Record: Sajjida Sarwar, “What motivates 21st century Muslim parents to home-school their children?” Education Today, 63, No. 5 (2013): 25-29. [Full Article]
Summary: As homeschooling grows, more Muslims are beginning to homeschool as well. However, their motivations are not well understood. Sajjida Sarwar, a student in an Islamic teacher education program, contributes to our understanding in this article by investigating the motivations that three Muslim families have for homeschooling.
In Arabic there are three terms for education that are representative of various elements of a holistic, Islamic education. The broadest term for education is ta’līm, which comes from the root word ‘alima (to know, to have knowledge, to learn) and is used to denote knowledge that is sought or imparted through instruction and teaching. Second, the word tarbiyah comes from the root word raba (to increase, to raise, to rear), and it refers to a state of spiritual and ethical nurturing in accordance with the will of God. Finally, ta’dīb comes from the root word aduba (well-cultured, well-mannered), and it suggests a person of refined social behavior and development.
Of these three terms, Sarwar identified that homeschooling Muslims were primarily concerned with tarbiyah, which refers to the development and the training of people in various aspects according to their natural disposition. In other words, these mothers felt that by homeschooling, they were nourishing something intrinsic and pure within their children (the fitra), which they believe becomes diluted by the brokenness of the world. As it states in the Qur’an, “Every child is born in a state of fitra (pure innocence); it is the parent that will make him to be a Jew, or a Christian, or a pagan.” Related to this idea of the fitra, some of the mothers were also concerned that the Islamic identity of their children would be lost and assimilated. Reflecting on the ills of society such as bullying and peer pressure that they encountered in school, these parents felt compelled to shield their children from similar evils that would rob them of innocence and their Muslim faith.
Another related saying from the Qu’ran that may inspire Muslim homeschooling is where the Prophet Muhammad compares the role of a parent to a shepherd and says, “Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The ruler is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of his family and is responsible for his flock. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s household and is responsible for her flock.” Clearly, this verse places a great amount of responsibility on parents for the upbringing of their children.
Ultimately, it appears that Muslim homeschoolers share similar beliefs to many Christians. For example, like many Christian groups, Muslims believe that their faith should permeate every layer of their being, including education. Furthermore, like Christians, the goal of education is not always for their children to become doctors or engineers but rather for them to become good people who live their lives as faithful servants of God. One parent referenced this when she said that, “The primary objective of home-schooling is to retain my children’s identity. As long as they grow up to become good adults, caring parents and observant of their relationship with Allah, then I have succeeded in my goals. If my children want to become dentists or teachers then this will be a bonus, but I will not be pushing for this.”
Appraisal: While Sarwar’s article is not peer-reviewed or extensive, it offers an interesting look into a population of homeschoolers that has received little attention apart from one Australian study. Given that Muslim homeschoolers (based on the limited information that we have about them) seem to be, like evangelical homeschoolers, quite interested in providing religious/moral instruction to their children, is it possible that Muslims might soon flee the worldly public schools with a similar vigor to their conservative Christian counterparts? Especially with the anti-Muslim fervor that has taken root in some areas, there is also an element of fear that could propel Muslims to homeschool if they’re not already doing so. After all, it is possible that there are more Muslims who homeschool than we realize due to the Christian slant of most homeschooling research. If this group were further studied, it could provide a fascinating parallel to the Christian homeschooling movement.
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