I remember when my wife first told me that she was pregnant. There was a natural excitement of having a child and bringing a new life into the world. We looked forward to all the landmarks, the first scan and midwife appointments. Then we went for the second scan, in which we were able to see a head, arms, legs, fingers and a heartbeat, so vivid and clear that they reality of parenthood was apparent for us to see. We also found out that day that we were going to have a baby girl, which we were really excited about. We had our names planned in advance, we were going to have a little Rumaysah. After that came shopping, pinks, lilacs, dresses and bodysuits.
The anticipation grew as the big day drew near. My wife’s due date actually clashed with my microbiology exam (I was studying for an MSc at the time). The big day came and went and eventually the first labour pangs started to appear. After a harrowing 36 hours of labour, Rumaysah was born. It was of the most joyous moments, holding my first born in my arms for the first time. Being the youngest in a family of two I didn’t have much experience of raising children, now I had my own little child. My wife, Alhamdulillah was a natural and even though Rumaysah was a difficult child she seemed to take it in her stride. I, on the other hand, was a bag of nerves, struggling to change nappies, bathe the baby or put her to sleep.
Raising children is a massive responsibility in Islam and will be a source of great reward or punishment in the hereafter. Parents are charged with protecting their children from harm, be that from illnesses and diseases or from other people, ideas and behaviours. As a result, we were acutely aware of the need to protect her from kufr and the influences of kufr from the earliest of ages. We would monitor who she interacted with, what she would watch on TV, what kinds of toys she would be allowed to play with. It almost bordered on obsession, but we felt it was necessary in order to protect our child from the hellfire whose fuel is men and stones.
The world is a very dangerous place for a little child with busy roads, pollution, child abductions and criminality. However what really concerned my wife and myself was the ideas, thoughts and values that she would be exposed to living in the west. Western societies are built upon secularism, which is the detachment of religion from life and secular societies produce certain type of personalities. Religion in the west is a personal relationship that an individual has with ‘God’. Individuals are left to believe in whatever they like, Allah, Buddha, Shiva, Jesus, Jedi, science, aliens, nothing, but in all instances religion should have no influence in how a person lives their life and no impact in societal norms and legislations. In the west there is no concept of accountability or afterlife, hence you are left with individuals who will live life as they see fit. Freedom underpins secular society and individuals will seek to act and secure their freedom with impunity. In life people will seek to accrue as much benefit and pleasure as possible. Life is built on the adage ‘you only live once’ hence instant gratification is essential with no concept of forsaking pleasure in this life for the next. These are just some of the basic ideas that are propagated in the West through the natural atmospheres and various state institutions.
Schools are educational institutions and in the West schools are geared up to produce secular minded individuals. When I reflected upon my time within school, it was apparent that education was more than just learning my alphabet and times tables. Schooling played a part in shaping my likes and dislikes and my viewpoint on life. Different religions were presented as just ideas amongst many ideas, whereas science, big bang and evolution were presented as an absolute truth not to be debated. History was presented through the spectacles of colonialism and Islam’s golden age was covered up as the ‘dark ages’. Benefit as a criterion was drilled into us, experimentation wasn’t limited to the science lab, but life was treated as an experiment. We were encouraged to discover ourselves, discover the opposite sex or even the same sex – whatever tickled our fancy.
Being a revert and spending my entire school life as a non-Muslim whose philosophy was enjoyment and pleasure, I began to think that I was over estimating the impact of schooling on my personality. However my wife, born and raised in a Muslim household presented a very similar reality. She attended a majority Muslim state school, yet Islam was non-existent in her atmosphere. Her identity was confused, Islam was left at the school gates. Inside the school, education was important, but so was expressing yourself and having fun. Islamic culture was non-existent, instead the confused ‘Asian culture’ dominated with Bollywood and Bhangra. Islam actually became a hindrance to enjoying life, whether that was hijab interfering with swimming or parents with ‘cultural’ understandings standing in the way of Muslim children fully participating in the joys of school life. My wife was adamant that any clarity she gained about Islam and the purpose of her life was not acquired through those years she spent in the classroom or the playground. Infact, secular state schools produced a secular minded personality and not one where the entire life is shaped and governed by Allah (swt).
My wife and I attended school over 20 years ago, but when I look and read about the children of today I feel that my fears are justified. Newspapers report about sexual relationships between teachers and pupils, teenage pregnancy rates in the UK are amongst the highest in Europe. The internet has taken bullying from the playground and into computer screens, tablets and smart phones. Children are becoming more sexualised, that SRE is taught in primary schools. Gang and knife crime is rampant. A recent report by the BBC highlighted how young girls are used as sexual objects by gangs in inner city London, trophies to be passed around by gang members. Retribution amongst gangs often involves raping the girlfriends or family members of opposing gangs. Children are generally more disobedient and disrespectful to elders or those in authority as can be noticed by observing the average conversation of a parent and child in the supermarket. There are exceptions and occasionally you do meet very nice mild mannered children, but this does not appear to be the norm.
Not all the blame can be placed at schools; parents also have a responsibility in bringing up children. However a child’s behaviour is invariably linked to the thoughts they carry about life. A child who carries ideas like freedom and benefit will do as they please irrespective of consequences, whereas a child that carries obedience to Allah (swt) and accountability will seek to please Allah (swt) fully aware of the consequences of their actions. Therefore, it is essential that the thoughts and values that are propagated by the parents and schools are in unison in order to produce consistent personalities.
Given that a child will spend around 7 hours in the day at school, how would we educate our children in order to build Islamic personalities who will be an asset to the Muslim ummah? Would we take a chance with state schools, should we pay for private schools or Islamic school, or should we home school? These are the dilemmas that we, and many other Islamically minded parents, have to go through as they see their children grow up. Each option had plus and minus points. For all the issues with state schools, they will produce academically if the child is willing to learn. Both my wife and I had gone to state schools and we both went on to higher and further education. Private schools produced better academic results, but at a financial cost. Islamic schools would attempt to inculcate an Islamic ethos, but they are often wrangled with internal politics. Home schooling would mean that we would have more control over what our child was taught, but would be a massive commitment on our behalf.
After months of deliberation, we decided to home educate and 5 years and two more children later we are still home educating. It’s not all plain sailing. Each day comes with its own problems, motivating the children, motivating ourselves, planning what will be taught and how we will teach it. Each one of my children are different personalities, Rumaysah is very studious, whilst Nusaybah is more practically minded, Faatiha is a combination of both her sisters. Sometimes we want them to work together and at other times we have to separate them to make it productive. Life would be simpler is one shoe fitted all, but they all require a different approach. Having them at home most of the time takes its toll on the house and also on us. It is a daunting, but not an impossible task. My children are generally happy, they are content and they are comfortable and confident with being Muslims. Shaping their Islamic identity is vital in the early stages and so we are able to experience everything with them, from the books they read, the programmes they watch on TV, the people they meet and the behaviours and ideas they interact with. We are there to discuss with them, to widen their thinking and link everything back to the existence of Allah (swt). Being in control of what my child will learn and be exposed to means that we can prioritise what we feel is important. We can read about the seerah as opposed to fairy tales, we can run a project on Ramadan as opposed to them learning about Christmas. Building a love for Islam is invaluable during those early years when the child’s tastes are being shaped. Educating my three daughters is more than them learning to read and write, more than just making sure they don’t play with boys, but educating them is preparing them for living life in a society that is devoid of spiritual and moral guidance. We need Muslim children who are not only confident in Islam but able to carry it and discuss with others.
The recent Trojan Hoax affair has highlighted the problems that Muslims face in educating their children. Muslim parents have always aspired that their children become educated, professional and hardworking individuals. However, there is a rising sentiment amongst parents now that qualifications should not come at the expense of Islam and Islamic values. Muslim parents have realised that you don’t leave your Islam at reception and collect it at home time. As a result, schools have attempted to inculcate an Islamic ethos at the behest of the parents. This so called ‘Islamisation’ of state schools has presented a problem for politicians. Education secretary, Michael Gove has stated that schools must now proactively promote ‘British values’ at the expense of Islamic values which have been deemed ‘extreme’. The jury is out as to what constitutes a ‘British value’, but what is clear is Islam should be divorced from a child’s upbringing and education. What should dominate are the very secular values that I am trying to protect my children from holding.
In Birmingham, the centre of the Trojan horse affair, 38% of all children in state schools are Muslim and over 50 schools have a Muslim intake of over 90%. These are the next generation of Muslims in the UK. Will they be personalities that manifest Islam in their behaviour and work to carry Islam in the society, or will they be characterised by secular liberal values, be plagued with the problems that exist in the society and hence have nothing new to offer.
Home education was our choice given the current reality. In an ideal world we would live in a society in which Islamic values were manifest in all institution of the society, we would then send our children to the schools of the Islamic state safe in the knowledge that they would be protected from kufr. However, for many home schooling or Islamic schooling will not be a viable option. Parenting is about making choices and whatever choice a parent makes they need to ensure that their child is protected from the influences of kufr. Practically that means spending quality time with your child. When they come home from school, sitting them down and finding out what they learnt in school, both in the classroom and the playground. It also requires building a positive relationship with the school, explaining to them your concerns, remaining firm, principles but polite in all interactions. However, it is critical that parents take time to educate their own children with the basic thoughts of Islam to help them live their life as Muslims. This means building conviction in the existence and attributes of Allah (swt), building halal and haram as the criterion for action, building the concept of accountability, heaven and hell in order to build love and fear of Allah (swt). The first line of defence for the child is the parent and not the school or madrassa. If as parents we embrace this responsibility we will produce personalities that shine like stars. Our children will be characterised by modesty and honesty as opposed to immorality and deceit. Our children will stand for the truth, irrespective of the consequences as opposed to compromising Islam for benefit or pleasure. That requires building Islamic values in our children and refuting secular ideas such as freedom and benefit.
Ultimately only time will tell whether our decision will turn out to be for the best. To some extent life is about trying your best and trusting in Allah (swt). The Quran informs us of numerous examples of parenting, such as the advice of Luqman to his son. However, most striking is the relationship between Nuh (as) and his son. Nuh (as) was the Prophet of Allah (swt), the best of people in carrying the call of Allah (swt). His son, however, was of those who neglected his father’s advice and warnings and so was drowned in the floods with the rest of the disbelievers. A child may have the best of upbringings, but the example of Nuh (as) shows us that eventually they will take those steps of life by themselves as your influence wanes and independence takes over. However, irrespective of what the future may bring and how we decide to educate our children, our responsibility is to work to the best of our ability to produce positive Islamic personalities.
Raising three beautiful girls in a world full of temptations is a difficult task, but I am reminded of the hadith of the Prophet (saw) in which Anas (ra) reported that The Messenger (saw) said: “He who is involved in the responsibility of nurturing daughters and is generous to them, will have them as fortification for himself against the hellfire” [Bukhari & Muslim]
I pray that Allah (swt) includes me in this and aids us all in fulfilling our duty.