I was at a park yesterday with a couple friends (other homeschooling moms) and our kids. A fellow Muslim woman passed by where we were sitting and we exchanged salams.
She approached me and asked, “بتحكي عربي؟” (“Do you speak Arabic?”)
“Yes, I’m Egyptian,” I told her in Arabic, shaking her hand and gesturing for her to sit and join us. The rest of the conversation flowed in Arabic, her Jordanian dialect and my Egyptian one. She gave me many important things to think about in this exchange.
She sat down next to me and looked around curiously at the large group of kids playing rowdily around us. “Are these all your children?” she asked.
“Yes, it’s the three of us moms here and these are our kids,” I replied.
“Are you guys related? Are you all Arab? How did you get together/ find each other?” she asked.
“We’re all friends,” I explained. I gestured at my two non-Arab companions nearby, an African American mom and a Latina mom: “My friends here are not Arab. This sister is American, a convert actually, and this other sister is Hispanic.”
She was surprised and seemed riveted. “To be honest, I was so fascinated when I saw you guys from a distance and all your kids playing together so well. Black and white. I didn’t know there was a third ethnicity in there too!”
She told me a bit about herself and her background. She was a Jordanian young woman, 24 years old. Just arrived in America last year from Jordan. She didn’t know the system here yet and was especially confused by the school system. She looked again at the kids, who were now piled on top of one another (there are mashaAllah ten boys total, so there tends to be a lot of wrestling).
“Are they in school? Is today an American holiday?” she asked, probably wondering why all these school-aged children were roaming around at a park instead of seated at desks in a classroom somewhere.
“No, it’s not a holiday today. We homeschool (in Arabic: تعليم منزلي ).”
She gave me an intrigued look, fascinated. “What does that mean? I don’t know anything about this. Is homeschooling allowed? So your kids are not associated with *any* school at all? Who teaches them?”
“Me,” I said simply. “I teach them. No, they are not associated with any school at all. It’s not necessary. Homeschooling is allowed and many families homeschool. I know that it’s not really a thing in our Arab countries. We don’t hear about homeschooling in Egypt, or in Jordan either. But here, homeschooling is a perfectly legal option and there are lots of homeschooling families alhamdulillah.”
She nodded, interested. “What do you teach them in your homeschool?”
“Quran mostly,” I answered. “We spend most our class time memorizing Quran, then learning tafseer, some hadith, and Arabic class, in that order. Then we also have an English class, math, science, and art. Some of these other classes are weekly, not daily. We also work on projects that the kids are interested in.”
“Why do you homeschool?” she asked the question I get asked the most.
“I don’t want my kids to be raised by people I don’t know and don’t share core values with. That’s how it is in American public schools. I know because I went to American public schools. And it’s only gotten worse since I was in school. It used to be that you’d see boys and girls doing all kinds of things in the hallway at school, or sometimes hear kids swearing or using foul language. Nowadays, it’s escalated like crazy. Now it’s two girls or two boys doing all kinds of things in the hallway at school, and kids looking at porn on their phones and teaching one another immoral things. Not only is it the kids, but this over-sexualized and LGBT+- stuff has made its way into the school curriculum itself! It’s not just the kids, it’s in the textbook, the teachers! This is what they teach kids in school now. And this is only one of the reasons,” I told her.
She nodded, understanding dawning on her face. “Yes, I did notice that the LGBT thing is big in America. That’s actually one of the first things I noticed immediately upon coming to this country. It’s one of the things I still haven’t gotten used to even though I’ve been here a whole year now,” she said.
I asked her, “I know! It’s a huge culture shock. What were some of the biggest things that have shocked you, coming from Jordan to America?”
She thought for a second, then replied, “I’ve been shocked by the number of concessions ( تنازلات ) Muslims make in living here in this country. I hadn’t been aware of that in Jordan, and it caught me by surprise and I still haven’t gotten over it. I have two brothers in high school here, and they see all kinds of things in school and tell me about it. They are both forced to shake the hands of females, but it’s hard not to, because of the culture. We met some Jordanians here who told us that they use riba. We can’t look around without our eyes falling on some haram thing. It’s concession after concession. And I’m shocked at the Muslims here who seem totally fine with it, even though none of this is part of Islam!”
I shook my head, acutely aware of her pain. I feel it too, but it was different to hear such clear, honest words coming from a Muslim who was freshly arrived from a Muslim, Arab country and confronting the reality of “American Islam.”
What would this Jordanian girl say if she found out that there are American Muslim “shaykhs” who encourage Muslims to hold hands with gay activists? How would she react if she heard that famous American Muslims keep insisting that as Muslims, we support “the right” of people to engage freely in haram acts?
How much more shocked would she feel when she heard that popular American “imams” and “shaykhaz” were pushing feminism like it was candy to the Muslim population?
So I simply told her, “You are absolutely right. I am still shocked at the same exact things, and I’ve been here for decades. It is just shocking. I hope I never get used to any of this or start thinking any of these things are normal. And this is another reason why I don’t allow my kids to enter these schools; I don’t want any of this to be normal for them, either.”
“Going to American schools every day will definitely normalize a lot of things,” she agreed. “I worry about my brothers. But alhamdulillah, they are older going into it. At least they were raised in Jordan and know enough not to be too swayed by the stuff they see here in these schools. I’d be frantic with worry if my brothers were in elementary school here, for example.”
“Yes, younger kids are more vulnerable. The first years of a child’s life are for building a foundation ( تأسيس ), and it needs to be done right, especially for us Muslims. Unfortunately, what sometimes happens in this country is that Muslim parents aren’t paying attention, and their kids enter non-Muslim schools from age 4 or 5 until age 18, and the change they undergo is drastic. It’s like entering a machine: you go into it a Muslim on the fitra, and come out the other end either barely still Muslim with warped views, or just an athiest or an agnost, والعياذ بالله. For me, homeschooling is not optional. It’s mandatory. I have no other choice. If it’s a choice between the deen of my kids and literally any other thing, there is no choice in the matter. They are my amana (أمانة ), my responsibility before Allah.”
She surprised me by saying, “You know, you are the minority here. You are not like the rest of the Muslims I’ve met so far in America. None of them do this homeschool thing. They send their kids to regular American schools and think nothing of it. They’re even a little proud maybe, that their kids are going to be American and learn to act and dress and speak like Americans. They care about the material ( الماديات ) and don’t seem too concerned about the effect of this society on their kids. They worry about things like if their kids will be able to fit in or not, if their kids will get good jobs or not, etc.”
Long after the conversation ended and the sister left, I sat pondering her words, her assessment of the American Islam she was confronted with upon her arrival to America.