7-hour detentions. Documented abuse in madrasahs. After school sessions and no homework completed. Learning the Quran as a child can be challenging for so many reasons. To be frank, one main reason is the pedagogy. As Yasmin Mogahed once mentioned in a lecture, “We teach our kids what to fear. This is halal and this is haram, but we don’t teach them to love Allah.”
The madrasahs I went to were varied, but some did rule through fear. It was a carrot or a stick: sweets when someone completed Juz Ammah and a stick in some cases for those who forgot their recitation. You weren’t taught to understand what you were reciting and I had only a few sessions on Islamic history or a conceptual understanding of what we were learning. Going into my GCSE year, it was all learn-by-rote, which was everything I despised about the educational system. I was not a fan of memorizing without understanding and I often resented those who succeeded in doing so.
Madrasah was a place of anxiety for me. I avoided going due to the fear of messing up and having to memorize everything in class all by myself, without the aid of learning apps.
Alhamdullilah, now I participate in weekly Quran classes with an amazing teacher from Egypt. May Allah reward her with Jannah and the good of this world and the next. I became her student after finding a card for Quran classes at Regents Park Mosque during Ramadan. Previously, my brother was encouraging me to take lessons, which I wanted to, but I was still apprehensive. I thought Quranic education would feel how it did as a child: like a consistent failure and being a bad Muslim because I did better in my secular education than in my Islamic one.
Nonetheless, I pursued Quran classes recently and my teacher was so supportive and affirming, praising us with regular “masha’Allahs!” when the pronunciation is good. It doesn’t matter how many times I need help and support with a recitation or if I still need to read from Al Musshaf, she simply does not castigate me for having not memorized the surah well enough.
She is a caring educator who asks about family and how my day is. She shares wisdom about the virtues of rain and of using Ramadan to continue strengthening that relationship with Allah. When I missed classes due to being unwell, she checks in and makes dua. In essence, she provides pastoral care, which was unfortunately absent in my earlier Quranic education.
More unfortunate is the commonality in experiences I share with current madrasah students. The pedagogy appears similar, and although my year 8s made exceptional progress in learning the Quran, I want them to experience a holistic Islamic education. This is so that their understanding of Islam is not limited to haram and halal or mocking their peers who are still on Juz Ammah (and teachers). As an adult, the Quran has offered me immense healing. It truly is the text of this world and the hereafter.
During the lockdown, I purchased a translated version of the Quran and I read it cover to cover a couple of times. I would read a surah after salah and I was the most content in myself I had been in my life. I felt like for the first time in years I experienced what calm is, and while I have fallen off in consistency recently, learning the Quran remains an anchor in my life. I usually have lessons on a Sunday after a boxing class in the morning. After my Zoom lesson, I will try to prepare for work. But recent events interrupted this regular routine and to be honest, I wasn’t doing my homework, so I was reluctant to show up to class unprepared.
I was worried about being admonished and feeling like a bad Muslim. I thought that would be reaffirmed in class, but in my most recent lesson I recited and stumbled but I was supported all the way. Highlighters, call and response — I felt like I was in school (which I loved). The context of this lesson was a bad mental health episode which made me want to cancel the session, but halfway through the lesson, I saw the sun make an appearance for the first time that day…and I felt as if perhaps, as Surah Ad Duha intends, hopeful that Allah is always with me.
My educational ethos is that love is integral to one’s education, not just of the subject matter, but those you seek to educate as well. This is how I feel in my Quran classes. I do want to emphasize that I don’t think my Quran teachers of the past didn’t love or care for me, but fear was what governed my relationship with Islam and the Quran.
I hope my students experience a pedagogy of love in the classroom and beyond. My teachers, both past and present, have shaped my relationships with education. As a child, I feared madrasah because I didn’t feel as supported. And now as an adult, I love Quran classes because I feel loved by my teacher. I don’t look at solely the wings of fear in Islam; I also see the wings of hope and the mercy of Allah. May we all be supported in our learning and seeking knowledge of our deen.