Raising Kids in North America

Posted on November 7, 2014



Nasim Hassan, Delaware, USA

All parents like to raise their kids into healthy and decent adults. Social scientists, psychologist and many others have written volumes on this subject. This is not a new challenge. The immigrants from all over the world have tried to preserve their culture, religion and social values. Here I like to focus on Muslim immigrants who have come from a different culture and struggle to transmit their religious values to their children.
In fact this is not an easy task. The impact of American environments is so pervasive that even with great precautions the young people emerge with a new identity. That identity is not South Asian or Arab although the kids listen to ethnic music, sometimes watch Indian films but still they stray far away from the life styles of their parents.
People from Muslim countries have deep roots in their centuries old culture. Indeed they are very proud of their heritage. They truly believe that their culture is superior to prevailing culture of North America. They point towards drug abuse, sexual freedom, lack of respect for the elders, crime, school dropout and high divorce rate in America.
In the beginning I also believed that South Asian culture is far ahead of current American norms. After many years in the USA, I observed a great diversity in American people.
While I have seen immigrants abusing the parents I have also observed American families taking care of their relatives and parents. So here I like to narrate my first hand experience about how nurturing a child from the birth impacts the growth. I understand every community in the USA has a choice and freedom of action. If they make sustained efforts they can rear the kids into law abiding, educated and well rounded adults.
First Stage
The process starts when the child is born in the USA. This is the time when the parents should look around at friends and close family members. If they like to provide healthy and loving environment then they should reach out to their parents, relatives and friends. This is not easy. Efforts must be made by young people to include extended family and friends in this task. If this is not taken into consideration at first stage then later on this becomes a very difficult task. Kids who grow up alone without extended family relationships end up psychologically weak and get depressed even with small life challenges. Kids who get support from extended family and friends become strong to face the life experiences.
Religious education
This is indeed very important for Muslim immigrants to North America. There is a wide spectrum of people in the community. Some people devote a great deal of energy in imparting religious education to their kids. However the number does not exceed more than twenty percent of the community. There are religious schools all over North America.
There three basic models of education that Muslims follow in North America. First model of education is the Islamic schools that have started in every state. The religious families send their kids to Islamic schools. Most of these schools provide education up to fifth grade. Some schools are trying very hard to extend to high school level.
In the second model, the parents send their kids to Sunday Islamic schools. During working days the kids attend regular schools. On Sundays the parents and teachers try to inculcate Islamic values. About fifty percent of Muslim immigrants send their kids to Sunday Islamic schools. The success of such schools depends on the volunteer parents. If the parents participate in such schools then the kids become serious in learning. However if parents do not take any interest then the teachers cannot do much about education.
The third model is followed by liberal Muslims who are focused on success in North America. They send their kids to regular or private schools depending on the family resources. About thirty percent of Muslims fall in this category. Some try to hire a teacher to enable kids in reading Quran. However majority in this group follow main stream American values. Their main focus is on American dream of success.
Each model has its own advantages and drawbacks. The religious Islamic schools are run with good intentions. The kids follow their teachers in dress, manners and behavior. In North American environment the majority easily accepts Christian ladies with traditional dress with proper head cover. But when they see Arabic or oriental dress their attitude and behavior changes. I have observed growing prejudice against people with long beard and hijab. The decent American dress is acceptable but any dress from Middle East or South Asia raises concerns among common American people. The major issue with model is lack of rational understanding. My advice to the parents is to look at the results of this education with existing state or national standards. If the grades on the test scores exceed the regular schools then certainly send kids to Islamic schools. If the schools do not meet the standards then go to the best available public or private schools.
Sunday Islamic schools work only if the parents are involved in the activities. If the parents drop the kids in Islamic schools and Islamic school uses only paid teachers then forget about real Islamic education. The teacher will brain wash your kids according to his or her own understanding. My first hand experience shows that participation of parents in the Sunday school determines the success of Islamic education.
The liberal model intends not to impart any religious values, so they follow the American norms. The kids try to become all Americans. They do not develop any sense of belonging that creates a vacuum. This vacuum can be filled with any religion. I have seen kids who never went to any Islamic school having similar challenges faced by common people of America. This is certainly a choice made by the parents.
Parents must be apprised about the consequences of kids becoming very orthodox or conservative Muslims. I have seen college graduate from good universities not getting proper jobs due to the beard, manners
Or dress. Contrary to what many Islamic scholars tell us the benefits of Hijab and beard there is growing discrimination in job market. It is always better to know ahead of time about the sources of prejudice.
The students from Islamic Schools during their formative years need exposure to larger American culture. If the kids are deprived of this interaction during teenage years then in later years there can be unending problems of adjustment.
Here I would like to suggest few steps that larger Muslim community leaders must take to improve their chances of success in America.
Community Support
This is the critical area where most of the Muslim communities have failed to provide proper attention. In North America every family largely struggles on its own. Weaker segments of society do not get any support in terms of career guidance, financial support or even minor help like in taking care sick kids in the family. Rich and affluent families have very little problem as they can easily pay for the services. Average families where the both parents work even small problems become unmanageable. Particularly the first generation immigrants do not know how to get help from state or local organizations.
I have observed many old people living alone while their kids have moved on to other states in search of better opportunities. I also know many young families who need help in finding baby sitters, pick up and dropping in schools or doctor visits.
Structured Social Interaction
Muslim immigrants sincerely believed that the Islamic centers would provide multiple social services to the community. The facts on the ground indicate that this did not happen. Family counseling, career guidance, senior services simply could not be provided due to lack of resources. Each area has become specialized that specific services need trained people.
The place for community prayers and Sunday Islamic school and full time Islamic schools are the positive areas where success has been achieved.
Muslims in America need to develop special groups for other services. This requires education, training and experience. People who do not have the background or experience should not be expected to provide these services. I have seen Imams trying marriage counseling with disastrous results.
So what is the solution to this challenge? In my opinion religious education is essential from several other reasons. The most important being the sense of belonging in this vast ocean of humanity. This religious education can include Sunday school, Islamic Schools, Muslim Youth camps, lectures and seminars. Any combination can work. I believe the regular religious education should be up to primary grade level. Later on the Sunday Islamic should be continued till the eight or tenth grade.
After primary schools, the kids should attend the regular schools if they offer better facilities. My observation shows the standard schools in American suburbs have far more facilities than Islamic schools. The kids should go to Islamic middle schools if they have finances and facilities better than local public schools. Here I am excluding inner city schools that do not have enough state or local funding.
In fact the proof comes in standard test results that student take in various grades. This information is readily available for all schools on a statewide basis. Islamic schools should be compared with regular schools in terms of grades and other facilities such as play grounds, labs and library.

First step starting the improvement is to recognize the community issues. At this point there is not recognition of growing issues. Once the problem is recognized then the second step is to form a group. I recommend improved interaction between community elders and young people. Again that can only happen if it is planned and organized. Without structure nothing can happen. I hope for the best for young Muslims growing up in North America.