The best way of teaching the youngsters how Islam is a ''way of life'' rather than a plain old religion is to show them how to apply Islam in every practical aspect of their life, and what better way to do it than for the adults of our communities to physically demonstrate this by setting good examples for the next generation.
''When you die, you leave behind three things in this world which are of benefit to you: your charity, your knowledge and your children."
When it comes to Muslim children today, we see a variety of different methods by which our children obtain Islamic knowledge and learn about religion. With each different method of Islamic teachings which parents and communities implement, we see various outcomes which reflect how much of the education the children actually retain and the extent to which they end up implementing and practicing religion to their daily lives.
In the West, we are grateful to see an increasing number of weekend Islamic schools which teach a variety of pertinent topics such as Qur'an, Islamic history, jurisprudence, and ethics. However, providing our young ones with content from the pre-existing syllabi (such as those commonly obtained from popular sources like madressa.net) is one thing, yet providing children and the youth with opportunities to learn how to apply the theory on a more practical level is much more essential, especially since today's generation is considered more ''hands-on''.
The best way of teaching the youngsters how Islam is a ''way of life'' rather than a plain old religion is to show them how to apply Islam in every practical aspect of their life, and what better way to do it than for the adults of our communities to physically demonstrate this by setting good examples for the next generation. However, when it comes to the issue of who is responsible for monitoring and making sure that Islamic teachings are being applied by children to their daily life, it is a common misconception that is either entirely the Sunday school's duty or entirely the parents' duty. Ideally, as most children in the West are exposed to both forms of education, the application of Islamic values and principles should be maintained at both levels.
The Islamic school staff must maintain appropriate Islamic etiquette. It is vital to have teachers who are practicing Muslims, so that what they teach appears truthful and is appealing to the youngest and purest of society's members. For example, if a teacher is explaining the importance of men keeping beards, logic would suggest that this idea would work much better if the teacher himself has a beard.
It is difficult for a child to understand the concept of Hijab and Lady Zainab's (peace be upon her) sacrifice if a female teacher or family member is not practicing Hijab. Similarly, a situation whereby a child is taught to not listen to music yet is exposed to such things at home can create unnecessary confusions and contradictions that they certainly do not need at such an age! Such clashes between what is Islamically correct and what the children experience at home almost always results in major flaws in their religious practice, which not only stay with them for the rest of their lives but are unfortunately passed on to their future generations too.
Emphasizing the importance of knowledge and children, Imam Ali (peace be upon him) has said: "Gaining knowledge in one’s youth is like imprinting something on a rock [it will always remain]."
It is natural for parents to expect the best for their children in every way. However, if parents believe that their child's Islamic school has shortcomings or is inadequate in any way (and that those ''rocks'' that our Imam refers to are not being imprinted on quite as well as we would like), rather than taking the easy option and blaming the community for its inability to singlehandedly churn out good Muslim children, the parents and families of the youth should take a proactive role in reinforcing religious theory.
The fundamentals of our religion, such as offering prayers at the correct time, reciting the Holy Qur'an out loud on a daily basis, and maintaining proper Hijab and conduct with non-mahrams should all be practiced at home in order for the child's vision of Islam to meet eye-to-eye with what is being taught at Sunday school, and vice versa.
This is the tender age at which our children learn the importance of Islam. Our future generations deserve to not just be restricted to only a few hours of Islamic education on the weekend; rather, they deserve to be taught and shown how to practice Islam (while avoiding as much non-Islamic hindrance as possible) not only every day but every minute of their lives. Unless both the community and parents make a combined effort towards reevaluating and perfecting our own religious practices in order to provide better Islamic environments and role models for our youth, and hence for the strengthening of the Muslim Ummah of tomorrow, the future of Islam in the West may be at risk of deteriorating altogether.