The Dilemma of Teaching Islam to Contemporary Youth

Category: Articles, Faith, Featured, Society | Topic: children, islam, youth | Values: education | Views: 6,572 | Comments: none

“Train your children with a training different from your training, because they have been created for a period different from yours" [Sayyidna ‘Ali]

Muslim youth are under the hammer of two extremes; forced to live in virtually two different worlds. In homes; which are culturally Muslim, and in an environment outside the home, which tends to be challenging in many ways as well as Islamophobic in some circumstances. Youth fail to understand where they belong. Whatever they hear in many Mosques may seem meaningless to them in their daily lives, while in the real world they are exposed to the pressures of multiculturalism, assimilation and peer-pressures. The result is that they suffer from Identity Crises. Identity, we must remember, is vitally important for self-esteem and self-esteem is so crucial for mental, emotional and personality development. 

The home and madrasah/school atmosphere has a significant impact on the youth’s attitude towards Islam. I focus here on 7 facets that need our attention:

1. Too often when parents/teachers think about talking to their children about Islam, they concentrate on the ritual of the five pillars. They expect teachers at school/madarasah to teach their children how to make salaah and memorize some short Qur’anic surahs. These are important, but don’t forget that Islam is a total way of life; not mere memorization and ritual. Many children know how to pray; very few feel the need to pray, fewer still understand its importance. Quite a large number of children know how to read the Qur’an. Only a few read the Qur’an in order to understand it and fewer still in order to find solutions.

2. Many parents grew up in areas where colonizing rulers maintained schools for acquiescence. That is, pupils were taught to merely repeat exactly what the teacher told them. If the test question asked for 3 reasons why you pray, the answer had to be the exact three reasons that the teacher had told them in class. In the process, personal understanding is undermined.

3. Throughout much of the Muslim world, Islamic education itself has been, so to speak, self-imitative for centuries. A teacher is expected to teach what he was taught, using the same methods by which he was taught. Hence it is extremely difficult to get most Islamic Studies and Arabic teachers to look at any textbook other than the textbook from which they learned, or to consider any change in the method which might speed up the pupils’ learning and enhance their understanding.

4. The pupil is not supposed to think; he is supposed to accept everything without questioning. {If students do question, they questions are mistaken as a rebellion.} 

5. The prevalence of the Fear and Guilt approach is still prevalent. Instead of seeing the world as an opportunity, it is seen as a trap; instead of enjoying the gifts of life, everything is seen through the prism of ‘haraam‘; instead of basking in the mercy of Allah, we are gripped in fear of God… This approach is most counter productive and often achieves the very result we are trying to avoid. Stressing the negative makes the child want to avoid anything to do with the religion. Children grow up thinking that it is religion that keeps one from enjoying life. The notion of wanting and having the best of this world and the best in the Hereafter is undercut.

6. Our children’s first experience of Islam is based almost entirely on the memorization of many sounds and words of unknown meaning, of actions of unknown significance and of facts of no obvious relevance to the question of what is Islam and what does it mean to be a Muslim. This is after all the way most born Muslims are taught Islam, and they tend to feel it is the only way in which it can be passed on to the next generation. The children are therefore naturally under the impression that Islam is something you memorize and hopefully are able to repeat when asked. 

7. Learning “Islamic Studies” has often normally helped the growing child to understand much. It has not given him any insight and he was not encouraged to ask questions. By the time he reaches teen age he is quite likely to drop the subject and because of a lack of affinity to the subject, he tends to grow up as a virtual “religious illiterate.” Little wonder why so many Muslims have such little understanding of Islam despite having spent much time attending classes on Islam. 

Parents/Guardians have the basic responsibility of providing the young ones a loving family circle, a nurturing and protective home, a good name, good education, health care and preparation for independent life (marriage, work, responsibility …). The duty now is to ensure that the content and method of teaching be practical and relevant.


Shaykh Sadullah Khan is the Director of Impower Development International


Leave a Reply