Fatima Saleem’s day begins before the sun rises with the Salatul Fajr, the first of five formal daily prayers to Allah.
A devout Muslim since her conversion to Islam 10 years ago, the 25-year-old Columbia, S.C.-mother is directed by her religion in every aspect of her existence, including her 5-year-old son’s education.
Saleem is the founder of the Palmetto Muslim Home School Resource Network, a Web site that helps Muslim home schoolers locate information on everything from buying books to choosing a curriculum to learning the laws of their individual states. She was a full-time home-schooling mom until an Islamic school was established in her area this year.
The value clash between the teachings in public schools and her religious beliefs, coupled with the scarcity of Muslim schools in her region, left her little choice but to educate her child independently, she says. Today, her sentiments are shared by thousands of Muslim Americans, the fastest growing group within the national home schooling movement.
There are 1.7 million American kids who won’t be going back to school this September, but instead will be home educated. While home schooling has its origins in parents wanting to provide religious instruction to their children, the movement is growing by 7 percent to 15 percent per year, according to Brian Ray, the president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Ore., as more Americans with different ideologies choose to educate their children as they see fit.
Passing on Values
“Home educators aim to create an education in which the parents’ values and beliefs are passed on in an easy way that the factory school model cannot deliver,” says Mark Hegener, publisher of Home Education Magazine, of Tonasket, Wash.
Religion, however, is still the main impetus for home schooling. Currently, some 75 percent of home schoolers are Christians who “consciously and conscientiously want to promote their own values,” says Ray.
The increase in the size of the American-born Muslim population in this country, the rigorous demands of the faith and the difficulty for public schools to accommodate the needs of the religion, all help to explain the rise in home schooling among Muslims, proponents say.
Experts estimate that Islam is the fourth largest religious group in the United States today and by 2010 may displace Judaism, the third largest group which today represents 2 percent of the population. Protestants currently comprise 58 percent of America and Catholics, 26 percent.
Scott Sommerville, staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, in Purcellville, Va.. says only about 5,000 Muslim home schoolers exist now, but predicts their numbers will double every year over the next eight years. Barring the implementation of a nationwide school voucher system — which would convert state and local education dollars into individual scholarship certificates for parents to spend at schools of their choosing — he believes 60,000 Muslim children will be learning at home by 2010.
“There’s a growing need to teach moral values and conduct to Muslim school children,”says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Committee on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, D.C. “That’s traditionally what has happened in the Christian community.”
Keeping Customs While Educating