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From Muslim Parents To Educators: A Back To School Resource

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back to school

As the school year begins in Canada (and across many parts of the world), I and other Muslim parents find ourselves once again trying to remember all the things that our kids will need to deal with during the course of the school year. To make things a little easier, I have put together an email template for us to send to our childrens’ principal and teachers, outlining the main issues educators need to be aware of when they have Muslim students in their classrooms. Teachers often appreciate the heads-up in advance, and such an email can be a great resource and starting point for teachers to learn more about their Muslim students’ sensitives and requirements.

Of course, feel free to adjust the template as needed to your own specifications and priorities!

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Hello, Mr/Ms/Mrs _______________!

 

My name is _______________________, and I am the parent of ________________ in your class. As it is the beginning of the school year, I would like to inform you of a few things to be aware of with regards to my child.

Our family is Muslim, and that comes with certain unique needs, requirements, and accommodations that my child will need during the course of the school year.

 

  • Awareness of Islamophobia: As you are undoubtedly aware, Islamophobia has reared its ugly head in Canada (*insert your own country of residence*) many times over the years. Unfortunately, Muslim students in particular have faced Islamophobic bullying from peers as well as discrimination from teachers. We urge you to be aware of how Islamophobia manifests, and how it impacts children in particular. Please see the following resources for some information about this:
  • https://yaqeeninstitute.ca/nour-soubani/what-is-islamophobia-animation
  • https://yaqeeninstitute.ca/infographics/internalized-islamophobia-exploring-the-faith-and-identity-crisis-of-american-muslim-youth-infographic
  • https://yaqeeninstitute.ca/jibran-khokhar/effects-of-islamophobia-on-the-brain-dr-jibran-khokhar-firm-roots
  • Prayer: As a Muslim, my child offers the five daily prayers. During the school year, this means that they will need to do at least one prayer during school hours, and as the days get shorter, will include two prayers during school hours. These don’t take longer than about 5 minutes to perform, and all my child will need is a quiet corner to perform their prayers.
    They will also need to know the direction of the qiblah – i.e the direction they need to face for prayers. They will need to face North, so if you or another teacher could help them find a compass and just check where North is in the place that they are praying, that would be great! They will most likely be able to pray during lunch break, so it shouldn’t interfere with any class time; however, in some cases, they may need to step away for five minutes to do their prayers.
  • Friday prayers: As boys above the age of puberty are required to attend the Friday prayer, please note that I will be withdrawing my son ________ from class for approximately an hour and a half during Friday afternoons from 1:30-3:00pm; after the time change, this will be from 12:30 to 2:00pm.
    As our child’s education continues to be a priority for us, we would appreciate it if we are provided with whatever schoolwork our child has to make up for the missed class time, and it will be completed and submitted appropriately.
  • No music: As part of our faith, we strenuously avoid music with instruments. They could spend that time doing silent reading, volunteering as a buddy in other classrooms, or working on their homework instead.
    For music-related activities in other classes, I would appreciate it if I could be informed ahead of time so that we may brainstorm an alternative for him/her.
  • No national anthem/ pledge of allegiance: My daughter/son will not be standing up during assemblies or any other occasion to sing the national anthem/pledge of allegiance.
  • No Thanksgiving/ Halloween/ Christmas/ Valentine’s Day/ April Fools’/ St. Patrick’s Day/ etc.: As Muslims, we observe the sacred month of Ramadan, and celebrate two holidays a year, called Eid (Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha respectively). While it’s absolutely fine for our child to discuss things such as general values of gratefulness, appreciation, and so on, for something like Thanksgiving or Christmas, I would appreciate it if they are not involved in any such holiday-specific activities or events.
    As well, we are more than happy to provide someone to come to the classroom to discuss Ramadan and Eid in detail.
  • Food restrictions: No gelatin or non-halal meat products, please!
  • Dress code: My daughter wears the hijab, which means that her dress code in general will involve being covered in modest clothing (e.g. long sleeves) – this will be required even for PE classes. Please let me know if at any time swimming will be included in the curriculum, as both Muslim boys and girls will need to be excused from it, due to modesty requirements. We are more than happy to have them replace swimming with another kind of physical activity.
    For boys and girls, modesty is extremely important, and we do not want our sons or daughters in locker room situations where they will be required to undress in front of others, or see others undressed. Please arrange for a private stall for them to get changed in.
  • Sexual education: As Muslims, we provide our own well-developed faith-based and culturally appropriate sexual education. We expect to be informed in advance should discussions on sexuality or sexual education be brought up in the classroom, in order to make an informed decision as to whether or not to allow our child to remain in the class for that discussion or not. This includes any discussions or activities related to Pride week or Pride month.
  • Fasting in Ramadan: This year, Ramadan will begin around the middle of March. Although this is some time away, and we will touch base with you closer to Ramadan itself, please be aware that since our child will be fasting from before dawn to sunset, there will need to be some accommodations made with regards to PE.

 

We are always willing to communicate further regarding our child’s needs and accommodations.

Please do keep in mind that this is specific to our family’s spiritual needs, and there may be other Muslim families who attend the school who may not require the same. Like any other faith group, Muslims are diverse in their spiritual observations. We request that all Muslim families be treated with respect, and be provided with the religious accommodations they have specified.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Regards,

 

_____________________

 

 

Related reading:

Advice To Students Starting A New School Year

Advice To Students Starting A New School Year

Islamophobia In American Public Schools

Islamophobia In American Public Schools

Tips For Managing School And Ramadan

Tips For Managing School And Ramadan

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Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Umm Zaynab

    September 7, 2022 at 2:38 AM

    This is great, jazakallah Khair for writing and sharing this Ustadha.

  2. Faheem

    September 7, 2022 at 5:15 AM

    This article is too extreme and makes Muslims look entitled. There is nothing wrong with the national anthem/pledge of allegiance. And it is sunnah to learn how to swim and has health benefits. A man’s ‘satar’ is only from navel to knee. And what will boys see of girls during swimming classes that they don’t get to see on the street, mall, restaurant, or even in school outside of swimming classes?

    • Zainab bint Younus

      September 7, 2022 at 11:18 AM

      Faheem – unfortunately, the only thing extreme here is 1) the internalized colonization of your attitude and 2)your lack of hayaa and concern for your son’s hayaa. You might have missed the part where RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) told us that modesty is half of faith, and the part where he (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was himself more shy than the secluded maidens of his time. Also, you know, the part in the Qur’an that commands us all to lower our gazes. You think throwing your sons into public school swimming classes surrounded by girls in itty bitty swimsuits is good for his spiritual upbringing?

      (Besides, you do realize that you can teach your sons swimming/ take them to all-male classes outside of school, right?)

      AlHamdulillah I have used this email template every year for my daughter in school (she’s 12 now), and teachers have always been very welcoming and happy to work with us in accommodating our Islamic values. A pity that fellow Muslims don’t have the guts to stand up for themselves.

  3. Tiger

    September 7, 2022 at 9:43 AM

    It is absurd to dictate terms to a secular school and downright ridiculous to make a child miss assembly and so many classes.

    • Zainab bint Younus

      September 7, 2022 at 11:20 AM

      1) Schools being secular doesn’t mean that individual students’ religious concerns cannot be accommodated for. AlHamdulillah, not a single one of my daughter’s teachers have ever had a problem with it. 2) Not singing the anthem/ pledge of allegiance doesn’t mean that the kids miss assembly. 3) Very few classes are missed at all. Kids are provided with educational alternatives to both music classes and the swimming portion of PE.

  4. Spirituality

    September 7, 2022 at 10:14 AM

    Jazaki Allahu Khayran, Sister Zaynab for this guidance. Extremely useful. I really wish that something like this had been available when I was going to school.

    My understanding is that pledge of allegiance/national anthem is disputed. As is celebration of thanksgiving. Some scholars allow these things, others don’t.

    Its best for parents to tailor the letter as they see fit, according their understanding of their deen and their specific needs for their children.

    I agree with Faheem that its critical that we Muslims don’t come across as demanding and entitled, but we also need to make clear the requirements of our faith. It maybe best not just to send letters, but to have a meeting with the principle/teachers and discuss these issues. While doing so, we should show exemplary manners, as should our children while in school. We could also bring to such meetings treats for teachers/ the principal to munch on. Parents and Children should regularly take part in activities showing engagement (like bake for bake sales, volunteer as chaperones for field trips, etc).

    Parents should regularly participate in school board meetings, etc – and not just issues that specifically address Islam. (Ie, what about the school budget? parking problem? hiring more teachers? proposed schedule and curricula changes, hiring more teachers/aides etc?)

    • Zainab bint Younus

      September 7, 2022 at 11:22 AM

      Wa iyyaaki!

      Regarding coming off as “demanding” – alHamdulillah I have used this email template for my daughter (she’s 12 now) for every year of school. Not a single teacher had a problem with it, and I would occasionally meet with the teacher in person. Certainly, we should be involved in many different aspects of our children’s education, and I personally do many of the things you mentioned (sending treats, keeping up with local school issues etc).

      As for allowing parents to tailor the letter, that’s… literally what I say at the beginning of the post.

  5. Mr. Fantastic

    September 7, 2022 at 10:49 AM

    I want my child to get a good education but I just have these 200 demands you should adhere to, including making my child sit out of important classes. (If you don’t comply with my demands you are Islamophobic).

    Some people should go back to their native countries and register their children in a madressa.

    • Zainab bint Younus

      September 7, 2022 at 11:25 AM

      Your own Islamophobia is pretty clear – thankfully, my child’s teachers have never had a problem with any of my requests, and she doesn’t miss out on ‘important classes’ (I teach Islamic sex ed classes at our Islamic center, so she has a very thorough understanding that rivals what’s taught in the public school system; she has educational alternatives to both music and swimming). May Allah protect us from people with disgusting attitudes like yours.

  6. Faheem

    September 7, 2022 at 11:43 AM

    A man is always surrounded by scantily clad women – on the street, in malls, offices, parks, and classrooms. There is nothing different in swimming classes that will suddenly affect someone’s spirituality.

  7. Mr. Fantastic

    September 7, 2022 at 12:08 PM

    Sex education is not porn where someone has to have an alternative. It is better for children to learn from professionals than from friends or some other source. If my son/daughter has swimming classes in school I will encourage them. My daughter can wear a one piece swimsuit or a bikini for that matter, as long as she learns how to swim. It is the intention that counts. Music is something that people listen to anyway. No reason to deprive them of music classes. My children will definitely sing the national anthem.

    • Zainab bint Younus

      September 7, 2022 at 12:11 PM

      Since you clearly have completely different religious priorities, and absolutely no one is forcing you to send this email to your children’s teachers, I see no reason for you to throw a tantrum over this post. You do you, buddy.

  8. Natalia Islam

    September 7, 2022 at 4:19 PM

    Man we live in a scary world. People really ready to give up basic Islamic values just so that their kids can learn swimming
    When kids(boys and girls) go to school and see the opp gender basically naked, of course it’s hard but that’s a necessity. Just like when they have to go to the grocery story or do a job. That’s why they are commanded to lower their gazes and take other appropriate measures. But in situations where Allah has given you control you should always separate genders and even same genders from a crowd you know has no shame. So don’t go to a wedding where music is blasting and everyone is dancing. Set boundaries in your home where in if guests come they should know men And women sit separately (even if they don’t share the same separation belief with u). Make things easier for your kids. What else are parents for if not to be a blessing that helps you get to Jannah. No matter how bad things are outside, you should be able to come home to a parents who you know will go out of their way to look out for you and your akhirah, and that you don’t have to do everything alone. When it’s gets really hard for your daughters to see everyone having a bf but not them, listen to them sympathize with them and help them to the best of your abilities so that they know that atleast her parents will stick with her in this journey through thick and thin. Don’t just throw your poor kids oh how sad into a party that your cousins threw where there’s no haya. If we make it too difficult for them and they can’t even expect us to understand and help, obvsly poor kids will look to other people and that may have detrimental effects with their relationship with islam. Why take the risk?

  9. Husband

    September 7, 2022 at 5:18 PM

    I have seen moral policing by parents damage parent-child relationship and turn children away from Islam. Every child wants to fit in. Stopping a child from attending classes is not reasonable.

    I agree with Faheem hands down. A man is exposed to half-naked women every day the moment he steps out of his home anyway. Swimming classes are very beneficial. Sex-education is also necessary.

  10. RS

    September 7, 2022 at 8:53 PM

    The comments on this are very interesting. They reek of internalized inferiority complex and betray a lack of centering iman in the lives of our family. Note: you don’t *need* to use this exact template, but it provides an excellent framework of all the things that come up in public school. *You* are responsible for safeguarding your child’s deen in their adolescence. There is an extreme level of fitna in public schooling which seeks to completely retoole the Muslim mind through ideological means. It’s quite insidious.

    From a Canadian perspective, the Charts of Rights and Freedoms enshrines in legislation religious accommodation. There is absolutely *nothing* wrong with asking for accommodations for your child. Our schools are supposed to be inclusive, so let’s test them on that. How inclusive are they to students from diverse backgrounds?

    None of these accommodations inhibit the learning of your child. Having formal communication like this is actually extremely helpful to educators because it is clear in concerns and expectations. It alleviates anxiety for your child and for yourself. It’s also extremely helpful in sharing knowledge that will help subsequent Muslim students as now the teachers will have familiarity with the confines within the deen. This requires creativity on their part to deliver certain material and make it accessible to students of all backgrounds.

    Nothing here is being demanded, you can speak with your teacher and discuss what accommodations look like, it’s a great dialogue and it is imperative that your child learns at a young age that they can communicate their needs at school, work, in their relationships and so forth.

    This was an excellent template, super helpful. It teaches yourself and your child to advocate for an iman-led approach to your entire life and to be okay with standing out from the crowd. It teaches self worth and self respect in being firm upon your deen.

    Of course, alternative schooling methods are preferred, but for many, public school is the only accessible option and this type of communication with your child’s school can make a world of a difference.

  11. Safiya

    September 8, 2022 at 4:13 AM

    Salaam Alaikum,

    This is a very interesting and important discussion. It is a shame to see insults being cast about in response to some of the comments, particularly by the author. What is the point of talking about giving our children Islamic values if we cannot disagree without name-calling, accusations of tantrums and insulting people’s religious practice and knowledge.

    It is really good that this letter has generated positive outcomes for your child, Alhamdulilah. It is however, fair to comment that by prefacing the letter with the section on Islamophobia first, aside from starting a religious discussion from a negative perspective, it does read very much as “Give me X or I will accuse you of Islamophobia”. I do think Spirituality’s comment about meeting with the school and working with them is very beneficial. It is often much easier to influence schools from within, such as through PTA meetings and being a school governor.

    This is important as some adaptations for Muslim children could be beneficial for the school as a whole. For example, the letter mentions changing for PE. During Covid, my daughter’s school switched to children wearing their PE kit to and from school on PE days and this has worked so well, that they have carried on doing this. So, I would advise Muslim parents if possible, to think about adaptations from a whole-school perspective as it then becomes the norm as opposed to your child feeling different.

    I would also add that parents need to be thinking about their child’s education at a much earlier age. We wanted our children to go to a school where there were lots of Muslim children, but not only Muslim children and to go to single-sex high schools, so we moved to an area where this was possible. Parents have four years from the child’s birth to plan their primary school and ten years to plan their high school. It shouldn’t just be something to consider at school application time.

    I would actually agree with the comments about sex education, because unfortunately, schools have outsourced this to outside companies and some of the materials are absolutely atrocious, going far beyond biological information, so I would recommend all parents to ask to see what their child’s school is teaching. Also, regularly discuss with their child what is taught in their child’s school assemblies, as these may often be quite ad-hoc and also feature outside speakers.

    In terms of feasibility, schools generally do well with can’t eat that food/ can’t attend that class because they have been dealing with dietary requirements and Jehovah’s Witnesses children for a long time. For things which may come up more randomly, for example making cards for a non-Islamic festival, it’s best to have an alternative activity ready, so suggest to teachers that instead of making a card, your child can make a picture instead using the same craft materials. Most importantly, parents need to discuss this with their child too beforehand. It does not look good when teachers are the ones telling a Muslim child they cannot make a Valentine’s card, particularly if all the other children are doing so.

    However, there is one really important issue which is getting brushed over in the harsh/awrah discussion.
    With regards to swimming, unlike most other school activities, it is an essential life skill and people die every year because they didn’t learn to swim. It’s not just a matter of avoiding water if you can’t swim well, nearly half the people who drown never expected to get wet. Many get caught out by unexpected slips, trips and falls into the water and teenage boys are a particularly high-risk group. There is no educational alternative to being able to swim.

    Therefore, I am very concerned at the thought of Muslim parents being encouraged to pull their children out of swimming classes unless they have solid, alternative plans in place to teach their children to swim. Just paddling on the beach during holidays is not sufficient. Parents need to be honest with themselves, particularly if they are poor swimmers themselves (and it’s never too late to learn), they will not be able to teach their child to swim. So parents, before removing your child from school swimming classes, need to have arranged alternative swimming lessons now. Not for one day maybe in the future, but right now, booked and going to happen.

    Haya is important, but we not commanded to die in order to preserve it. Everyone reading this, make sure your child learns how to swim.

  12. Truth

    September 8, 2022 at 4:36 AM

    I would not go around imposing my ‘Islamic values’ on my kids or anyone else. There are so many parents who emigrate to the West but want their children to live a ‘Islamic lifestyle’, which includes not mixing with the opposite gender, wearing a hijab, not partying, etc. Parents force their children to live a certain way but it doesn’t work in the long run. Children just become rebellious and are forced to put on a show in front of their parents.

    As for all the fuss about swimming classes, I would be more concerned about the fact that my kids know how to swim so that tomorrow they can save their own lives and that of someone else. I also want my kids to be educated about STDs.

  13. Truth

    September 8, 2022 at 5:15 AM

    I like Safiya’s comment. People against swimming classes are what we call ‘lakeer ka fakeer’ in Urdu. They are stringent in their beliefs and not willing to apply common sense. No amount of logical explanations can
    convince such people.

  14. Spirituality

    September 9, 2022 at 1:02 PM

    The issue about sex ed is a thorny one. I really don’t think many Muslim parents have a good idea how to go about this, so they honestly can’t use the template provided here. For their kids, its either no sex ed for whatever is taught in their schools.

    Which is not ‘neutral’ sex ed (ie, explains the process) but promotes an agenda. And, it actually starts very early. Google “My two dads and me.” and “Teo’s Tutu.” Older kids may read things like “Gender Queer.” If parents want to keep their children in sex ed classes, they have to be willing to have frank discussions about these things, and teach them the Islamic prespective.

    Sister Zaynab, I think you are an exception in this regard – giving high quality sex education from an Islamic perspective. Would you write a blog about it? What to teach? How? What sources you use? Jazaki Allahu Khayran!

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