Dear Masjid Sunday School,
It’s been three years since I graduated from you. When I look back at that time I fondly remember meeting other Muslims my age and getting to learn new things about my faith. But I’m writing this letter to you today because of all the things I didn’t learn. And for the way you made me feel.
Most of the students in my classes didn’t see the value of an Islamic education in our current American society. I cannot recall how many times they’d call me out on being “teacher’s pet” or a “know-it-all” when I actually did the work for our classes. They thought I was trying so hard to please the teachers and my parents – but that wasn’t it at all.
When I was younger, I dealt with many near-death experiences that made me appreciate my life but more importantly, they made me appreciate God. I wanted to get to know Him more and by doing the work for my Islamic classes, I was able to gain a new appreciation for Islam. I didn’t care about how the teachers or my parents thought of me. In the end, none of them could help me in the eyes of God. I thought only of wanting to get closer to Him, this was my own personal jihad. Yet, I don’t blame my peers in those classes. I blame you, the masjid, for the way you structured academics in your school.
My sisters still attend your school and one of them recently came to talk to me about you. She felt disappointed in herself and asked me if something was wrong with her. It turns out she didn’t win a speech competition because her approach was “too different” than the other contestants. And by too different, I don’t mean she missed the mark, I mean that she did something that was never done before. As a masjid, shouldn’t you be encouraging students to view the world in different ways, just as a scholar approaches the Quran with fresh eyes?
The fact that she felt like a failure was what bothered me the most. If you pride yourself in educating the next Muslim generation why are you letting them feel like this?
It’s not only her but others as well who feel pressured by the rigid structure that compels them to associate the winning of awards with their self-worth. Not that winning awards is bad, but why are they the incentive for learning about Islam? There’s only one award that students should be aiming for: the award of seeing God in Heaven and winning His favor, not a shiny trophy or certificate to adorn their walls. I’ve taught at your school and I’ve seen how students and teachers will bully and demean those that struggle to keep up with their Islamic studies. As a masjid, a house of God, it is your duty to stop this. You’re a focal point for the Muslim community but there seems to be no UNITY in your community.
And I know it’s not just you, but the parents of students as well. They want their kids to succeed but hey, if their children are struggling, you shouldn’t side with them in making their children feel bad about themselves. During my time at your school, I’ve seen students who get perfect grades but in the end, know nothing about what they’ve learned. It doesn’t stick because they didn’t seek the education, they only sought the prize at the end-and the pressure to win it from their parents, didn’t help either. And while these students are getting trophies, the students who ACTUALLY care about the material and want to learn it, are being shunned for not trying hard enough. How messed up is that?
It takes time and effort to learn about religious beliefs–scholars spend their whole lives doing so. Holding a student accountable for the pace at which they move is unfair and completely un-Islamic.
The Prophet Muhammad stated, “The best form of worship is the pursuit of knowledge.” Knowledge–not a TROPHY. Seeking knowledge is one of the essential pleasures of life. If you want to educate the future generation of Muslims then you must restructure your school system. Seeking worldly awards isn’t what you should be teaching. Instead, knowledge should be reached at the pace of the student and shouldn’t only be for a material award.
The future of the ummah rests among your walls yet you do nothing but abide by compromising traditions. I hope that you’re willing to change. By revising your system, you will not only help parents realize what truly matters but will inform the future generation that you are their center for spiritual guidance-support them no matter what.
A Concerned Scholar