Islamic Schooling in the West
  • Book Title:
 Islamic Schooling In The West
  • Book Author:
Dylan ChownMohamad Abdalla
  • Total Pages
334
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ISLAMIC SCHOOLING IN THE WEST – Book Sample

Inspiration for the Book – ISLAMIC SCHOOLING IN THE WEST

The inspiration for this book arose out of a watershed event, the Inaugural Australian Islamic Schooling Conference held in Melbourne in 2016. In the Australian context, member principals of the Islamic School Association Australia (ISAA) had been meeting annually for a number of decades.7

 Never before, however, had international and local scholars, academics, educationalists, educational leaders, policy specialists, educational practitioners and teachers from inside and outside Islamic schooling been brought together.

 The aim of the conference was to start a national and international conversation in relation to the challenges, issues and opportunities facing Islamic schooling, particularly within Western contexts. The conference was aptly themed Continuity and Change: Envisioning the Way Forward for Islamic Schooling in the West.

One outcome of the conference was the idea of producing a ten-year road map for the field. This strength-based approach is to be characterised by a willingness to study and understand deeply the challenges in Islamic schools and apply evidence-based solutions, consistent with tradition and worldview, and a willingness to evaluate their effectiveness.

It calls for increased collaboration and a willingness to share stories of hope. This book captures the themes presented at this conference by scholars, academics, educationalists and thought leaders.

IslamIc schools In Western contexts

Searching for positive, alternative schooling for their children, Muslim parents living in Western countries turn toward ‘Islamic’ schools. Accordingly, Islamic schools are growing rapidly in Western countries. Islamic schools have not been free of criticism, however, some of it super-ficial and some of it more incisive.

A significant criticism of Islamic schools is that they are relatively ‘conventional’, implementing a schooling model that was intended to be secular, arguably enacted and experienced as an out-of-context hybrid model, with an external Islamic ethos in a manner that is ‘stale’, ‘irrelevant’ and ‘decontextualized’.8 The era of renewal calls for a rethinking of purpose and a re-conceptualising of the models offered by Islamic schools.

 Islamic schools have not been immune to the dominant discourse of neo- liberalism and neo-conservatism, particularly in the USA, UK and Australia,9 and the dogged pursuit of academic results as the yardstick, as a sign of legitimacy, as the measure of success, which has arguably been a distraction from the process of rethinking.

How much do we really know about the success of ‘Islamic’ schools in Western contexts? Should this success be measured against academic performance or against the vision of each Islamic school? To what extent does a school’s vision influence its future direction? How do we attain the ‘Islamic’ in Islamic schools and how do we measure it? Are teachers trained to impart the ‘Islamic’ in these schools? Do these Islamic schools implement an ‘Islamic’ classroom management or character education model, or do they imitate ‘secular’ models?

Are the Islamic studies programmes relevant and contextual? Do Islamic studies programmes meet students’ needs and aspirations? Do Islamic schools equip young Western Muslims with the necessary and relevant knowledge and skills to navigate the mod-ern world? This book seeks to address the above questions and offer valuable and practical insights into the future of Islamic schools in the West.

structure and purpose of the Book

The intent behind this book was to expand and build upon the contemporary intellectual, religious and spiritual rigour driving Islamic schools. The chapters herein seek to address many of the questions raised in Islamic schools in the West. The editors offer this book as a ‘pathway to renewal’.

Chapter 2 provides a contemporary account of the emergence of Islamic schools during the last thirty years. It makes a comparative study of the philosophical principles of Islamic and secular schools and high-lights their distinctive features.

This chapter also discusses how to develop an educational curriculum that encourages pupils to practise Islamic values and develop mutual respect.

Chapter 3 focuses on the development and transition of Muslim schools in Australia. The global pervasiveness of neo-liberalism as an economic philosophy brought about fundamental changes in the way Muslim schools operate and empower their students with knowledge.

 Muslim communities have seen schools transform and transition from a Utopian Muslim School Model to a Corporate Muslim School Model. The chapter argues that this transformation and transition has made Muslim schools spaces for commercial activities and in the process rendered Islamic educa-tion itself a commercial transaction.

Chapter 4 proposes an approach that draws on a hybrid model of gov-ernance for Islamic schools. The chapter outlines an empirical study of the governance and management practices in Islamic schools in New South Wales, Australia. The Islamic worldview was used to guide this chapter, and governance theories form the theoretical framework.

 The chapter argues that the issues of compliance, accountability and transparency of Islamic schools’ registration and stakeholder needs are influenced by con-fusion between a stewardship model of governance and directors’ sense of ownership of the institutions. The chapter proposes a hybrid approach to the governance of these schools, by adopting a combination of the theoretical attributes of stewardship and an Islamic worldview.

Chapter 5 examines what is taught in Australian Islamic schools. It argues that there is considerable variation in what is taught in Islamic schools in Australia (and other similar contexts), depending on the policies of the particular school and whether or not it has the relevant staff available.

Chapter 6 explores the underpinning features of humanism, which, according to the author, make the ‘academic’ subjects in most Islamic schools decidedly ‘un-Islamic’. A comparison of basic Islamic principles with humanistic principles illustrates the problem.

It argues that a number of key questions are posed for further consideration, which should under-pin the foundation of a curriculum based entirely on Islamic principles.

Chapter 7 examines the ‘culture of managerialism’ which many claim pervades the contemporary educational sphere. The non-materialist and iconoclastic nature of the Muslim dynamic is at odds with such managerial paradigms. Nonetheless, this culture has been deeply absorbed not only into contemporary Muslim educational discourse but also into the theology of Islam, leaving modern Muslim education counterproductive in the Foucauldian sense.

 The chapter contends that in standardising and com-modifying, the bureaucratisation of education requires the reifying of concepts such as ‘School ethos’ to be employed for marketing purposes. This chapter examines these issues and the influence they may have upon the ethos within Muslim schools, followed by options afforded by classical thought.

Chapter 8 argues that renewal of a school’s vision and mission is vital to ensure its growth as an effective learning community within a specific tradition. Renewal cannot be achieved overnight, nor can it reside with one person. When approached strategically and owned by the school community, renewal leads the school to a new means of achievement and celebration of identity and values. Within a faith and cultural community, renewal ensures that our children are successful, value our traditions and grow up to be great people within our community.

This chapter follows the work of one Christian school as their community identifies their specific vision and their goals and strategies to take them to renewal and their preferred outcomes.

Chapter 9 argues that religious traditions embody inherent pedagogical perspectives—a way of teaching religion. Among Muslim scholarship, conceptual aspects of a philosophy of education rooted in Islam have been articulated but often in a piecemeal fashion, making it inaccessible to Islamic schools today. The challenge has been in synthesising philosophies of Islamic education, or better termed Islamic pedagogy, in a way that is relevant and applicable to contemporary schools. The chapter aims to establish some semblance of an Islamic pedagogical framework.

The concepts and perspectives identified may serve as a rubric for Islamic schools to renew their conceptions of Islamic education for a deeper connection between religious education as a subject and pedagogy rooted in a religious tradition.

Chapter 10 argues that there is no pedagogical framework for teacher discourse and practice in Islamic schools, which is consistent with the Australian/Western Islamic context. The chapter therefore presents a syn-thesis of a pedagogical framework that is responsive to contemporary educational research embedded in a prophetic pedagogy. The chapter proposes that this could enable consistent teacher quality in Islamic schools, thereby enabling the achievement of Islamic education and enhanced student outcomes.

Chapter 11 stipulates that the reasons behind the establishment of Islamic schools in the West vary, as do the factors that influence the decisions of parents and guardians. However, irrespective of motives, there is a dire need to revisit the whole notion of what the ‘Islamic’ entails so that its interpretation and manifestation are not left to the mercy of cultural practices or prevalent understandings.

The chapter argues that a sincere and genuine approach to analysing the notion of the ‘Islamic’ in existing Islamic schools compels us to go back in history to contemplate the prevalent norms, practices and pedagogies that were embraced by our predecessors who played a significant role in shaping the society as a whole and in reforming individuals.

Chapter 12 explores the importance of Islamic studies in Islamic schools, and contends that despite the prejudices against Islam and Muslims, Australian Muslims show strong attachment to Islamic studies, to developing an Islamic worldview constructed on Qur’anic teachings and prophetic traditions.

The chapter describes and analyses data collected from among 61 members of the Islamic community in Adelaide and Darwin, which found that Australian Muslims place a high value on Islamic studies in their Islamic community schools in order to develop an Islamic worldview. In addition to providing details about the sample represented in this case study, the chapter discusses the ways in which Islamic studies contribute to the Islamic worldview of Australian Muslims.

Chapter 13 examines the strengths and challenges of Islamic studies at an Australian Islamic school as experienced by senior students and teachers. The findings are based on empirical research undertaken for the first time in Australian (and possibly other Western) Islamic schools.

Data collected from focus groups and classroom observations demonstrate that while there are some strengths associated with the teaching of Islamic studies, overall there are many challenges that need attention. The chapter provides recommendations for renewal in Islamic studies for Islamic schools based on empirical findings.

Finally, Chap. 14 discusses the role of Arabic in the lives of Muslims, and the challenges faced in teaching Arabic in Islamic schools. It argues that the Arabic teaching profession is challenged by a diminishing supply of professionals, use of ineffective methodologies and the absence of school textbooks designed for learners of Arabic as a foreign language (AFL), as well as the fact that many textbooks are not guided by the field of second language acquisition (SLA).

 In fact, Arabic teaching has reached crisis level, with the distaste for Arabic lessons evident among Australian students arguably unresolvable in the near future. However, while most solutions require huge amounts of funding and time, this chapter suggests that the strategic use of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) can assist in forging a way forward.

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