Highlighting Local Heroes (Part 2) – Fulfilling the Educational Needs of Muslim Children
Posted on Jan 10, 2020
Editor's note: What does it mean to "wear it like you mean it?" We know 2020 may be hard for Muslims, especially visibly Muslim women, and we invite you (and ourselves) to renew our intentions and reflect on what our hijab (and faith) mean to us. We are sharing stories of what this means to women around the U.S. as well as highlighting local heroes who are quietly doing good and hard work in their communities. Read Part 1 of our local hero series here.
By Layla Abdullah-Poulos
Committing to caring for and educating children automatically requires sacrifice. The local hero I want to highlight, as part of my two-part look at Muslim women quietly doing important things in their communities demonstrates essential community building through her dedication to the children she serves. I'm talking about our local, young, dedicated Islamic Sunday school principal.
A political science major, Khadija Saad has set aside time from her busy schedule as a college student to take on the monumental task of managing her local Islamic Sunday school. She is part of a growing trend of these schools being led by younger Muslims, often still in college or freshly graduated and looking to make a difference with youth. The school was started by her cousin, who turned over the leading the school to Khadija.
“I joined the [school] anticipating to learn more about myself,” says Khadija, who told me that she uses the leadership skills she acquired in high school to manage the Sunday school. I spoke with Khadija about her work at her masjid Sunday school and the importance of Islamic education for young Muslims.
What motivated you to join your local Quran Sunday school?
It motivated me to learn more about Islam and our deen (faith). It increased the responsibility on my shoulders that now, not only do I have to be knowledgeable for my own sake, but I have to make sure my knowledge is accurate so I can relay the correct message to so many young minds in my community.
How does focus on Islamic studies one day a week promote connections with the faith and positive Muslim identities?
I find that focusing on Islamic studies for a day each week builds a foundation for their identities. As they grow and are exposed to many ideas and beliefs by their friends, classmates, teachers and social media, their own opinions can become blurred. We inevitably want to fit in and be like those around us. Thus, having a Muslim community of brothers and sisters around us, even if it is once a week, can hopefully make one want to fit in as a Muslim with other Muslims.
Something that I stress in class during our daily [study of] hadiths and halaqa-style discussions is what are the characteristics of a good Muslim as taught to us by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw)? As the students learn that [things like] being kind, generous, forgiving, gentle, caring, wise, clean are things Islam teaches us to do, they Insha’Allah associate being a good person with being a good Muslim. These ideas become intertwined, and it brings more confidence in them as they present themselves as a Muslim [out in the world].
How to do you manage your busy schedule as a college student with teaching to local Muslim children?
At times it gets very tough to focus on my extracurricular activities and academics on Sundays if I have an exam or homework due the next day. But Alhamdulillah, having a good support system and a team is key to overcoming such challenges.
My fellow team members, Hafiz Safiullah, Hafiza Fatima, Sister Anusha and Sister Sumia, are always working with me to be present in class and be there for our students. If one of us cannot attend due to another commitment, we pick up for that person and fill in for [them]. Also, when many of us are unable to attend, we post it on Remind101, an app I use to send messages and reminders each week to parents about the class.
What keeps us motivated most, though, is seeing all of our students every week and teaching them with joy and love.
Khadija teaching Sunday school.
In what areas are Muslim youth lacking?
Leaders and guidance. It is so easy to get lost in what’s around us. Whether its extremely liberal political and social views or just habits that are seen as the norm, it is hard today for young minds to form their own conclusion if they don’t have enough Islamic knowledge. Thus, we need [more] Muslim leaders and Muslim youth groups in our community.
We need young, modern, and religious imams and teachers [trained to listen and advise our youth] to be a primary contact for our generation. We need the young people around us to know that when they’re in a dilemma, they can indeed go to their imam and seek confidential advice.
We also need to bridge the barrier between first generation Muslims and immigrant parents. We need our Muslim leaders to be the liaison between the two bodies via khutbas and talks so that the young people do not distance themselves away from their parents.
What are some of the things Muslim leadership can do for young Muslims?
I really do want to start some kind of Muslim youth round table at our masjid for brothers and sisters, ages 13-20, who are really going through the process of growing and questioning. [They] can come together and get proper Islamic advice. Ideally, [one of the masjid scholars] could host it, and I and others will facilitate discussions.
I really hope we can make progress. Islam is so easy to love. We just have to clarify what Islam is to many of those around us in our Muslim community. Often the separation between culture and religion fades for some of us, and a reminder of what Islam truly says is needed right now.
Teaching, though noble, is difficult, and we do not appreciate the people [who are] satisfying parents and Muslim communities’ responsibility to educate our youth.
Do you know a local hero doing good work in your community? Shout them out in the comments below!