There is massive competition for the one local grammar school and she did not get in, following the secondary school application process she got a place in the local state school that I had attended.
We had tried to find a place in an Islamic school a year earlier, but all of those that offered an Islamic education that included the Alimah (Islamic scholars) programme were full and sent out applications to include her in their waiting list.
We decided to let her start in the local school as there didn’t seem to be any other options. The local state school has come a long way from when I studied there. At that time it had a bad reputation and not the best results for GCSE. I remember that being good at your studies was not something to be proud of amongst students but something to be masked, with even teachers occasionally joining in at making fun of the bright children.
I was one of the smallest kids in my year and had to learn to make up for this by being extra loud, rude and by swearing a lot. I made it to the end of high school with good grades and to the end of sixth form with reasonable grades but knowing I could have done a lot better. It left me with a legacy of for many years thinking how much better I could have done as an adult if I had better schooling as a child and with a foul mouth, both of which took many years to overcome.
So you can imagine I had my worries when that was the only option for us. A visit to the school and talking to friends and neighbours who had children studying there assuaged some of my worries. The school has a new strict head teacher and has had millions of pounds of investment in new buildings and equipment. It has expanded to a primary and nursery school and the sixth formers look like they are dressed for the office.
Little Lady loved it there and made friends straight away. She became a school council representative and volunteered for everything. Best of all they had a massive library full of every book she had ever been looking for.
I still had my worries. For instance probably over half of the children in the school are Muslim and many of the girls wear hijab. This doesn’t stop them from listening to music, swearing and generally assuming a very cocky attitude. This just isn’t part of the beautiful character I want to develop for my children and I feared that Little Lady would pick up bad habits. As she is so strong willed I could also imagine a situation in a few years where we would not be able to rein her in and discourage bad habits.
It was hard to explain my reservations to my husband, but once he was picking and dropping her from school for a few weeks he could see the behaviour of some children for himself – giving adults dirty looks, swearing, shouting, chatting or fighting with people of the opposite sex - all things normal teenagers do, but things that I don’t believe are part of the correct upbringing of a Muslim teenager who we hope one day becomes a good Muslim.
One option I was considering was putting her in one of the after school alimah courses that have started locally recently which would cover her Quran studies also. This would have been tough with picking her up from school and then dropping and picking her up from a second place whilst juggling the boys school run and Quran studies also, especially as I don’t drive. It seemed to be our only option.
As the first few weeks of term progressed, my husband got more concerned about the way students at LL’s school behaved and the influence this would have on her. So one day on the way to look for a new double pram for Darling and Baby, he suggested we pick up forms for the two nearest girls Islamic schools. One had no spaces and did not offer the alimah course but did provide a very positive environment and is run by a masjid that my husband has strong links with. The other school was attended by a cousin of mine and a few of my friends’ daughters and I have heard mixed reviews of. We filled the form for this one and submitted straight away and LL was called back for a test the following week. She did well on the test and was called back for an interview. The head teacher listened to her recitation of Quran and asked her about why she was interested in the school. They offered her a place for the following Monday and also allowed her to join the alimah programme (they have three strands: Islamic studies, alimah course and hifz programme where the whole Quran is memorised).
Following her first half term there she has settled in well and is catching up quickly with what she missed (Memrise has really helped with Arabic and French). Her Quran teacher was brilliant and supplemented Quran studies with Islamic knowledge and memorising prayers and reading Islamic books, so this meant that much of what was covered in the first half term that she missed she already knew. Her Dad had also been helping her learn Urdu which has the same script as Arabic and this helped her with learning Arabic too.
There are some things she misses: having the latest IT equipment, swimming pools and a greater emphasis on sport, the library she loved so much, switching from Spanish (which she loved) to French (which I like) and also missing out on certain lessons (such as Drama) to accommodate for others (Arabic). I have agreed that we can work on subject areas which she liked that are not covered in her current curriculum and she sees the value of the Islamic environment and studies Alhamdulillah.
The cost of her education means that we will have to cut back everywhere else that we can and it will also mean that we have to conduct ourselves even more carefully as the parents of someone engaged in this kind of study – it has certainly made me think about what kind of qualities should be present in the mother of a scholar and has made me face up to where I lack in these.
Some might question why we would only put one child in private education and possibly not the rest. As my oldest child I believe that she will have a significant influence on the others, particularly on my two youngest girls who will be of an age to benefit from what she learns by the time she finishes high school and sixth form (the alimah course is seven years and the girls are 9 and 11 years younger than her). I also believe that I was still learning to parent with my oldest children, I made all of my mistakes with them and now that they are older those mistakes (shouting, screaming, being very impatient etc) are staring me in the face in the shape of their behaviour. I feel like Allah (SWT) has given me the chance to do things better with my younger children, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that I feel as if I messed up with my older children and I would do anything I can to put that right. So rather than worry and feel miserable, I want to give them a positive environment and keep trying to put right the things I could have done better in any way that I can.
I am so very grateful to Allah (SWT) for this opportunity for my daughter, after 3-4 years or worrying and two years solid of praying for her education and correct upbringing (tarbiyah) in every salah, I feel as if my prayer has been answered insh’Allah. Now it’s Little Man’s turn. I have left it a little late for training for the eleven plus exam that has to be passed for entry into the local boys grammar school. The exam isn’t until next September, but the competition is intense. So we will start planning and thinking for him, but in the meantime I am going to have to resort to the only measure I can really rely on and which has gotten me results: praying for him in every sujood until Allah (SWT) creates the best path for him and trusting that Allah (SWT) always does what is best for us at the right time.
Huzaifa (RA) said that, whenever the Prophet (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) happened to face any difficulty, he would at once resort to salat. (Ahmad, Abu Dawud)
Anas ibn Malik (RA) narrated that Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) said: “One who goes out to search for knowledge is (devoted) to the cause of Allah till he returns.” (Tirmidhi 220)
‘Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA) narrated that Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) said, “Acquiring knowledge in company for an hour in the night is better than spending the whole night in prayer.” (Tirmidhi 256)
Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that... the Prophet (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) said, “... He who treads the path in search of knowledge, Allah will make that path easy, leading to Paradise for him and those persons who assemble in one of the houses of Allah (mosques), recite the Book of Allah and learn and teach the Qur’an (among themselves). There will descend upon them tranquillity, mercy will cover them, the angels will surround them and Allah will mention them in the presence of those near Him.” (Muslim 6518)
The superiority of the learned man over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave neither dinar nor dirham, leaving only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion.’” (Abu Daud 3634)