Bismillah wa As Salatu As Salam Ala Rasulillah
I was sitting in Jumah when an elderly lady approached me. Her eyes shifted across each one of my school-aged children who were in a mosque on a Friday morning. It was not the school holidays.
As I sat on the carpet surrounded by my children, she walked over to me. She stood above me with a cool icy gaze and began to share her thoughts on homeschooling. Each of her points against homeschooling eventually built up to her declaration that “homeschooling leads to extremism”. Her words sent a shiver down my spine.
Negative reactions are usually useful as they send me into introspection. Most people I meet in the Muslim community tend to shower me with gushing praise and broad, beautiful smiles when they hear that I am a homeschooler. Negativity makes me reflect as to my real intentions to homeschool. This particular negative reaction though was not cool.
I have often met the “how will they socialise?” question. Interestingly this question pops up in a conversation when both of us are socialising as strangers – and in somewhere that is not a school. Usually, that is in itself an answer for those who reflect.
This lady, however, didn’t ask the socialisation question. She didn’t ask anything. Instead, she explained. She explained that Muslims keeping children at home was locking children away from the world. She explained that she felt sorry for mine and other Muslim children. She explained that our decision was wrong. She also explained that because of the lack of socialisation, our children would become violent extremists.
At my local ice rink, I sat thinking about how I could respond to this. I thought as I watched my homeschoolers were gliding, their hijabs floating behind them as they confidently slid across the ice amidst dozens of other non-muslim skaters. I thought about it as I watched them falling down and being helped up by non-muslim people and I thought as I watched my children helping other non-muslim up to their feet.
The comment by the elderly lady stuck like an icicle in my mind. I couldn’t think of how to respond. I asked my homeschooling group here at Muslim Homeschooling Village. What did they think?
Do we want to lock away our children and prevent contact from the outside “evil” world? Are we really trying to lock them up inside a faraway ice castle?
We said we all know the concept of the forbidden fruit. Islamic homeschooling is far more about teaching children about the world in a way that helps them engage with the Non-Muslim world than keeping them away. It is not about keeping children pure from the influences of different views. Rather we feel that the more a child is aware of the difference of opinion as to their faith, the better they are prepared to face challenges.
The issue of extremism is a complicated one. There aren’t any statistics of terrorists of our time who were locked away reading Shakespeare, grilled with repetitive timetables during nature walks and forced into strenuous science experiments and then came out to take revenge on the world. There are however many studies that indicate that violent invasions by foreign nations into Muslim lands, destitute poverty, widespread starvation and political instability lead to extremism carried out by a tiny minority of Muslims.
Why then do we homeschooling than in separation to the mainstream society?
It isn’t really separated from mainstream society. So let’s melt that misconception away first.
People who are serious about religion are often just as serious about education. To follow any religion, it takes a great deal of passion in studying, research and academic reflection. For most religions, you must love learning in order to reach higher levels in spirituality.
The same applies to Islam. Homeschool allows us this opportunity to instil a deep love for study, research and reflection.
In my household at least, we feel that the traditional schooling systems may deprive the child of the passion for learning. So many children go through the schooling system. Seldom will a child come to tell you – “I wish I could go back to school: it was the best experience of my life”.
Our decision for homeschooling was in the hope that childhood learning may be the best experience of our children’s lives.
I observed school children on excursions. I saw the spring in their steps. I saw the brightness in their faces. The way they engage with the instructors and the sheer joy of the experience in their eyes. It’s these moments my husband, and I prioritise in our homeschool.
The homeschool activities organised by our homeschool groups allow this wide-ranging interaction with many different people of different faiths and backgrounds. Homeschooling provides us with the luxury of visiting many different settings, far more than a couple of excursions optional at school. In a way, homeschooling for many is a system of learning through frequent excursions in the outside world, together and not distinct from mainstream society.
Prior to homeschooling, I watched other Muslim homeschooled children interact with adults. They did so with maturity unlike their school-going peers; they had spent enough time with people of different ages, ethnicities and backgrounds to understand facial and body clues that dictate the dynamics of a conversation. This is what I wanted for my children – be able to communicate with people, all sorts of people whether Muslim or otherwise.
Our Muslim homeschooled children learn that they will not always be meeting people of their own age, lined up in neat rows and moving from activity to activity at the ding of bells. They learn that the world outside is not frozen inside classrooms. That life moves only if you make it move – that you are allowed to move without being punished. They don’t wait for triggers to make progress in any sphere of their life. The world is relative to themselves; they are not relative to the world. They learn that neither is social interaction. They learn that to make friends you must move to make it happen.
My own children, only after being removed from the school system started seeking out friendships with the children in their neighbourhood. They began speaking with other children in their local cricket group and during swimming clubs at the local pool.
Prior to this, they didn’t need to. They had ready-made school friends that someone had allocated to them in Kindergarten. They would have probably stayed with them until they graduated. Together they would have made a fortress of understanding within their limited interaction with each other – between the short play breaks and the detentions for speaking in class.
Our Muslim children are not different from others. They can become bored, and we are acutely aware of this. It is this human quality that prevents us from stagnation and which enables civilisations to prosper.
Our children themselves do not allow us to isolate them. We are forced to be out and about! Out and about in a society that is pre-dominantly Non-Muslim. A society that we have chosen to continue to live in and in which we have chosen to educate our children. A society through which we take our children to tour and explore possibilities to a far greater extent than children who spend a great chunk their entire childhood inside classrooms. It is with this luxury of exploration that we understand one another. It was with this vision that we decided to go ice skating with children’s playgroup of the local Catholic Club.
As I watch as my children throw snowballs with the other children, I wonder how other people’s views on Islam would be if they didn’t go through the school system. Like my children’s friends in the ice rink, perhaps they would have time to learn about Muslim homeschoolers like my children.
Maybe then, people’s minds would not be filled with iceblocks of stereotypes in which they would try to force Muslims into.
Perhaps they would realise that it is their own lack of understanding which is extreme. That it is in within the castles of their own making that extreme conclusions are drawn. Until we extend the warmth of our hearts to each other, it is a long way before these icy breezes of misunderstanding will vanish. I wish I could share these thoughts with the stranger I met in the mosque.
But for now - as with all negative assumptions after using it for introspection, about the Jumuah incident, well, I’ll just have to let it go.
Umm Maryam Meher