As-Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakaatuh,
Usthadh Salahudden Abdul Kareem
Published: April 29, 2015
First, best wishes to my many friends - brothers and sisters - who are reading this email. I know that you are very busy, so I won't take too much of your time. However, I'd like to share a development with all of you, especially those of you who work with, teach, inspire, and/or make an effort to guide children, particularly Muslim children.
Yesterday (Tuesday) I attended a youth conference (ages 11 through 18) which was sponsored by a private agency and held inside a government building. There were at least 400 students in grades 5 through 12 attending/participating. The very competitive conference afforded students an opportunity to tackle pre-assigned, contemporary, social problems with an aim of identifying the cause of the problems in addition to finding and suggesting potential solutions to the problems. It was an eye-opening, meaningful experience for me which I've witnessed on previous occasions. However, this time I thought I would write a word or two about my findings and share them with you, if you don't mind.
One of the things I realized while watching students debate, take notes, strategize, and speak persuasively and "powerfully" regarding their point of view was their level of preparation and familiarity with the pre-assigned topics. Most - the overwhelming majority of students in this conference - were non-Muslim males and females. They were students who attend local private and public schools in the Washington, DC metro area. Many of them were thoroughly prepared to address the assigned topics they were asked to dissect and research. And this observation brings me to my point which you're probably asking yourself: What's so important about a youth conference? I/We sponsor and attend them all the time...!" Here's my humble reply:
The reason why I'm sharing this perspective with you is because it's very important that our youth - Muslim youth of similar age and grade level - are thoroughly familiar with the social issues, concerns, and developments (domestic and foreign) that dominate our world today. Very often when Muslim children are being taught and nurtured in full or part time Muslim/Islamic schools, the focus is on learning "Islamic Studies and Arabic Language." Obviously, acquiring information/knowledge in both of these areas is critical to the development of a Muslim child's identity. However, equally important to a child's identity and character development, especially a Muslim child's identity during this current time frame is, knowing what the issues, developments, and concerns are today. Our children need to learn and grow taking into consideration the social context of the period. It's within this contextual framework where Islamic identity and personality blooms. Islamic teachings/values and the world's daily narratives must become relevant in the lives of our children, otherwise there will develop a huge disconnect between Islamic theology and practice. This can lead to an identity tragedy that none of us want for our children.
For example, one of the major social concerns in America today is the situation in Baltimore, Maryland. In recent days, following the death (killing/murder?) of an unarmed African-American man, people have rioted as a reaction to this unexplained injustice. Without going into detail regarding the harm and destruction associated with this reaction, what should be taught and explained to our children regarding this development? How should this problem be defined? What moral and ethical factors should be considered when exposing this development to our children/students? Where would the analysis of the problem begin, and where would it end? And most importantly, what and how does Islam come to grips with such a story? Should Islam with its lofty principles of justice, fairness, grace, and peace-seeking nature play an academic, analytical role in this potentially unending true story that has resulted in death of one individual and upheaval throughout an entire city? Is it important for Muslim children to understand what has and is happening in this beleaguered city? During yesterday's conference, I observed many children (most of them non-Muslim children) who were not only familiar with some of the social challenges the world currently faces. These children were highly-capable of orally communicating a very persuasive point-of-view about many current issues because, they have been educated, taught, and encouraged to remain abreast of what is happening in our world today. We too, the Muslim community, must do likewise at home and at school. Emphasizing and stressing the importance of making sure our children - Muslim youth - know what's going on in the world is step one. Step two is making sure they are developing an educated point of view about such issues based on Islamic principles and values, opposite the temporal ups and downs of man-made biases and prejudices.
Finally, please do accept this communication as a "critique, not a criticism" of what we are doing. Allah, Almighty, knows better and best about the virtue and merit of our individual and collective efforts with their many twists and turns. My humble suggestion is aimed at making sure our children - Muslim children - are learning, growing, and intellectually, spiritually, morally, socially thriving in today's world rather than trying to come to grips with a distant, generations-old world that has passed us by. The parents of non-Muslim children (many of them not all) are preparing their children for a world reflective of their desires and tastes. We too must do likewise and much more, but with a different goal in mind. While many non-Muslim parents are cultivating child-centered choices rooted in flesh and skin (desire based). Our community's choices, especially our children's choices (tomorrow's leaders Insha'Allah), must be anchored in morality and divine principles (heavenly focused). This is how we - all of us - must navigate through the "quiet calm and unwelcome noise of life." I hope you agree with me and all that has been shared. I'm simply one small voice among an endless ocean of thought-provoking voices.
All the best to you and yours...
Wa Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatu'Allah wa Barakaatuh,
Br. Salahuddeen Abdul Kareem
Muslim School Educator