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Community and School: A Fine Balance

Omaira Alam –

After a year of consultation work with a school in Canada, my colleagues and I were shocked to learn that the masjid board, after dissolving the school board a few months earlier, then fired the principal and vice principal and handed the school over to the public school board less than two weeks before the start of the school year. Students tagged each other in the comments section of the Facebook announcement on the school’s page, and seemed understandably lost as to what to do next. No other details were given and the announcement has since been removed.

This action makes me consider the role that the community plays in the building and establishment of an Islamic school. For, in essence, Islamic schools are community schools: always built with the support of the parents who will be sending their children there. Many, if not most, Islamic schools are governed by a school board, which in turn is governed by a masjid board. This scenario plays out in almost every major city and community across North America where large, and not so large populations of Muslims reside.

Most Islamic schools developed out of a need from the communities in which they are housed. The schools that started for the predominantly Muslim immigrant communities grew from a need that developed when college students on visas came, got married, settled down, began raising families and then needed institutions for their children to learn about Islam. Along the same lines, but with a slightly different path of development were the Clara Muhammad Schools, formerly known as the University of Islam Schools, developed by the community of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad. Between these two general models are other Islamic schools, all of which point to the desire and need to educate children about Islam while living in Canada and the U.S.

With the effort that communities expend to start these schools, to build the infrastructures, and to hire the staff and faculty, when should they be willing to let go? How much leverage does the community have with the school that it helped build and in many cases continues to finance? And how much autonomy does the school require in order to be trusted as professionals within the field of education? How does a community build that trust?

It’s a fine balance.

When the Muslim community hires the professionals it trusts to carry out the tasks that are required to run the school, they should then step back. Trust the educators to work in the best interest of the child. That said, all school boards and communities should have a level of transparency for the work they do. They are answerable to the community and should always provide parent/community orientation for even things as seemingly bland as textbook changes, introducing new staff members, etc.

Like a good marriage, an Islamic school and the Muslim community in which it is housed need to have a level of autonomy for self-development and growth, but also a level of consistent, beneficial communication, stemming from constant feedback, and mutual trust. Add to this the need for mutual respect, and always keeping in mind that whatever action the school community takes on, with the support of the greater community, it is always in the best interest of the student.

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