Religious freedom in public schools some Laws You Need to Know About

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RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS Some Laws You Need to Know About

How much can Muslim parents and students ask public schools to accommodate? Below are some things which can clarify the issue:



1. THE CLINTON DIRECTIVE

U.S. President Bill Clinton instructed Education Secretary Richard Riley to provide every school district in the United States with a statement of principles in 1995.

This statement discusses how far religious expression and activity are allowed in public schools.

Some of the important aspects of this statement of concern and interest to Muslim students and their parents are:



a. STUDENT PRAYER
Students can take part in individual and group prayer during the school day. They can also pray in a “nondisruptive manner” when they are not participating in school activities or are being taught.

b. RELIGIOUS DISCUSSION
In “informal” settings like cafeterias and hallways, they can pray and discuss their religious views. They can even persuade peers about religious topics like they would political topics. But school officials should step in to stop any speech that is considered harassment aimed at a student or a group of students.

c. RULES FOR SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS AND TEACHERS
School administrators and teachers, when acting in those capacities, are not allowed soliciting or encouraging religious activity and are prohibited from participating in this kind of activity with students.

They are also not allowed to discourage an activity because it is religious, nor can they solicit or encourage anti-religious activity.


d. TEACHING ABOUT RELIGION

Public schools are not allowed to teach religion, but they can teach ABOUT religion. They can teach subjects like the history of religion, the role of religion in U.S. history and that of other countries' histories.

No one religion would be favored in a public school system.



e. TALKING ABOUT RELIGION IN SCHOOL ASSIGNMENTS
Students are allowed to express their beliefs about a religion in homework, artwork and other assignments. Teachers are required to evaluate this work based on academic standards.

f. DISTRIBUTING RELIGIOUS LITERATURE
Students can distribute religious literature to schoolmates. Schools can impose restrictions on distributing this kind of literature as they do on other literature that is not school-related.

g. RELIGIOUS EXCUSALS
While this is subject to state laws that apply, schools can excuse individual students from lessons which are objectionable to the student or their parents on religious grounds. However, school officials cannot encourage or discourage students of taking advantage of this option.

h. RELIGIOUS DRESS
Schools cannot stop students from wearing head scarves or other clothing related to religious practice under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Students can also have religious messages on clothing in the same way they are allowed to display non-religious messages on clothing.


2. FROM THE FREEDOM FORUM FIRST AMENDMENT CENTER'S “A PARENT'S GUIDE TO RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS”

a. PRAYING TOGETHER
Students are permitted to pray alone or in groups, as long as the activity is not disruptive and doesn't infringe on the rights of others.

These activities have to be voluntary and initiated by the students. Students do not have the right to force a “captive audience” to participate in religious exercises.



b. RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS

According to John Ferguson, Religious Freedom Analyst with the First Amendment Center, getting a day off school for a religious holiday is a right that would fall under the First Amendment. However, he also noted that most schools in the U.S. make a provision for religious holidays as “excused absences”. Students would be allowed to make up their school work, for example, for the missed day of class.

Parents and/or the student should approach the teacher beforehand to indicate absence for a religious holiday.


c. RELIGIOUS CLUBS
Under the federal Equal Access Act, secondary public schools that receive federal funds have to allow students to form religious clubs if the school permits other clubs that are not related to the school curriculum to meet outside of class time.

These clubs may have access to school facilities and media the same way other non-curriculum-related student clubs do. Outside adults are not allowed to direct or attend meetings of these clubs on a regular basis. Teachers can attend the meetings of religious clubs as monitors, but they may not participate in these clubs' activities.

Public schools are allowed to forbid any club activities which are illegal or would cause substantial school disruption

Education: Public School:

My Beliefs in the Public School

Story of a 5th Grade Girl

At the start of the new school year a few months ago, I experienced something new at the school. It really made me happy and proud of my religion! That's why I want to share it with others.

In my school, one of the classes we have to take is music. In this class, all we really do is discuss the different kinds of music. But recently I faced a problem. The teacher brought in a record player and asked us to dance with other kids to the music. I knew I was not allowed to dance as a Muslim. But how was I going to explain this to the teacher? I would be embarrassed in front of all the kids, I thought.

I finally decided to write on a paper that I couldn't dance. Having written that, I gave it to the teacher before she could turn on the stereo. She said fine, and told me to sit down and do some other work. So for one day at least I didn't have to dance. But I knew I couldn't say this every day, and I had to do something. That day after school, I waited till my father got home from work and then I explained my problem to him. He was really glad that I didn't dance and to help me in the future he wrote a letter to my teacher explaining why it was not allowed for me to dance.

The next day I gave the note to my teacher and she was really surprised. After all, its not every day that someone brings in a note like that. It also interested her. After the class she told me if she could have some books on Islam. Now that was a surprise for me. The next day I brought some books that my older brother had helped me pick out. After seeing the books she asked me to prepare a presentation on Islam for the class. She wanted me to explain to the class the basic teachings of Islam. I agreed.

My father helped me to write down things for the presentation. He told me to keep it short since I was going to explain only the basics. I was supposed to prepare it in one week. I couldn't wait for the week to end so I could read my little paper. Finally the day arrived. After I finished my presentation, I was asked a lot questions by the kids. They really liked it. The teacher also helped explain what I had read.

The teacher and the kids were really happy that I helped them to understand Islam. But most of all, I was happy because it gave me a chance to feel proud of my religion.

writer Ayesha Ali, 5th grade, New Jersey


(© The Message International Jan. 1990, pg. 34. Published with permission)

Education

DAWA
IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS


Definition of Dawa
Dawa literally means just "an invitation". Most Muslim in South Asia use the word to mean inviting people to a dinner party. In America the term has come to mean inviting people to understand Islam.

Importance of Dawa in Islam
Quran and the hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) give numerous reference on the importance and the obligations of Dawa:

  • "Invite all to the way of your Lord with Wisdom and beautiful advice." (Quran 16:125)

  • "you are made witnesses unto mankind" (Quran 2:143)

  • "Let there arise a group inviting to all that is good" (Quran 3:104)

Provided below would be some suggestion that Muslim students as individuals and as a group should undertake to accomplish the above goal.

School Students: Receptive to New ideas
Schools students are routinely exposed in their classroom to new information and opinions, hence they tend to be more receptive to other beliefs and ideas. Bridges of understanding built and the friendships formed during the school years can go long way in achieving respect for all faith and cultures.

Getting Started

First and foremost the Muslim students should establish themselves into a Muslim group like Muslim Students Association, Iman Club, Quran Study Group etc. if they haven't yet instituted one. If your school does not allow organizations on faith group basis, then you can organize social clubs, ethnic clubs etc which could be open to your non-Muslim friends as well. Organized efforts give better results. The prime aim of this group should be to evolve Muslim themselves into dynamic personalities as good students, good citizens and a Muslim. Character always speaks louder than words.


Personal Contact
It has been proven that one to one contact with other students in the classroom is the most effective way to achieve cross cultural understanding. Personal contact tend to be more informal and tend to be more invitational of the questions from the non-Muslims.

Inviting Questions
Muslims can create opportunities for non-Muslims to ask them question by performing simple conducts like: saying "insha Allah" when talking about a future activity; saying that they are going to prayer during Salaat time, not eating during fasting, brothers wearing kufi, sisters wearing hijab etc, not using swear words during conversation, not lying, using modest clothes etc. And the questions that do crop up from their peers should be dealt with in a very concise and eloquent manner. Doing this would require some basic knowledge on the part of Muslim students.

Be Prepared to Explain:
Some of the topics that all Muslim should be able to explain are:


  • War and peace in Islam

  • Reasons for wearing hijab

  • Reasons for praying five daily

All students should obtain the ways to explain these topics through their study Circle, by reading articles in Islamic magazines, videos, lecture, through experiences of other students.

School Newspaper

School Newspaper is another effective method of developing a pluralistic enviorment which is welcoming to ethnic, cultural or religious minorities. Muslim students are highly encouraged to become writers and editors of their school papers. Offer the writing staff that you are willing to give feedback before they publish an article on Islam or Muslims. Being a writer will give you ample opportunity in providing articles which will insha Allah open the hearts and minds of its readers towards the issues of peace, justice, understanding, and pluralism.

When your Islamic group holds any Islamic event like lectures, religious/ cultural events etc, submit an article about this event as a "news" article. You can also write articles about Islamic holidays e.g. the two EIDs and submit them as "news" articles. It also helps to have a good rapport with the editor and the writing staff of the paper. Invite them to your iftar parties, gatherings, lectures etc.


Relief Booths to Help Disaster Victims
During the time of any natural and human created disasters, Muslims students should be the first one to respond by setting up a disaster relief assistance booth, which collects money, canned food, clothes etc. In terms of helping a poor, neighbor, a needy, or in matters of justice, there is no distinction in Islam whether that person is a Muslim or not. Even the motives to assist should be so pure that there should not be any expectation of thank you, any other reward or return other than to please God who have created all human beings.

Including Islamic Holidays in School calendar
Many schools events and exams are scheduled around the Jewish and Christian holidays. Muslims students should approach the school authorities as a group and had our Islamic date to be included in the school diaries and be considered during the scheduling of important school events.

Islamic books in School Libraries
Encourage the school libraries to shelf books and magazines on Islam written by Muslim, and provide the librarian a list of recommended books on Islam. If the library is unwilling to purchase it themselves, the students should raise funds amongst themselves and from their parents and come up with the required books.

Scanning Textbook for
Misinformation on Islam

Students of all grades and their parents should constantly scan the text books to detect any biased material on Islam. If any is found, it should be brought to the attention of the teachers and the school authorities, providing them with the correct information with evidence, and have the teacher announce to the students the correct information. Also keep an eye that books which put down other cultures, faith, or group of people instead of promoting cross-cultural understanding and pluralism do not find waste school funds.


Build Peace & Justice Coalitions
A Muslim should always be ready to cooperate in the matters of justice, social justice, civilrights, and other just causes. Working with others always encourages cross-cultural understanding.

Incorporating Islam in Class Projects
Some aspects of Islam can be incorporated in the school projects. E.g. In the speech class, if there is a freedom to choose a topic, an Islamic topic should be selected, similar opportunities can be created in history, social science, writing and other classes.

Remember, It was always Muslim creativity, Iman and the help of Allah that has constantly won victories for the Muslims, and schools and campuses won"t be any exceptions.



Other Miscellaneous Activities

  • Setting up Dawa tables with Islamic literature

  • Hosting Islamic exhibitions

  • Placing advertisements in the school paper with www.Islam101.com announcement


BOTTOM LINE
We should use every opportunity presented or created to sensitize non-Muslim peers and school staff with Islam and establish an environment in which cross-cultural understanding is promoted and bigotry is defeated.

Back to School and Fajr Prayer:

8 Ways to Get Up for Fajr during School Year

Back-to-school means more than just new school supplies and more challenging homework for kids: it also indicates a slip back into the routine of getting up early to catch the bus, and if possible, some breakfast before rushing out.

It's hard enough getting the kids out of bed to get to school on time. But do you ever wonder how some parents get their kids to pray Fajr during school days and get to school on time?

Well, it's not so impossible for some parents. Just ask Jamilah Kolocotronis, the mother of six boys ages 4 to 17, all of whom pray Fajr prayer.

“Four [of them] are over the age of ten so they have to make Salat,” she explains matter-of-factly. Kolocotronis is also a Social Studies teacher at the Islamic School of Kansas City in Missouri.

Another parent whose kids regularly pray Fajr is Abdalla Idris Ali. He is currently a member of the Islamic Society of North America's (ISNA) Majlis Shura, which debates Islamic issues and establishes policy for the organization.

They have suggested eight ways parents can help their kids wake up for Fajr this school year (and beyond!).


Tip #1: Get them to go to bed early

Never underestimate the power of a good night's rest. This is crucial in ensuring Jehan or Amin are not just attentive in class, but that they remain healthy as well.

Parents can do more in this area than just setting a specific bedtime and enforcing it. They must set the example by also going to bed early and not wasting time on late night television or just lounging around. This way, the whole family is in synch and has a regular schedule.

“We have to help our kids set up their schedules,” notes Kolocotronis.



Tip #2: Avoid too much junk food

What are childhood and adolescence without chips, candy bars and soft drinks?

These types of food are high in sugar and tend to make people hyper and lazy, kids included.

Reducing junk food intake, or limiting it to weekends, as well as increasing kids' consumption of fruits and vegetables will ensure a healthier diet, and less sluggishness.

Even the time kids consume junk foods should be limited to between Zuhr and Maghrib, as opposed to early in the morning or late at night, before bed, Kolocotronis suggests.

Tip #3: Get them all alarm clocks

In most cases getting to bed on time and reducing junk food intake should be enough to ensure your kids wake up for Fajr. But there are always those of us, and this goes for kids as well, who need a virtual explosion outside our bedroom windows to wake us up (this writer included).

In this case, the alarm clock becomes your ally.

If you're stumped for Eid gift ideas for your kids, buy them a nice alarm clock with a beautiful Adhan. Not only will this be an attractive item to decorate their shelf or desk table with, but they will also wake up hearing the call to prayer.

Most of these types of clocks are available in North America at Muslim stores. If there is no such store or you can't find it in your community, order it, or bring it back as a gift for Aminah or Saeed when you go for Hajj, Umrah, or to a Muslim country where these clocks are sold.

If this is also not possible, get any alarm clock. The louder the better.

And don't just think you have to use only one alarm clock. If waking up is a very severe hardship in your household, buy and set a series of alarm clocks at various places in the home.

Idris Ali describes how one Muslim brother who has a very hard time waking up has established a system using two alarm clocks. One is set in the hallway, away from his bedroom, and a second one in the bathroom. That way, even if he shuts off the alarm in the hallway and goes back to bed, he will have to get up for the one in the bathroom. At that point, there really is no point in turning back.


Tip #4: Assign one of the kids the responsibility for waking everyone up

This should instill enough responsibility in any person's heart to force them to wake up for Fajr. It reminds them that if they oversleep and miss Fajr, mom, dad, and all brothers and/or sisters will be missing it too, all because of him or her.

“They take it as a responsibility and a challenge,” explains Idris Ali of the wisdom of this method to get kids to wake up for Fajr.

Using this method also stresses the importance of Fajr prayer, and creates a sense of dutifulness and responsibility.The kids should take turns doing this, but the older ones should be made responsible for getting the younger ones up.


Assigning a responsibility can also be extended to calling the Adhan in the house. This means if you give Ameer or Hassan the responsibility for calling the Adhan on different days, they will also be forced to get up, while their older brother Mahmud may be responsible for waking everyone up.

Tip #5: Attach getting up for Fajr with a certain privilege

That means, for instance, that if Jameel misses Fajr on Thursday morning, he will not be allowed to go over to his friend's place later that evening.

Doing this emphasizes that praying Fajr is not just something that is “good to do”. It is something all Muslims have to do upon reaching a certain age, and there are consequences for not doing so.

Tip #6: Avoid rewarding them for praying Fajr

Idris Ali does not recommend rewarding kids for getting up and praying Fajr, because it is possible they will stop doing so once the reward is given.

“We want to move from expecting only a reward to loving Allah,” he notes.

Emphasizing the need to be grateful to Allah for all of things He has blessed us with should also stress the importance of prayer, especially Fajr, which is often hard to get up for.


Tip #7: For teenagers: make sure they have friends who pray Fajr

While it is usually easier to encourage young kids to pray Fajr (which may explain the wisdom of the Hadith at the beginning of this article), it's harder to get teenagers not used to praying to do so.

In this case, it's important that they develop friendships with other practicing Muslims their age. This will have a positive effect on them, and they are more likely to listen to their peers and follow their example at this age, than their parents.

You can start doing this by widening your circle of family friends to include practicing Muslim families who have (also practicing) kids your son or daughter's age.

As well, invest in sending your kids to Muslim youth camps regularly, where the habit of praying Fajr is practiced. A one-week camp may be better in this regard, since it gives more time to develop the habit of praying in general, as opposed to a two or three-day camp.

Tip #8: Establish a Fajr wake up calling system

This can work for adults too, but especially teenagers. Get your kids to call up their friends to wake them up for Fajr and vice-versa. This will serve as positive peer pressure, and will feel less like mom or dad are nagging them to get up.

They can also drive to the local Masjid if they have their driver's license, with their friends, making this a way to pray and meet friends, and in turn increase brotherhood.

Girls can also call each other to wake up for Fajr. They can do Jamaah prayer at home with the women of the household if they are not able to go to the Masjid.

Praying Fajr is difficult for many Muslims, of all ages. But as Idris Ali notes, a person who can wake up and pray Fajr can perform the other prayers easily. Let's encourage this habit in our kids this school year.

11 back to school saving tips

August is here - it's time to buy the school supplies.

Once upon a time, a sharp pencil, and some paper and pens were enough to get your kids through at least elementary school. Today, the amount of supplies needed and their prices have skyrocketed.

But it's not impossible to save money in big and small ways. Here are some tips that can help you avoid burning a hole in your pocket this school year.


1. Don't buy everything on the teacher's list

Before school starts, some teachers may send a preliminary list of what school supplies parents must buy for their kids for the school year. If you do get such a list, don't rush out to buy everything on it right away.

Start off buying just the essentials (i.e. pens, pencils, paper, glue, etc.). Only get the specialty items when really necessary. Sometimes teachers may change their mind and your kid may not even need that special tool for a specific art class.

2. Check your home school supplies inventory FIRST

If you keep an updated list of what school and home office supplies are already available in the house, check this list first to see what you've already got, and cross them off your list of things to buy this school year.

If you don't have an inventory, get everyone, young or old, student or not, to either submit their own inventory or dump every school supply imaginable in one spot of the house. Then start noting what is available and what is not.

It's annoying to discover you had three packages of brand new loose-leaf in the closet but ended up buying more for back to school.



3. Encourage hand-me-down supplies

If fifteen-year-old Sara has five packages of loose-leaf, encourage her to hand down at least one or two for younger siblings who need them for school as well. Use this concept for other school supplies.



4. Write a precise shopping list

Make sure to write a very exact school supplies shopping list after checking your existing inventory, so that no extra items are bought and money is not wasted.


5. Be on the hunt for coupons

Don't throw out those flyers! Many stores include coupons for school supplies. This is a good activity for the younger members of the household. Get a few pairs of safety scissors and have them cut out any coupon for school supplies. Even if they don't know how to read yet, they can identify items by their pictures. It will be a great learning experience for them and you can save some bucks from it too.


6. Shop around for supplies

Would you buy all of your groceries or your clothes from just one store? Of course not! The same principle applies to school supplies.

Usually stores will put one item on sale, but most of their other stuff is priced the same or only slightly lower. Shop around for the right supplies. Plan your school supply buying route carefully, though so you can get other errands done on the way too, instead of wasting time and gas just to save a few cents on a package of pens or markers.

7. Stock up on home office supplies during back to school supplies shopping

Use back to school shopping as a time to stock up on home supplies too. Pens, pencil, papers, etc. are much cheaper at this time of year. Take advantage of the sales for school and your home office.



8. Use old gift wrapping paper, newspaper, grocery bags as textbook protectors

Don't spend money on brand new plastic for textbook covers. Save money and be creative by using old gift wrapping paper, newspaper, or plain brown grocery bags which the kids can draw on and decorate after the book is covered.



9. Make home made school supplies

If you've got a knack for sewing, you can take a piece of material that is your kid's favorite color and make a pencil case, complete with Ameena or Ali's name stitched on it. Or even better, get them to do it themselves.

You could also create a desk pencil holder with an old can of frozen orange juice and a book and magazine holder from used cereal and detergent boxes. Be creative and be on the lookout for how you can make your own supplies from basic household items.

10. Get the kids to pay for the most expensive items

This is also a good way to teach kids how to save money. By making them pay for the most or one of the most expensive school supply items, they will be more careful how their money is spent and they will learn something about spending and saving their own money.


11. Look for old and used school supplies from last year

If you've found pencils that have only been used one quarter of the way, or a notebook which only had a few pages used, keep them.

Then in the middle of the school year, when the desire for brand new supplies is usually gone, you can give Sara that almost new pencil or notebook instead of buying a new one at regular price.

Muslim schools vs. Public schools

by Samana Siddiqui

Seven-year-old Zaahirah Abdullah has a passion for nose rings and bellybutton rings, thanks to her friends and a favorite teacher at Pyrtle elementary school in Lincoln, Nebraska.

"She's really into style," says her mother Najla Abdullah, who attended the same public school as a child. "I can see I really need to build Islamic fundamentals with her," she adds earnestly in an interview with Sound Vision.

Zaahira's interest in body ornamentation through the influence of friends and her teacher speaks to the power of public schools in shaping the attitudes of most Muslim children in North America.

Zaahirah is one of the 99 percent of Muslim children in the United States who attend public schools. And it's her generation over whom the debate about sending Muslim children to Muslim or public school currently rages.


Better environment in Muslim schools

The strongest argument in favor of sending children to Muslim schools is the presence of an Islamic environment. Muslim kids in most of these schools pray, interact with other Muslim children in classes and during breaks. They also generally have less exposure to sex, drugs, alcohol and violence. In addition, Muslim schools are a place to build identity and security.

"Had one [a Muslim school] been available in the city, they would definitely have sent me," says Abdullah of her parents. "I think they would definitely have wanted me to have that sense of camaraderie, and that strength of people around you who are of the same faith and are there to support [you]."

"A Muslim school is the only place where they [Muslim kids] will ever have the chance to develop an identity that says, "Hey, these are my people.  I belong to an identifiable community,'" writes New-York based Muslim school teacher Yahiya Emerick in an e-mail interview with Sound Vision. He has worked full-time in two Islamic schools, one in Michigan and the other in New York. He has also authored the book The Complete Idiot"s Guide to Understanding Islam.

Muslim schools give students a sense of self-worth, pride and cultural identity they could never get in a public school, said the late Sharifa Alkhateeb, president of the Muslim Education Council in Virginia. The organization educates educators and administrators about Islam, Muslims, Muslim families and Middle Eastern culture.

A sense of identity comes not just from being with other Muslim kids but also with the memories of praying, hearing the Adhan and discussing Islamic issues. For the child, "that's invaluable," Alkhateeb noted.


The perception of Muslim schools as "holding tanks"

"What usually happens is that when Ahmad Doe realizes his kid is turning into a foul-mouthed wretch with bad values and such, they look for a quick fix and toss him in an Islamic school.  In one school I worked in, fully a third of the kids fit this description," writes Emerick.

This is the double-edged sword of providing a comparatively better environment than most public schools. It has led to some parents of kids who have gotten out of control in public school to dump them into Muslim schools.

Alkhateeb said this leads parents to seeing these schools as "holding tanks" that will take control the bad influence of public schools on their kids.

Emerick, who has experienced first-hand such casualties of the public school system adds, "to all who complain about Muslim schools having bad kids too, remember they didn't come in as good kids.  They came in as public school kids."

More Islamic knowledge in Muslim schools

Children tend to be more exposed to Islamic knowledge in Muslim schools.

"I know a lot of Canadian-born brothers and sisters who have been to public schools [and] have a big problem learning Arabic Duas and Quran, and sometimes there is also a difference in the way they think about Islam or certain things," says Taha Ghayyur, former president of the Young Muslims of Canada, an Ontario-based youth organization.

But others, like Shabbir Mansuri, founding director of the Fountain Valley, California-based Council on Islamic Education, see the Islamic knowledge offered by many Muslim schools as limited.

Mansuri has three daughters. Muslim schools were not available in his area for his two older children when they were growing up. But they were for his youngest daughter, who attended one.

While he acknowledged that, "she was able to learn Surahs [and] verses from the Quran," he adds, "but did the school make a difference in the thinking and understanding of those Quranic verses? The answer is no."


Many Muslim schools are disorganized

Regardless of the comparatively healthier environment, many Muslim schools continue to be disorganized.

Alkhateeb said sticking to rules and starting and ending classes on time, for example, are a problem for many of these schools.

Another difficulty is staff turnover, which is due to two other problems: poor wages for teachers and culture clashes at the administrative level.



Poor wages for teachers in Muslim schools

Alkhateeb pointed to the "horrible" wages teachers are offered at most Muslim schools as part of the explanation for staff turnover.

Many Muslim schools struggle to stay open and in some cases, rely mostly on private donations apart from the fees they collect. They also depend on the good intentions and Islamic spirit of Muslims like Emerick who are willing to teach at low salaries. Explaining his reason for choosing to teach at a Muslim school over a public one which pays better, Emerick writes:

"I couldn't justify to myself going to a school every morning in which I would not be allowed to mention Islam and its truth. I couldn't bring myself to go to a school and teach a bunch of students useful worldly knowledge when I know that later that day they will be getting drunk, dancing, having premarital relations, swearing, smoking and such.  Who would I be making stronger?  If I don't teach in a Muslim school, then someone else will have to be found and the children may not benefit from my experience and enthusiasm for the Deen."


An overall bad administrative model

A top-down leadership approach, imported from "back home" versus a more team-oriented, North American-based horizontal leadership approach, is also cause for clashes in many Muslim schools.

Alkhateeb explained that in the first approach, a good leader is considered someone who bosses everyone around, without consultation. This, in fact, is seen as a drawback. In the second case, consultation is part of the process, and the head of an organization engages in this with fellow workers. It is interesting to note that the latter method has roots in Islam and is known as Shura or conducting all affairs by consultation.

This culture clash in leadership perception leads many Muslim school teachers to quit in frustration, she said.


The cost of Muslim schools-two views

One problem many parents complain about is the high tuition fee of Muslim schools. In fact, cost is in some cases the defining factor in whether or not a child goes to a Muslim school or not.

While there are families who cannot afford to send their kids, Emerick argues that, "most Muslims in the suburbs own houses, multiple cars, take vacations to Pakistan or Syria and wear the best clothes. Many Muslim schools discount their official rates for true hardship cases. The school I work at has about 15 free students out of a total population of 70 students!"

"What is more expensive? Paying a little and having a better chance your child will make it to Jannah, or saving a measly sum and crying in twenty years when you realize your child is not a Muslim and doesn't care about anything except what you did earlier, namely money?" he asks.



Academic standards: how do Muslim schools fare?

"Most of the Muslim schools have not developed to the point of being comparable academically to a well-run Christian private school or Jewish private school for that matter," said Alkhateeb.

But not all Muslim schools fit this description. Aqsa school for girls in Chicago is one example. It offers schooling for girls only from grades 4 until 12, and education for boys at the elementary level.

According to Khawla Nassar, an Arabic and Religion teacher at the school, their graduates have gone on to Harvard and Yale, have pursued medicine, law, or have continued seeking higher degrees even after getting married and having children.

Their experience at the Muslim school, "instilled in them the value of education," she explains.

Do Muslim schools create insular children?

Some parents fear their kids will become closed and insular if they attend a school of Muslims only. A mother at one of Sound Vision's message boards on Parenting writes: "...I have seen many children who went to Islamic schools who cannot interact with their American neighbors. They feel shy or feel like they cannot talk to them. I don't want my child going through that. I want her to be able to interact with all the children here in the US."

But Emerick strongly rebuts this notion.

"Do Muslim kids who attend Christian schools in Pakistan have any danger of becoming closed to their society?  Are Jewish kids who attend Jewish schools in America somehow socially stunted or unable to cope with American society?" he asks.

"No and no," he answers.


Putting the problems in Muslim schools in perspective

For all of their different opinions about this issue, everyone interviewed for this article expressed strong support for Muslim schools.

Mansuri says parents must devote more than just money occasionally to support Muslim schools. They must devote time and commitment as well.

Alkhateeb said the problems are, "a necessary element of the eventual excellence of Muslim schools. I think the Muslim schools are on the letter "H' on a scale of A to Z. H stands for How To. They're still learning How To. And that's okay."

"The public school system is never going to be everything that practicing Muslim parents want it to be for their children," she adds. These parents want every aspect of a school to be Islamic: its ethics, raison d'etre and the style in which teachers are motivated.

Some of the problems in public schools include chronic misinformation textbooks, the issue of food, clothing for physical education, proms, dances and other social events.



It all starts in the home-parents' responsibility

But what is often disregarded in the whole debate is the role parents and the family play in a child's Islamic development, which is much more important, many say, than which school the child attends.

"We're asking Muslim schools to perform the tasks that we as parents are supposed to perform," says Mansuri. "The Muslim schools are not supposed to be substitutes for parental responsibility."

"Muslim schools are not an answer," he adds. "An Islamic environment that incorporates all the principles of Islam is an answer. If I succeed in doing that gradually then I would have an option of sending them to Muslim schools and/or public schools."


With regards to the dangerous environment found in many public schools, Alkhateeb said, "the public school is not the reason for Muslim kids getting into drugs, alcohol and wild dating. The reason is that the parents of these Muslim kids have not developed a secure relationship of knowledge and trust and humility."




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