How Should Islamic Studies Be Taught?

    The Holy Qur'an instructs the Blessed Prophet Muhammad thus:

"It is part of the Mercy of Allah that you deal kindly with them, because if you were harsh with them, they would have run away from you. So overlook their faults and ask Allah's forgiveness for them..." (3:159)

    Contrast the above ayah with the following real-life example that is played out everyday in many Islamic Studies classes all over the world: The students are all sitting before the teacher silently. The teacher yells at the students about how they are not following the Qur'an and Sunnah. The students are feeling guilty, especially since they don't know how to follow the Qur'an and Sunnah to begin with! The teacher never told them how to do it. He or she has just been lecturing them on Fiqh issues and giving them low grades because they didn't memorize their assigned Surahs on time.

    In some countries, the teacher of Islam would have a stick and could beat the children at will. In North America, usually the only tool of repression and humiliation at the teacher's disposal is his tongue. So he covers up his own lack of progress in getting the students to learn and practice Islam by insulting them and lashing out at them, calling them poor examples of Muslims and even sometimes labeling them kuffar! (See Qur'an 20:44) When the teacher calms down, he goes back to his dry, boring lecture format and seems oblivious to the vacant stares and wandering eyes of the children who come to hate Islamic studies classes with a passion.

    Is it any wonder that so-called Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have the lowest levels of personal morality and support for the Islamic movement? Those people actually seem to want to be free of the type of Islam they've been exposed to and they run after everything Western and secular, thinking that it's better. It's sad that they don't realize they have not been receiving real Islam but instead have been subjected to faulty educational methods and frustrated teachers.

    Both you and I know that such an educational scheme could never produce an Abu Bakr, 'Ali, A'ishah or Fatimah. We also know that the Blessed Prophet didn't yell and beat people or lecture and bore them to death. If you've ever read about the Sahaba and how they interacted with the Blessed Prophet, then you'll immediately recognize that there was a dynamism to the relationship, an energy and an enthusiasm. Those people were of the same species as ourselves, so why did they love Islam and Muslims today loathe it?

    How did you learn your way of life? Were you in a school where Islam and Arabic were part of the curriculum? If you came from another country this is most likely the case. Which of your teachers of Islam were your favorites? Which did you despise? Who do you believe gave you the greatest love of Islam and Allah? Was Islam suppressed in your country of origin or were you raised as a non-Muslim in a Western country and only discovered Islam later on? 

    Who taught you or who influenced you? If you answered these questions and then reflected pleasantly on your responses, there's a good chance you would identify dedicated, good, pleasant, sincere Muslims as the most influential on your growth of Eman.

    Now would you like to put a teacher in front of students in your school like that? Of course! This type of person can convey the spirit and heart of Islam with wisdom and compassion. So why, (and I'm speaking specifically to administrators here,) would you place a person whom the children dislike at best and despise at worst in your classrooms in North America? If you are one of the lucky few who have sincere, compassionate Muslims in your school, then this doesn't apply to you. I'm speaking about the many schools where the Islamic Studies position is filled by someone who, although they may know half the Qur'an by heart, haven't one ounce of understanding about how to reach "Americanized" kids.

    Is it possible that a person can know a lot but be an ineffective teacher? Of course! Even if that person is an immigrant from a Muslim country? Doubly so! Having knowledge or being born in a "Muslim" country doesn't automatically mean a person can teach. Having knowledge also doesn't mean a person can relate matters of the heart and soul to others. I have personally seen schools hiring teachers of Islam for no other reason than that the person is a relative of someone in the community.

    You know the old joke: a person gets off the plane and starts to look for a big-money job. He can't find one because he speaks lousy English and has few organizational skills. So what does he do? He goes to the local Islamic school and applies for a job to tide himself over until he can find a "real" job. (Usually the school hires him because it can't find local Muslims willing to work for slave wages.) I'm sure you've seen it before because I've seen it over and over.

    Islamic Studies is the one subject that must be the best in the eyes of the student. If the child feels a dislike for the teacher, then by extension, he or she will dislike the subject. I'm sorry, children are primitive in their emotions and will make that association. Also, even if the teacher seems like a nice guy and the students sort of think he or she is okay, if the teacher appears disorganized or teaches from a jumble of photocopies, then the students will get the impression that Islam is backward and not anything to be taken seriously. Islamic Studies must appear as professional and as organized as math or English. Therefore, to improve the state of Islamic Studies in your school, helpful and basic guidelines are provided in a later chapter for you to consider.

    Following that (or any) checklist will not mean that your Islamic Studies program will be perfect, but, Insha'llah, it may save needless headaches and help promote a better and more healthy attitude towards Islam by both the teachers and the students.

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