A Step towards Education Success for this world and the next
By: Sr. Misturah Lawal
If we were to all agree on one thing, I think it would be that the times we are living in today are beyond insane. It seems as though the more people move away from Allah, and religion in general, the more corruption becomes rife, to the point where outrageous events and ideas don’t even make our jaws drop anymore. The indoctrination and widespread desensitisation promoted by a secular world has left us wondering: how can we navigate our lives in a safe and comfortable way, whilst protecting our Emaan and staying away from sin?
Without a doubt, Islaam provides us with all the answers we need. However, it takes knowledge, wisdom, and experience to form this frame of mind. Our school-aged children, on the other hand, are still dabbling in new waters, trying to find their feet in a world full of fitnah (trials) where the odds are continuously stacked against them.
Cultivating confident, strong, unwavering Muslim identities in our children hinges greatly on the people, ideas, and environment they are exposed to, and the values instilled by parents and caregivers in their upbringing.
Instilling Muslim values in children is a hard-enough task in itself, let alone with the added pressure from peers, the media and society to ditch these values for more progressive, un-Islamic ones. These new ideologies are embedded in the very fabric of the society we live in today, and unfortunately, the school system is not exempt. So, this begs the question: what is the solution? How can we begin to raise strong-hearted, valuable members of the Ummah, in spite of these challenges?
Sister Veronica joined us for the third time at MIA, to give us a brief presentation regarding a small segment of the Australian Syllabus. She examined the history of literacy, and what we can learn from the past, which we can apply to today when trying to raise a generation of morally upright children living in the West.
Literacy in the Islamic World
When the Prophet was born, the Arabs were known to be mostly illiterate. That all changed once revelation came, and the first command was ‘Iqra!’ (meaning read, or recite!) Although the Prophet (SAWS) never learnt to read, he played an active role to ensure the next generations of Muslims would. He praised and encourage the companions when they would gather to learn and discuss the Word of Allaah in the Masjid.
The man whom the Prophet raised since the age of five years, Ali Ibn Abu Talib (RA), began to take notes to preserve the grammar of the Qur’an during his Caliphate. He described to Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali the structures that make up a sentence. Al-Du’ali continued his work and placed diacritical marks to indicate phonic sounds to preserve the correct pronunciation of the Quran.
For the first few centuries, children would begin with the study of Arabic and the Qur’an. There was a systematic way of learning and a clear goal to achieve a certain level of literacy as the foundation of traditional madrasah system.
Based on Ibn Khaldun’s account; The curriculum for Muslim children varied widely between countries. He praised Spain for including poetry into their curriculum, and for teaching a competent level of Arabic grammar to children, instead of a comprehensive level, which he believes should be reserved for those who want to further their studies. After the sociologist surveyed numerous schools, part of his recommendations were:
- Education should be taken gradually in order to be useful,
- A student, who specialises in a specific science efficiently, will be ready to learn another easily,
- The process of education should be memorised, so children do not forget what they have learnt.
The early Muslim community read and memorised not only the Qur’an, but also poems or things that were of value to them. It was from their strong faith that they kept the tradition of taking the study of language seriously, as well as raising children with correct principles, as it’s an obligation placed on parents and society.
Those following the Islamic faith were unquestionably, according to historians, the most literate of people, up until Europeans colonised the Arab world in the 19th century.
Literacy in Western civilization Began 900 years after Islam
Outside of the Islamic world, there were high illiteracy rates, as reading and writing was practiced chiefly by those of status within the Roman Catholic Church. Books of knowledge, including the Bible, were inaccessible by laypeople. But, in a bid to make Biblical knowledge accessible to all, 16th century Protestants separated from the Catholic Church and established compulsory education, with a particular emphasis on literacy.
Children learnt at local churches and private homes with siblings, and by 13-14 years of age, they would have attained a competent level of reading and writing. An Australian example of early schooling is the Dame Schools, where a teacher was hired to teach the children of the neighbourhood, and it usually took place within the family home.
Prior to the 18th Century, children would participate in home life and were in no need of the formal schooling model we follow today. They helped grow crops, cook meals, clean the home, explore with companions, and serve the elderly! Life itself was school! Literacy was primarily learnt for understanding holy texts and living up to its commandments. That was until governments throughout the globe began to assume responsibility for the education of all children, now known as ‘The Industrial Revolution’. How are we going to take children away from their families to be trained to work as labourers and boost the economy? They thought. We must weaken the family unit to be able to instill our values!
Parents found it very difficult to part with their children and send them off to institutions. So, they created schools, and embedded religious values within the curriculum. By promising high-quality education with a moral focus, it helped convince parents that school would be the best thing for children! Overtime though, the secularisation of education began, children were segregated by age, propaganda was introduced, and groups were given rights to lobby for their ideologies to be part and parcel of the school syllabus (think Darwinism, Atheism, and more currently, gender fluidity, etc… you get my drift). With that began a cascade of detriment – the standard of education has fallen dramatically, children are constantly exposed to immorality and careless ideas (think, YOLO – you only live once!) and the family unit has disintegrated. The integrity and sacredness of learning has faded away!
These issues gave rise to the foundation of the Home Education Movement, which was led by John Holt, an American author and educator, in the 1970s. He brought to attention the reality of age-segregated schooling, and the detrimental effects it had on society. He was convinced that children entered school smarter than leaving it. He initially tried to reform school systems from the inside, before deeming it to be an impossible task. He later advocated for ‘unschooling’ (which is probably un-Islamic if taken as to mean – not to educate!)
The Christians, who make up two thirds of the movement, were led by Raymond Moore, and began to make calls to reform legislation to home educate. When learning the English language, they used materials and methods proven to have worked for previous generations with a God-centred approach. Today, their decision to home educate is unwavering, as they do not value, nor choose to acknowledge, a godless, low standard curriculum, counterproductive in their efforts to raising morally upright, highly literate children.
Later, Award winning teacher, John Taylor Gatto, stated; ‘Children are no longer child-like, instead, they are childish’. He explains how school students learn to walk, talk, think and act as their same-aged classmates and value the opinions of friends more than they value the advice of adults. They are constantly distracted, fall into the dangers of peer pressure, and lose their innate curiosity and hunger for knowledge and discovery. As a result, the culture of disrespect and carelessness becomes rampant within society. These concerns were a major contributor to the home education movement, and still are today.
Our greatest examples
If we consider some of the most inspirational people to have ever lived, the Companions of Muhammad (SAWS), we can learn so much about education. Some of the youngest companions were appointed tasks of huge responsibility. An example is Zayd ibnu Thaabit (RA), who was one of the few scribes of the Prophet (SAWS), who used to write down the Qur’aan as it was revealed. He was only 11 years old when he embraced Islaam, and he shadowed the Prophet Muhammad SAWS, along with many other young companions. They would listen to Muhammad (SAWS) recite, and they would memorise the Qur’aan by heart. Their oratory skills were of superior standard. They excelled in poetry, and their speech was so eloquent. Moreover, many of the young Companions were involved in leadership and teaching roles.
A huge takeaway from this is that children who grow up around adults, participate in real life, and are given important responsibility at an early age, tend to grow to be mature, skilled, and valuable members of the community.
Without a doubt, the quality of literacy today has degenerated compared to the past. The way children are currently taught to read has changed, and while we examine how the Australian curriculum is delivered in mainstream schools, today, we will take a brief look at only one concern.
In conventional schools we now teach children “sight words” rather than providing a strong foundation in phonics, the art of decoding words. As this technique speeds up the process of reading, children are expected to have completed the reading levels by third grade, although it is not uncommon for children to finish by grade two. Children are considered “readers” if they can pass the final level.
But my child is a great reader, you say! The rare few that master phonics will likely be given constant tedious tasks to predict, analyse, discuss, and write about every chapter in a book they are reading. The author’s intent is for you to read the entire content, at least once, before you can analyse! Children should discover the joy of reading in the younger years, just the same way society conditions us to enjoy watching movies. This is a clever way to get kids to dislike reading!
But wait – there is a solution to get them to enjoy reading, inside and outside the classroom! A reading challenge! We will motivate kids by giving out points for every book they read!
Get this: the #1 children’s author in Australia is Andy Griffiths! Have you seen his books? Here, I’ll show you a few.
These books marketed to children contain immorality, carelessness, misbehaviour, and other unfavourable themes!
Just a silly kids’ book, it’s all in good fun, you say? As long as the child is reading, that’s the most important thing. No! This is a trick of Shaytaan!
A quick search will show you that Griffiths is not the only author creating books filled with nonsense, encouraging bad behaviour and indecency! These books are promoted by being part of the Premier’s Reading Challenge; a list of book recommendations containing many like the ones above, and some under the guise of innocent titles! It excludes a world of quality books, so children will gain a habit of reading poor quality, baseless literature for a few years, whilst not developing the skills required to read more difficult and beneficial ones.
Why is it a problem? It’s not impermissible in Islam not to read in English! Right?
A society of poor-readers does not thrive, and especially so in the times we live in. A God-fearing, literate society is a well-informed society. It tends to make decisions based on facts, research, and understanding, rather than reactionary emotion or baseless self -opinions.
Poor readers are likely to be non-readers, not interested in picking up a book and read something of benefit in their spare time. A society of non-readers is what shaytaan wishes for: going against Islam’s first command, as reading is unarguably one of the strongest ways to resist the influence he has in a digital age. All people should be readers in the language that they understand, regardless of profession, status, or future ATAR score!
We need to be extremely cautious of the ideas and content our kids are exposed to, as it will help shape who they become! Exposure to immorality causes desensitisation, places wicked ideas in the mind, and directly affects the heart.
What a shame! What a shame these books are the go-to choice for literature reading in class. What a shame that beneficial books with universal morals aren’t the standard within a classroom, and easily available for children in libraries. What a shame, that little children are being encouraged, and even rewarded, for reading books like this.
Back to our Roots
As we reflect on the history of education in the Arab world before the decline of their own literacy, we realise the methods used by the Islamic world to reach a competent and comprehensive level of literacy are similar, and in many parts identical, to the way the Christians historically learnt a high standard of English.
The materials and methods used to home educate are important and can make all the difference. I invite you to take a look at the books suggested to Australian third grade readers today, and compare it to “Eclectic Series”, a book given to 3rd graders in the 1800s when children were taught to read at home.
The standards of education and instruction has definitely declined!
Whilst there is plenty of evidence of learning inside and outside of the home throughout history, there is no evidence of care-takers from any God-fearing society placing children in an environment to learn something they did not value before the introduction of compulsory education.
The lessons learnt from Islamic civilisation regarding education is invaluable. An illiterate society that transformed to be the most literate people for centuries, because they took the word of Allaah seriously, is something that is still attainable.
It is never too late to start. We just need make that decision and take the first step. If home educators use quality materials superior to what’s provided in mainstream schools, parents will receive a second chance at being educated along with their child, and with that comes endless benefits for everyone!
We live in troubling times. We can’t run away from it, but we shouldn’t throw in the towel, follow the crowd, and constantly make Du’aa that it somehow turns out to be beneficial! We need to make choices based on reliable research, along with our Du’aa. We should try to limit the exposure to what feels unnatural to a healthy heart for ourselves and those in our care and live our lives to participate in activities which are beneficial. It’s not bubble wrapping; it is responsible decision making!
If we were to put Allah at the centre of our home education curriculum, delivered in the language our children understand most whilst living in the West, our hearts will be at rest! “Surely, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts feel at ease.” This is a promise from your Lord!
The opportunity to homeschool the God-centered way awaits… welcome it! If we open our minds and hearts to positive change, we can build a strong community, and it starts with us and our children.