Muslim Child Education in the Early Stage


Parents, ideally, has set up what kind of education their children would attain since the beginning. Going through parenthood is really challenging, that is why preparation crucial. The children’s growth and development goes once; no chance to redo it when there is a mistake. If parents neglect the children’s upbringing, the result would be disastrous. Nevertheless, it does not mean we all have to be perfect in the first place. Perfectness is a strange concept in humanity, indeed. There is nothing actually ideal in a world whose growth never reaches a final state.

What I am trying to explain here, parents ought to know what the goals, know where to go, and understand how to provide a good education. If there are some unfortunate events occurred, say, performing some mistakes, and it is unavoidable, at least it would not leave any scratch in our precious kid’s heart or mind, or leads them to a fundamentally wrong concept they will adopt for a long time. Even if we are mistaken, make sure it is nothing serious and is still correctable.

It follows that the first important thing to notice is the meaning of education. What does education refer? We acknowledge and recognize so many activities easily: eating, sleeping, writing, walking, etc. Nevertheless, what is educating, anyway? Could we just look at somebody and tell that he is now busy educating a person? Of course, it is not as simple as teaching—actually, teaching was not that simple, too—that is relatively easier to define. Education, somehow involves many activities. It is unbound to certain place or time. It is where the person lives, and is a lifelong process. This is surely so.

Within education, a person was not the one who grows alone. It is not a single change, anyway. He lives and being educated in such an environment that is not resistant to change, too. That is why to Driyarkara, an Indonesian philosopher, education is a matter of existence. It is exist within the world to live and grow together. He explains that education is the attempt to enter a young person into the world or nature of human. In line with the sentence, Paulo Freire says that education is a way to humanize a man.

Considering that, the meaning of education is interrelated with the view about human and humanity. Therefore, there is not a single universal method or system of education. The ideals about education vary according how we define human and humanity. I think here is where we begin taking sides. We need to choose a base where our concept of education would lies over. That step will then lead us to build a unique concept from which we arrange a compact system of education.

To meet the need, especially for Muslim children, I will explore the concept based on several Islamic thoughts. In Islam, speak of the system, education lies on the shoulders of many. It is the parents’, the societies, as well as the states responsibility. However, in this article, I will restrict the discussion within the scope of first education the parents provide to children. Hence, when I speak of children onward, I refer to little kids aged around six years old or less. It would cover some basic question around what is the first thing first to give; is it primary for them to learn, and so forth.

Basic Principles in Islamic Education

In Islam, human was nothing but slave (‘abd) to the Creator. He created human to live in this world and fulfil the obligations, after that they will return to Him and are responsible for everything they have done throughout lifetime. The concept is as simple as that. Thus in Islam, the education i.e. the process of humanizing human has a goal to raise an obedient ‘abd. The consideration of their being as God’s slave will grow as they reach maturity. The job for the parents is to nurture the eeman and every potential they had to be an all-embracing and devoted ‘abd who has a duty prospering the world in their own way; to prepare them serves and gives loyalty only for Allah and meant those only for His consent. This is the basic principle that every Muslim parent and educator must not forget. It is not a training just to cut out for some good jobs, to ease pursuing some wealth, or to reach any other transient accomplishment. More than that, parents should instil the good manners and noble virtues in their child as well as nurturing their unique potential properly, so that they grow up according to the goal of education in Islam.

Home, whatsoever is the first milieu where the inclination, personality, and virtues built. That is why the importance of putting thoughtfulness onto the home condition is undeniable. Every member of the household ideally shares the same perception on children education. Preserving the children’s fitra (primordial state) is of the highest priority that everyone should consider. It becomes more urgent in this very moment when most of Islamic institution (mu’assasah) has been destroyed unless the family institution. The family is the last institution that is still exists right now to preserve Islamic values. “There is so much fitna (tribulation) out there in the world. We can’t protect our kids from everything bad,” warns a devout grandfather of ten children. “But it is for that very reason that the home must be an oasis where Allah is remembered and obeyed, where children can relax and feel cherished, where they can practice their religion without feeling apologetic or alien. The home environment should be as halaal as possible. Our litmus test was always ‘Would we be ashamed if the Prophet (salallaahu alaihi wasallam) were to walk into our house right now? Is there anything we would want to hide?’.”

First Language

Language has a wider role than a way to communicate each other. We convey our thought trough words, whether we reveal or keep it on mind. It is true that some persons have mental imaging on their brain to put ideas, but they never leave words completely. People accustom to think using their mother language. Some could change when they are introduced to several new languages and preferring to use them.

One said, learning a new language is growing a new brain on head. This saying is true in several ways. Learning a new language stimulate the forming of some neuron connections on brain. On the other side, when we attached to another language, we see, hear, and think differently. That is because language was not only a heap of words. It is important part of each culture.

That makes the proper teaching of language, especially the first language or the mother tongue, become very important. It structures the mind. The mother hones linguistic skills of a child and therefore the language spoken by the mother would be the primary language that the child would learn. The first language of a child is part of their personal, social and cultural identity. Another impact of the first language is that it brings about the reflection and learning of successful social patterns of acting and speaking. It is basically responsible for differentiating the linguistic competence of acting.

It is a subject thought and by which other subjects can be tackled, understood and communicated. Clarity of thought and expression is only possible when one has a certain command over the mother tongue. Weakness in any other subject means weakness in that particular subject only, but weakness in the mother tongue means the paralysis of all thought and the power of expression. Deep insight, fresh discoveries, appreciation and expansion of ideas are only possible when one understands the subject through being able to assimilate and be stimulated by the ideas of the subject.

Critical Thinking

We are human being, and by nature are curious; desire to know. Becoming humanly means getting used utilizing the basic potential that differs us from any other creature. It is not only a brain, but also the thinking ability, the one we possess uniquely. The other animated creatures have brain—few are even bigger than ours are—but still they cannot think.

Since infancy, human develop the thinking ability by questioning and abstractly imagine the entire world around. For little children, their environment was completely a strange place filled with many strange things in it. The exploration then begun along with the development of their sensory ability. Firstly, they would try to “taste” anything they could grab. They put it in mouth to check whether it is edible or not. Later on, they start to walk and utter some words. What is this and what is that will frequently slide from their little tongue in the early days they start talking. The questions of ‘what’ then turn to ‘how’ and expand to ‘why’. They start asking reason.

Nevertheless, it would stop someday when adults around them put a stiff wall of unresponsive acts upon the questions. For us, the adults, it will be demanding more patience and effort. That is why we have to be careful. A little careless response and less attention we provide them, and then they will gradually be unconfident and questioning less. Say we are tired when we are, or do not know when it is so. However, give them chance to explore together in time we are refreshed and ready. We could do anything to cope with it. Perhaps make a deal in limiting the question per day, or challenge them back to try finding out answer alone sometimes, so it would ignite some discussion later, etc.

Wait! Is it advantageous encouraging children to be philosophically critical? Will it cause any hardship during their early years to learn? While some parents sometimes worry a little—hoping that was not kind of sound of hidden laziness to response children’s curiosity—, Matthews (1980) presents evidence that young children often make comments, ask questions, and even engage in reasoning that professional philosophers can recognize as philosophical. Here are some of his examples (I copied the passage below from Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy):

Tim (about six years), while busily engaged in licking a pot, asked, “papa, how can we be sure that everything is not a dream?” Somewhat abashed, Tim’s father said that he didn’t know and asked how Tim thought that we could tell? After a few more licks of the pot, Tim answered, “Well, I don’t think everything is a dream, ‘cause in a dream people wouldn’t go around asking if it was a dream.”

Ursula (three years, four months), “I have a pain in my tummy.” Mother, “You lie down and go to sleep and your pain will go away.” Ursula, “Where will it go?”

Some questions of fact arose between James and his father, and James said, “I know it is!” His father replied, “But perhaps you might be wrong!” Denis [four years, seven months] then joined in, saying, “But if he knows, he can’t be wrong! Thinking’s sometimes wrong, but knowing’s always right!”

Ian (six years) found to his chagrin that the three children of his parents’ friends monopolized the television; they kept him from watching his favorite program. “Mother,” he asked in frustration, “why is it better for three people to be selfish than for one?”

A little girl of nine asked: “Daddy, is there really a God?” The father answered that it wasn’t very certain, to which the child retorted: “There must be really, because he has a name!”

Michael (seven): “I don’t like to [think] about the universe without an end. It gives me a funny feeling in my stomach. If the universe goes on forever, there is no place for God to live, who made it.”

These and other anecdotes provide substantial evidence that at least some children quite naturally engage in thinking that is genuinely philosophical. Parents should nurture the potential well. Imagine what to happen if we kill it mercilessly by saying something like, “Stop asking stupid things,” “Don’t disturb me, I am busy,” or, “What are you are talking about? There is nothing like that.”

Aside from philosophical discussion upon, say, some abstract objects, it is good to encourage them explore and questioning the nature. As much that was written in the Qur’an verses, people should observe the universe and watch the greatness of the Creator. For young children, first experience engaging in some science works could be very interesting. Exploration of the environment is dominant activity in this stage. Although it may also involving some other activities such as experimenting or measuring to extend the authenticated description of the physical world, the finding out will be the most of the work.

The Revelation: Guidance for Life

As well as we encourage children to have faith in reason and in utilizing scientific experience to answer many of challenging problems in their life; to build the base of morality value, they should have a faith in the authority of revelation. Reason and sensory experience alone were not enough to build this very fundamental aspect. As for the reason we live, the motive of our being in this world all are mystery. On this point we should humble  ourselves and accept the fact we are just tiny creatures in this miraculous universe, then receive what the Creator has told us to act trough the revelation brought by the Messenger.

That is why we should introduce al-Qur’an to our Muslim children as soon as possible. Even before they were born, it is a good idea to have them hear the recitation, be it the when the mother reads the Qur’an, or by dad as well as the other family member, or just recording of several verses. Make the children hear it often and familiar with it and try to pronounce, memorize, and then learn to read it in the proper way (using the tajweed) once they grow up.

However, the main challenge is to teach children that the Qur’an is kind of a compass that shows them direction in life. The Qur’an along with the hadeeth, navigate them to walk accordingly to the path of God and the Messenger. The purpose is that in every single time they desire to act on something, they will always ask themselves first, “Is it forbidden, or not. What does the Messenger told us about this?” Simply stated, they should always entitle the motive of every act according to the God’s command. Also, to be noted by parents, make them witness that the Qur’an is live among them. Let them watching the people around them practising the Qur’an and Sunnah in daily life.

Sense of Art and Beauty

It is natural that human have a potential inclination to beauty. It is also important to nurture the inclination since early stage of life. Thus in the realm that art is really important subject for children to learn for them build a healthy mental state and emotion, as well as giving the children many options to express their intention and creativity, Muslim parents will pay attention to choose only the permissible form of art and culture in general. Having fun with enjoying art wasn’t haraam, it just that what is often excused as “culture” was not allowed to contradict the Islamic values.

However, we shape the perception of aesthetics by how we see the world around and ourselves in such a specific way. It is true that the aesthetic sense is individual taste whatsoever, but the guideline that Islam has provide give the Muslim a common perception about acceptance of something aesthetical, e.g. the prohibition of creating anthropomorphic images.

Titus Burckhardt, an art philosopher once said: “The absence of icons in Islam has not merely a negative but a positive role. By excluding all anthropomorphic images, at least within the religious realm, Islamic art aids man to be entirely himself. Instead of projecting his soul outside himself, he can remain in his ontological centre where he is both the viceregent (khalîfa) and slave (‘abd) of God. Islamic art as a whole aims at creating an ambience which helps man to realize his primordial dignity; it therefore avoids everything that could be an ‘idol’, even in a relative and provisional manner. Nothing must stand between man and the invisible presence of God. Thus Islamic art creates a void; it eliminates in fact all the turmoil and passionate suggestions of the world, and in their stead creates an order that expresses equilibrium, serenity and peace.”

Physical Activity

In line with nurturing mental aspects of children’s life, we should also train their physical strength and agility. The messenger told us to teach the children riding horses, swimming, and archery. Besides the literal meaning, that there is a need in mastering riding vehicles, swimming, and armouring, in general it is important to have some physical exercise for children to maintain their health. Training in physical science also paves the way into a healthy physical state, as well as a good eating habit, etc. Thus, they will be fit to do much activity without any burden.

The Method of Teaching

To children, daily life was wholly a game. They still cannot separate which time is to work (when there is expectation to be focused and serious) and which part to play (and be relaxed and amused). They all seriously focused in the amusement of playing and game, all day. Therefore, when we are educate them, in the very early days we had to make it seen as natural adventure and exploration. Far from engineered situation, that clearly shows who is subject and object of the education activity. It is further important for the teaching of values; it should force upon him from all sides by adults giving continuous and consistent examples.

In this stage of development, we give the examples more and instruct less. Wait until they start to distinguish good and bad by reason (tamyeez). Then, we could start reassemble the activities in way more serious and noticeable. Nevertheless, it remains important to consistently walk the walk not only talk the talk. In other words, practice what we preach, because children do what their parents do, not what they say.

We can manage some serial activities that combine several important subjects we discussed. For example, reading stories to children will both enhance their language skill and cherish their critical thinking when some philosophical discussion raise after the reading session. Sing along the walk in the garden will benefit the children in their physical condition, emotional state, sense of art, as well improving the language comprehension, etc.

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