Dreaded Weekend School
Meanwhile please know that I am a veteran of dreaded religion classes that were (on and off) held once a week when I was a boy. This was way back, when the Muslim community in Chicago comprised a loose gild of Arab or Indo-Pakistani families. Back then, there weren’t the mosques and full-time Islamic schools that we have today, the value of which I’m still trying to assess. Hence, Sunday religion and Arabic classes were invented. My experience with them, however, was mainly terrible. I hated going to them and hated being there and loved it when I left. They seriously challenged the adage that “something is better than nothing.” Apparently, nothing can sometimes be superior.
Essentially, we were taught a cardboard version of Islam, an arid pietism, that made ritual worship—a door to free spirituality—seem oppressive and mechanical. The things that we were taught had such a function to them that ironically made them seem too worldly. There was nothing about the “art of knocking,” a phrase I read from Martin Lings, knocking, that is, on doors to the Divine Presence. We were forced to memorize passages of the Quran in Arabic without understanding any of the transcendence that goes on with such a practice—as much transcendence that we were capable of as youth. But the real problem was this: the teachers of the classes were not committed to anything higher than their heads, and so, they weren’t convincing. They were not knockers. Even if the information they imparted was factual, there was no Truth. No soul.