RAISING MUSLIM CHILDREN IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS:
WHAT PARENTS NEED TO KNOW
by Sahar El-Shafie
Many Muslim families debate whether to send their children to public schools or Islamic schools. Whatever the parents choose for their children, parents must always remember that whatever environment they choose for their children, they must do their best to guide them.
Some parents feel that simply having their children attend Islamic schools relieves them of their duties as parents. Of course, this is not true.
Yet, there are far too many parents who subscribe to this way of thinking.
MUSLIMS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS: AN INSIDER'S VIEW
As a teacher in the public school system, I also see the problems of having a Muslim child attend a school where the values of the school don't necessarily match that of the child's Islamic upbringing. So what are we to do?
The answer, I feel, lies in our ability to parent as well as in helping build our children's own Islamic identity.
Parents often wonder what it takes to raise their children in this Western society, which doesn't have the sense of Halal and Haram that we Muslims do.
But what are we teaching our children at home that helps them to deal with such issues?
STARTING THE REAL TEACHING OF OUR KIDS AT HOME
Are we fostering in our children a sense of pride in our Deen? We are so busy trying to make ends meet in our day-to-day struggle to survive that our children's Islamic upbringing is being neglected.
As parents we want our children to be successful doctors, lawyers and engineers. How many of us want our children to be good Muslims as well as successful professionals today? I see too many Muslim children who try to hide their Islam in the public school setting.
In America, the great melting pot, it is easier to try to fit in than stand out in the crowd. But that is human nature, is it not? How many of us parents do the same at work?
BUILDING ISLAMIC IDENTITY IN YOUR KIDS: SOME TIPS
The answer then lies in our ability to keep our Islamic identity in a non-Muslim society, as well as help our children to develop a Muslim identity of their own.
From personal experience, I have found out that we need to be with good practicing Muslims if we are to develop a Muslim identity.
The same is true for our children.
Be active in your local Muslim community.
Be a part of the solution to your community's problems.
Organize and support youth groups that foster your children's strong sense of Islamic identity.
Get together with other Muslim families and organize group activities for the children like group outings, camps, picnics, etc.
Also, have a knowledgeable family member give them Quranic as well as Islamic lessons to help them further develop their knowledge of their Deen.
BE MORE THAN A PARENT TO YOUR CHILD
Most of all, be a friend to your child.
Listen to his or her problems and help him to solve them Islamically.
Make your child active in finding the solution to their problem. Don't try to shelter your child from the harshness of reality.
If you are not open-minded and helpful in resolving their problems, they will find someone else who is, and that person may not have the proper Islamic perspective.
As far as the specific problems your child encounters in the public school system, they are the problems of the Western society in which we live.
Drugs, violence, sexual promiscuity, lack of respect for the authority and an attitude that everyone should be respected regardless of his/her morality are but just a few.
The good news is that these are the problems to which only Islam offers the correct solution.
FINDING COMMON GROUND WITH NON-MUSLIMS
I was surprised to note that there are a lot of conservative Christians and Jews who are raising their children in the same way.
I have a Methodist coworker who is a very firm believer in Allah's control over all of our fate. When she asks me about my future as a teacher, I answer that I leave the future to Allah. I can only do my best to attain my goals, but ultimately it is Allah who knows what will be and what is best for us. So we should always pray to Him for guidance.
She agreed with me wholeheartedly and commented that unlike other Christians, she was a firm believer in Allah's control over fate. This was the first time I had encountered a non-Muslim with this sense of Tawakul.
I guess that the bottom line is that no matter what environment we choose for our children, we must remember that the role we play as parents to teach our children their religion and help them to develop pride in it is crucial.
Let's all work together as an Islamic community to help ourselves and to help our children be good Muslims.
Sister Sahar El-Shafie teaches Social Studies to sixth and seventh graders at Martin Middle, a public school in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has coordinated several youth programs and understands their problems very closely.
This article was originally published in the Fall 1998 issue of Noor magazine.
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