Wednesday 29 October 2014

Little Lady and Big School: Reasons for Choosing Islamic Scholarship

I have been worrying and praying about Little Lady’s secondary education for the last few years. As she was my firstborn I had no experience of how the system worked or whether the local school or an Islamic school would be best for her.

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).

We were over the moon but I was also worried about how the transition would affect her. She would have to leave behind the friends she made and the hours are longer with a 7:30am start due to alimah studies in the morning,

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)


  1. Salams
    Thanks for sharing. I think its a struggle deciding what's best for our children , as each child is an individual with different needs. Well done for having the strength and determination to do what's best for your child. May Allah put all our children on the correct path. (Ameen)

  2. Salam aleikum! Even though my children are not in private schools; it makes me glad we have the system we do in Sweden: no fees in schools, not even in the private ones! We pay taxes for that, right!!/S Susan

  3. Assalamu alaykum!

    Thank you for speaking very honestly about your journey figuring out what is best for your daughter and respecting her wishes as well. I'm very glad that you're not sacrificing her studies for her Islamic learning - I've known far too many people who thought that the best way to bring up their children is to 'hide and protect' them, keeping them shuttled off in a Muslim country 'protected from the kuffar' and in very controlling atmospheres where the poor children found themselves strictly religious and with no one to relate to - they inevitably have a religious breakdown and want nothing to do with Islam, as that upbringing is too unnatural and creates too much cognitive dissonance with the outside world. Hence finding the balance of dealing with everyone with respect and peace whilst maintaining your Islam is so important. :)

  4. Kudos to the 'Älimah, Congrats to her mom
    السلام على الأم والبنت ورحمة الله وبركاته
    Congrats to the mom of the would-be scholar! Kudos to the would-be 'Älimah herself! From a sinner and aimless wanderer – from a bigot Christian’s school who wouldn’t let us go for Jum'ah Saläh, to the historic precincts of Därul 'Uloom, Deoband, where the mountain ranges lie down, where the hurricanes come to an abrupt halt. It’s the poor hamlet in front of which the royal palaces prostrate!
    کہسار یہاں دب جاتے ہیں، طوفان یہاں رُک جاتے ہیں
    اس کاخِ فقیری کے آگے شاہوں کے محل جھک جاتے ہیں

    “… we have to conduct ourselves even more carefully as the parents of someone engaged in this kind of study … ” – Brought tears to my sinful eyes! The high opinion you non-scholars have of scholars. The love and admiration you have for these 'Ulamä and the faith you people usually show in their words, I know for sure, would take you to much higher levels of Paradise than many of us. May Alläh gather us all there, the sinners among us and the virtuous!

    To the would-be 'Älimah,
    Welcome to the beneficial knowledge, far removed from the useless Macaulayish knowledge! Welcome to a life in the blessed shade of the Qurän and Hadïth! Welcome to the companionship of Sahäbah and Täbi'ïn, to the courts of Imäm Abü Hanïfah and Imäm Ahmad, to the assemblies of Ibn Taimiyyah and Shah Waliulläh! Welcome to the learnings Imäm Bukhärï lost and regained his eye-sight for! Welcome to the knowledge Imäm Ahmad suffered executioner’s lashes for, till he fell unconscious! Welcome to the Hadïth 'Umar bin 'Abdul Azïz taught from the throne of the greatest power of the day! Welcome to the Fiqh Sarakhsï taught from the depth of the well where he had been imprisoned!
    You will be spending this part of your life strolling in the holy fields of Badr and Uhud. In the Masjid of Madïnah you will find an aunt tying a rope between pillars to give her some rest when tired of her long Tahajjud prayers. In the streets of Madïnah, you will see your little sisters singing “The full moon صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ rises up over us from the valleys of Wadä'.” You would also get to see her who complains to the Prophet against her husband. The Prophet decides against her. Alläh decides in favor of her. The Supreme Lord from above the seven high skies overrules His own beloved Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ for her sake!
    Till now you have seen the love of just one mother. Now on you will have eleven mothers fasting in the day, praying in the night, for herself and for you, the daughter, fourteen centuries and four thousand miles away! You will find them, the wives of the Chief of Humanity, living a life of poverty and hardship under him, and when given the choice of divorce, the option of a better and more luxurious life, declining without hesitation, without consultation, without a second thought: “Shall I seek others’ advice regarding you, Alläh’s Prophet? Never ever!!”
    Perhaps, when you see the rich, fair beauty deciding to marry the poor and ugly Julaibïb because the Prophet had suggested, you could convey her our Saläm – the Saläm of this precious Ummah! The parents had other opinions, but the Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ came first for the lady.
    As the red carpet beneath your blessed feet gets replaced by the feathers of the infallible angels, you will thank your parents for cutting back expenses everywhere else they can. On your visits to river-banks and lake-sides, when the fish say Saläm to you, and seek Alläh’s forgiveness for you, your hijäb-loving mom will feel proud. The earth that shakes and quakes to vanish the mighty mountains, the sky that pounds rain and hail to destroy the prosperity of sinners, the ocean that ambles and dances to drown the alcoholics in Titanic, the high impregnable hills that become the graveyards of super-powers: when these very same ones start praying for you, how will it feel!?

  5. Muslims love Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ and his words. They perform Saläh and recite the formulas. They read the Book of Alläh whose eloquence outshines the despicable Shakespeares and the mediocre Arundhatis far more than the sun outshines the stars. You too must have done and be doing each of this. How will it feel when these very words – sweet but obscure – become alive all of a sudden.
    The Prophet is talking privately to his wife and you are listening and understanding:
    “I know when you are pleased with me and when you are in a different mood.”
    “How exactly, Alläh’s Prophet!”
    “When you are pleased, you say, ‘Of course, by the Lord of Muhammad’. When you are annoyed with me, your conversation would be on the lines of ‘Of course, by Ibrähïm’s Lord!’”
    “True, by Alläh, Alläh’s Prophet! I discard nothing but just your name.” Even then, you and your being, your teaching and your preaching remain dearer to me than my heart and soul.
    At Ji'irränah, the Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ is talking to the Ansär privately. He had already ensured that no one else was present in the assembly. There had been a talk among some young Ansär that when it comes to battle-field, we are at the frontline, when it comes to distribution of Ghanïmah, we are relegated to the rear. As the Prophet recounts the never-seen-before-and-after favors they had enjoyed because of him, the Ansär’s beards get wet with tears. “Don’t you feel happy that other people are returning home with goats and sheep, with gold and silver, (with pound and dollar); and you with the Prophet of Alläh!” It’s a top-secret, confidential conversation. You are privy to it, the very sweet and lovely words, not just the content.
    As you get liberated from Darwin’s superstition to the Qurän’s information, as you get freed from the blinkered approach of what-we-see-is-what-exists to the certain knowledge of what Alläh has kept in store for you, as you spend your nights imitating 'Abdulläh ibn 'Amr, completing the Qurän in three days, crying where the Sahäbah cried, enjoying where the Prophet felt delighted, you will know what you have gained; where you started, where you have reached!