Monday, June 26, 2006

Dreaded Weekend School

I'm not sure why this has now come to my mind. Maybe I'm buying time before I produce the highly anticipated (note the sarcasm) "Quraysh Quandary" part two entry.

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so amazed that you or anyone from your generation even survived that. But, then again, i survived Islamic school education (or so i think, actually, i dunno, the jury's out)which is really just weekend school strung together for the torturous duration of the week.


6/26/2006 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Irving Karchmar said...

I survived a religious school also when I was young. I disliked it for all the reasons you state, and never went back, and was not religious until my late 40's and found the Sufi path, or rather, it found me. Alhamdulillah!

6/26/2006 11:52 AM  
Blogger Abuljude said...

The one thing I remember from religious summer school:

Always sleep on your right shoulder.

Boy, there's some advice that's taken me places... :-)

6/26/2006 7:05 PM  
Anonymous hamidm said...

I would generally concur with your agreements Ibrahim, but I must say that today I am pleased that my parents sent me to Islamic school. Despite the fact that I was in the same class for four summers, I came away with an appreciation of Islamic history and prophetic biograhpy that allowed me to dig deeper in the religion and find ideas I could identify with. In short, I appreciate now what I didn't as a 10 year old.

As for the bad: 1)we were taught in a dingy basement of a mosque in the ghetto 2) I was in the same class four summers straight and it got old
3) the teachers were unqaulified relatives of the mosque elite

6/27/2006 6:03 PM  
Blogger Julaybib said...

I've seen inspiring teachers in madrassas - and may Allah send our children many more of them!



6/28/2006 4:04 PM  
Blogger JD said...

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 that's the point: what child, of any religion, is able to understand the transcendence of his or her spiritual texts or, indeed, their religion as a whole? Certainly I did not, growing up Catholic, even as a middle school student studying for my confirmation.

But I will tell you, I envy my wife and those of her generation (and even my five-year-old niece) whose time spent learning have enabled them to read, memorize, and recite large portions of the Qur'an. For this 44-year-old, whose ability to learn new languages seems to be fading fast, the ability to read and recite the Qur'an without stumbling seems like a dream. My niece is learning Ya Sin, and I wonder if I will ever be able to do that. Your weekend school may have been "dreaded," but I'd bet you received numerous benefits from your attendance there that may not seem obvious to you - then or now - but which I would gladly love to have.

7/10/2006 10:12 AM  
Blogger JD said...

BTW, also meant to say: like that picture of Mars. :)

7/10/2006 10:13 AM  
Blogger fromclay said...

JD, thanks for the post. You'd be surprised at the spiritual intelligence of children, who once used to inspire many. We'd want to remember that we are in a context somewhat divorced from a "tradition" in which children (or youth) were capable of amazing insight because of the purity of heart. But my point though was not meant to be an indictment, but only a look back at a failed system of teaching. If I locate some good in it, which is a good exercise, that does not lessen the problem, which to some degree exists today. I hate sternness, as we all should, for it is reprehensible, says the Quran. BTW: I know someone who recently memorized Yasin and he's nearly 50. He did it through repetition of the whole sura, over and again. All things possible.

7/11/2006 8:00 AM  

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