I am a progressive Muslim mom who learned the hard way that what my daughter was learning in a Muslim Sunday school, was in direct opposition to what I was teaching her at home.
Here’s the story. For a few years, I sent the poor kid to the local Sunday school in Los Angeles. It seemed somewhat ‘progressive’ to me. Kids were not segregated by gender; girls were not forced to wear the hijab and the curriculum didn’t raise any red flags.
But it never failed, with each pick-up, there was always a religious lesson I had to “undo“- explaining why I was not completely in agreement with my child‘s teacher. I taught my daughter about the loving and compassionate God and at school she was learning to fear God. The loving Allah I was telling her about at home was being slowly replaced by something else. Here are two examples.
At age 5 a teacher taught, “you will go to hell if you hurt someone”. That afternoon my daughter playfully pushed a boy down and accidentally hurt him. Connecting the two dots, and after suffering from guilt, she said: “Mom, Dad, I don’t want to be Muslim anymore because I don’t want to go to hell.” My husband and I were shocked. Fortunately as parents we were able to defuse that trauma.
At age 7, the Sunday school teacher taught her that “If you eat pork you go to hell”. My daughter knew better and rebutted with the argument that if there’s nothing else to eat and if it was a matter of life and death, there was an exception and then yes, you may eat pork. The result? The teacher humiliated my daughter in front of her classmates, insisting she, the teacher was right.
In both instances there were missed opportunities in teaching about the Loving and Compassionate Creator - the one I teach at home.
The emphasis on hell “if you were to hurt someone” should have been instead replaced by an emphasis on compassion and good deeds for our fellow human beings.
Instead of teaching kids that consuming pork is a direct ticket to hell, how about teaching that God values life so much that it is permissible to break the rule if it is to preserve your life?
Instead of the beauty of Islam, an ugly dogma was taught in its place. I pulled my kid out of that school and she has never gone back. And I have since learned I am not the only Muslim parent in North America who has had issues with religious lessons and schools.
Religious schools naturally teach their own doctrines, not necessarily those taught to children at home. So we have to ask ourselves as parents - what are those doctrines and how do they differ from the values we teach at home?
At home I teach equality between men and women, as emphasized in the Quran and Hadith.
To me and to many progressive Muslim parents, the traditional practice of women praying behind the men, or men only permitted to lead the prayer, ingrained in our children that it is the men who have spiritual superiority over women, boys over girls.
Though there are hadith that provide that in the time of Prophet Muhammad a woman did lead the prayer in her community, there are less authentic hadith, describing a woman as being equivalent to an ass, and that your prayers will not be accepted by God if the prayer is led by a woman.
Which hadith should we believe? Which hadith should we teach our children? People must ask themselves.
Most religions teach the superiority of their faith tradition over others. Many Islamic schools are just as guilty. But many Islamic schools will argue that Islam’s superiority is attained from it being the last monotheistic faith, because Islam is ‘complete’. In the result, children are left with the attitude that they are looked upon more favourably by God, not because of their deeds, but because they are Muslim. Yet, this is in direct contradiction of the Quran.
Many Islamic schools draw narrow and distinct lines on what makes a good and a bad Muslim, a “real” Muslim and a “false” Muslim. Too often it is this indoctrination that nurtures arrogance of one’s Muslim-ness and that justifies threats toward Muslims they don’t agree with. Abroad, this animosity has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Muslim on Muslim killings.
Recently I learned that the teaching of what some call Islam, is rearing its head to a more extreme level. The Iqra book publisher, based out of Chicago, (please see image) is now introducing the concept that traditional scholars have considered jihad, both the war and the internal struggle, the 6th pillar of Islam for 5th and 6th-grade children. This is a book sold at the largest mosque in Silicon Valley and is the book children are assigned in the area.
Few mainstream Muslim scholars accept jihad as a sixth pillar. It is an extremist theology popular among only ultra conservative Muslims. Why introduce the concept of jihad, both the inner and the outer, at such a young age? It is a philosophy that requires mental and emotional maturity. By including it as a pillar of Islam it is giving our youth the license to go to war. How and why has this entered conservative Muslim schools?
Are conservative Islamic schools permitting Muslim extremists to teach their children?
I am proud to identify myself as a progressive Muslim and to have co-founded a progressive Muslim organization in America which is now international, nurturing progressive Islamic values to flourish and spread.
In response to the experiences of many like minded Muslim parents, we have developed a progressive Sunday school curriculum:
The goal is provide a solid Islamic education that is not antithetical to western society‘s ideals of inclusiveness.
Instead of learning of the decadence of the west and how Islam is so different and distinct from the world they live in, our children will learn that Islam helped to guide the Renaissance, which sparked modern western thought. They will learn that Islam is malleable and ever changing through the use of ijtihad - the traditional Islamic system of critical analysis and not a monolithic set of rules that cannot be broken.
They will learn to pray together without regard to gender, class, sectarian affiliation, race or sexual preference in an environment free of judgment and full of genuine acceptance, as originally taught by Prophet Muhammad.
They will learn that women have a role in every aspect of Islam, as did the women who played an integral role in the first Muslim community.
In essence, our children will learn to practice an Islam free of the intolerance that passes for orthodoxy, the gender inequality masked in the guise of protection and the violence against humanity some call piety.
Our children will learn to be Muslims who are at once pious, progressive, and free thinkers.
Our children will learn that as Muslims they are beholden, not only to themselves, not only to their community, but to humanity - one humanity, created by one Loving God.By Ani Zonneveld, Aslan Media Columnist