Well yesterday I got elected to become the Islamic Education Board Coordinator for ISGL. Sounds like a mouthful, but simply put it means I will be in charge of making sure the Islamic weekend school remains functional. This is not a position I ever imagined for myself, but subhanallah it what my community asked of me and I guess what Allah gave me. This reminded me of I talk I gave about a month ago in Kansas City about the importance of an Islamic School. While I do not think the talk is good by any standards, I did promise my family that I will publish my talk. So here we go, and I guess I trust you as the judge for my talk.
Kansas City Talk
I was given a very simple task (speech on Islamic schools) today and while preparing for it I turned it into an obnoxious complex problem that only produces headaches. It took a call from my mother who candidly told me my draft speech was horrible to fully realize the purpose of this event. That is why for my presentation today I will share with you only one story, and it the story of my experience in the Islamic school system. I have been in this system all my life starting in Kansas, then Jordan, Pakistan and finally ending in NJ and thus I can be considered a product of this system. Being in this system meant that I was always next to masajid and immersed in Muslim culture. This meant I learnt the importance of prayer without ever having to think what my pears will think of me. I wore shilwar qameeses and dishdashis without ever feeling like an odd case. This carried on with me to my professional life where I found it easy to ask my employers for religious accommodations. Nor do I find it weird or embarrassing to wear a shilwar qamees to my graduate committee meetings. My wife used to ask “what if students stare at you?” and I respond” excellent this way I can smile at them and wish them a good morning”.
We all know that kids and teens absorb like sponges and Islamic schools create an atmosphere where Muslim culture and worship of Allah are the norms that the kids absorb. This is why I loved my Muslim High school (NUI). They successfully created an environment of brotherhood/sisterhood. We all felt part of a whole; we assisted each other, played with each other and in the end built our foundations of faith together. It was my Muslim high school that first showed my parents that I had the potential to start college early and propelled my college career where I graduated from Rutgers University at the age of 19. For that I will always be indebted to them.
When I moved to Lafayette two years ago, I noticed that outside Ramadan there was no such thing as community. More importantly I noticed the youth did not have any form of connections with each other. With the help of a few colleagues of mine, we started a youth group where we focused on their hearts, minds and body by developing a program that encouraged sports, learning and community service while strongly connected to the masjid.
To put it mildly, the impact was better than expected. To see youth transform from being ordered to pray by their parents to praying on their own is priceless! To see a high school student unconnected and uninterested in the Muslim community become so comfortable in this environment that he laughs out loud without worrying about being judged is priceless.
Lastly establishing a youth group brought together a diverse group of parents that in general would never interact together with their kids as their common goal. Suddenly it brought life to our community in the non-Ramadan month. That is why I support Islamic schools, it builds youth, parents and their communities and it insures the future for all.