If you are a parent of school-aged children or toddlers approaching the age requirement to begin formal education, then you may be thinking about the best options for you and your family. Depending on where you currently reside in the Western world, you might be contemplating private school, public school, or homeschool. If this is the case, consider yourself fortunate; not every Muslim parent has a choice.
Most Muslim children in the United States attend public school. Statistics indicate that less than four percent of all students are homeschooled, and less than four percent of Muslim students are enrolled in a private Islamic school. According to the Pew Research Center, Muslims only made up about 1.1 percent of the U.S. population in 2017; that would make the percentage of Muslim homeschoolers negligible. Yet, there is ongoing debate in Islamic circles about how parents should be educating their children, with a particular push to homeschool or enroll in Islamic school rather than opt for public education. Is it really a balanced conversation?
Where you stand on the issue of education depends on a number of factors: socioeconomic status, area of residence, family dynamics, and religion – just to name a few. There is no one size fits all when it comes to how we raise or educate our children. Even if you are vehemently against public school, it does not necessarily mean you will be able to homeschool or enroll your child in a private Islamic school. Perhaps you live in a remote town or city without an Islamic school nearby or maybe you cannot afford the tuition. Even with a two-income family, private school is a commodity that the average American cannot afford. You could be the sole breadwinner for your household or a single parent and unable to homeschool your child. On the other hand, there is personal preference. A parent may simply not want to take on the responsibility of their child’s secular education on their own. Public schools offer services catered to children with special needs, as well as a vast amount of other government funded resources. Whatever the reason may be, your determination is valid.
I will give you a personal example. When my first child was born, I was dead set on homeschooling for religious reasons. However, over the years as my family grew and our situation evolved, we had to make certain decisions based on our income and obligations. Once my toddler’s needs were greater than what I could offer if I homeschooled, I opted to send my first son to an Islamic school. He continued until two years later, a third child was born, and my second ended up in the same school. Financially, it was a burden on our one-income household, however, determined to see it through, my husband worked for the school to offset the cost. With additional financial assistance, we were able to enroll a third child, then a fourth.
Then, life happened. Eventually, we were forced to move from the area in which we lived, and the economic hardships were just too great. We ended up pulling three out of the four out of Islamic school and enrolling them in public school. The following year, we tried homeschooling with the eldest, and for the first time, none of our children were in Islamic school. Not having to dish out the thousands in tuition was like taking a noose off our necks.
Surprisingly, my children thrived in public school, and the fears we had about the environment, material taught, safety, and the influence of their non-Muslim peers decreased. There were many other Muslims and even teachers and administrators in the public school system. We were not alone; along with other parents, we were able to advocate for our children. I was reminded about my own experience growing up. Had it not been for me meeting a Muslim friend in public school, I may not have been introduced to Islam. Public school was not the boogeyman.
Having a taste of every option gave me a whole new perspective.
While private school provides an Islamic environment, it can easily become a crutch that parents lean on too heavily. Additionally, it is not a guarantee against bullying, negative vices and behavior, particularly when not coupled with parental involvement and basic Islamic etiquette at home. Homeschooling, while flexible enough to incorporate Islamic knowledge into regular subjects and work at a family’s pace, it is not for everyone. Educational choices should never be perceived as right or wrong, but rather as possible alternatives to make things easy for families.
There Are Many Options, Right?
In an authentic hadith, Aisha, the Mother of the Believers, may Allah be pleased with her, narrated:
“Whenever Allah's Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, was given the choice of one of two matters, he would choose the easier of the two, as long as it was not sinful to do so, but if it was sinful to do so, he would not approach it.…”
When it comes to educational options for our children, we are still limited to what is available, valuable, and feasible. According to the latest report on Islamic Schools from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, there are approximately 235 Islamic schools in the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands combined. This number includes full-time online schools, as well as brick and mortar institutions. Most of them are fairly young, 55 percent have been operational for six years or less and 85 percent for ten years or less. Thus, the issue of sustainability comes into question.
This may be the reason why some parents are apprehensive about private educational institutions. ISPU Research Associate Karen Keyworth, noted that “Based on a conservative estimate of 850,000 Muslim children under the age of 18, one can estimate that the percentage of Muslim children attending full-time Islamic schools is, at the very most, 3.8 percent.” However, this does not mean that Muslim caregivers are turning to homeschooling.
The National National Home Education Research Institute reports that there were about 3.7 million homeschool students in 2020-2021 in grades K-12 in the United States (roughly 6-7 percent of school-age children). There were about 2.5 million homeschool students in spring 2019 (or 3-4 percent of school-age children). The homeschool population had been growing at an estimated 2-8 percent per annum over the past several years, but it grew drastically from 2019-20 to 2020-21.
In contrast, private school is expensive and most American Muslim parents cannot afford the tuition even for one child. The Education Data Initiative stated that as of 2022, $12,350 is the average annual tuition among the nation’s 22,440 private K-12 schools. Costs for Islamic schools vary, but among the nation’s 5,158 Catholic elementary schools, the average tuition is $4,840. Keeping these statistics in mind, when deciding about your child’s education, you should be easy on yourself. Remember that nothing is guaranteed or permanent, you do have options. Islamic schools are new and constantly evolving, and there is more than one way to homeschool. Additionally, virtual programs have become increasingly popular in both spheres with some affordable options.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
Whatever road you take, make sure to prepare accordingly. No matter what you choose, here is some practical advice from the Quran and Sunnah regarding your child’s educational future:
1. Just Dua it.
There is a reason why we begin everything with the name of Allah: Bismillah! Invoke Allah in everything that you do, so that you can be successful. Repeat the supplications of the prophets for their families like the following dua of Prophet Nuh, peace be upon him, when he cried out desperately for his son:
“My Lord! My son is of my family, and your promise is the truth, and you are the most just of judges.”
(Surah Hud, 11:45)
2. Islamic education begins at home.
Ibn al-Qayyim, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
“Whoever neglects to teach his child what will benefit him, and pays no attention to him, has mistreated him in the worst way. In most cases, the corruption of children results from their parents and parental neglect of them, and their failing to teach them the obligatory duties of Islam and the Sunnahs. So, they neglected them when they were young.”
(Tuhfat al-Mawdud, p. 229)
3. Be righteous yourself and hope for the best.
As parents, we worry about how our children’s education will affect them in the future so much that we sometimes neglect ourselves. Yet, our own actions may be the reason why our children are blessed in adulthood. In the story of the encounter between Prophet Musa and Khidr, peace be upon them, in the Quran we learn about the story of two orphans. In Surah Al-Kahf, it says,
“And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the town; and there was under it a treasure belonging to them; and their father was a righteous man, and your Lord intended that they should attain their age of full strength and take out their treasure as a mercy from your Lord.”
(Surah Al-Kahf, 18:82)
The scholar, Ibn Rajab, may Allah have mercy on him, said about this verse:
“Allah may take care of a person’s offspring after his death because of his righteousness, as it says in the verse, “and their father was a righteous man” [al-Kahf 18:82]: they were protected because of the righteousness of their father.”
(Jami al-Ulum wa’l-Hukam, p. 186)
4. Enroll them in Islamic studies/Quran class outside of school.
Take charge of your child’s Islamic education even if they are not homeschooled or in Islamic school. This is part of the rights children have upon their parents. Imam Al-Nawawi said:
“The father must discipline his child and teach him what he needs to know of religious duties. This teaching is obligatory upon the father and all those in charge of children before the child reaches the age of adolescence.”
This was stated by al-Shaafa’i and his companions. Al-Shaafa’iand his companions said:
“This teaching is also obligatory upon the mother, if there is no father, because it is part of the child’s upbringing, and they have a share of that and the wages for this teaching may be taken from the child’s own wealth. If the child has no wealth, then the one who is obliged to spend on him may spend on his education, because it is one of the things that he needs. And Allaah knows best.”
(Sharh al-Nawawi ala Sahih Muslim, 8/44)
If the child cannot go to Islamic school, then bring the Islamic school to your child. Find classes or a tutor in person or online and supplement their regular studies with Islamic knowledge.
5. Advise gently.
No matter where our children end up learning, they will need gentle reminders of proper Islamic manners and knowledge. Continue to teach them as much as you can through your example and advice. Allah says in the Quran:
"And remind, for indeed, the reminder benefits the believers."
(Surah Adh-Dhariyat, 51:55)
Even when we think our children are not listening, they are absorbing everything we say and do. We may feel like a broken record, but just like that annoying song that you cannot get out of your head, inshaAllah, the messages we convey will stay in their core memory.
Remember there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to where your child is learning, if they are staying within the boundaries of their faith. Before the Industrial Revolution, students in the Western World were generally homeschooled. Somewhere along the line, the tables turned. Private schools were the first to be developed to fill academic or religious needs in the late 19th century followed by the more formal, state-funded public educational system dominant today. With increases in the cost of living and mothers working outside the home, public school became the most viable option. However, there is still some flexibility depending on your situation.
Homeschooling is an alternative for those who have the financial means, availability, and patience. There are a myriad of ways to approach homeschooling, with opportunities for every kind of learner and resources available in local and online communities. Private school, while expensive, may offer an Islamic environment coupled with traditional learning and many provide financial assistance to qualifying families. Public school is free, there is an abundance of resources available, administrators are generally open to religious obligations and celebrations, and there are avenues for reform should you be dissatisfied.
All things considered, every family must do what it is financially, physically, and emotionally capable of doing. I recommend sitting together with your child and discussing every available avenue before deciding a course of action. Be confident in your decision but know that it may change and that is ok. Trust Allah to help you and your child achieve your goals. And may He keep us and our families forever on the Straight Path. Amen.
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam