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14 Topics All Islamic Schools Should Address During High School | Dr Shadee Elmasry


If you or someone you know is involved in an Islamic school, please read this and pass it on. This is critical to our growth as a community.

The people in Islamic schools have been honored with the charge of teaching the deen to the next generation. Teachers have them for 180 days a year. If they have a deen or Islamic Studies class twice a week, that is 72 periods a year. If we multiply this by four years of high school, that’s nearly 275 hours of tuition.

By 7th grade, students should have completed Shamail, seerah, aqidah, and fiqh —basically the fundamentals of the religion. All of high school should then be spent wrestling hard with the shubuhaat (doubts and thorny issues) that will be thrown at them in college.

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Here is a list of things that I believe can be covered by junior year, leaving all of senior year for it to marinate in their minds through a comprehensive review and a senior paper. Here’s the list (in no particular order). Please feel free to add to it in the comment section:

1 Myth or truth: The historicity of the sources. How the Quran and Hadith were compiled and preserved

2 The theology and cosmology of gender

3 Evolution: what are our beliefs regarding the creation of the first man. Animals? The concept of “Be and it is.”

4 Secular ethics: who has the authority to decide what’s right and what’s wrong? Can religion be boxed into only the home and the masjid

5 Universalism: are religions subjective? Do all paths lead to God? Or is one of them true?

6 Women in Islamic history. There is an eight volume work on female scholars of hadith. There were many more rulers and queens among and influential contributors in other fields.

7 Sexuality between fiqh, theology, and interaction. How do I interact with my gay colleague? Can I go to his wedding? How do my deal with my sister if she comes out as a lesbian?

8 Riba: what is is and how does it relate to loans and modern finance contracts

9 Marriage: the right ways and the wrong ways of going about it. Marriage related issues in the Muslim Student Associations.

10 Citizenry, Loyalty & Identity: Between faith and nationalism. How to balance our deen and it’s world-wide Ummah and our citizenry in a non-Muslim majority country, particularly one at war with Muslim countries

11 The Deluge of Temptations: the spiritual, psychological, physical, familial, social, and financial side-effects of pornography and drugs.

12 Philosophy: the “Problem of Evil,” “Can God create a rock He can’t lift?” And other failed coups. A high school senior in a Muslim school should be able to write an essay on these topics with their eyes blindfolded.

13 Liberal Reform in Islam: Is the Sunnah a source of legislation? What is usul al-fiqh? A high school junior in an Islamic school should be able to give a talk on the sources and methodology of Islamic legislation as well as the fundamental differences between the madhhabs.

14 Spirituality – students must learn to detect the signs of a dimming faith and spiritual atrophy,  as well as know the simple methods of haunting and reversing the downward spiral.

I would venture to say that thousands of American Muslims and  millions world-wide lose their iman in college. Islamic schooling is truly effective if it’s seniors graduate armed with deep and nuanced understandings of the challenges to come. We need to be a creative minority. Our seniors should enter into college with an agenda of their own (outlined in their senior thesis). We need to be the subjects of history not the objects. Instead of being the naive targets of someone else’s agenda, we need to have our own thought and our own agenda.

Be the predator, not the prey.

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Dr Shadee Elmasry was born and raised in New Jersey and studied in the Muslim world in Fez, Hadramawt, Cairo, Makka, and Madina. He completed a Masters from The George Washington University in comparative religion, then a PhD from the University of London, SOAS on “Da’wa in the Works of Imam al-Haddad.”



  1. Osman Umarji

    January 17, 2018 at 3:21 AM

    JazakumAllahu khair for raising these important issues to be discussed in Islamic schools.

    While I agree that children should learn all the topics mentioned, we need to address who among the Islamic school staff is capable of discussing these topics. These are topics that academics and scholars struggle to explain, in addition to the lack of consensus on many of these matters.

    Before these matters can be taught to adolescent Muslim youth, both rich content needs to be available for educators and a pedagogy for how to teach these issues. This requires a fair level of collaboration among teachers and subject matter experts.

    • Nabeel Hasan

      January 17, 2018 at 4:04 PM

      Muslim children in addition to everything Dr ElMasry has mentioned, need to be taught Islamic history as well. They need to know how the Khilafa was abolished in Turkey, they need to understand the colonial history and how much of every single Islamic country was under the grip of the European powers and how that caused an erosion of much of our literature, history, culture, language and overall identity of being Muslim and the concept of Ummah. However, with the minimizing of the globe through globalization, I think we have a unique opportunity to really get our children to link with the Ummah. Only then will we rid ourselves of the secular aspects of nation states and the blind faith we place on this aspect.

    • Fatima Ahmad

      January 19, 2018 at 7:55 PM

      -Logic/Mantiq- the basis for critical thinking, is NOT taught in public schools, or Islamic schools

      –VERY important: the study and PRACTICE of Islamic Arts, the indifference to beauty is indifference to Allah, as one Islamic Arts professor put it very eloquently in his article, The Silent Theology of Islamic Arts. (a must read for us all).

      -I agree with the above comment of Islamic History, Ottoman/ Moghul Empires.

      May Allah help us in realizing these high aspirations!

    • Sami

      February 12, 2018 at 3:58 PM

      Completely agree.

  2. Imran

    January 17, 2018 at 2:47 PM

    Thank you for this list; it’s helpful, and unfortunately not brought up nearly enough. I would add the importance of encouraging the three physical components of education that comes to us by way of hadith: teach your children swimming, horseback riding, and archery. There is benefit in other sports, but these have particular spiritual benefits that we can be assured are prophetic.

    Another glaring problem in our curriculums is the lack of very good history books. I’d say Destiny Disrupted might be a good book for high schoolers, but the most important thing is understanding the roots and development of Western culture as well as the causes of decline of Muslim civilizations. It’s of critical importance that Muslims know at what point in history they stand, so that they may learn what it is they must do, bi’dnillah.

    And Allah knows best.

  3. Maryam

    January 18, 2018 at 10:35 AM

    What about purification of the heart?

    • Farid

      January 18, 2018 at 1:26 PM

      I appreciate this effort of making the issues available for teaching contemporary Islam in schools for students who are in a panic state. More importantly, caliber muslim intellectual borad dealing worldwide islamic issues should be set up to tackle the burning problems in muslim world. Backwardness of muslims is the cost of lack in group efforts. And we muslims have ideas but these ideas grow and exhibit without utilisation. Unity is what ummah atfirst place represents for.

  4. Usman Quraishi

    January 18, 2018 at 3:39 PM

    i think this is expecting too much from high school children. they should focus more on secular studies to get into good college and enhance their critical thinking skills. Nowadays, high school students have short attention span and are pretty immature

    • Amatullah

      January 19, 2018 at 1:51 AM

      And covering these topics from a young age might exactly be the solution to the problem you are stating.

    • Raadiya Shardow

      January 29, 2018 at 11:52 PM

      Not only is that statement offensive, it is false. You have no idea the capabilities and intellect of high school students when they actually put effort into it. Look at other programs across the country, AP and IB classes all have this amount of rigor or more. Why can’t the same bar be applied to a crucial subject like Islamic Studies? When we start dumbing down our future, we have already lost.

  5. Muniba

    January 18, 2018 at 7:20 PM

    Although these topics are truly important and relevant, I must assert the importance of instilling the basics of faith and understanding of the deen both intellectually and emotionally in children in much younger stages.
    Although we focus a lot on the youth, part of the problem is that children are growing up only knowing Islam as a list of requirements, words recited in Arabic, and a list of prohibitions.
    Someone who grows up armed with only the above, yet emotionally vested in non-Muslim cultural norms may not find it worthwhile to sort through the more complex “youth” topics.

  6. Irfan Farooqui

    January 20, 2018 at 11:59 PM

    Masha-ALLAH the topics are very comprehensive. However along with them please provide the resources also.

  7. Md Nayeem

    January 23, 2018 at 10:06 AM

    You have pulled out some points, which are really need in our education institutions, even, not only for Islamic school but also in Islamic state school. Unfortunately it is happening alter, i.e. our Islamic schools have been following basic schools curriculum as to be modern. My brother!! you made some valid points, these are very essential to guide our advance mature child. These should be the very first tuition to get through our child as a decent human being in this growing secular & nasty society. Hope for the best in future,,,may Allah help us to imply these all….

  8. Amos

    January 23, 2018 at 1:30 PM

    They say that education is wasted on the young.

  9. LWR

    January 23, 2018 at 5:41 PM

    Several points come to mind after reading this excellent post and the comments which follow it:
    1. Many of the older Muslims in the U.S. were not born or brought up here, but our Muslim youth were born here and are being brought up in the United States. If we, as serious and caring Muslim adults, leaders, guides, and educators, truly want to prepare our youth to take pride in an identity which is often misunderstood, and which has been – especially recently – the subject of attack and concentrated misinformation, then we owe it to them to give them the wherewithal to do so. This very much includes the tackling of the post’s topics… and more.
    2. This should not be considered a “fluffy, liberal” extra tacked on to traditional Islamic educations. It is absolutely critical that these issues be addressed head on, in an atmosphere which is non-judgmental and non-threatening. I have been in Islamic education for many years and have witnessed first-hand the disillusionment, sense of betrayal – and bewilderment our Muslim youth face at college and beyond after leaving the protected confines of their Islamic school and/or community.
    3. It is NOT serving our Muslim youth, our Muslim Ummah, or even the future of Islam in the United States, to ignore these thorny issues. Bottom line: If they are not getting their answers from knowledgeable, conscientious, understanding adults, they most certainly WILL ask others! And they often don’t like the answers that they get. The Internet is a Pandora’s box of information, and misinformation. Shameful but true: American, anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination is widespread. When we send our youth into such situations unarmed, uninformed, and/or under-informed, they SUFFER – a LOT!

  10. Habib of LWR

    January 23, 2018 at 7:40 PM

    having worked a number of years with troubled youth and being a father of three I can assure you that the muslim youth that are insulated from reality due to over protective parents (this not exclusively an issue with muslim parents) who feel they are preparing children for adulthood are preparing them to venture out into the world (college for instance) ill-equipped and thoroughly enabled setting them up for the harsh reality that their peers are going to challenge them to think and question their belief system. College is not only a time to continue academic studies to earn a degree in a subject that will hopefully translate into paycheck, college is a time when the student is trying out being an adult and socializing with their peers. A time when they are full of idealism and really think they are able to change the world. if they are unprepared to meet the inevitable struggle that awaits them they will indeed be prey and the predator will be able to smell their vulnerability as soon as they walk in the room.

  11. Rifat Islam

    January 28, 2018 at 7:17 PM

    I know another commenter has mentioned Mantiq/Logic but a science that’s both praised in the ancient and modern worlds is rhetoric and debate. Islamic high schools throughout the country have generally been absent from the state and national debate tournaments. Debating domestic and foreign policy trains them to think critically, argue fluently and persuasively, etc. So I highly encourage any Islamic high schools to register motivated students to their local debate tournaments.

    • Dr. Shadee

      April 24, 2019 at 7:02 PM

      Mantiq is critical.

  12. Maureen Newton

    February 2, 2018 at 11:29 AM

    Usman Quraishi has it in one. Education in Britain should be non religious. In Britain think British all are here to improve the country as a whole not be biased to a religious backwater.

  13. Uzma

    November 16, 2018 at 7:47 AM

    Thank you for your suggestions which I found very relevant and pertinent. The problem is now finding the right people and correct information to teach these topics. Could you recommend any books, online lectures, websites; which provide authentic knowledge on the topics you have listed. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you again.
    Warmest salams
    Uzma Jung

  14. Senad Agic

    April 23, 2019 at 12:39 PM

    I would appreciate if a lesson about “Sticking to the Jama’ah” would be added. Our youth tend to distance themselves from the Jama’ah and the Imam to the point to declare that there is no need to follow any person or any authority or institutional religion. Some of them later become disoriented and religious in their own way. This way often leads to all kinds of deviations and extremism.
    The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam has informed us in the hadith of Hudhayfah radiallahu ‘anhu in which he said: “The people used to ask the Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam about the good, and I used to ask him about the evil out of fear that it would reach me.” So I asked the Messenger of Allah: “O Messenger of Allah, we were living in ignorance and evil, then Allah brought this good to us. So will there be any evil after this good?” He replied: “Yes.” I then asked: “Will there be any good after this evil?” He replied: “Yes, but it will be tainted.” So I asked: “What will be its taint?” He replied: “A people who guide others to other than my way, you will approve of some of their actions and disapprove of others.” I further enquired: “Then is there any evil after this good?” He said: “Yes! Callers at the gates of Hell – whoever responds to their call, they will be thrown into the fire.” I then said: “O Messenger of Allah! Describe them to us.” He said: “They will be from our people and speak our language.” I asked: “So what do you order me to do if that reaches me?” He said: “Stick to the Jama’ah (the united body) of the Muslims and their Imam (ruler).” I further asked: “What if they have neither Jama’ah or an Imam?” He said: “Then keep away from all those sects, even if you have to bite upon the roots of a tree, until death reaches you whilst you are in that state.” Related by al-Bukhari (no.7084) and Muslim (no.1847)

  15. Farheen Khan

    April 23, 2019 at 5:21 PM

    I hate to disagree, but as someone with extensive experience in curriculum design as well as a mother of 2 high schoolers (a junior and a senior), this article shows a shocking lack of understanding in respect to educational psychology, child development, and general curriculum design. Most disheartening is the lack of understanding for the needs of high schoolers, especially seniors. At this point in their studies, the topics they study should be focused on action not theories. Especially as seniors on the cusp of entering the “real world”, they should be DOING not philosophizing. Of the 14 points mentioned in the article, only a few address the social issues that are inevitably faced by college students. The rest – philosophical. The emphasis needs to be shifted, drastically. Topics should be relevant, meaningful, and actionable from a student’s perspective.
    Additionally, students need to revisit topics periodically throughout their formative years. The idea presented that students should have completed their study of seerah, aqidah, fiqh, etc. by 7th grade might sound great in theory but not in reality. The changes that take place in a student morally, cognitively, physically, emotionally, etc. from 7th grade to 12th grade are astounding. There are also issues for implementing this schoolwide, which I will not get into on a FB post at the moment :) The solution: a spiral design curriculum, the reevaluation of student goals, and a more action-oriented pedagogical approach to achieving those objectives.

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