In JHS 1, I asked my mallam why we were studying Seerah again. He replied that we are studying it with a bit more detail this time. It was the fourth time we were studying Seerah since grade one and I could not see the benefit in the repeat syllabus. Reflecting back now, no one took Islamic Studies very seriously when we were in school.
A good example was when the mallam told us to memorize the 99 names of Allah for a test. I was the only boy in my class who did so, and even that I forgot a few months later. I am not proud of this but it shows something about the Islamic studies syllabus and how much students cared about it in a renowned Islamic school.
Many years later, I would discover that Islamic knowledge is beautiful and exciting to learn and my life would begin to revolve around it. This raises the question as to why the Islamic studies syllabus in school did not have the same effect on me?
I have identified some of the problems and proposed some solutions. Feel free to add your own:
1. The syllabus is too basic
In terms of Arabic, from class 1 till JHS 3, we only studied an amount which we could have learned in one year outside of madrasa. In fact, the children whom I teach Arabic privately are way ahead of their classes in madrasa and get an average of 99-100% on madrasa tests. This shows that children have the potential to learn a lot more Arabic in a shorter space of time. The Arabic syllabus in madrasas needs to be revamped and it should not downplay the potential of students to grasp the language.
It is not just Arabic. The Aqeedah syllabus in some Islamic high schools where I have taught or studied is no different from that of the primary levels. Nothing interesting, new or even important is taught which the students have not already learned. When the syllabus is too simple and students feel they already know a subject, their minds switch off and they lose interest. Islam is so vast and so deep, why is it that we underestimate our children and teenagers and limit their access to knowledge to only the basics?
2. Content is not relevant
The Seerah and stories of the other prophets (peace be upon them all) are a great way to teach young Muslims valuable lessons and provide them with role models. Sadly, many institutes teach these stories as historical facts without delving into any significant lessons. The Seerah, in particular, is taught with a focus on the wars and battles, while not much time is spent on the issues of relevance to Muslim youth in African countries. There is so much potential to bring these stories to life and make them relevantNot only would it make them more interested in history but it will increase their love for the prophets and companions.
3. Uninspiring teacherss
Many mallams in our madrasas whom I have met just don’t seem motivated to make a difference. Teaching Islamic studies is their job, their source of income and that’s all. Such mallams cannot have an inspiring impact on their students. It is only those who teach Islam with passion, love, enthusiasm and the desire to ignite change that can motivate students and get them to love Islam and want to practice it. Parents and madrasas need to focus on such qualities when looking for mallams, and institutes need to work at training mallams who possess these qualities.
4. Mallams not being role models
Too often, I have seen mallams that make me cringe. Whether its a sister who wears hijab in class but you spot her at the beach dressed in the most indecent of manners, or the Shaykh who smokes with his students and makes inappropriate comments about their sisters. I have encountered many mallams whose practice is the opposite of what they preach.
Now nobody is perfect and everybody has their faults, and I also understand that there is a difference of opinion on some issues, but when a mallam openly teaches one thing in class but his/her practice in front of students is opposite to this, it causes students to lose respect for the mallam and the subject. As Islamic teachers, we need to be very careful regarding what we say, do or post on the internet.