Islamic Studies Grade 1/Introduction

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Islamic Education Approach & Method

We live in the United States of America. American society is socially mixed and culturally diverse. This is a fact which could mean different things to different people. From religious and educational point of view, this has both its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages include the exposure of our children to different cultures and value-systems, communication with people of diverse beliefs and inclinations, relatively high standards of education, availability of educational facilities and fairly well opportunities to enhance and develop creativity.

But these advantages are not risk free. Muslim students have to deal inevitably with rather constant contradictions between the principles they believe in and values they cherish by witnessing manifestations of disbelief and counter-values in the society. While we teach our students how to dress, what to eat and not to eat, where to go and where not to go, what kind of friends to choose, what manners to learn, and what understanding of religion to grasp, we have to deal with the fact that they live in a society where they see women improperly dressed; people eat and drink religiously forbidden things; the young go wherever their desires take them to; individuals choose friends regardless of religious and moral limits; they get ego-centric and self-serving habits; and many perceive religion as an old-fashion set of rules which has little to do with the realities of their lives.

Exposure to different and sometimes contradictory lifestyles stemming from diverse value-systems is inevitable. The question is how to establish a sense of identity for our young children so that it would firmly associate them with Islamic ideas and ideals and prevent their absorption into the prevailing alien cultures and life-styles.

In order to effectively deal with this question, a new approach has to be adopted. The approach adopted in the present collection is to show the relevance of Islamic teachings to the daily life of the students. To introduce Islam in a meaningful sense to the students of the elementary, middle and high schools in the United States is a formidable task. This requires relevance and consistency: relevance to the actual life, and consistency in planning, modeling and training.

It is recognized that a comprehensive program in Islamic teachings has to include information on the principles of faith, history of Muslims, practical laws and rituals and last but not least, ethical and moral values. This collection contains readings and materials and programs on all these four categories. Selected topics from each category are thoroughly scaled and sorted in a gradual and developmental fashion. In this manner, certain key concepts and topics are recurrently dealt with, in different grades commensurate to their level of understanding.

Apart from the substance and the structure of the curriculum, however, the delicacy of the issue lies in the challenge to get the fine message of Islam through the students’ minds and hearts while making it pleasant and attractive for them. My recent experience in Razi School, along with my background in Islamic educational programs for children and the youth over the years, have convinced me that this challenge would not be met unless due attention is paid to three core values: cleanliness, dignity and vision. To use Islamic vocabulary these should be translated as: al-Taharah, al-Izzah and al-Basirah. These concepts need a brief elaboration.

Firstly, the religion curriculum begins with a discussion about cleanliness in body, dress and spirit. We teach students that as a Muslim they should observe and practice cleanliness not only in their appearance but also in their words and deeds. Through this window we teach them the requirements of religious cleanliness for prayer and otherwise. The objective is to clarify, relate and emphasize the principle of cleanliness and the value of spiritual purity in their progressive and comprehensive meanings as an ultimate goal in the Islamic lifestyle.

Secondly, the emphasis has been on the importance of having thoughtful and respectful characters. The ultimate goal in any Islamic school should be building up Muslim characters: respective and respected boys and girls who care for their inner beliefs and outer conducts. A respectful personality is unlikely to surrender to the humiliation of disgrace or to the temptation of a sin.

Thirdly, assistance should be provided for students to increase their awareness and vigilance with respect to the society they live in. In particular, higher-grade students should be guided to observe, think, compare, interact and criticize their environment. We want to equip them with an Islamic vision so that they would realize that they belong to the Islamic Ummah and Islamic civilization. They should be raised knowing that their parents and teachers await fulfillment of certain expectations by them. Such a vision, would secure them from the dangers on their ways ahead.

To strive toward materializing these core values in their deep and multi-layer meanings is the key in constructing a fruitful and effective Islamic school.

Instead of stressing a rigid face of Islamic laws and rituals, the method adopted here underscores the appealing message of Islamic moral code and ethical conduct. We see this as the main entrance to understanding Islam. Through numerous stories, movies, essays, homework and classroom discussions, students are urged and encouraged to put their faith in action. Indeed, one of the major themes in this curriculum, especially for the higher graders, is to increase their awareness towards the Islamic environment of their school and beyond. Many issues such as cleanliness at school, criteria for a healthy and Islamic friendship, how to correct each other’s mistakes, etc. are discussed and pointed out. A number of these subjects could constitute topics for students’ projects and extra-curricular activities.

A model Islamic school should be characterized by a cordial environment in which students would learn how to care about their Islamic manners and behavior. Muslims from different countries of origin have many things in common. Our children should understand and respect each other. They should care more about commonalities among Muslims than their differences. This attitude should find a vivid reflection in close and cordial relationship amongst students and teachers. Let us work hard to further strengthen in our students this sense of unity. Let us make sure that we do not divert their attention from the larger picture to the minute and divisive differences which have divided us for centuries.

The present collection is but a humble endeavor towards developing a curriculum for Islamic education based on the above approach and method. Through my close examination of numerous books, articles, booklets, audio-videos and other materials available in English for Islamic education, I have selected the best and the most appropriate to serve the goals and objectives outlined above. I understand that this is just the beginning of a long journey and I do appreciate works of others in the field.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that this curriculum is outstanding and unparalleled in many respects due to its approach, method, as well as its contents. While most of the materials collected in this curriculum are selected from valuable works of others, some ideas and training instruments, such as those on cleanliness, eating and asking manners, have originally been developed for this curriculum and are thus unique and unprecedented. In some instances certain changes and modifications have been made in the selected materials for the sake of consistency, coherence and relevance to Islamic education.

I would like to conclude by pointing out that I deeply adhere to the belief that all Muslims are in this together. Let us work together and help each other. Let us open our hearts to the guidance of the Holy Qur'an where it enjoins: hold fast all together by the rope of Allah and be not divided among yourselves.