Reforming the Madressa

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There are many venues for improvement

It is becoming increasingly clear that in the end, it is not just the child that suffers from a lack of Islamic knowledge if a Madressa is inefficiently run, but it is also communities that must deal with unmitigated amounts of youth who remain ignorant and inconsiderate of Islamic knowledge and practice.

There are many venues for improvementThe typical storybook Muslim community in the West is comprised of, at minimal, a house of worship, a resident scholar, and a weekend Islamic school. Different communities will display a wide disparity in the affluence of all three of the above-mentioned components. Almost universally, however, the weekend school operated by the community is inadequate at best and self-contradicting at worst. It suffices to state that this piece is not written as a detraction of the demand and necessity of the Islamic weekend schools found in a community; rather, it is an unpretentious attempt to open the dialogue on reforming our Islamic weekend schools – the Madressa.

Exactly who is to blame for a large group of elementary-aged children running around the center every Sunday morning and making it look like a riot took place inside? More importantly, why does our community continue to insist that this is what an Islamic school should be? Would we send our children to a secular school that was grossly underfunded, ill-staffed, and a power trip for those who actually have little experience in either or both education and Islamic Knowledge? Most would not tolerate the notion of their child’s public school comprising of non-certified individuals without a college degree, or of a principal who has no experience running a school or other similar organization.

Admittedly, there are several contingencies that appear to be beyond our control in preventing; however, does this release us from the burden of responsible response? We owe every child in our community a quality Islamic education, and while not every family holds Islamic knowledge in a high regard, the avenue for it must be accessible to everyone. Subsequently, this would require a Madressa system that is not tainted by special privileges based on personal connections and “who knows whom”.

It is becoming increasingly clear that in the end, it is not just the child that suffers from a lack of Islamic knowledge if a Madressa is inefficiently run, but it is also communities that must deal with unmitigated amounts of youth who remain ignorant and inconsiderate of Islamic knowledge and practice.

However, listing the inadequacy of a system has never led to the actual reformation of it. In the spirit of progress and achieving tangible change, here are suggested areas of concern that should be addressed and possible solutions and measures for each.


Every Islamic school – be it weekend, daily or consisting of any other arrangement – should have a list of objective guidelines that each class should meet. It is unfair to both the teacher and students that the impetus is on the individual teacher to create and implement a curriculum. This issue should be taken care of well in advance before the program actually starts.

While a considerable amount of Madressa teachers have substantial knowledge about Islamic jurisprudence, history, manners and morals, and Qur’an, this does not qualify them to create a curriculum. Furthermore, if every classroom is on a different page, then the students being promoted throughout the system will receive inconsistent and unequal instruction. An ideal Islamic school curriculum should be created under the guidance of a qualified scholar and in collaboration with professionals with a background in education, teaching, or curriculum.


Another important question to be asked is: who can teach in a Madressa? What qualifications must be present in order to allow a person to teach young children about Islam? Certain individuals appear to be under the impression that teaching Madressa is some sort of God-Given right to them. It’s not. Teaching in a Madressa is a privilege, and those unable to meet the Islamic moral and intellectual requirements should not be allowed to teach. As well, they should not be allowed to teach just by virtue of their connections in high places or the fact that they volunteer with the Mosque/center or organization running the school.

Teacher training is another obstacle: there are many individuals in our community who are interested in teaching at Islamic schools but they may lack the necessary skills and background to do so. In such situations, rather than the principal or administration bringing in their friends and relatives to teach, it would be more productive to initiate a several-month long series of seminars and training sessions to encourage more qualified candidates to branch out into teaching in Madressa. Other issues that must be addressed include the teacher’s conduct and setting a positive example.

Teacher’s Pay

It is a point of irony that the community is willing to shell out thousands of dollars for a lecture by some speakers, but is unwilling to pay their child’s Madressa teacher 10 dollars an hour for investing their time and energy in imparting Islamic knowledge. The age-old mantra that work should be done voluntarily in this field is promoted by administrations that at times simply want to make as much of a profit as possible. If teachers are expected to treat the Madressa as a job for which they sacrifice their time and energy in preparing lesson plans, grading, and other activities, then they should be paid for this work. Many Madressa teachers already take a day off work in order to come in and teach. There is an undeniable correlation between teacher pay and student achievement, and paying teachers allows for a more formal hiring process and higher teacher accountability, in addition to reducing the very high turn-over rate found in Islamic schools among instructional staff.


Students should not be forced to attend Madressa in the backroom of the Mosque or in over-crowded facilities when other alternatives are available. Not only is this inimical to student learning, but it is also a safety risk. No parent would knowingly send their child to a public school that does not follow proper building safety and protocol. Additionally, in many Madressa systems, children are not always monitored – and when parents come to pick up their child, it becomes a scavenger hunt to find a student who is not where they are supposed to be.


Many issues discussed above are either caused – directly and indirectly – by funding, or by a lack thereof. A majority of Madressas do charge parents for their services, but it is baffling to discover where this money is spent if the facility is as run-down as ever, the teachers are still being treated like unpaid servants, and the children are not even given workbooks or handouts.

Most communities are able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars at dinners and events for various projects, but few seem to be willing to do the same for the community’s Madressa. Funding initiatives must be present and encouraged in order to foster a strong network of Madressas. In addition, there should be transparency in how the money is spent. If parents are paying several hundred dollars to the Islamic school program, then that money should not be spent on new paint for the Mosque or other such projects indirectly related to the Madressa.

The list of areas of concern is extensive as there are other issues to be addressed: including the Islamic perspective on discipline and not treating students like they are prisoners of war, the duration of a Madressa program, and creating Madressa systems free of agendas and of indoctrinating students towards certain ideologies that are not mainstream Islamic.

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