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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Reflections #2: We Have Many Muslim Homeschoolers, But too few Muslim schools!

When you think about the word community, what comes to mind? For me, I think about people (and families), homes,  places of worship businesses, schools, parks, a fire department, a police station, activity centers, etc. In  many faith communities these sorts of resources act as integral parts of their communities. Especially the schools!

Schools are places where people of all ages come together, work, learn together, create and instill culture, values and even faith (in the cases of religious schools such as Jewish and Muslim schools). However, in many Muslim communities through out America our communities are lacking the very necessities that our most vulnerable members of our communities need access to inorder to grow up confident in faith. American Muslim youth have very few choices when it comes to education and that's problematic. In order for our communities and Islam in America to grow healthy, flourish, and ultimately prosper, enshallah, we need to  make some changes.

We have many Muslim homeschoolers

Alhamduleelah, I love Muslim homeschoolers. I've homeschooled my children and I work with other Muslim homeschooling families through my online tutoring business, Kanz Enrichment Online.  I think many of the sisters and brothers who are homeschooling have the right spirit, energy, and creativity that every Muslim community needs. They are trailblazers in finding creative ways to bridge secular and Islamic learning into one, they work around the clock with their families, and they are usually fiercely optimistic about their instructional methods and outcomes.

Yet,  some Muslim homeschoolers can  be myopic thinkers in the way that they view homeschooling. Do we homeschool because it is the best option for Muslim children in American Muslim communities? Or do we homeschool because it is the only option available for many Muslim children in American Muslim communities? I hear a lot of the following statements from Muslim homeschoolers:

  •  I don't want my children in a public school or a Muslim school. Those other Muslim kids have issues (i.e. could be a number of issues: not the right kind of Muslim, issues with their parents, not the right race or ethnicity, financial/social, etc.)
  • Muslim schools are way over priced
  • My children are doing well and don't need to be in a school environment to learn
  • I've always wanted to homeschool my children
  • I have a lot of children. My children don't really need to have socialization with other children
  • My children are not going to college, they don't need a fancy education. The basics will do.
  • My children have fun and feel safe learning in their home.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. I think all of these types sentiments have some relevancy and I would never dismiss the concerns of any parent. I support every family's right to homeschool their children. But what about the other Muslim children in our communities whose families don't have the ability to homeschool their children for whatever reason?  Do we forget them or do we only care about the success of our insular family members? And what about our ideal community?  Which nation of people today are successful without strong schools? If we as Muslims want to better our American Muslim communities where our children can grow up in faith, loving, supporting, honoring their community members, homeschooling is not the best choice long term. Establishing Muslim schools (yes, plural) in the community so our children can come together to work, learn, support one another would be the  ideal that is closest to the Qur'an and Sunnah------

So the myopic thinking that I often find among homeschoolers is that if they just "fix" their own children, then they have done their part. Mashallah, if only it was that easy....but, we know it is not. Our Muslim children - are all of the Muslim child born. They all have rights upon us, starting with the ones closest to us. If the majority of the children in our communities fail - we will all eventually fail. Even the minority who may do well in the beginning, in essence still fail. Who will they marry, who will they continue on with to build the community up, who will they start businesses with, who will befriend them in adulthood, who will remind them, encourage them, and love them?

"The believers are nothing else but brothers," [Al Hujurat, 49:10]

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم also said about brotherhood: "None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." [Bukhari & Muslim]

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: "Each of you is the mirror of his brother, so if he sees a fault in him he should wipe it away from him." [Tirmidhi]

We have very few Muslim schools (that are meeting our needs)

I'm not going to sugar coat the issues here. Establishing a quality school is complex. And I know we all have valid objections when it comes to the current state of American Muslim schools. Some of the objections that I've heard are that:

  • Private Muslim schools can be very expensive 
  • Some times private Muslim schools are not accessible to the community in terms of their placement and distance. 
  •  Muslim schools seemed plagued with board issues  
  • There are always additional costs like uniforms, books, trips, busing, etc. 
  • A huge issue in many Muslim schools is the lack of understanding of and implementation of cultural relativism. The Muslim schools where largely immigrant Muslims families attend and/or run the administration have a lack of cultural appreciation and inclusiveness for others.  
  • And vice versa; some times immigrant Muslim families may take issue with how indigenous American Muslims downplay (their) culture, etc
  • Curriculum is often an issue, especially striking a balance between Islamic and secular subjects. 
  • Money (again)
  • Building size (or lack-thereof)
  • Segregating the students by gender might be an issue; some parents are for it while others are not 
  • If you have more, please leave a comment.

While all of our issues are things worthy of being concerned about and discussed, they are not issues that can't be solved! We are one ummah! If we can not work together to fix our smaller problems, how can we

train our children to grow up and do it? We have so many Muslim educators stuck in academia, public schools, and even private non Muslim schools because it's a steady pay check, it's structured, and it's dependable but they still can't take off for jumu'ah, Eid, or Umrah. Shouldn't we want to bring our sisters and brothers who are highly qualified teachers into our communities to work with our children? Don't we want our children to see women AND men teaching and advocating for education in our communities? (While many Muslim men support homeschooling, they are generally not the main educators for their children at home. Sisters are and that presents many other challenges/issues as well. May Allah reward our sisters who are the sole home educators in their home, plus cooks, cleaners, nurses, etc. ). 

So I am reflecting on possibilities here. What would it take for every Muslim teacher and homeschooling parent in every community to gather together and develop a working curriculum for k-12? A couple of months?  And what if we gathered all of the Muslim business men and women and had them write up a business plan/grant for a starter private school or perhaps even a charter? How long would that take? Another couple of months? Perhaps, enshallah. And could we crowd-fund, give sadaqah, sell dinners, incense, oils, jilbabs and hijabs to help fill in the other financial gaps for the schools--- ? Don't we already do those things all the time for personal gain? 

So why haven't we done for all of our children? (Asking myself first!) Do we not think Muslim schools are necessary? Or Ii it that we feel that homeschooling the best option and goal for American Muslim communities long term?

I'd love to hear your reflections on the issue! Leave a comment and let's discuss.

Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik, radiyallahu ‘anhu, who was the servant of the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, reported that the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said:
“None of you truly believes (in Allah and in His religion) until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself”
[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]

Abu Hurairah Radiyallahu ‘anhu narrated that The Prophet Sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam said: “Whoever seeks a way to acquire knowledge Allah will make easy his way to paradise.” (Muslim) Also Anas Radiyallahu ‘anhu related that the Messenger of Allah Sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam said: “Seeking of knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim.”
(Ibn Majah)
Jabir Ibn Abdullah Radiyallahu ‘anhu narrated that the Messenger of Allah Sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam said: “People are of different substances, the best of them in the Jahiliyah (A state of ignorance), are the best in Islam, if they gain ‘Ilm (knowledge).”

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

10 of my Favorite things for mothering my Autistic daughter!!


Yep. I love a child with Autism and she is my baby girl. My hindoya, peaches, lamb chop and lovey bear. Now that winter vacation is over, I thought it would be great to share with everyone how I survived almost three weeks of mostly staying in the house (Polar vortex, snow storms, low gas money - the usuals) with my sweet, busy body, mood swinging, moderately verbal, Epileptic, Autistic seven year old middle child (mashallah) without any breaks.

Alhamduleelah, in the last seven and half years, I have learned a piece of my daughter's puzzle. I know her triggers and generally, I wake each day with a plan on how to interact with her and my two other children as well. Many Autists do well with tight schedules and visual cues to help with their transitions. Some Autists who are higher functioning may not require them. However, the bottom line is that our special children are indeed human and humans vary in their needs, emotions, and their likes. As the parent over my special child, I have found it really important to stay a couple of steps ahead of her to ward off serious meltdowns and aggressive behaviors.

Part of that preparation includes 10 of the following items that made our time together good, at times fun, and most importantly quality moments, enshallah, in her childhood!

#10 Snack cups

I love the snack cups for Hindoya (and Bin, 19 months)
because they are really durable and small enough to stack in the fridge.
Hindoya usually stays up after Fajr and an hour later she is hungry. With the snack cups, I can fill them up with the right portions of quick and healthy snacks the night before.  I just  grab  them at Fajr and put them on the table for her and lay back down to sleep for another 30 minutes or so. She often takes the top off completely, but my toddler keeps them on.

#9 Nutribullet!

I don't know how I survived previously without my Nutribullet? I've had it for a year and it has been a great investment, Alhamduleelah. Breakfast in a cup? Sure, why not. Lunch in a cup? You betcha! Here's why it makes the list for raising my Autist: loads of essential vitamins and minerals in an appetizing taste! She loves her smoothies  (as do my two other children, even though the pre-teen balks at the sight of the beets and kale going in the machine). Mashallah, I bear witness to the fact that the extra, whole nutrients have had a positive effect on her totally, Alhamduleelah. Her skins is clearer, teeth look great, hair is growing like weeds and mashallah, I truly think it helps her behavior - plus it's really quick and clean up very minimal.

# 8 Giant coloring books

Hindoya is very artistic, mashallah. She loves coloring, writing, and painting. She has colored on the wall a few times with her crayons in her room and even though I know the conversation went over her head some, I still sat with her and explained plainly as I could that she was not allowed to color, write or paint on our walls. She may not have gotten it, but she did get that Mama made her use the Magic eraser and scrub the spots she colored on til they were all gone. Alhamduleelah, so when I saw these giant coloring books at WALMART, I stocked up for her. Because the coloring books' graphics are so large, they are much more visually appealing to her senses. I keep one in my van, in her travel bag for when she goes to her grandparents' house during the week when I am  at work, and I keep one in the living room in a bucket that she has access too. The crayons and markets are kept separately and safely out of her reach.

#7 Crayola Mess Free Markers and other supplies

Crayola gets it! Alhamduleelah, I was so pleased to come across this line of products that  unlocks all of that wonderful artistic exploration in children and is also Autistic friendly as well. No more regular crayons and markers that can end up scribbled on the floor, chairs, or walls. These really awesome Crayola products only work with the special coloring pages in the line. Hindoya colors on and off through out the day and I really feel like it is helping to build her attention span, enshallah.

# 6 Textured Balls

With the snow and then the extreme cold weather, we didn't really get a chance to get out much during winter vacation. But, I know Hindoya needs to burn energy through out the day or else eventually she will get frustrated and have some type of outburst. For physical activity every day we made our own ball pit (sorta) with just a couple of different textured balls put in my son's playpen. My 19 month old and Hindoya both enjoyed kicking, throwing, and running after all the balls all over our apartment. The different textured balls are great for sensory play because of the contrast in the way they feel. So we were able to get two lessons out of this play time.

#5 Story Time w/ the Ipod Touch

I am a author and I have lots of stories in my files. Most will never be published. So what do I do with them? I record them and load them to the Ipod of course! Story time is really big in our house. We do full productions with dress up and acts 1, 2, and 3! But some time, I don't have time for all of that.  I might be preoccupied and so the ipod is great. It can store tons of my stories and other story apps that will read aloud to the Hindoya and Bin. Grab another snack cup and turn on a story and my little ones are happy campers for at least 15 minutes. That's enough time to shower, comb my hair, and get dressed! (I'm super and I know it! j/k)

# 4 Jump Rope

Adhd, Add, busy bodies - meet my little friend: The Jump Rope! When Hindoya gets antsy, arguing/fighting with the baby brother or big sister , (especially because we were STUCK in the house for so long), a quick and fun physical activity cools her out. Jump ropes are inexpensive, but Hindoya's has a pretty pink one! She loves to jump in place and I used to just have her do that. But I added the jump rope to work on her coordination. It's hard work to move your feet and arms at the same time for many children with special needs and low muscle tone, its like being in boot camp. Any time Hindoya can actually get the rope over head and her feet up off the ground, she is delighted. I usually have her big sister count her tries as she jumps. And we all cheer her on, too! Most times she just falls down to the ground in laughter. Problems solved and long forgotten for the time being!

#3 Netflix

 Years ago when I had my first child, I invested in a lot educational dvds: My Baby Can Read, Baby Einstein, Signing Times and several PBS cartoons. I could pop the dvd into my laptop and play them because I didn't have a TV back then. Then I learned that carrying around hundreds of dvds wasn't practical, especially if you move around a lot like we do. So then we got a Netflix subscription around 2010 and I discovered many of the children programs that I had in dvd format were available in their online catalog! That was a great day. I listed all of my dvds on EBAY and haven't bought any new ones since. While some Muslim parents may shun  TV programming,  if you have a child with special needs, you just may need to reevaluate their needs versus your own! Many Autists are visual and auditory learners. Seeing and hearing highly graphic characters sing about numbers, phonics, and good types of behaviors builds connections in their brains and helps them to remember the information better.

#2 Time Outs

When I have used all of my tricks from the bag and she still has an outburst, tantrum, or meltdown - its time to deescalate. I try to keep all communication to a minimum and clearly and quickly explain that she is in time out because of her behavior.  Most of the times I remove her from the area that she is in because seeing the other two kids can trigger more negative behavior or even aggressive behavior, if she is really angry. Sometimes she bears her weight and refuses to leave, kicks and cries, and hits. When that happens, I simply pick her up and physically remove her from the area and take her to a quiet area. I give her a pillow, a time out bottle so that she visually can see her "time" and some times I turn off the light and leave her alone. If she comes out too soon, (and does often), I just redirect her back to her room without much convo. She may cry or continue to whine in her room, but Alhamduleelah, she stops quickly. Often times, she will even fall asleep on her pillow after a major meltdown. Which is fine. Often she doesn't have the ability to express higher emotional feelings like being over stimulated or angry. Time outs gives her a safe place to work through those feelings with comfort and visual cues to when it will be over.  You can make your own pillow pet and time out bottles, too!

#1 Nabi Tablet Systems

I love the Nabi tablet because it is really sturdy and durable. It's not super fast, but it gets the job done. It came preloaded with tons of apps that Hindoya could actually play and learn from and like with any tablet, you download additional apps. We can also access the internet and lock her into her playlists on Youtube that I have personally set up for her learning. She also can play the Qur'an from the tablet while she colors or snacks. She can also practice writing the alphabets, listen to stories, look at animals and hear the sounds they make, sing along and dance to the Laurie Berkner band, and Skype with family (while I cook dinner)! The tablet is a filler, but it is a great treat that helps support many areas of learning. The Nabi systems were great investments and gave us some fun during our winter vacation (in the house)!

What's your favorite list of things to have for your special needs child?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Moving Past Adversities #5: Muslim Girls - The whole world doesn't understand you!



There's so many things great about you, my little sisters in Islam. You are full of strength, courage, wit, style and most importantly a faith that was chosen for you, crowned upon you out of the ranks of billions of girls granted the gift of life. There is no doubt in my mind that Muslim girls (and boys) are indeed a special group of people. You have inherited this deen from birth and it is an additional ni'mah (blessing) that is not given to everyone.

Why Can't It All be Simple? 

 I know you are well aware that every blessing comes with responsibilities. Those responsibilities can be  hard to carry at times especially when you are not always respected in the world.  Often times, even in your own home you may feel a lack of acceptance. You may feel overly awkward or seldom pretty. In many communities and families there may even exist imbalanced gender opportunities and encouragement. You may feel lost due to a lack of community, a lack unity, a lack of socialization and a lack of halal fun! You are constantly bombarded with "don't even think about its"," you shouldn't even try its", and what "Muslim girls should dos"! The fact of the matter is that most days it may feel like the whole world doesn't understand you and all of the hardships you are facing isn't worth it.

But it is worth it. You are worth fighting for. You are worth waiting for. You are worth the struggle. So fight!

Truly the reward of the Hereafter will be greater if they only realize (this)! (They are) those who persevere in patience and put their trust on their Lord. (16:41-42)
Can You Hear Me Now?

I can tell you from personal experience that there might not be a whole lot of people in your world who understands exactly what you are facing in terms of isolation, frustration, aggravation, and desires. Some of your own parents may not even fully understand it.

 If your parents are reverts to Islam, they don't possess the knowledge to know what it is really like to grow up in Islam in a non Muslim society. Do you want to blame them for that? It's certainly easy to feel that way. Almost like they purposely decided to make your life harder then their own lives. But that would be too simplistic and too evil to put on your parents' shoulders. Despite all of the things that irks your last nerves about your parents, please know that they truly felt Islam was a gift to them and that they cherished it so much, they gifted it to you as well. The good news is that do have information and wisdom that can be useful to you. The news flash is that they have first hand experience about life outside of Islam that you just don't have knowledge about. Take time to really open your ears and listen and learn from them what you can to help not only shield you from their mistakes, but also take from their stories lessons that will help build you up!

Then there are those of you Muslim girls who are lucky enough to have Muslim parents who were born and raised Muslim in a non Muslim country. Now depending on their age, their experiences might also be a little out of touch with current events in the teen world. They didn't have cell phones, email, Twitter - heck, some of your parents didn't even have the internet! But that doesn't totally wipe out the struggles that they did encounter while growing up Muslim. No one's life is going to be an exact clone of yours. But we can learn from different narratives, perspectives, and adversities that people go through. The experience of being the only Muslim at school, not being able to wear the latest fashions, talk on the phone with the opposite sex, hang out with friends at night, or go to the school dance are universal. We lived through and learned from it some jewels. The pictures might not look the same, but the emotions were real. Open your heart and try to put yourself in your parents shoes. Twenty, thirty, or forty years ago Islam and Muslims were a lot less known about. Could you have walked in their shoes as modern Muslim pioneers? It would have been hard. Just like it would be hard for them to live in your life today. Build on the commonalities that you have and be open to accept support, guidance, and love through your adversities.

Pause for the Cause: Often times during the teen years, shaytan tricks us into putting on those fancy, designer "knowitall" coats! It's hard to hear and see love, wisdom, and support if you think you know for sure every single way that those things are expressed. That's a dangerous attitude to wear and carry around on your back.  Check yourself if you only find value you in the lives of the rich and famous or your friends, but can't appreciate the jewels from elders and your own family members. That's not being hip, cool, trendy or smart. That's called being shallow. Be bigger than that and love more!

Allah Wants Good For You

There are so many vices that you will contend with in life and not all of them will be directly connected to your "Muslim Girl-ness". However, the fact remains that these trials will bother you, they will cause hurt and may be even pain. The fact also remains that you can get through it and you can triumph in this world despite it all with your trust firmly placed in Allah.

Learn to trust and rely on Allah in good times and more importantly, during your difficult times as well. Always remember that no one wants good for you more than Allah. He gave you life, he gave you family, friends, food, and shelter. The trials are not meant to stop you or to tear you apart! When you have Tawakkul (trust and reliance on Allah), difficulties help you to remember Allah, praise Allah, seek the help of Allah and to ask from Allah what it is you need.

What do you need? Where do you want to be? What places do you want to go and visit? Tell Allah and have Tawakkul with certainty that He (and only He) can make it happen for you.

“Say, “Never will we be struck except by what Allah has decreed for us; He is our protector.” And upon Allah let the believers rely” (9:51).

Narrated Abu Huraira (Radi Allah Anhu): Allah's Apostle (sal-allahu- alleihi-wasallam ) said, "If Allah wants to do good to somebody, He afflicts him with trials. (Sahih Bukhari)

“And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him” (65:3). 

The Messenger of Allah (s) said: “If you trust Allah with the right kind of tawakkul, He will provide you sustenance as He provides for the birds – they go out in the morning with empty stomachs and come back in the evening with full stomachs” (Tirmidhi).

Now, that your head is clear with positive thoughts, let's move pass the adversity and work (that's a verb) towards creative, positive actions. 

Visualize & Actualize

 There will always be people, ideas, and problems existing in your world with negative motives. Make sure you are not one of them, fueling the negativity that leads to your own demise. Moving past adversities means you reconcile your issues (as best as possible) and replace it with more positive, energizing, and fulfilling alternatives.  Let's take a look at some simple common sense steps:

#1 Visualize the things you want.

Dedicate time within your week to simply focus on you and all of the positivity that you possess and inhale in those blessings from Allah. You are special because Allah has given you unique qualities that He has not given to anyone else. You excel at many things. Don't worry how small or insignificant that those things may seem to be. They are yours, so embrace them.

Now, visualize the qualities and goals that you desire to possess. Do you want to be more outgoing, more kind and loving, less shy, more tolerant, have more patience, learn to sew, write better, have lots of good friends, eat better and exercise, go to college and get a fabulous career? May be you would like to travel the world blogging about eating different kinds of foods? Whatever it is that you want, close your eyes and take time to day dream and visualize it in your world.

If you can not see yourself doing something, no one else will.

#2 Make a list

It's good to write things down and make a list. There's something about seeing your goals on paper that makes us feel accountable to ourselves. It's like a contract with ourselves. So my advice is write down a couple of your visualizations and describe the key factors that will prevent you from achieving that goal and what are some of the key factors that will help you accomplish it. Date it, sign it and hang it up in your room on the wall, or in a closet, or copy it to your computer. Just make sure you place it some where you can see it and be reminded of it.

If you want to get a little fancier, create a vision board! Use construction paper, a poster board, cut out pictures from magazine or print out images from the internet, crayons, markers, and glue to create a really awesome vision board that expresses your creativity and visions. I love making vision boards with my because I think it is a great way to "see" your visualizations, hopes, and aspirations in color and feel a bit of the happiness that the things that you are aspiring for can bring into your life.

#3 Actualize your visions, bi'ithnillah

Here is where we take that verb "action" and put it to work! What ever qualities that you visualized possessing, use them! Consciously make effort to be better, in every way. Love more, share more, try new ways to social with other Muslim girls in your community. Be friendly and helpful. Give more to others and others will remember your kindness and support and that same blessing Allah will put back in your own life.

And sooner or later, enshallah, you will start to realize that it's not important if the world understands you - it is much more important that
you understand you and that your purpose in this life is to worship Allah and rely on Him and that through visualization and actualization you can be successful in whatever you put your mind to.

Put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those that trust [in Him].
[Surah al-Imran 3: 159]