Increasing Numbers of Muslim Homeschoolers in Muslim Lands

The call of the athan, plentiful halal foods, people who know about Allah (SWT) similar to how you do, easier access to Islamic or Arabic resources for the entire family, and of course sending your kids to schools with Muslim teachers and peers are all among the perks of repatriating or making hijrah to The Lands of The Muslims. Scratch out that last bit for me and the growing handful of families who choose to homeschool even over here.

For many Muslim families who homeschool in the West, they expect to discontinue doing so once they move abroad as if all the reasons they chose to homeschool in the first place will be left behind. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that all the reasons are present in the ‘East’ too, where the Western model of education is mostly replicated and this is exactly why so many expats and locals are continuing or starting to homeschool.

Growing Pains?
When freshly relocated expats complain about the conditions they find in the schools locally available to them, whether the curriculum, the general ethics or particulars of the staff, often more experienced expats will appease these complaints with something like, “You’ll find a fit. You just have to keep looking.” By ‘fit’ I think they may mean another sort of compromise, such as with more drive time or maybe that’s just code for ‘You’ll get used to it’ as so many seemed to do. For former homeschoolers like Charlene Gray, who homeschooled in Australia but initially enrolled her daughter in schools in Morocco, she knew that there was no reason to compromise her daughter’s education when she found the school environments to be lacking in demonstrating Islamic principles as well as below her own standards of academics. Now Charlene’s daughter is back to flourishing as we know homeschoolers usually do.

Corporal Punishment? No Thanks
Another common thread of discussion I see among expats is about their kids being abused or bullied in school. This is something nearly every expat family I know of in my region has experienced. They have absolutely experienced it as far as other children bullying, throwing rocks at and fighting with each other, which I agree is a part of childhood that is unavoidable. I regularly deal with these kinds of problems outside of school hours, so would hate to think that my children were experiencing more while in school, but they would, and worse is that it even happens at the hands of the adults.

Just as discrimination is illegal in the states but still regularly happens, corporal punishment within schools is illegal in the region I live in but happens very regularly. Many parents deal with this by confronting their children’s teachers, often more than once and sometimes resulting in physical altercations. One such fistfight with her child’s (male!) principal is what led an expat friend of mine to return to homeschooling even though she obviously had thought she could quit once she made hijrah. This may sound like a worst of scenario, but unfortunately it is frequent when the parents choose to confront their children’s educators. Even if you step in and your child is no longer being abused by the teacher, they are still sitting among other students who are being emotionally and/or physically abused. While I want for your child what I want for my own, currently the best I can do with these circumstances is to home-educate and encourage the same for you.

What About Socilaization? Blah, Blah, Blah…
Daily incidents of bullying was just one paradigm shift motivator for unschooler and prolific writer Sadaf Farooqi who admits on her blog that sometimes her child (when younger) was even on the offensive side of bullying. While many non-homeschoolers cite concerns about lack of socialization as a reason not to homeschool, Sadaf, saw that her schooled child’s socialization was being adversely affected as her pre-primary daughter “…had more problems than improvement in her social ‘interactions’ (fights and conflicts) with peers…” as socialization in institutionalized school settings has multiple problems. As Sadaf has explained in the comments of her blog, “I personally think it’s debatable whether school improves social interaction. I think at the pre-primary and primary level, school actually curbs confidence, because such small kids rarely get to ‘socialize’ with each other freely only before first class, during break and in the short time after school before they are picked up. The rest of the time, any endeavor to ‘socialize’ innocently is strictly curbed by supervising teachers, and if continued, even results in that child being labelled as ‘naughty’ and ‘disobedient’.”

Sadaf discovered the concept of homeschooling through several teachers who, like many pioneers of the homeschooling movement in the US, chose to homeschool their own children instead of forcing them to sit through years of substandard and even abusive ‘educational’ environments, or they became ardent advocates for others to homeschool. Sadaf has become a semi-reluctant key figure in the steadily growing homeschool community in her native Pakistan, be sure to check out her blog for lots of good insight both on general unschooling and specifically homeschooling in Pakistan.

It’s A Muslim Thing
Another homeschooling and writer friend, Maria Zain, began her homeschooling journey in Malaysia and now continues in the UK. Maria perfectly sums up many of my own reasons for home-educating, even in the Lands of the Muslims, “After 6 years of homeschooling, I’ve had time to put in much thought as to why I have chosen it, and I believe, first and foremost, it’s because I believe that it falls upon the responsibility of parents to be the primary educators of their children, not the state’s or the institution. I think parents have lost a lot of their parenting skills, due to pawning off their children to schools at too young an age, for too long a period of their waking time, that both parents and children have lost the true value of education, which encompasses so much more than textbook – classroom learning. Our religion puts so much honour in parents – children have to be THE BEST to their parents up until old age, but I would like to question many adults (including myself), have we done enough to deserve this type of honour and respect from our own offspring? A “parent” is not just a noun, it’s also a verb, and adults need to honour this by being cohesively involved and understanding of their children’s growth and development.

Secondly, another belief – Islam champions the great diversity of the ummah. In fact, the strength of the ummah lies in the diverse heritage of its people. While other religions struggle with supremacy of certain races and caste systems, Islam has zero tolerance for discrimination against race, nor against genders (men and women are spiritually equal), nor age, nor upbringing. The same should be taught for the diversity of talents, interests, specialisations (all within Shari’ah of course). Homeschooling provides the platform for children to develop at their own pace and pursue their interests without prejudice or judgement. When children are encouraged to do things that they love and are given the time and space to explore, they flourish a lot more as compared to learning under stress and timelines.”

Ultimately my Best Reason to Homeschool While Living in the Lands of the Muslims is this: I like homeschooling. I enjoy encouraging my children’s diverse interests and talents, I believe in my role to be their primary educator (along with my husband) and know that there is plenty of support available to us to do it, so I do.

Yes of course homeschooling is exhausting and I have plenty of days in which I fantasize about the relief I may feel if I just put my kids in school. Ultimately this is one area of my life where I can delay gratification, insha Allah my relief will come later, but there is already plenty joy and gratitude in the right now. Plus my kids say they “won’t get on the yellow bus” so I’m stuck with it.

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Parenting Is Not Just For Moms


I really appreciated this article on motherhood last week from GrowMamaGrow in which Layali Eshqaidef challenges that Muslims are not living up to the standards that they claim Muslim mommies deserve. The overuse of “Paradise lies at the feet of your mother” while most mothers are being completely taken advantage of even to the point of abuse… this is nails on the chalkboard stuff for me. I need to hear/read Eshqaidef‘s included Muslim maxim below (as well as the best among you are those who are best to your families) a kazillion times over to wash away the residue of my annoyance at the other hollow sentiments. Eshqaidef touches on several points about Muslim parenting, which I would like to reiterate and add to here.

One point that I think many of us really need to cling to is: “One thing to do is revitalize fathers’ roles in parenting, childcare and household duties. The purpose of marriage in Islam is to form a partnership in pursuit of sakinah (tranquility) for both partners. It is best for Muslim men to follow in the footsteps of the best role model, Prophet Mohammad (S), who used to spend his time at home in the service of his family.” In my experience, I see far too many families abusing the role of the mother as the primary care-provider, whether she works for an income or not, leaving the father’s just-about-nearly-only role to be an income earner. The dads have a flimsy secondary role as an authoritarian parent and husband who has little substantive interaction with his family other than making demands and giving orders as to how he wants his duties outsourced.

Often an unrealistic burden has been placed on the mothers, seemingly forgetting that the fathers will be first in line to be questioned about their accountability in their family’s care and children’s rearing. When asked about their shortcomings in providing their children’s rights and being an honorable companion to them in their adolescence, will dads expect “Well I told my wife to take care of that” to be an acceptable excuse? But I know that, like Eshqaidef, I am preaching to the choir here as the majority of my readers are women, and the majority of people seeking out advice from Mama Google on parenting are also women.

So, I will jump to my second point which is how we, mothers included, completely undervalue the work of mothers. Especially among Muslims, the general attitude is that women are motherly by nature – it is our nature to have children and nurture them – therefore it is pretty much thoughtless work we do inherently. The chores associated with mothering are seen as mundane, yet exhausting labor that anyone can do, yet men certainly don’t want to. Not only have others devalued our work as mothers, but we devalue it as well. Likely we have all seen those cute little break downs of the financial value of our motherly work, but true appreciation of our work doesn’t seem to stick for many of us mothers. Many of us rush to get back to working for a paycheck after having children (when not absolutely necessary) because monetary value is the only tangible value we can place on ourselves. Other mothers may (wisely) avoid being a stay at home mom (even though they will still carry more than a fair share of the parenting duties) for other reasons, especially around emotional well-being.

As I move through international mothering communities, I have found some women, within some cultures who have much greater respect for their roles and work. They wouldn’t dream of going to work if they don’t have to, they are much more… prepared to accept the mahrs and gifts that come after having given birth, they fight for maintenance and that of their children in cases of divorce. Many men and even some women will see these moms as money-hungry, but I see them as having a better understanding of the value of their role.

I truly believe that one person cannot change another (such as forcing fathers to father), and that Allah only changes our condition when we change ourselves (such as STOP doing EVERYTHING). It has taken six children and my share of burn-out to better see the value of my mama role. I move forward today actively mothering, but not bogged down in unrealistic expectations and guilt – this requires shutting out many voices, and listening to the true sunnah and my instincts.

Please read the rest of Eshqaidef’s article here.

*This post is focused on the rhetoric of traditional Muslim marriages and parenting roles, but of course there is an enormous scope beyond this which also needs much addressing…

The Artful Judger

Photo of a gavel, 'justice' scales and books.
Photo of a gavel, ‘justice’ scales and books.

Brooke Benoit takes a moment to ponder why people concern themselves with others’ choices.

“He converted for you?” they ask ‘Aishah. With their eyebrows raised and heads tilted it’s hard for ‘Aishah to believe that her sisters are just being naturally curious about this unique phenomenon. Her sisters think that they know many women convert for men, but it’s rare for a man to convert for a woman. ‘Aishah has heard the whispers: these kinds of conversions are insincere, the converts aren’t really Muslim, their marriage is haram, he/she will soon enough leave their spouse and Islam all together.

I see how hurt ‘Aishah is by these assumptions and judgements and I try to dismiss them with a Muslim maxim, “only Allah can judge you”. My words ring hollow, but I remain steadfast in my insistence that people’s judgements don’t bother me. “Sticks and Stones” sounds off quietly in my head. A few days later when someone angrily accused me of judging them I was flummoxed, but this time I saw that I am in need of a better understanding of why some of my sisters are so upset by perceiving that they have been judged or worse misjudged. I wondered, what’s the big deal about what someone thinks about me? We can’t control each other’s thoughts… We can’t control each other’s actions either, but that’s one of the many problems with erroneously judging others; judgements then become actions.

…misjudging people leads to serious social ills, such as rejecting suitable people for jobs, marriage, positions in decision making processes and so on.

For ‘Aishah and her husband there are innumerous examples of how being misjudged affects their lives. Minimally, they are both seen as “lesser” Muslims, though some may go as far as to see them as deviants or even non-Muslims since they believe ‘Aishah’s husband converted only to marry her. Therefore, they believe that he is not a true Muslim and neither is she because she is married to a non-Muslim. ‘Aishah and her husband are often left out of mosque functions, including decision-making processes and educational resources, thereby effectively blocking their local access to the deen. They are largely left feeling alienated from their community and frequently hurt by other Muslims’ harshness, assumptions and ignorance about their personal lives.

 

Misjudgements in general can have lasting impacts on people’s lives. I now recognise that it was from a position of great privilege that I was able to so easily disregard how people may judge me. As a white female I am often misjudged or judged to my benefit. I am sometimes judged for various lifestyle choices I make (home-birthing, home-educating, converting, etc.) But these are usually superficial interactions that don’t have a lasting impact on my life aside from occasionally feeding my insecurities or fueling my determinacy. Misjudgements are often steeped in stereotyping and can lead to various forms of exclusion and ultimately forms of oppression. Aside from how ‘Aishah’s family is excluded from her community, misjudging people leads to serious social ills, such as rejecting suitable people for jobs, marriage, positions in decision making processes and so on.

 

The harm to the judges

Judging others is also harmful to the one doing the judging; it prevents personal growth and can be or lead to sinning.

 

  • Judging others is a distraction technique. We busy ourselves with casting judgement on others rather than to look at our own problems. Or as author Jarl Forsman explains, “most judgements of others are ego strategies to avoid uncomfortable feelings. However, if you lack the awareness of where they come from, they can lead to even more discomfort down the line.” Next time you judge someone, think of the judgement as a mirror and ponder what is going on in that area in your own life. Perhaps some of these people who judge ‘Aishah and her husband have insecurities about their own sincerity in their faith.

 

  • Judging other’s actions can stem from envy. There may be some aspect of the other person’s choices that the judge is jealous of and feels that they are not able to act on it themselves. Are ‘Aishah’s judges jealous that she was able to marry a man they never would have been able to consider based on personal, familial or cultural taboos?

 

  • Similarly, we may judge others from a position of intolerance, which is when we only accept our own personal values and are not accepting and respectful of other values. We can be bothered by other people’s lifestyle choices because again a mirror has been placed in front of us providing an opportunity to reconsider our own ideals, but often we would rather do the easier work of condemning than contemplating.

 

  • Misjudging others is essentially making an assumption about them based on an interpretation of superficial information. This practice is so dangerous that Allah (SWT) warns us not to heedlessly judge each other:

“O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” (Al-Hujurat:12)

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (SAW) as saying: “Avoid suspicion, for suspicion is the gravest lie in talk and do not be inquisitive about one another and do not spy upon one another and do not feel envy with the other and nurse no malice and nurse no aversion and hostility against one another. And be fellow brothers and servants of Allah.” [Muslim Hadith 6214]
  • Breeding negativity: notice in the above hadith we are not only warned about suspicion, but also not to harbour negative feelings for each other, such as malice, aversion and hostility. SISTERS’ own Positive Psychologist Saiyyidah Zaidi-Stone explains that “negative thinking drains your energy for positivity. Being negative becomes a habit. This rut results in individuals being unable to grow and develop themselves as positive individuals. If you consciously decide to have a positive mindset it does wonders for your psychological and emotional development, the same is true of negative mindset so be aware which one you focus your energy and attention on.” Ultimately, negative thinking is a projection of our own discontent.

Of course, there is always the possibility that these sorts of questions are being asked earnestly to make small talk, which can be a good and necessary tool to help establish commonality. The trick to help you distinguish what your intention is to listen to your own inner voice’s responses to your queries; if your responses are couched in negativity, then perhaps it is better to follow the sunnah of remaining silent until you get that under control.

 

I now have great empathy for ‘Aishah’s family and the adversity they face due to people’s false judgements of them. While there isn’t much I can do for ‘Aishah, other than reminding her that people are just projecting their own problems onto her, I am now more conscious when I hear my own inner critique lashing out at people. I can now stop and ponder, what am I actually saying about myself?

 

Brooke Benoit is an artist, mama to six, writer, editor, Islamic fiction champion and frequent baker living a greenish life in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of SISTERS magazine.

Metsy Monday: Fiber Arts

Here we have some of my very favorite things – wearable art, plush toys, fabric and fiber jewelry – it’s all fiber arts in this Metsy Monday treasury!

 

*click the pic below to go straight to Etsy and enjoy.

 

Metsy Mondays Fiber Arts

* “Metsy” is a portmanteau of the words Muslim and Etsy – you know, like Mipster

Metsy Mondays: For The Muslim Male

Confession: I usually (window) shop on Etsy with myself or my kids in mind. The husband does most of his own shopping, and I fill in the boring gaps: socks, underclothes, and um, socks. Apparently I am not the only one suffering a lack of imagination when it comes to shopping for the Muslim males, especially the Mister Mipsters ones, but yaye for the fabulous makers and sellers on Etsy who keep you guys in mind.

This week’s Metsy Mondays is made for and dedicated to the shouldn’t-be-so-elusive-to-shop-for Muslim Male.

Click on the image to go straight to Etsy.

 

MMMM

 

*every Monday I am featuring the tons of awesome Muslimmade and Islamic finds on Etsy. Please leave your own or your favorite shop in the comments so I can add them to a treasury, iA.

Metsy Mondays: Palestine

This week, with Palestine weighing heavily on many of our hearts, it seemed obvious that this treasury needed to come together. These sixteen unique Muslim made items are just a teeny sample of the amazing works artists and sellers are creating to support Palestine. Enjoy! Support!

*click the image to go straight to Etsy

MM Palestine

Please leave urls of your favourite (or your own!) Muslim sellers on Etsy in the comments. ❤

Eid Gifting? Decorating? Give Muslim Artists on Etsy Some of That Love

Etsy Muslims

We are at the midpoint of Ramadan and that means that Eid is just two weeks away – insha Allah and squee! Likely you are thinking about picking up some decorations, maybe getting some gifts for your loved ones and besties, and/or getting some things for all those great kids in your life, who were so well-behaved this Ramadan. Here is a roundup of some of the many unique, cute, cool and Islam-themed items available from dozens of Muslim sellers on Etsy.

Worried about shipping in time? Some items, like this DIY Eid party pack and this Moroccan inspired Eid gift card are available to download and printout at home, and of course Eid al-Adha is just a few months away too, so go ahead, window shop now.

Click on the photos below to see the listings.

Decorate and celebrate

For Muslim KidsSay Masha Allah

The variety of specialty items for Muslim kids is always expanding on Etsy, as well as Muslim-appealing clothes, and selections from Muslim artists, jewelry makers, designers and so on. Using Etsy keyword searches such as ‘Islam’ ‘Muslim’ ‘Eid’ and ‘Ramadan’ will net you thousands of great finds of your own. Muslim sellers’ makings and doings can also be followed on these Etsy ‘seller teams’ Facebook pages: Creative Creations on Etsy and Muslim Team on Etsy

Happy shopping!

Ramadan Reflections: I <3 the Moon Calendar

Pumpkin with a palm tree and crescent moon carved into it.

This Ramadan is hard. Right smack in the middle of summer, these are the longest fasts of my Muslim life, it’s hot, and the kids are home all day. Well, my kids are always home all day, but I’m sure that’s an extra challenge for most Ramadaners.

I have six children and they are currently kind of a mess. My eldest two want to just stay up all night so as to not miss suhoor and indeed they are very hard to wake for suhoor, so I suck this up. But, they also keep me awake, sometimes, and keep some of my other kids awake, sometimes. So our sleep schedules are all just a mess unlike any other Ramadan I have done. But, I love this about Islam.

See, I thrive on different. I like newness, not in the shiny package kind of way, but in the explorative “seek knowledge” kind of way. I like vastness, not just in the unlimited possibilities kind of way, but also in the internal ways- sleep deprivation can be ugly and trying in this “month of patience”, but it can also poke holes into unused places in the brain that need some stirring. I like flexibility, even though I sometimes lack it, but living the holidays by the moon calendar forces flexibility.
I grew up celebrating regularly scheduled hegemonic US holidays: birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving and all that/those. These holidays always came with the same expectations, same traditions, same fall outs, and so on. Great for many, but after about 20 cycles I let go of these traditions that frankly interrupted my schedule (I was a broke and very busy student), so I quit them. Let me do gifts and appreciations on my own time, I thought.

Then I became Muslim, which some folks claim appeals to “wild western girls” like me “who need structure and rules”. Yep, sure Islam has plenty of rules to live by, but praying by the course of the sun ensures that I am never doing those rigidly required five prayers at exactly the same time for more than three days in a row. Never under estimate the little things, like those one minute changes. Those long stretches between Thuhr, Asr and Mahgrib can provide feelings of freedom during the summers, but the shorter intervals in winter can also be a welcome relief to refocus inward.

My new holidays inch forward through the seasons, slowly bringing me out of the musalla onto the grass and then back inside again years later. The holidays may be similar in function, but that calendar is always going to tweak the form just a little, forcing me to adapt year after year and thereby, insha Allah, grow with a variety of experiences.

I hope this Ramadan will get easier, but either way we are already half way through and then it will be a few more years of seasonally hard Ramadans, then some breezier spring ones, then some cakewalk winter fasts, then my favorite pumpkin treat-filled fall Ramadans, and then insha Allah I will be dead! Or maybe my circumstances will somehow change entirely, and I will be elsewhere on the globe or otherwise within my own body – either way, should I live, it will likely be something new.