In May 2017, the Islamic Centre of England invited teachers from the Islamic School of Al-Mahdi Islamic Community Centre in Ontario, Canada to partake in an enlightening series of workshops for Islamic educators in the West, under the direction of Sheikh Dr Mohammad Ali Shomali.
The program was coordinated and instructed by Dr Shomali, Dr Heydarpoor, Sr. Israa, and Sr. Shahnaze.
The programme was offered over a 4-week period with 3 days/week of classes. The programme coordinators also simultaneously hosted a condensed version of the same programme with approximately 5.5d/week of classes for the visiting group from Canada, comprised of 9 talented teachers (current and prospective) and administrators of Al-Mahdi Islamic School from May 15 to May 27, 2017.
The group was headed by Dr Salam Al-Attar, president of the board of directors of Al-Mahdi Islamic Community Centre.The goals of this unique programme included:
- exploring, in depth the Islamic theory of education
- becoming familiar with a variety of teaching tips and strategies to help develop greater competence and proficiency in character education
- reviewing methods to effectively manage a classroom
- reflecting on the many ways to address critical challenges within the context of Islamic education
- enhancing understanding of aqaaid (theology) and akhlaq (Islamic ethics)
- networking and sharing knowledge with other educators
The following is an abstract of the daily experiences and primary points learned each day by the Al-Mahdi teacher team from Canada.
Day 1 – The Islamic Theory of Education
1st Class – Acquisition of knowledge by the servants of God
With Dr Shomali
In this class, the innate human thirst for knowledge was discussed. While innate drive can be useful, it requires the setting of limitations within which it is to operate. If we do not regulate or control our thirst, it can prove to be useless or harmful.
2nd Class – Aqaid (Lessons on Islamic Belief)
with Dr Heydarpoor
The main goal as educators and how to make our children love God was the topic of the 2nd class. Students spent the last part of the day with Sister Shahnaze, with an introduction to akhlaq (Islamic morality). She began by highlighting the importance of firstly ensuring one’s personal development in order to be an effective teacher for others…
Day 2 – Sharing Divine Knowledge through Divine Representation and representation of The Divine
In this class, Dr Shomali focussed on the realisation that in Islam, the primary aim of teaching is not the mere quantitative sharing of information. Rather, Islam offers a holistic approach to teaching that ensures the learner grows from every possible aspect, so that their development is complete.
In sister Shahnaze’s class on the Islamic Moral System, participants furthered the discussion into introductory lessons on akhlaq and its importance in Islam. In her class on General Methodology, we reviewed the importance and structure of dua. We also read an article written by a Hawza student, in which she outlined her personal struggles with conforming to societal standards of beauty.
Day 3 – Love and Fear of God, catalysts for self-purification & development
In this class with Sheikh Shomali, students discussed the importance of having fear for God. “Our students (as well as us) should have a deep respect for God as well as a fear but not in a negative sense.” he said.
Students also discussed the significance of ensuring their students have a deep love for others for the sake of pleasing God.
In Sis. Shahnaze class, on the Islamic Moral System, students explored the various approaches to self-purification, including combat with the self, medicine for the spirit and the journey of purification.
In General Methodology, she demonstrated a very practical and effective way of delivering a lesson plan to our students. In summary, it involves the sequential presenting of material, activating prior knowledge, reading an article, and then answering discussed questions.
Day 4 – On the path to Sincerity & enhancing the Shi‘a identity
In his ‘Islamic Theory of Education’ class, Sheikh Shomali focused heavily on the significance of respecting one’s honour and dignity; two concepts that are closely related. And in sister Shahnaze’s class on the Islamic Moral System, participants began by reviewing their knowledge on akhlaq through the creative use of the game of bingo.
Furthermore, they explored the idea of reliance and trust in God and the importance of acknowledging that He has absolute authority and control and will carry out whatever He wants whenever He wants according to what is best for the individual.
Day 5 – Exploring Divine Will, Divine Justice, types of evil & realms of existence
In Dr Heydarpoor’s class, we continued our conversation about unity with respect to the Divine acts. Everything that occurs in this world must be permitted and created by God in its essence. This lesson led to an enlightening discourse regarding the idea of free will, which we have been given by God so that He may distinguish us in ranks of piety. In Sis. Shahnaze’s class on General Methodology, we were introduced to a variety of creative, yet educational, classroom strategies and activities, including writing, storytelling, discussion, role plays, games, repetition/movement, using humour or technology, debating, and poetry.
Day 6 – Relationship with the Divine & creation: insight onto Divine Punishment, Divine Guidance and spiritual growth through Suffering
In this class with Dr Heydarpoor, students reviewed the concept of evil and suffering in Islam. They delved further into the idea that not all suffering is directly from God or in His plans.
In sister Shahnaze’s class on the Islamic Moral System, we explored the topic of our relationship with others, specifically focusing on pardoning those who have wronged us and safeguarding our family.
In her class on General Methodology, we played a variety of educational and Islamic games and activities, such as charades, word search and crosswords.
Day 7 – Infallible Prophets & Imams: guides to salvation in the Hereafter
In Dr Heydarpoor’s class, we continued our discussion on Prophethood and Imamat by exploring the nature of infallibility according to the Shi‘a school of thought.
In sister Shahnaze’s class, we continued the discussion on our relationship with others exploring how to fulfil and respect the rights of students and teachers.
Day 8 – Prayer & Charity: vehicles for goodness & humility
In Shaikh Shomali’s class on the Islamic Theory of Education, we discussed the very important concept of goodness or ‘ihsaan’ in Islam and the top priorities in Islamic education.
In sister Shahnaze’s class, students delved into the topic of humbleness. They learned that the root of the word means “he laid it”—referring to a lowly and modest mindset of ourselves. To be humble, we must think of our position in this world and think of our smallness in relation to the rest of creation and the Creator Himself.
Day 9 – Prosperity in life through haya’
In the Islamic Moral System, students delved deeper into the topic of humbleness and learned that being humble is not equivalent to thinking less of yourself, rather, it involves thinking of yourself as less. We also spoke about the concept of modesty (haya’).
Day 10 – Centrality of Truthfulness in Islam & Generosity of Islamic communities
In the final class with Sheikh Shomali, he spoke about the importance of truthfulness as a moral quality. Students learned that truthfulness is the most central value, and involves not only accepting the truth when presented but actively seeking it too. He also discussed the importance of having a sense of community, and how the primarily Western phenomenon of individualism is not always a good thing, as it can lead to selfishness and egocentricity.
Lastly, participants entered in group discussions based on a critical question as to how we, as Islamic educators can establish salat (prayer) and zakat (charity) in our children’s/students’ lives?
Dr Shomali, Dr Heydarpoor, and Sister Shahnaze enlightened us all through their knowledge. It was an absolute honour to be in their presence and experience their teaching first hand. We gained valuable knowledge and teaching strategies that we hope to implement within our own classrooms back in Canada, God willing.
Continuation of such programmes for years to come creates future crossroads with the esteemed teachers, organisers and participants.