With the past several decades of growth in the Muslim community in America, there has not been in the history of American education a more important time for educators, parents, publishers, religious institutions and students at large to make connections amongst and between one another.
I believe wholeheartedly in the goodness that Islam brings to any society. And yet, everywhere we go, we hear of attempts to suppress and alienate Muslims who practice the religion of Islam. One would presume that such acts could not harm the faithful believer, but in fact, it stands a chance of making a very negative impact on young people.
We must connect, learn about our neighbors and community members, and share with them our own values. These connections must be made within and across classrooms, communities, and their countries of origin for the benefit of individual Muslim students, as well as society at large.
All of us can strive for better connections by reaching out to families, by opening dialogues between public and private institutions. Of course, among educators we seek sincere understanding of one another. Teachers in fact are always great at teaching across the curriculum. They also hold the key to spread respect for all students from all backgrounds by validating them, reaching out to parents, and building bridges within the communities they serve. The adults in Islamic schools have a tremendous responsibility to create the spaces where every Muslim child is nurtured.
I believe the best time is now to share our beliefs as Muslims with classroom teachers in public institutions, or by setting up activities with public institutions and park districts. The time is now to connect in as many ways as possible to those in our classrooms, communities, and countries, so as to enlighten those around us about the beliefs and practices of Muslims as they practice Islam. Doing so may not eliminate hatred or fear of Islam (Islamophobia), but it could reduce its prevalence. It will strengthen the connections between these schooling and religious communities. In addition, children in private Islamic schools will also benefit from a clearer understanding of the world they live in and develop a positive world-view with an Islamic grounding that will allow them to share in the dialogue, as they grow older.
A lot of progress has been made in the past decades. We must now take our work to the next level. For example, the concept of Islamic schools in secular countries is several decades old now. Textbook publishers have developed quite an array of colorful textbooks and materials that children can learn from; and teachers have had time to tweak their practice. Now, what we need to do is be proactive in making sure we raise a generation with strong values, and who are proud to be Muslim. The best connections will be developed through solid relationships, team effort and strong Islamic values.
In essence, we Muslims can start to transform the conditions of the world we are currently living in through the connections we make. We can carry the light of Islam forward as a beacon to a society challenged by many elements that stand to weaken our nation. In this effort, we can strengthen our identities and the identities of our students as Muslim Americans, while helping them attain their educational goals.
This is my county --America, land of the brave, home of the free. By making these connections, we will honor those freedoms that we benefit from and strengthen in the American landscape the qualities that it was built upon, bring out the best in the people in our nation, and create a future of national and world harmony.
Dr. Seema Imam, EdD is Faculty Co-Chair University Leadership Council, Member Faculty Senate & Associate Professor of Elementary and Middle Level Teacher Education at National Louis University in Lisle, Illinois.