula for my children. In the meantime, we listen to lectures online and study tafsir. We love lectures by Muhammad Shareef, Nouman Ali Khan and Yasir Qadhi. They are very educational and inspirational at the same time.
    I also have them write summaries about what they have learned so I know that they have understood it.

    My eldest, Nur, has started her own website to share with kids things that she has learned. Please share with kids who are interested in reading and listening to Islamic stories:

    http://www.nurkose.com

    Nayma

  15. mms

    November 2, 2010 at 10:08 AM

    As-salaamu alaikum,

    MashaAllah very good pointers and solutions/suggestions.

    The prime problem in some this is the ‘parents’ themselves. I think [I have been a volunteer teacher at Islamic weekend schools for more than a decade] parents need to remove the notion that once they drop off their kids at the masjid, the teachers there have a magic wand that will turn their kids into angels.
    They need to ask their kids what was taught, help them in the HW usu memorization of du’as or Surahs as well as in practicing what was taught. Instead, they pay greater importance to the worldly matters [which is okay but not at the expense of Islamic teachings] and are more regular with Public school extra-curricular activities rather than leaving the weekends for Islamic studies, in case their kid does not attend regular Islamic schools.

    Also, as someone else commented here, most people look at teachers as someone inferior to other professions [Doctors, Engg etc … by the way, I am a medical doctor], when I must say that teaching is one of the noblest professions… a good teacher is the one who can instill the desire to learn in a student, who will inspire a student to be a teacher himself/herself which should not be discouraged by parents. Most parents want their kids to be doctors or engineers and never does one come across a parent who will say ‘I want my child to be a teacher’.

    I am glad that Alhumdulillah we have some really good teachers/scholars/imams – those mentioned in the comments above – who have made a difference in many of our youth and elders in terms of inspiring them to yearn for more knowledge. May Allah Protect these teachers and those who are seeking to study more and all of us. aamin

    That said, keep up the good work that you are doing. JazaakAllahu khairan

    • Mansoor Ansari

      November 2, 2010 at 10:22 AM

      I agree with most of the points mentioned here.

      I too teach at Islamic Studies (grade 2) at the masjid’s weekend school & we (the teachers) arrive at the masjid at 10 AM for the class that starts at 10:15 AM

      The 1st few student strolls (25%) in at 10:20, 50 % of them come in around 10:30 & rest manage to come in at 11:00… the class ends at 11:15 AM

      The attendance rate is horrible too… we started 75% minimum required attendance this year & 3 late absences = 1 absent but there’s no improvement. I will not blame the teachers or the students here but the parents, they treat weekend school as a day care center not a place of learning. If they even half the attention they pay to their kids secular education then we would be better off! If one underperforms or is tardy when it comes to secular education… there will negative worldly effects which no parents wants their kids to go thru but when it comes to deen, the loss is not immediate so they don’t care at all.

      • Ismail Kamdar

        November 3, 2010 at 4:20 AM

        I agree with you both that parents too can cause problems. I know of too many parents who are obstacles in their children’s spiritual growth, others who only care if their children excel in academics, and others who prefer to keep their children ignorant and cultural.

        Yet a good Islamic education can sometimes overcome these problem. If the syllabus and teacher are exciting, stimulating and engaging, children will want to learn more and be punctual.

        However, their parents can still be an obstacle, that is why I say we need to educate the parents as well.

        • mms

          November 3, 2010 at 10:05 AM

          Very true… educate the parents!

          Alhumdulillah, I have always done an inter-active teaching, combined with LOTS of powerpoint presentations/audios and the students loved my classes. Adding a hint of medical knowledge to most of the lessons [wudhu, tahara, eating habits etc] along with personal stories or experiences at various places always made the class interesting and students would love to attend. However, these very students depend on their parents for their attendance. AND they are confused about what is taught at Isl schools and what they se being practiced at home!

          Anyway, something HAS to be done and add adult classes alongside the youth, because most adults/parents come with a huge baggage of culture from their countries of origin, and misrepresentation and misunderstanding of Islamic Fiqh and other practices.

          Jazaakumullahu khairan

  16. Sarah S.

    November 2, 2010 at 8:34 PM

    Great article masha’Allah… and a very necessary topic for further discussion. One other aspect that I have found works well with children and adolescents goes along with the “coolness” factor: Having candid, open relationships and discussions with students. Casual conversation goes a long way- often farther than many other techniques. When students hear a personal story regarding their teacher’s experiences with salah, hijaab, living life as a Muslim, etc. their ears perk up and they usually retain more than they would if information was being directly handed to them. Allowing students to discuss their doubts and misconceptions while maintaining a safe and non-judgmental environment are essential if Islamic Studies is going to become a subject that students are excited and passionate about.

    • Ismail Kamdar

      November 3, 2010 at 4:37 AM

      Thats the approach I take with kids. Sometimes people tell me I get too personal and soft with them, but I find it very beneficial, as the relationship changes from just being a subject teacher to being their role model/personal advisor and big brother.

      In this environment, children and youth tend to openly discuss with me any aspect of the Deen and ask advice on issues, they don’t usually discuss with others. Alhamdulillah!

  17. Azhar

    November 2, 2010 at 11:19 PM

    Salam alaykum.

    Masha Allaah good discussion. Being Islamic studies teacher for the past two years, I found that parents, school, children, including the school environment plays a vital role in shaping the children in an Islamic way. The best curriculum which i have found that iconnetwork are rich in content. It may suite or may not particular children because of the background of the children. I came across one curriculum which has mixture of Dr.bilaphilips islamic studies, iconnetwork, moulvi abdul aziz’s islamic studies, dr.Jibaly’s eeman series etc. i.e Burooj curriculum. One unique thing is that, it has included lessons based on Multiple intelligence theory and activity based on that.

  18. Azhar

    November 2, 2010 at 11:25 PM

    Check it out

  19. Ismail Kamdar

    November 3, 2010 at 4:42 AM

    I would like to thank everybody who provided links to the various curriculum which they found beneficial. It is really heartwarming to see so much effort being put in by so many people to try and improve the curriculum.

    However, even with a good curriculum, it is equally important to have a dynamic and charismatic teacher who practices what he/she preaches.

    For this, I think guidelines need to be written and teacher training workshops need to be held.

    A combination of both a good curriculum and a great teacher can make Islamic Studies truely memorable for a child and leave a lifelong (and afterlifelong) effect on them. :)

  20. Azhar

    November 3, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    Burooj curriculum concentrates on teachers training & parents workshop & teens worshop which especially helpful in developing islamic character. check it out

  21. Blessed

    February 15, 2011 at 8:34 PM

    MashaAllah. Very beneficial article and much needed in this day and age. Islamic Schools need to stop being centers in which parents reluctantly send their children, and Sunday Schools need to be more than just a Day Care Center. We need teachers who can relate to the youth, are friendly, approachable, and confident. Some examples that come to mind are Wisam Sharieff and Nouman Ali Khan. The youth are just WAITING for words to come out of their mouth so they could be inspired and follow it. As soon as a video of either of them is uploaded on Youtube, it goes viral on Facebook with emoticons such as “:D” or “Awesome!”. Even if the video is 1 minute long. We need more inspirational teachers, detailed curriculum, and encouragement to both parents and students alike, inshaAllah.

    Jazak Allah Khair for the article.

  22. Saif

    March 25, 2011 at 2:22 AM

    Checkout http://salaamlearning.com/

    It is a wiki-based lesson plan repository, and the lesson plans are relevant and clean.

  23. Mohamed sheik Meeran

    March 27, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    Assalamu alaikkum. I see your writings. What you wrote is absolutely write. My native also muslim populated region but without any islamic school. I am completed B.E. Work as system engineer. i am also conducting research on combined islamic and secular studies. Please help me.

  24. Umar Shariff

    July 24, 2011 at 8:09 AM

    Maashaallaah very good article that refreshed my zeal towards teaching children in an Islamic School. Baarakallaahu feek Shaikh Ismail.

    In my observation, Islamic schools need to focus on the management process and their administration skills. Keeping things in appropriate places is essential for running the institution smoothly. It is not just the teachers who are involved in shaping the generation. It is the watchman who guards the premises, the drivers who pickup and drop the children, the maids who clean the washrooms etc etc, who contribute to the standards of the school. It’s a total team work; a total system that works towards building a moral nation. It is not just about knowing things, but it is about making a difference with the things that one knows.

    If we didn’t have good noteworthy teachers, it’s fine. But, we must aspire to nurture noteworthy leaders for the next generation…….

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