When a child gets to compulsory school age, many parents start to worry about their child’s education and Muslim parents are no exception. For some, it’s a straightforward decision of sending their child to the nearest state school; whilst for others, there is a choice to be made between a state school and an Islamic school.
Indeed, I have a deep seated admiration for parents who go to great lengths to try and enhance their children’s spiritual well being, and if they feel that an Islamic school education helps them in doing so, then I respect that decision. However my caution against this rush towards Islamic schools comes after many debates with fellow Muslim parents. Most justify their decision on the basis that as Muslims we have an obligation to protect our children from the corruptions of society. In principle, I agree with this; after all, we have had a number of reports on the moral denigration of our society. The adverse effects of the media, the increased sexualisation of children and the objectification of women have all been debated at length.
However, if change is what we seek then it is unlikely to be achieved by segregating ourselves into little isolated ghettoes where everyone and everything we see is a reminder of a far away land that we believe is so much better. Moreover, if an Islamic school education is not the reality for the majority of Muslim families, does it follow then that we then leave our children to the mercy of the secular state system? Of course not, rather what needs to happen is for Muslims to work for a greater stake in the well-being of our state schools. This includes but is not limited to ensuring that we have Muslims in positions of influence, be it school governors, teachers or management. Furthermore, some parents are far too passive about the institutions where their children spend 32.5 hours a week. Being more engaged would mean that we have a greater chance of being able to influence the schools’ ethos.
Quality Islamic schooling is only a partial solution to helping our children navigate their way into adulthood with their religion intact, but it is definitely not the only solution. The state school system has its advantages; the fact that Muslim children rub shoulders with others of all backgrounds, religions and races is a good thing which could help to foster better social cohesion in the future for generations to come. Yes, we have a responsibility to our children in ensuring they have a healthy relationship with Islam, but we also have a responsibility to ensure that they have a healthy relationship with those around them. We should not isolate or segregate ourselves for fear of losing our Islamic identity. Rather we should aim to equip our children with the necessary skills to become confident Muslims capable of shaping their environment. That is the legacy we should want for our future generations.