Young Muslims are faced with twenty-first century challenges—with its complex environmental, social, political, and economic pressures. This requires a deeper understanding of Islam that goes beyond decontextualised textbooks, repetition of low-level knowledge that has been described by students in this study as boring, not-engaging, not taken seriously by schools, unstructured, and under-resourced. In the recent survey-based studies, It was demonstarted that students felt deprived of the opportunity to develop skills and more in-depth Islamic knowledge as they progress through the years. Instead, students complained of repetition of basic knowledge from primary through to secondary school, leading to a perceived sense of stagnation in their study of Islam.
Islamic Studies (IS) is not considered a Key Learning Area (KLA) in the Australian National Curriculum, which causes a host of challenges, including how to fit IS in an already cramped curriculum and school timetable. Therefore, Islamic schools typically allocate about 2 h weekly for IS, making it the faith appendment to a school, and treat it as a single subject devoid of depth and specialisations.
Al-Refai (2011) found that there is no “unified set of guidelines, agreed syllabus or curriculum framework for the teaching of Islamic Studies in all the six schools; and there is no philosophical statement for their Islamic Studies”.
A larger study by Hussain and Read (2015) found that Islamic schools can facilitate the participation of Muslims in mainstream institutions by equipping them with the cultural capital needed to navigate non-Muslim arenas, but that “does not necessarily translate into greater levels of religiosity among Muslim youth; in some cases it even turned them away from the religion.”
Abdalla (2018) examined the views of 44 participants (including 10 IS coordinators, 15 IS teachers and 19 senior learners (grades 10–12) of one Australian Islamic school in Victoria. The study found that students desire to study IS, show reverence for IS teachers, and appreciate the fundamental basics of Islam taught at the school. However, they complained that Islamic Studies was “repetitive”, “boring”, “irrelevant”, “out-of-context”, and “biased”. Further, students expressed “frustration because they ‘expect deeper understandings’ of Islam through inquiry as to the ‘why’, as well as the reasoning behind Islamic principles on a variety of issues relevant to their lives.” Students also argued that IS does not provide “depth in real life issues”, or to learn as Muslims “how to live in society” (to become functional Muslims), and to gain the knowledge and skills to “apply what is being learnt.” The study suggested that IS needs to “accommodate the reality” of students’ needs, have “high standards and expectations that are challenging yet realistic” and be established on “a strong evidence base”.
Participants across all schools reported a heavy testing approach to assessment, and also spoke positively about a recent shift to additional modes/mediums of assessment including PowerPoint presentations, multi-modal presentations or posters, “And, for our exams, they’re not just written exams sometimes we have PowerPoint, sometimes speeches, and there was also one you had to create a poster or something, so it’s engaging as well.” The same participants described these assessments as superficial, in that they generally involved shifting pre-packed context (usually from the text) to a poster or PowerPoint presentation uncritically—learners viewed this as positive step, albeit quite a superficial form of assessment ‘of’ learning.
Abdallah (2020) demonstrated following Challenges for IS studies in Islamic Schools:
- Lack of Lesson Plans and Coherence across Unit Planning (Topics and Themes not Aligned, Connected or Building Upon One Another)
- Textbook Focused and History-Centric
- Absence of an Engaging Pedagogy
- Does not Teach Social Skills
- School does not Take IS Seriously
- Insufficient Hours for IS:
The feeling that Islamic Studies is not as important as other subjects is exacerbated by the fact there are often only one or two hours for Islamic Studies per week (at all schools).
Many participants contended that Islamic Studies “gets repetitive”, and “sometimes you hear the same thing every two years” or, “Yeah, it is redundant.” When asked about what would be practical and non-repetitive, they said they wanted contemporary issues, “Like LGBT [issues] and stuff like that, transgender people; I guess if we had learned about from an Islamic perspective we wouldn’t be worrying as much and asking the Imams.”
Other examples of practical, non-repetitive examples were captured by this student: . . . when you go outside into western society there’s so many people saying, are talking about feminism and how it’s completely opposite to what Islam teaches us. But if in Islamic school they could teach us the beauty in it then when we go out into society and stuff like that, we can explain to people why we do it and it’s beautiful to us, and our outlooks won’t change and stuff like that, so I think that’s important.
- Does not Prepare Students for the ‘World Outside’:
When asked “do you feel Islamic Studies prepares you for the world outside?” many participants responded emphatically, “No”; rather they felt that, “You have to prepare yourself, you have to ask the questions”. In fact, they contended that the questions they prompt are the most interesting part of Islamic Studies, as this learner argued, “I am pretty sure everyone can agree with this, that a question is more interesting than what we are actually being taught in the textbook.”
- Lacks Critical Thinking:
The participants agreed that Islamic Studies does not allow for “critical” thinking and/or discussion because it is ‘set in stone’, as one student stated:
I think that our discussion, sometimes it is hard to get into discussions with the classroom. It may seem unapproachable to display a viewpoint and, in that sense, we cannot get into that mode of critically thinking and discussing from what we think. People will not speak up, or their views, or maybe they are just afraid that they think they are going to be told that they are wrong or something when it is more, it is more a discussion.
- Lacks Adequate Resources
- Biased and Contradictory:
With few exceptions, most participants were concerned that Islamic Studies was biased and that they did not study, or discuss, alternate scholarly viewpoints.
“Sometimes the Imams, they contradict each other, and they do not give you advice on which verdict to follow.” Another added, “Which is understandable because there are controversial topics and people have deviations in opinion, but you don’t know what to follow; you can bring it up to Imam that another Imam had a different opinion, but he won’t—because it’s wrong to put someone else’s opinion down, so they don’t really tell you which one to follow.” Moreover, “They do not give you the conditions to follow this, or the conditions to follow that. It is really vague.”
Learners’ dissatisfaction outweighs their satisfaction with IS at three Australian Islamic schools. Some of our findings affirm Mohamad Abdalla’s findings that learners have reverence for IS teachers and appreciate the fundamental basics of Islam they learn, but complain that Islamic Studies in their particular school contexts is “repetitive”, “boring”, “irrelevant”, “out-of-context”, and “biased” (Abdalla 2018). It also affirms Diallo and Kerrilee’s (2016) findings that not enough hours are given to IS. Learners’ complaints that IS lacks structure and coherency align with Al-Refai’s research with six British Islamic schools that found there is no “unified set of guidelines, agreed syllabus or curriculum framework for the teaching of Islamic Studies in all the six schools; and there is no philosophical statement for their Islamic Studies” (Al-Refai 2011).
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Abdalla, Mohamad, Chown, Dylan and Memon, Nadeem. Islamic Studies in Australian Islamic Schools: Learner Voice. Religions; Basel Vol. 11, Iss. 8, (2020): 404. DOI:10.3390/rel11080404.
Abdalla, Mohamad. 2018. Islamic studies in Islamic schools: Evidence-based renewal. In Islamic Schooling in the West Pathways to Renewal. Edited by Mohamad Abdalla, Dylan Chown and Muhammad Abdullah. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 257–83
Al-Refai, Nader Sudqy. 2011. An Exploration of Islamic Studies Curriculum Models in Muslim Secondary Schools in England. Derby: University of Derby.
Diallo, Ibrahima, and Lockyer Kerrilee. 2016. The Role and Importance of Islamic Studies and Faith in Community Islamic Schools in Australia A Case Study of Adelaide (SA) and Darwin (NT). Adelaide: University of South Australia Research Centre for Languages and Cultures, Available online: https://apo.org.au/sites/default/ files/resource-files/2016-11/apo-nid70627.pdf (accessed on 23 June 2020).