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Madrasah’s R Us

“I don’t know how to read the Qur’an, but I want my son to be able to.”

I remember smiling politely at this mother who had been explaining the reasons why she wanted her son to attend a primary Islamic faith school. She did not wear the hijab (the Islamic Headscarf) and did not seem to know a great deal about her own faith, yet while part of me was full of admiration for this lady who evidently found it important to send her son to a school where he could learn how to read the Qur’an, I was equally filled with concern, not because she did not know how to read the Qur’an, but that she felt no importance to learn it herself.

This is also, unfortunately, the case with a number of parents who send their children to the local madrasah. Oftentimes parents themselves will not be literate in the Qur’an and pay little or no attention to it at home, although young Abdullah or Aminah will be forced to attend the local masjid, where they will be sat with a group of children who will periodically be given a stern word or if they’re really lucky, a little flick of the pen to keep them in line.

Some children tell their parents that they are not enjoying the sessions or that the maulana is being too strict with them, but they are often placated and reminded that, “You have to go to madrasah because it’s important to read the Qur’an!” I wonder what these parents would say if the child turned around and said to them, “But you never read the Qur’an?”

Children have and will continue to bear with this contrived and uninspiring method of learning the Qur’an, because their one saving grace is that they will be free after the age of sixteen. Once they are old enough, they can come back from school, kick back and watch whatever useless drivel is being aired on the television at the time, and sometimes with their parent(s) curled up on the sofa next to them. Anecdotally, I know some of my ex-students who have graduated from a madrasah or even from the secondary faith school that I taught at who have failed to continue to pay attention to the Qur’an in any way.

Surely this is all a matter of culture? When society considers a particular object, style, fashion, or activity to be important, the majority of people tend to jump on the bandwagon. I would argue that the household and community jointly placing emphasis on reading and understanding the Quran on a regular basis will create the right environment for children to, intrinsically, want to learn it.

What we need to ask ourselves therefore is: How important is the Qur’an really to us? How much attention do we really pay and not just in terms of reading, but understanding and trying to live our lives accordingly? How have we considered developing a culture for ourselves, our children and the wider Muslim community where the importance of the Qur’an is highlighted in our lives?

It would be unfair of me to say that all madrasahs are run in the manner that I described previously and it would similarly be untrue to state that all children do not like to attend madrasah, however, a tick-box, tokenistic relationship will remain with the Qur’an for the majority of children, if we continue to educate them in the manner described. We need to think about our aims and objectives; what do we want to achieve? What was the relationship of the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and the Companions with the Qur’an? Can we really implement solutions to educate our communities in the Qur’an that were appropriated from different cultures, times and contexts?

I am not necessarily advocating a particular solution, but feel that we must all try and consider how we can change the status quo, for like a number of solutions in society today, it only serves the few. It would be wonderful to hear your thoughts on this topic and whether you agree, disagree, what solutions you may have, and how we can make progress in this area.

 Sources: www.islam21c.com

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About Usman Qureshi

13 comments

  1. Understanding is the key!
    Yes, I think this article is necessary. You quite rightly point out that the Madddrassah system has produced 000’s of Huffadh, but what % of them actually have any understanding of what they have memorised? I remember once in Ramadan, after Taraweeh, I was dropping the young Hafidh off at his home, and I asked him which Surah he had recited tonight. This was a genuine question, as I thought I recognised it. His simple reply to me was, ‘I don’t know what Surah it was’. I was shocked by the answer. He studied a very well-known Darul’Uloom in Kent, and if this is the kind of Tarbiyyah he got from becoming a Hafidh, then it is indeed very worrying. It is said that during the Wars of Apostacy, 70 of the Hufadh had been martyred, which led Abu Bakr (RD) to compile the first copy of a physical Qur’an. The Hufadh were active in the cause for Islam, because they understood the message which Allah (swt) had sent. Can someone ‘Really’ be Hafidh, in the true sense of the word, as understood by the Sahabah, without have any understanding of it? A man once came to Abu Bakr and said ‘I have completed/learned the Qur’an’ to which Abu Bakr responded, ‘It took me 9 years to complete Surah Al-Baqarah, and you say you have completed the Qur’an already (corrections may be needed here). The point I am making is that the teaching of the Arabic language has disappeared, in the haste to get the children reading the Qur’an, which of-course is of great benefit, and has a lot of Ajr with it, and instead many of the big Maddrassahs put more emphasis in learning Urdu rather than Arabic! If Al-Qur’an is for the Guidance of Mankind, why are we reading it without any understanding?

  2. 8)Excellent article.

    I can’t understand what kind of creatures would read something they don’t understand. And I’m not talking about Muslim kids.

    I mean we have western educated, English speaking Muslims, who’ll pick up the Quran and read it and not understand what it says. Some of them will actually even memorize it without understanding it!

    Unless western educated Muslim adults can figure out that reading something without understanding it is plain stupid, the situation will never change.

    “Afalaa yaqeloon?” Do they not comprehend?

  3. Well yes ‘Umar I very much tend to agree with what you’ve said.

    Our thoughts seem to be revolving around the notion of culture as a medium through which ideas, social attitudes and beliefs are created, held and consequently practised by those who would be participants of a society or community.

    This idea becomes more powerful when we begin to realise that all people, young and old, are actually very keen to participate in some form of social setting, in some form of community. Some parents might object and state that their teenage child does not participate in the home social setting, that they tend to be more recluse and stay in their bedroom. Staying in ones bedroom these days does not preclude the idea that they are participating in an alternative community, either online, via text, or going out with a group of friends. Significantly, it will be the cultural values of these communities that they will appropriate and certainly while they remain within that social setting, those values will continue to shape them as individuals.

    Why this happens can be put down to a number of reasons, but what is important to reiterate is that we all want to belong, to feel valued, respected, loved and appreciated to some degree. When an individual does not find this in the home social setting, he will seek it elsewhere and this can, in some extreme cases be gangs where children at least feel a sense of belonging, a sense of family, and in the case of some girls, they form relationships with individuals in these gangs who dote over them, show them affection and make them feel ‘special’. We know from experience unfortunately that these are often not genuine relationships, but those based on convenience and when it no longer remains convenient, abuse can tragically take place. These ARE, as I stated before, probably more extreme examples, but the general principle of relationships becoming more distant between parents and their children as they enter their adolescent years is a story that I and I daresay most people are all familiar with.

    When we consider the issue of spiritual deficit in the young therefore, I would propose that they seem to be acculturating to values, beliefs and attitudes that can be at odds with religious values. We have, especially for our young in the UK, the problem of competing cultures, competing ideas, competing values. In order to ensure dominance of the ‘right’ culture, we need to find ways of developing authentic, vibrant communities in which our young feel a part, feel valued, loved and respected. This is naturally a slight simplification of the issue, because all aspects of an individual’s life need to congruent to ensure consistency of message. It is counter productive and certainly counter intuitive to involve your child and even your family in a community of people who promote particular values, while at home the messages are contradictory.

    Any thoughts so far?

    For those young people
    Yes, definitely.

    There are a number of factors IMO, really. Consumerist culture, the increasing movement of the youth (read: our sons’ and daughters’ peers) toward the YOLO mentality, anti-religious doctrine in wider society etc. .

    It’s a bit of a chicken/egg scenario, though. In the first place, parents need to be experienced and educated enough to be able to help their children discern the reality from the illusions but how can they if they are not themselves cogniscent? Madrassahs ought to be places where not only is supplementary knowledge provided but the knowledge acquired at home refined, too. I suppose at some point we just have to begin. Then, once one generation is capable, you’d hope their offspring would be raised properly and theirs in turn and so on.

    Establishing the sort of institution (whether it be a madrassah, a faith school, a youth club, whatever) with the requisite approach is going to be difficult. A unified national foundational framework is key and that is practically impossible given the culturally disparate state of the Ummah in Britain today.

    Of course, that’s not to say we shouldn’t try, rather that it will help us to acknowledge the magnitude of the task at hand.

  4. 'Umar Abdessalaam

    A couple of points to begin with …
    “do we agree firstly that there seems to be a spiritual deficit in the young, and if so, what is the cause(s)? ”

    Yes, definitely.

    There are a number of factors IMO, really. Consumerist culture, the increasing movement of the youth (read: our sons’ and daughters’ peers) toward the YOLO mentality, anti-religious doctrine in wider society etc. .

    It’s a bit of a chicken/egg scenario, though. In the first place, parents need to be experienced and educated enough to be able to help their children discern the reality from the illusions but how can they if they are not themselves cogniscent? Madrassahs ought to be places where not only is supplementary knowledge provided but the knowledge acquired at home refined, too. I suppose at some point we just have to begin. Then, once one generation is capable, you’d hope their offspring would be raised properly and theirs in turn and so on.

    Establishing the sort of institution (whether it be a madrassah, a faith school, a youth club, whatever) with the requisite approach is going to be difficult. A unified national foundational framework is key and that is practically impossible given the culturally disparate state of the Ummah in Britain today.

    Of course, that’s not to say we shouldn’t try, rather that it will help us to acknowledge the magnitude of the task at hand.

  5. Let’s move this discussion forward
    Thank you all for kicking off the discussion.

    I would like to state first and foremost that this is not meant to be an academic article, it is merely a blog piece, simply my thoughts on some issues that I feel are important for the Muslim community to start discussing. By forwarding my thoughts for publication to Islam21c, I am not trying to claim that my opinion on this matter is authoritative. I may well have been naive in my assessment of these issues, but in truth, there is nothing wrong with that; I stand to be corrected and will consider it a useful learning experience, so please, feel free to be constructively critical 😉

    I have been asked by some commentators to propose ‘ the solution’, however, even if I were to attempt to do so, there would first need to be some agreement about what the problem is to begin with. I will disappoint you now and make clear that I am not about to propose ‘the solution’, but I do believe that we could collectively walk away with some general principles that could help form solutions appropriate to our local contexts.

    My aim was for the comments to act as a discursive thread, so I will simply propose a couple of points and wait for responses. The title of the article while intentionally provocative, was not the central issue I was trying to address. The Madrasah is simply a solution that was adopted by the first generation of Muslims in the UK as a way of ensuring that their children knew how to read the Qur’an and in that, I feel they were broadly successful. My concern, anecdotally speaking again, is while they do learn to read the Qur’an (and oftentimes not very well), apart from a handful of young people, they do not seem to develop a love for the Qur’an and more widely Islam. ‘Practising people’ should be careful to not consider their small circles of acquaintance as representative of the wider Muslim population. Indeed, there is the unfortunate tendency not to care about others when you feel that your own children are being spiritually nurtured and taken care of. Central to Islam is the theme of brotherhood and wishing the best for all Muslims, as the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “None of your truly believe until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”.

    Whilst recognising the fact that Allah guides whom He wills, and that not all will want to be guided, do we agree firstly that there seems to be a spiritual deficit in the young, and if so, what is the cause(s)?

    Any thoughts?

  6. 'Umar Abdessalaam

    A necessary article.
    “Also we need to highlight the difference between Islam in theory and practice. Our youth need pragmatic approaches to learning and sitting in the mosque being spoon-fed information is not always the best approach.”

    Quoted for truth. Actually, I agreed with the entire post but that part was particularly resonant. Tafsir that is contextually relevant to the kids’ modern lives is key, as is a mufassir that can relate to the kids in order to help them apply their newly-acquired knowledge in their daily affairs.

    Also, Mohammed, have you been to many madrassahs recently? There are certainly the occasioanl success stories but I’d venture to suggest that if you haven’t noticed the issues mentioned by MadHatter, you’re only seeing what you want to.

    Not wanting to beat around the bush and all that.

  7. Infrastructure
    I think the points made in the article are pertinent, and raise some underlying concerns about the quality of provision within our madrassahs. What we musn’t forget however, is that in a time when committment to faith seems to be at two extremes, a very large majority of Muslim parents send their children to evening/weekend Madrassah,regardless of their ‘religosity’.

    We have an excellent historical infrastructure built by the earlier generations of British Muslims, and so the work is half done. Parrot fashion learning has its importance in learning, as you may see from classical works from Imam al-Ghazali and modern curriculums such as the Trivium classical education one, and shouldn’t be knocked as some sub-continent, non-Islamic tradition that came with our parents.

    Critical engagement, outreach and support is also fundamentally important for our young people, and we must recognise that if we are not reaching out to them, somebody else will.

    I am not sure PGCEs are the be all and end all of being a good teacher. To begin with, we need a curriculum and some training around it. The biggest barrier is the mind shift, so the challenge is for those with the ability to create their own model madrassah….anyone up for it??

  8. Madrasah’s R US
    To Mohammed: Don’t be so harsh, the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) would not have responded in such a way, He taught kindness. Trust me I am a mother and grandmother so I do understand our brother’s point. This is a thought provoking article, and we do face these problems in our communities today whether we want to admit it or not. We may not always agree, but we definitely can learn from one another and build together.

    wa salam

  9. Very good point
    I have worked extensively with 600 mosques around the UK and whilst the point above may hold true to some extent, there is a bold truth to this article which I have experienced myself. Im not sure about faith schooling as I have no experience with that, but the Madrasas in mosques need URGENT attention.

    After surveying the youth in Mosques around London we found a HUGE descrepancy between teachers, mosque committees and the students. Often, the youth felt isolated, like they could not relate to their teacher and the more older teenage students felt that they did not have any autonomy to apply their new found knowledge, in order to make postivie improvements in the Mosque itself.

    Secondly the Mosque did not have the type of influence that the western secular world provides through its entertainment etc. In my opinion therefore, many Mosques needs to do more to facilitate things like Marriage, Counciling Services, Sports, English speaking skills for non-natives (my local church has opened its doors to the ENTIRE public for this and it has received a huge response from non-christians so why not us? After all, our Youth can ALL speak english!), Mentoring schemes between adults and young etc etc etc.

    Finally, there is a huge problem with a lack of skills in teaching by the teachers themselves. After all these are not PGCE qualified tutors but often volunteers and this has a huge implication on the standard of teaching. Consequently, as Muslims we need to assimilate this knowledge into an Islamic framework, along with any other type of useful knowledge such as councilling for youth. Also we need to highlight the difference between Islam in theory and practice. Our youth need pragmatic approaches to learning and sitting in the mosque being spoon-fed information is not always the best approach. Therefore we need to tailor our teaching to the needs of EACH student so that each one feels wanted, unique and confident that he/she can make a difference in the world.

    In short, we are battling everything that the dunya is throwing at them and that is a lot of fitnah to deal with. It is a complex task if we are to succeed but we need to start with ourselves as adults and take responsibility for OUR children. We need to unite the Mosques, share resources, source SKILLED volunteers from the local community – after all these are OUR children and we want to ensure they have the upper hand in the years to come and also after we have parted from this world Insha’Allah.

  10. shireen husain

    Madrasahs R Us
    I personally tend to agree with Usman – that if the Madrasahs are teaching students to be parrots, that is what they will become. But if they are teaching them to be Muslims, even then some will benefit, others still will not. Allah Himself tells us that the Quran gives to its readers, whatever the reader intends. Merely being able to read the Quran is of little value (even though we are promised 10 nekis for one letter) if one does not understand it. Because at the outset Quran is a Book of Guidance. To expect a child to receive guidance by merely reading it parrot-like is unrealistic and reminds me of an example given to us in our early years of learning the Deen. If you are sick and go to the doctor, he will give you are prescription. In order to get well, you have to do what is written in prescription. If you wrap the prescription in a silken cloth and put it on a high shelf, it is not going to have the desired effect.
    Another very valid point made by Usman is that the mother had no concern about learning the Quran herself.

  11. YES!! This article is very necessary!!
    Our system of teaching Islam has been very very hollow and basic. It is not enough to know and to teach Islam in an insular, uninspiring and irrelevant manner. This creates a number of issues:

    1) Indendity problems amoung the youth and a lack of direction

    2) No idea from elders and youth alike as to how to further Islam and its principles of justice and pro-activity, especially when it comes to issues of Islamophobia and Zionism

    3) Creates “leadership” that lives in a bubble from the rest of the community and the world

    The comment above blames the youth, but even the Prophet (pbuh) was very careful that the message is Islam did not fall on bored ears. In additions, good teacher and good leadership ALWAYS inspires attention, unity, idendity and hope and it is ALWAYS the responsibility of the adult generation to ensure the younger generation is up to scratch. If they do not, they have failed the younger generation.

    Stop marginalising the youth, they are already marginalised so much from our masjids already.

    Brilliant article!!

  12. Is this article really necessary???
    The Madrasah system, has created thousands of huffaz and great scholars in the UK and around the world, so I don’t actually understand your point. I think your knit picking on a few isolated incidences and creating a resentment in people from sending there children to a madrasah or a faith school, also your aiding peoples thoughst that it is a bad place to send children to.

    The problem with some kids not paying attention to the Quran after there education in the faith school or madrasah is more to do with the lack of tarbiyyah at home then the actual school or madrasah that you are suggesting also with the number of challenges the youth face living in the west.

    To be honest I dont see the purpose of your article, other than the fact your are clearly trying hard to put together an article which is baseless.Just using “big words” in your article doesn’t make it a good article.

    My question to you is what do you think is the solution since you’re so worried?

    My answer to that is that the youth need filter the men from the boys (real scholars with a chain of knowledge leading the Prophet SAW) and stay connected to them than these new fashionable DIY scholars who really talk allot of non sense following there ego pretending to be someone of knowledge. Sorry for the bluntness but lets not beat round the bush about it.

  13. Children get bored easily, but we have to focus on the positives
    This article is interesting and raises valid points, however it offers no solution to the problem.
    Madrasahs are at a disadvantage as they often held in the evening when children are tired from a full day at school. Or if they are held at weekends, they can disrupt family time. They can also interfere with homework time.On the other hand they provide children with another social circle and children are often happy to go to meet their Muslim friends.

    Children easily get bored, but it is up to the parents to motivate them and focus on positives.

    I think that looking at they way regular schools operate is key to making Madrasah interesting. The learning through play approach is beneficial and having a system of reward can motivate.
    Children can learn Islam through stories, morals, role-play, colouring in pictures, writing articles and lots of discussion. As for Quran, the teacher has to be animated and patient. The children can practise surahs together and individually with plenty of praise and even reward eg stickers or other incentives.
    A greater understanding and love for Islam is what we need to root in our children. This of course starts at home and should get reinforced when children attend Madrasah. Parents should discuss Madrasah topics at home and support and encourage children to perform well there as well as regular school.

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