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.
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:
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.
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.