Giving preference to additional school lessons and extra mural activities over Madressah education is akin to favouring the Dunya over the Akhirah. These were the sentiments of a senior South African Mufti, commenting on the lack of enthusiasm amongst some learners in pursuing a primary Maktab education.
Speaking to Cii Radio's Ulama in Focus recently, Mufti Seraj Desai asserted the important role that parents needed to play in prioritising their children's Islamic educational requirements. Acknowledging the scarcity of learning time and the complicated trade-offs expected from parents and learners alike, he nonetheless argued that the contesting demands of the schooling system notwithstanding, parents could still ensure a fruitful Madressah experience for their children, provided that they acknowledged the critical role of Islamic education and provided the necessary support structures.
"We have to admit that academic pressure today is steep, schools are extending their learning hours and this does indeed pose challenges for learners who have limited time to commute, eat and come to Madressah. To compound the situation we sometimes have the need for additional lessons and demands to participate in extra mural activities such as sports."
The proliferation of these additional activities, which extend beyond school hours, is increasingly placing a strain on Maktab education, which in South Africa has traditionally taken place during the afternoons. Absenteeism or late-coming is common, and many private Madaaris with more flexible operating hours have now mushroomed.
Still, the Port Elizabeth based Aalim believes a solution to the problem is not farfetched. He contends that a lack of understanding of the objectives of the maktab from parents or sometimes even plain disinterest are the main factors feeding the trend. Parents, he argues, need to re-assess the goals they set for their children.
"We can sympathise with parents regarding additional tuition – they fear that if their children do not solicit this help, their results will take a knock. We can't run away from this fact: every parent who has a school-going child, has some or the other goal in mind. Most of the time these goals are financially motivated, and it is unfortunate that these goals seem to have overshadowed everything else, even our Deen."
He says additional tuition, where necessary, should not be abandoned. As a compromise, he advocates that parents come up with innovative ways of making up for lessons that are lost."The only way this can be achieved is by significant interaction between parent and Ustaad – meeting the Asaatizah regularly and discussing strategies of improving the Maktab education of the child."
In addition to facilitating academic progress for the child, Desai says providing enrichment classes at home can also reap benefits for parents themselves. "We know of parents who improved their Quranic recitation simply by working with their children. They also gain education that they themselves may have not acquired previously"
The respected Mufti said parents always had the best interests of their children at heart. However, exaggerated sympathy for their offspring, he said, should not come at the expense of their Islamic education.
"If our children still have time for computer games and TV even during school days, with the situation worsening at weekends – unnescesary and sometimes unIslamic activities – this is where the responsibility of parents come in. Set aside those (misplaced) feelings of sympathy towards the child. When it comes to schoolwork, there is no sympathy there – you will not allow a child to stay absent for a single day, if a child has not completed his/her homework you will ensure that they stay up for as long as the work takes to complete, but tragically this is not the same when it comes to Maktab work."
He suggested that parents make a firm commitment to their children's Islamic education and explore the possibility of evening or weekend classes to make up for the lost time.