Oct 20 2010
Home-schooling tends to bring out extreme reactions in people, with proponents promoting it as a panacea for all the problems that beset our current educational system, and opponents dismissing it as a passing fad or an exercise in futility.
Being middle of the road myself, I was intrigued to read about Zohra Sarwari, a Muslim author-publisher, certified NLP life-coach and popular motivational speaker who not only conducts seminars and live events in schools and masjids across the United States, but also successfully home-schools her own three children and combines professional expertise with Islamic guidance.
Zohra has doctorate degrees in Organizational Psychology and Clinical Psychology, but dropped out of her Ph.D. program to work on her BA degree in Islamic Studies. Speaking about her own academic background she says, “I went to public schools in the US, and to be honest, I couldn’t care less about Shakespeare or any of the other books that I read. None of them helped me to become a better speaker, writer or teacher. I went to college thinking: Why do so many people go on anti-depressants? I dropped out of my Ph.D’s because I could not envisage having a career helping people who did not understand that medication was not the only solution. Where did Allah fit in our lives? Where did the true lifestyle fit in? It did not …and I feel sorry for the people who do not realize that the Western-model of education is actually not that great for our children.”
“When we teach history, according to whom are we teaching it? The foundation that knowledge is based on should be as important as the knowledge itself. As long as I was in school, I thought us Muslims did not do anything! That’s because Muslim contributions and discoveries are simply not taught. It should be fair game knowledge, and it is now! Give credit where credit is due, if poetry was great in Arabia, then it should be mentioned and not blanked out or ignored.”
I spoke to Zohra regarding her views on the future of Islamic education, her aspirations for Muslim children, and the options ordinary Muslim parents have to raise children with outstanding achievements – not just in the field of academics, but also in the Hereafter. Excerpts:
What do you see as the future of Muslim children’s education? What are the trends pointing towards?
Speaking about my own children, I see my children graduating early from high school, Insha Allah the latest at the age of 14. I see them being Hafidh of the Qur’an, business people, and getting their first BA in Islamic Studies, Insha Allah.
All this is possible by teaching them about Islam first. By making sure they live Islam as an example, not just through words. If they can have true Taqwa (consciousness) of Allah, and have enough knowledge about right and wrong, and know their role models, Insha Allah everything else will work out. The parents need to be good role models and watch what they say, what they see, and everything else. Last but most important, they need to make sincere Du’a to Allah to help guide their children to the right path.
As for their studies, they should supplement the areas their children are weak at with more knowledge and even a tutor if needed.
Most parents are dissatisfied with the system of teaching in schools, yet feel they have no other option for various reasons (such as being busy, not being qualified enough or not having enough experience to home-school). What should such parents do to help their children get ahead?
I feel parents have many options, they just need to open their eyes, if there is a will there is a way. As parents we must sacrifice for our children, especially the mothers, since we are the main caretakers. History shows us that when both parents leave the home, there is not much of a home life left for the child. If you want a pious, humble, intelligent, leader who is a righteous child, then you need to help that happen. No system will make that happen.
As far as qualifications go, if you can’t manage to teach your child something – for example, the Qur’an – and then find a qualified teacher who can, and hire them. If you don’t have the money, then barter services with them, offer to cook meals for them, watch their children. Use what you’re good at to help them, so that they can help your children.
You must be creative, and you must want it badly enough. You must also be flexible with your schedule and cut out all distractions. More than anything, you must be motivated to do it!
What is the level of commitment required for home-schooling? Do you feel there are certain pre-requisites a home-schooling mother must have, or can anyone do it?
There is a very high level of commitment required for a mother to home-school, I won’t undermine that. That means that the phone is not answered (unless it is an emergency) during teaching times, it means everything is put on hold during teaching time, including cooking, people coming over, cleaning the house, etc. You’re the teacher during the time you teach, and you should not be interrupted. You should make this clear to everyone, so they too take your schedule seriously.
If one cannot do it, then sacrifice and find great teachers to do it for them, like the mothers of the scholars in the past did. Either you will sacrifice your money or time, or both. If you want the greatest result, then the greatest effort must first take place. We know that if we do not work out, eat healthy, and take care of ourselves, our bodies will go crazy on us – it is the same thing with everything in life, especially our children. If we don’t have a plan for their lives, for their Deen and Dunya and help them achieve it, then Shaitan will plan for us.
I honestly feel that if you have the commitment, desire and motivation to raise your child in the best way possible then you should be able to do it. For the best teacher is the mother, and if she cannot do something, then she will find a way to get it done.
What about socialization, which is something home-schooled children may have problems with? Given that there aren’t too many opportunities to go out and not many community or extracurricular activities in Saudi Arabia, what would you suggest parents do to compensate?
Parents could talk to other parents and set up play dates. They could have children over and the kids could play games – age and gender appropriate. Anytime that they can go out with the children, whether it is to the store, mosque, family visits, these are all socialization opportunities. Just be creative, when one door closes, a hundred others open.
What are the elements that you would change in school curricula and the current schooling system?
I am working on developing my own curriculum and I believe that we need Tarbiyah (upbringing), manners and character building to be the most important elements in education. People pray, but they don’t do it with Ikhlas (sincerity), people do good only when they feel like it, people think the world is more important than the her. The essence of being Muslims begins with Tarbiyah, not by words, but by examples, and following those examples.
Next, I would make sure that all teachers truly understood their roles, and that they all had knowledge about child psychology, patience, and love for their Deen (religion). Teachers are very important, and they can make or break your child’s success.
Lastly, I would make sure the school has all the important elements of knowledge from around the world without the associated Fitnah. For example, I would not allow things that I do not perceive to be permissible, or worth their time learning. Instead, I would teach kids about how to handle money, learn about business, and become leaders. Our children are more intelligent now than before with all this technology, however they have no manners and lack a good upbringing… they don’t practice their Deen and have no real purpose to life.
I think a school needs to incorporate what our great scholars incorporated in their lives which were Tarbiyah and manners, then knowledge of the Deen, and around that secular studies. What we have lost is revisiting the great biographies of our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) his Companions and scholars down the ages.
That is why we need to reflect on the past and create dreams and goals for the future. We should have dreams and goals for the sake of Allah, so that on the Day of Judgment we can stand in front of Allah and say we tried with all of our hearts with our knowledge, actions, and words.