Parents cite post-Sept. 11 fears, cultural issues
MSNBC, Dec. 9, 2002
By Lalita Aloor, MSNBC
Dec. 9 — Sharifa Abukar teaches at a public school in San Diego, but she says she wanted more for her four children. “I wanted to go beyond the curriculum taught in public schools and teach my children character building, too,” says Abukar, who like many Muslim parents believes that home schooling provides a shield from a permissive culture and a haven in a sometimes hostile post-Sept. 11 America.
“Home schooling makes it easier for us to introduce our religious values into the curriculum and protect our children from undesirable peer pressure in public schools, while ensuring that they receive a quality education,” says Abukar, whose children are well settled in their careers today.
Religious freedom, a dissatisfaction with public schools, an inability to afford private schools, clashing cultures and a Sept. 11 backlash all are reasons cited by Muslims who home school their children.
“I chose to go a different route so that I can instill the morals and manners that are important to my religion and create a good social community for my children,” says Nadia Mahmood, who lives in New Jersey and has been teaching her children at home for the past four years.
Mahmood also believes public schools weren’t challenging enough for her children, and that by educating them at home she can fine-tune their studies.
While there are no statistics on the number of Muslims who home school their children, the movement is gaining momentum.
“The numbers have certainly increased over the past year,” says Abdul Malik, director of the Committee on American Islamic Relations in New York, who estimates that nearly 1.5 million Muslim children are being home schooled nationwide.
Shabbir Mansuri, executive director of the Council on Islamic Education, believes that unlike Christians and Jews, many Muslim parents do not opt for home schooling simply because they are disillusioned with public education, but because they want to keep their children away from mainstream American culture.
Mahmood agrees: “I don’t want to send them to a public school and tell them they are different from the others, that they can’t watch the latest M&M movie, can’t date, that they have to dress differently.”
The September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington provided one more reason for Muslim parents to home school their children.
“After September 11, Muslim students are singled out more often and sometimes even branded as terrorists by their classmates,” says Cynthia Suleiman of Attleborough, Mass., a mother of four who founded the Muslim Home School Network, a Web site that helps families educate their children at home.
Anti-Islamic incidents have risen markedly since Sept. 11 — from 28 reported attacks in 2000 to 481 in 2001, according to the FBI.
“With religious leaders like Franklin Graham, Jimmy Swaggert, Jerry Falwell making all those strong statements against Islam in public, that the media happily laps up, the bigotry is bound to trickle down to impressionable children who relay it unknowingly to their Muslim classmates,” says Suleiman.
She says that when children come home with queries from their class-mates like “Oh, your father’s from Pakistan. Are you related to Osama bin Laden?” that it’s time for Muslim parents to pull their children out of public schools.
Whatever the reasons, Muslim Americans are increasingly receptive to the idea.
“It’s just a lot more easier on Muslim families if they teach their children at home,” says Abukar.