Comprehensive Islamic Education for Our Youth
Are those who know equal to those who do not?
– The Quran 39:9
The emphasis on knowledge acquisition in both the Quran and Sunnah demonstrates the importance of life-long learning as part of our mission of itisam billah, or “holding on to Allah.” Only through knowledge and understanding of Islam can we develop our faith and remain close to Allah. The importance of religious learning is recognized by Muslims. Families send their children to full-time or weekend Islamic schools and strive to educate them on their faith at home.
However, as a former student, volunteer, and teacher in weekend Islamic schools for 13 years, 3 years, and 2 years respectively, I have experienced and witnessed narrow curriculums in Islamic studies. Often what we teach our youth is focused solely on religious obligations, stories of the Prophets (peace be upon them), and Quran memorization. This training is critical to being an active Muslim on a daily basis and it certainly must be included as part of any Islamic education program. Yet, this is a narrow approach to teaching Islam that may not succeed in instilling passion and an unwavering Islamic personality in our youth. Islamic education should be two-fold, focusing on both spiritual and intellectual knowledge. For example, we must not only memorize the Quran – we must also seek to understand, analyze, and discuss its teachings.
As I look back, I can identify the exact moments when I began to develop a passion and thirst for Islam. It was during my late teens (age 16-18) that I was exposed to a side of Islam that I had never experienced before – the intellectual side. In a free, evening class at a local university I started learning about the history of Islam, but not in the way that I had been taught as a child. We discussed famous battles in Islam in detail, mapping out the terrain, discussing the tactics used, and learning about the rules of warfare in Islam. In an art history class, I was enthralled by the beauty and powerful influence of Islamic art and architecture. In a world religions course, I had the opportunity to study the Bible, compare Islam to the other monotheistic and polytheistic faiths, and understand the links between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Our youth are the leaders of tomorrow, the ambassadors for Islam. We must invest in their Islamic education and seek not only for them to memorize and repeat information, but also for them to have a passion for Islam, confidence as a Muslim, and an Islamic personality. We can achieve this by providing comprehensive Islamic education that is both spiritual and intellectual.
In another course I took, offered by a local masjid, I learned the basics of fiqh (Islamic law) as well as about the many Islamic empires that emerged after the Prophet’s death (peace be upon him), and what led to the eventual disintegration of the Muslim world. I soon began conducting my own research and learned about the great women and youth of Islam (both historical and modern) and the contributions of Muslims to chemistry, physics, mathematics, and astronomy. Why are these fascinating and important parts of our history as Muslims and of our faith not included in mainstream Islamic education? Awareness and understanding of history, law, and politics in Islam can all enhance our experience as Muslims and contribute to our motivation and inspiration towards fulfilling our religious obligations and emulating the Prophet (peace be upon him).
We are often taught not to question our religion, for questioning it is viewed as a sign of weak faith. But for me it was not until I started asking questions and seeking answers that my love for Islam truly developed. “Does God exist?” “Is Islam the true religion?” These are basic questions that are fundamental to our status as Muslims, but we rarely openly discuss them. We take for granted that our youth understand and believe in these basic principles. Yet, if we look back to when Islam was revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him), we see that he spent years teaching only tawhid (that God is one). Approaching the topic of the existence and oneness of God as well as the validity of Islam from both a spiritual (belief and acceptance) and intellectual (logic and reasoning) perspective strengthens the foundation of our knowledge and our faith. This allows our youth to develop the ability to make critical analyses and to think independently. With these skills, youth are well-equipped to engage in discussion and debate with others, and to embark on a journey of life-long learning. More importantly they are able to engage with Islam –with Allah and with the Prophet (peace be upon him) – on a higher level.
The Quran states, “God will exalt those who believe among you and those who have knowledge to high ranks” (al-Mujadala 35:28). Our youth are the leaders of tomorrow, the ambassadors for Islam. We must invest in their Islamic education and seek not only for them to memorize and repeat information, but also for them to have a passion for Islam, confidence as a Muslim, and an Islamic personality. We can achieve this by providing comprehensive Islamic education that is both spiritual and intellectual.
Courtesy: The Muslim