It was a small white frame house with a huge back yard and five ancient, towering pecan trees that lined the outside of its semi-circular drive. From the road, one could see the entrance of the building behind the trees. The black paint on the wrought iron columns of its tiny porch were pealing, but on the door was a newly printed out sign welcoming all to this house being used as a school.
In its eighth year of operation, this seedling of a school was struggling to take root. First established by a group of concerned parents, this school's purpose was to preserve Islam in the Muslim families living in America. Through tremendous financial and organizational struggles, the dedication of teachers, parents, many of which also served as volunteers, and students had achieved a moderate level of success.
But to move on, the school had to change its strategy. It had to stop depending on volunteers where professionals were needed. It had to raise its educational standards. It had to increase the tuition to cover the costs related to providing that education, but unfortunately, that meant not everyone could afford the tuition. So they established a financial aid package funded by affluent members of the community to address this social challenge. Overall it worked. The hiring standard for teachers was raised. Ongoing staff training was valued. Teaching techniques were enriched. The students' standardized test scores dramatically improved. The school even obtained accreditation over time.
That was the easy part. The greater and still ongoing struggle was to raise individuals beneficial to humanity in a society that in many ways does not advocate what is beneficial. The Muslim parents and teachers struggled to provide the students with an environment that taught them how to live according to Islam. All the while the paradox of living in a society bearing ideologies and practices contrary to this guidance beat down upon them all like torrential waves.
"Say no to drugs and sex" is propagated in public schools and churches, but society at large on the street, in the movie theaters, and on the radio is saying yes to social drinking and dating. The limits of this surrounding society tread too close to if not beyond what are moral and beneficial to humanity. So how can a group of even a thousand or two thousand people prevail against this tide? How can they educate themselves about a higher standard of living, a moral code provided by Allah, and simultaneously acquire an education of the surrounding secular environment and its laws that are many times contrary to Allah's guidance? This is the tremendous challenge that Islamic schools, like this one, face in the West.
Truly the Muslim children in such societies are in need of schools that help them learn and come to understand the depth and benefit of their belief. The world can have no better citizen than a Muslim with knowledge of the Truth as well as the wisdom of how to apply it in the times and conditions in which we live. As Abu Dardah related, Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said: "The heaviest thing which will be put on a believer's scale on the Day of Arising will be goodness of conduct. Allah hates the corrupt and the obscene."(Tirmidhi) The complexity of living in a society where some forms of perversion are considered culture calls for our diligence in educating ourselves in all good things and the development of our critical thinking abilities to the extent that we can easily choose the helpful aspects of our societies leaving aside the harmful. As the president of the board of directors of this Islamic school once said regarding the efforts of the school, "This is hard work because we are building human beings."