Guest post by Brother Nabil Zaman
If you ask any student why he goes to school and his parent why they send their child to school, the response will be “to get an education.” But what do we mean by “getting an education”?
For most, education seems to just be another step towards getting a job. Sure, most careers require a grasp of math and reading, but why is getting a job the first ends we reinforce in the minds of children? Why does it need almost three decades of someone’s life to achieve that goal? And if we spend so much time on training for a job, especially in the golden times of our youth, does that mean that a career is our foremost priority in life?
Our priorities are inextricably linked with our purpose. If they aren’t, then we are deceiving ourselves by claiming one purpose with our tongues while working towards another with our hands.
As Muslims, we know our purpose is to worship Allah and to serve Him alone. As said in the Qur’an:
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ ٱلْجِنَّ وَٱلْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
“I did not create jinn and humans except to worship [Me]” (Quran 51:56)
All things—the way we eat, the way we sleep, the way we walk, the way we talk—should align with that purpose if we truly believe in it. We talk much about how our communities should help us come closer to Allah. You hear much about a new after-school hifdh program, or revamping the playground outside the masjid, or getting new teachers for the Sunday school. But for some reason, when it comes to our personal lives, and especially when it comes to planning out our education, our tone switches.
Our aims turn to the pursuit of wealth and status instead of the pleasure of Allah, and education merely serves as a step to attaining both of those desires. That’s why the recurring question from kindergarten to graduation is: “What do you want to be?” The only difference is that a kindergartener’s answer is met with a laugh and encouragement, and a graduate’s with silent praise or masked derision.
If a career is our main priority, then public schools are the yellow brick road. But if we take that road, then we can’t claim that our main priority is serving Allah. Otherwise we’re walking a contradiction, intending one direction while moving in the other, like taking a plane to New York with a ticket to San Francisco.
If our actions truly matched with our words, then we would understand that secular public schools are, by definition, the last place you should expect someone to learn, practice, and love their din. In fact, you should expect that that person come out with a totally different way of thinking from one oriented towards pleasing his or her Creator. Following the mindset of their peers, many come out hedonistic, with a mind constantly in the hamster wheel of pleasure. Any other result is a miracle from The Most Merciful.
For some reason, many don’t seem to understand this. Many think they aren’t affected by the things around them or that the YouTube lectures played at the dinner table somehow atone for school’s daily six-hour conditioning. None of us expect to put poison in our food and remain unscathed, but we expect that, by some miracle, our soul will be preserved even in the most toxic of environments.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “A man is on the din of his companions, so look, each of you, to whom he takes as his companions.” A related Arabic proverb states صباغة الصحبه—your companions “dye” you. Do you really think you can make good progress on the Straight Path when you invite everything around to snatch you away from it?
As a former student of public schools, I can attest to the incredible influence that the system exerts on students with even the strongest of characters. The environment doesn’t change someone all at once, it happens slowly and surely.
First one turns a blind eye to their close friends’ swearing, then they start losing their natural shyness for the opposite gender, then they look for excuses to start eating lunch meat that’s obviously not halal, and eventually it can end with leaving the faith altogether.
In my experience, not many reach this last stage or even the stage before. However, I’ve seen many fellow Muslims whose faith has been so hollowed out by school culture that they are willing to do everything short of explicitly breaking the boundaries. And they know so little about their faith that they are accepting of any idea pushed in the mainstream culture (think LGBT acceptance, Critical Race Theory, etc.).
No Muslim should willingly participate in the public school system. Instead, we must seek guidance, an education which draws us closer to Allah and towards understanding our tradition. Just as so many spend years attending schools and colleges and planning out degrees and programs they need for their dream career, we must spend years under the guidance of teachers and institutes, planning out a path that helps us strengthen our relationship with The Most High. Some may find homeschooling the best option, others a local madrasah, and even others a private Islamic school. In all cases though, we must deeply investigate those we take our knowledge from and carefully choose whom we trust and whom we take from. When we sincerely will and strive to act in accordance with the purpose Allah created us with, He guarantees to open doors for us.
ۚ وَمَن يَتَّقِ ٱللَّهَ يَجْعَل لَّهُۥ مَخْرَجًا
“Whoever fears Allah, He brings forth a way out for him.” (Quran 65:2)
May Allah grant us openings in this life and the Hereafter, and may He help us to learn from those who are rightly guided so that we can become among those who are guided rightly.