Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Islamiat Period

In our formative school years in the Middle East, the Islamiat teachers were an extra special bunch. While it must have been a downer that not many pupils chose Religious Studies for O'Levels (and let's face it, O'Levels were tough), our Islamiat teachers refused to let that fact bother them.

Ours was a middle aged Egyptian man, slightly stocky, who had the unfortunate accent of mispronouncing (as most Egyptians) the 'j' and the 'p' sound. For example, he would pronounce 'jump' as 'gump' (the 'g' as in 'gone'). The mispronunciation of the 'p' sound, however, was especially unnerving.

I had just switched schools, and on my second day of class, he rounds up on me as the new kid.

"Ho, do you bray?"

I looked at him. "Um, bray?"

"Yes, do you bray five times a day? Answer me!"

It was only my natural familiarity of Arabs pronouncing 'Pepsi' as 'Bebsi' that led me to replying, "Yes sir. I bray five times a day. I bray in the morning, then I bray in the afternoon, and I bray again when I go home. Sir!" He was ofcourse asking me about praying.

Islamiat was to him a funny subject to teach, as he was not very 'Islamic' himself. However schools in the Middle East weren't too selective about teacher qualifications. Any Arab knowing a bit of Islam qualified to be an Islamic teacher - after all he knew Arabic and was Muslim - end of story.

Once in class he was teaching us the Battle of Badr, and he started to talk profusely.

"You see, these were kids, as young as you all." He referred to Samra Ibn Jinid, aged 13, who wanted to join the Muslim army. "And they wanted to fight in the heat while fasting! And you-" he looked at us disdainingly. "-you don't even want to attend P.E. class in Ramadan."

"But sir," A Tunisian boy stood up, "those Sahabis didn't have to write a ten page essay on why the Battle of Badr was a pivotal moment in history also."

Needless to say the student was punished. We are usually not known for our sense of humour regarding religion. Once they were discussing Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) in class. I had the audacity to say, "Wow, he was the most handsome man ever created, he was King, and he was a Prophet of Allah! Some guys have all the luck!"

Needless to say, rather than explaining to me that Prophet Yusuf was thrown down a well as a kid, enslaved as a teenager and spent his youth in prison, so he didn't have "all the luck", I was made to copy Chapter 1 of The Virtues Of Salah into my notebook 4 times.

However the best part of Islamiat was that it was a great time to do the homework for other subjects. They were usually teaching something that we all knew anyways. For example there would be a chapter on respecting your parents. The teacher could drone on, but you knew the bottom line. Allah wants you to respect your parents. All the time while I would be copying the Pure Maths assignment from T.

However, now I come to think of it, those classes had a very good value. Like it or not, they imbibed in us a sense of our culture, and pride in our religion. I did not grew up confused about being a Muslim, unlike some kids who grow up here and receive no education at all about religion at home, because not only did I encounter many different types of Muslims while growing up to know Muslims are not all of the same type, but I also had a good solid education about the fundamentals of the deen. I think in the end, it's important for parents and older siblings here to teach the young ones about their religion and why we believe what we believe. This Ramadan, in addition to trying to understand a part of the Quran in English, we should also try and impart a sense of pride and knowledge of Islam into the children.



Ek Umeed said...

"Bray?" Seriously? Wow. ROTFL material! Mezbaesque! :)

But I am wondering... How did you think to weave the piece with a hilarious anecdote only to have the reader at the end contemplating on your spoken words regarding the subject of Islamic education classes? Masterful, indeed! I do agree with the sentiment that these classes play an instrumental role in instilling within Muslims a sense of morality and understanding of the religion.

I too had to take Islamic education classes when I was in Kuwait (even though it was a Catholic English Medium School), but unlike you, we were only taught "surahs" of the Quran, both without the meaning and stories contained within. We were taught additionally the five pillars of Islam and some related conceptualizations; but other than that, I think our Islamic education teacher did not do any of us in the class any great service.

It is only as I grew up that I thought to take on the task of exploring the religion and actually understanding its passages; I did not and do not like the idea of just sticking to the format of parroting the "surahs" in the Arabic language during formal prayers or when making "dua." Without grasping what the words are or what they mean in the context of the "surah" and/or Islam in general, I think the person does not stand to gain anything of substance or value in terms of knowledge from the simple regurgitation of the words.

Maliha said...

Sometimes I wonder how i remained Muslim after the trauma that was Islamic Religious classes and some of the really hell-bent-harsh teachers that were in charge of dispensing knowledge.

But Alhamdullillah, He truly guides whom He wills; inspite of the efforts of others.

sonia said...

So where in the Middle East did you live?

sonia said...

i get what Maliha says..though i was lucky in my RE classes i can't say the same of a lot of i daresay wellmeaning friends of my parents who tried to instil so much fear in us - and succeeded. Going on about hell and painting a picture of God with unpleasant human qualities - is enough to put anyone off religion. It's not a v. sensible approach!

Luckily i tend to ignore such negativities..but you can't always forget - it leaves a nasty taste.

i went on holiday to turkey about a month ago and i met a guy who explained a bit about Sufism - that was really interesting.