Can We Raise ‘Good Muslim’ Children in the West?
February 27, 2007 § 37 Comments
Today, I went to my favorite local deli near the hospital where I work in Brooklyn, NY. I often go to this deli because, 1) the brothers are Muslims and I pray with them every Friday at our local masjid; 2) the deli is halal – thank God that some Muslim business owners are still concerned about the conditions of their products and services with respect to our religious beliefs – and 3) its healthy to break out of the office monotony to go and speak a different language and joke around with nice people after the noon prayer.
This visit however, was in the morning and not at noon. After I got my morning coffee and made a few salutations of good-will, a brother named ‘Abdullah and I began a conversation about foosha Arabic grammar. He is helping me to find a private Arabic teacher for my wife and children. ‘Abdullah is a very pious and hard-working Muslim from Yemen. And he shares with me one of his worrisome concerns about Muslims in this country saying,
“You know brother, when Muslims come to this country and have kids, our children start to speak English and forget all about the Arabic language.”
He goes on to tell me that its not only the language but Islam that is often forgotten or even rejected by our children. And I agree with ‘Abdullah, which is why I am working so vehemently to have my children learn firstly, about their religion and secondly, about the Arabic language. Consequently, the Qur’an the central authority of the global Muslim community, is incomplete without the Arabic language, so there must be a certain level of competence in speaking, reading and especially comprehension of Arabic.
Conversely, some argue that Arabic is not needed as long as you have the translations. Its true that the translations of the Qur’an to English and other languages make comprehension easier for those whom are not native Arabic speakers. However, the translations leave so much room for things to get – as the saying goes – ‘lost in translation’, not to mention the confusion that may occur during congregational prayers.
I think it is our job as parents to ensure that our children receive a proper Islamic education despite being enrolled in secular public or private schools. The consequences of neglecting this duty are severe, particularly in the West. For example, Andrea Useem of Religion News Service reports that,
“Sixteen percent of Americans have switched their religious identities at some point in their lives, according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey”
Though it is probably true that converts to Islam make up a large portion of this number, there is no proof that this condition is particular to Islam. In fact, a reasonable consideration is that the religious conversion rate in this country is the result of our society in flux as suggested by Peter Berger, professor of Sociology and Theology at Boston University,
“People are making more choices in everything, from lifestyle to sexual identity. It’s not surprising if they are making more choices in religion,”
This brings me back to ‘Abdullah’s concern, which was that the children of Muslim parents particularly those of immigrants have no interest in learning the Arabic language and incidentally Islamic teachings because they exist as an off branch subculture in this society as opposed to a mainstream identity. Could it be that for Muslim children, the Western lifestyle, a condition in constant flux, is overwhelming? My children are very small – five years; three years and 5 months old – and it still to early too see if they are more interested in non-Islamic culture. Right now they embrace their Islamic culture and heritage, so much that my son keeps asking me to come speak to his class about Islam. Apparently his teacher – who often discusses god and gods, with the children, in terms of ancient mythologies – has suggested that she would like me to do this, though I have yet to find the time.
Since my children are so young I am inexperienced in this area and all I can go on are suggestions from text and traditions. Therefore, I would like to begin a discussion on raising children to be good Muslims in the West. I think this topic could develop into a very insightful and inspiring resource for a number young families. So let me just go ahead and put the question out there: do any of you parents have thoughts or concerns on how to raise good Muslims in the West?