Islam Inspired Curriculum Renewal

Considering Human Development in Islamic Education

Claire Alkouatli

Development in Context

Objectives of Islamic education suggest that Islam ought to be taught and learned across the domains of a young Muslim’s life - home, school, mosque, community - to be internalized within the heart, mind, body, and soul, for refinement and application across a lifetime. This chapter thus takes a developmental perspective on Islam as encompassing shared faith-based concepts, principles, and practices, broadly aiming to facilitate the integration of cognition, emotion, and embodiment in consciousness of God. Islamic Education refers to the education of Muslims in their Islamic faith (Douglass & Shaikh, 2004) and being Muslim involves “conscious praxis of the faith” (Zine, 2004, p. 181). Along with unique learning objectives, Islamic education is composed of unique content and pedagogies, as methods of teaching and learning. Taken together, these components suggest a unique type of Islamic human development. Human development generally refers to changes that occur with the passage of time, with changing biological and environmental factors. As educators, environmental factors concern us most because we can alter them. Educators1 who understand child and youth development may be better able to design learning experiences toward social, emotional, and cognitive development (Schonert-Reichl, 2017). Indeed, the ways and pedagogies by which we engage learners have impacts on accelerating or decelerating their development: “Instruction is not limited to trailing after development or moving stride for stride along with it. It can move ahead of development, pushing it further and eliciting new formations” (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 198). If what we do with learners can literally draw development forward, implications are profound. Employing particular pedagogies in an Islamic classroom may directly contribute to a young person’s engagement, meaning making, and internalization of Islamic material and, simultaneously, draw forward their development. Other pedagogies may do the opposite. Educators must understand human development to construct educational spaces and employ pedagogies that draw development forward.

In terms of who we teach, how we teach, and when, this chapter aims to help educators understand some processes of human development within Islamic contexts and offer some suggestions on how to engage these processes through pedagogies. While considering Islamic education in light of concepts that have evolved in secular, Western contexts is helpful, we need to consider human development in light of concepts drawn from Islamic sources in order to obtain a fuller picture. In previous times and places, where Islamic principles and practices were consistent across homes, schools, and societies, there may have been less need to define the contours of human development and pedagogies through which it was realized. Yet, cultural contexts and pedagogies have changed, and both have significant effects on human development. Many young Muslims are minorities in larger dominant secular Western societies and spend significant amounts of time in non-Muslim learning environments - even those who attend full-time Islamic schools. The starting point of this chapter, then, is the importance of the sociocultural environment on development in general, toward understanding the particular impact of enriched Islamic environments on Muslim children’s development.

Scholars describe human development occurring through processes of “progressively more complex reciprocal interaction” between an active, evolving young person and the people, objects, and activities in his or her immediate environment (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006):

[Different environments produce discernible differences, not only across but within societies, in talent, temperament, human relations, and particularly in the ways in which each culture and subculture brings up the next generation. The process and product of making human beings human clearly varies by place and time. (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994, p. 584; italics added)

If the process of making human beings human differs across environments, which environments are young Muslims inhabiting? What are the developmental qualities of Islamic environments? What do the ends of Islamic development look like in a global, technological world? Clear answers to these questions are critically important in terms of the Islamic learning environments we construct and the pedagogies as tools of development we employ.

This chapter draws from literature in the field of Islamic Education, as well as data from two studies conducted with Canadian Muslim educators, which collectively illustrate distinct Islamic understandings of how development unfolds across the lifespan. The first study focused on perspectives and practices of human development in a mosque—school classroom (Alkouatli & Vadeboncoeur, 2018); the second one engaged 35 Muslim-Canadian educators in discussions on their pedagogies in teaching and learning Islam (Alkouatli, forthcoming). In the next Section 2, the reader will be introduced to some general pathways to development considered in light of Islamic education. In Section 3, uniquely Islamic perspectives are described. In Section 4, three pedagogies drawn from a saying common in Muslim communities are examined as ways to enhance human development: Play, dialogue, and companionship. In the last Section (5), the reader is urged to consider the environments they create with Muslim learners and their own roles in processes of Islamic human development.

Pathways to Development in Light of Islamic Education

Some concepts drawn from a sociocultural theory of human development (Vygotsky, 1967, 1987, 1994, 2004) help illustrate how development happens and are relevant in Islamic contexts. First, what we do with children in a learning environment is a pathway to developmental change. Individuals develop through participation in mature forms of cultural behavior (Wertsch, 1998; Vygotsky, 1987):

The child’s higher psychological functions, his higher attributes, which are specific to humans, originally manifest themselves as forms of the child’s collective behavior, as a form of co-operation with other people, and it is only afterwards that they become the internal individual functions of the child himself. (Vygotsky, 1994, p. 353)

In other words, the practices in which we participate, in a sociocultural environment, shape our development at the deepest levels, including our consciousness, described as the very origins of thought unified with emotion (Vygotsky, 1987). The idea that consciousness itself develops in cultural context is significant for Muslim educators in designing learning environments. The educative rigor of an environment may be related to the degree and quality of learners’ participation, often enabled by adults, and the affective and cognitive context surrounding participation (Vadeboncoeur, 2017). In an Islamic educational context, the degrees and qualities of children’s participation in Islamic practices, like congregational prayer, for example, and the affective and cognitive valence of that participation, may contribute to development.

Of the many practices that take place within an environment, there are some that are ideal, or final forms — “refined and perfected by humanity” (Vygotsky, 1994, p. 352) - which exert influence on a developing person. A common example is language: While a young child speaks in babbles, adults speak back in the final form of the language. Eventually, the child also comes to speak in that final form.

Let us agree to call this developed form, which is supposed to make its appearance at the end of the child’s development, the final or ideal form -ideal in the sense that it acts as a model for that which should be achieved at the end of the developmental period; and final in the sense that it represents what the child is supposed to attain at the end of his development. (Vygotsky, 1994, p. 348)

Final forms, modeled by adults, illustrate the endpoints of development that interact with the child as the child develops. Without exposure to final forms, the form may fail to develop in the child, or may develop in a distorted way (Vygotsky, 1994). This concept might prompt Muslim educators to think about final forms of Islamic practices in their own classrooms, including aspects of character, Islamic reasoning, and social etiquette (adali): Which forms are present? How are they role modeled? How do we enable children to engage with final forms? While many Muslim educators are cognizant of the importance of Islamic environments for learning, the elements mentioned here provide some specific touchstones: Creating participatory learning environments and enabling engagement with final forms of Islamic practices.

Speaking together is a second primary pathway to development, whereby language fosters the development of individual thinking processes. First, the child begins to use language in relationships, to serve social functions. Gradually, over time, the child comes to use language as inner speech, whereby the words of others become the child’s own inner thoughts (Vygotsky, 1994). In an Islamic learning environment, words carry great weight: From specific pronunciation, meaning, and memorization of the Arabic words of the Qur’an, to Muhammad’s words in context, to the words that make up dua (supplication), to the 99 Divine names, to Islamic expressions in everyday speech. Speaking meaningful words together with young Muslims is a primary pedagogy in Islamic education and internalization of such words is a primary goal. Importantly, how we do so - and the emotional and cognitive framing around speaking together - may contribute to depths of internalization and may be specific to a particular place in time. In a contemporary Canadian cultural context, for example, Muslim educators identified that exploring meaning, providing reasons, and encouraging independent investigation and freedom to question and contradict are important pedagogical approaches with Muslim-Canadian children (Alkouatli, forthcoming). If the words we speak with children eventually become their own thoughts, then the developmental gravity of speaking Islamically with learners becomes visible. It also provides insight into Aisha’s famous statement that Muhammad’s character w

Participating in learning environments characterized by final forms of social practices and speaking together (Vygotsky, 1994) may have implications within a site of Islamic education in terms of the developmental potential of the commonest practices, like creating a convivial learning environment, reciting Qur’an together, and participating in congregational acts of worship. Yet, these two pathways alone fall short of painting a complete picture of human development in Islamic education, whose roots originate deep within Islam as a faith tradition (Mogra, 2010; Rufai, 2012) that contains unique Islamic understandings of human development.

Islamic Dimensions of Human Development

At the first world conference on Islamic education in Mecca, 1977, a definition was presented: “A process that should aim at the balanced growth of the total personality [...] spiritual, intellectual, imaginative, physical, scientific, linguistic, both individually and collectively, and motivate all these aspects towards goodness and the attainment of perfection” (as cited in Al-Sadan, 1997, p. 90). This description glimpses prominent themes reflected in the literature on Islamic Education, characterized by holism and Divine unity (taivhid) — where God is a primary force in development - considered here in three concepts. First, the human being who learns and develops is comprised of unique developmental domains, including spiritual ones: “Education must begin with a spiritual understanding of who human beings are, for we are ultimately spiritual beings. We are in this world for a purpose, and we have a responsibility towards the Creator and to His creation” (Nasr, 2012, p. 13). This responsibility alludes to a second concept: Islamic education aims toward unique objectives of learning and development, the center of which is God-consciousness or taqwa (Sahin, 2013). Given the first two concepts, a third is that unique pedagogies link learners to learning objectives. This three-part conceptualization has implications for Muslim educators in terms of who we are educating, toward which ends, and pedagogies operationalizing this process.

Human Beings, Objectives of Human Development, and Pedagogies Linking the Two

A primary human dimension is the ruh (soul), as a pure, non-individual aspect of the human being, which functions as an access point to God-consciousness (Rothman & Coyle, 2018). Other interacting elements of the human being include the unity of ‘aql (cognition or intellect) and qalb (emotion or heart)

(Al-Attas, 1980), whereby the heart is the place where consciousness resides in the form of intellect (Rothman & Coyle, 2018). The nafs often refers to the lowest part of the human self (ego or self), attracted to worldly desires; yet its ability to be refined across the lifespan constitutes a developmental objective (Rothman & Coyle, 2018).

Along with illustrating unique, holistic dimensions of the human learner, the Meccan description also highlights objectives - goodness and the attainment of perfection - in a process of refinement that Islamic education supports. Educational and developmental objectives coalesce within the Islamic tradition (Alkouatli & Vadeboncoeur, 2018) and have been described as fostering “Godly, moral humans” (Obeid, 1988, p. 173); sharpening the mind through reflection on creation; and purifying the whole self through the teachings of the Qur’an (Al Zeera, 2001).

In considering pedagogies as methods of teaching Islam, some scholars have asserted that educators have flexibility because pedagogy is not tied to aqidah (creed) (Rufai, 2012). Yet, if an educator’s worldview is colored by aqidah, then there may be implications on pedagogy. While educators should employ contextually relevant best pedagogical practices in teaching Islam, unique Islamic understandings of human beings and objectives of human development indicate particular pedagogies. Pedagogies derived from Islamic primary sources -described within the Qur’an and illustrated in the life of Muhammad (see, for example, Abu Ghuddah, 2017; Alkouatli, 2018; Sahin, 2013) - may be optimal for engaging learners in teaching and learning Islam.

The possibility for a human being to attain to God-consciousness (taqwa), and its position as a primary objective of Islamic education (Sahin, 2013), is a significant point in an Islamic conception of human development. Additionally, developmental dimensions of the human being theoretically depart from secular ones, aim for unique objectives, and require unique pedagogies, all of which outline unique Islamic perspectives on how human beings become optimally human.

Islamically Coherent Leading Activities

Perspectives on Islamic human development highlight a continuous process across the lifespan, rather than a series of distinct developmental stages (Obeid, 1988). Leading activities have been described as dominating the lives of people at particular age periods and propelling a growing child toward full participation in cultural life (Cole & Engestrom, 2006). In Western cultural contexts, leading activities have been identified as play in early childhood; formal instruction in middle childhood; and peer relations in adolescence (Cole & Engestrom, 2006). An Islamic iteration of leading activities can be found in a saying, common in Muslim communities and articulated by one of the Canadian-Muslim educators, whereby education is considered in terms of three major periods of seven years each:

For the first seven years, play with them. For the second seven years, teach them knowledge and manners. And, then, for the third seven years, be friends with them. It is not hadith; some say that Ali Abi Talib said it, in terms of educating children. (Abid, interview, April 2019)

This saying features the leading activities of play, instruction, and mature companionship. While it chimes with the sociocultural emphases on play in the early years and formal instruction in middle-childhood, this Islamic saying asserts that in the adolescent years adult companionship, rather than peer relations, is paramount. Given the ubiquitous nature of this saying, it serves well as an Islamically coherent pedagogic framework for considering play, formal instruction, and companionship as leading activities in Islamic Education. Each leading activity can be expressed in myriad relevant pedagogies, depending on the needs of a learning community, the context, and the proclivities of a particular educator in engaging unique dimensions of learners toward Islamic educational objectives. In the sections that follow, these leading activities are examined as imaginative play in the first seven years; formal instruction as participatory dialogue in the next seven years; and companionship as mediated role modeling in the final seven years. These pedagogies may not seem typical to descriptions of Islamic education, historically described as heavy on lecturing, note-taking, disputation, and memorization (Rufai, 2012) and likely reflecting the resources, needs, and cultural norms of particular times and places. Yet, derived from the common saying, they approach criteria described in Ajem and Memon’s (2011) seven principles of Islamic pedagogy. A pedagogy is “Islamic” if it reflects a Quranic ethos, the teachings and practices of Muhammad, and the intellectual and spiritual heritage of his followers. In addition, it must aim to develop a student’s intelligence (aql); faith (imari); morality and character (khuluq); and practical knowledge personal religious obligations (fard ain), as well as worldly responsibilities. Previous scholarship has suggested that play, dialogue, and companionship hold potential in deepening internalization of content material while stimulating development (Vygotsky, 1987). Table 11.1 illustrates leading activities expressed as pedagogies characterizing each age period. In the interests of space, play is explored more extensively than the other two.

Play: Imagining with the Youngest Learners (0-7)

While there are many ways of enriching learning playfully, the specific focus here is on imaginative play — variously described as “pretend, symbolic, or fantasy play,” whereby a signifier (e.g. a banana) is often used to represent the signified

TABLE 11.1 Islamically coherent leading activities

Age period

Leading Activity


Developmental Aims

Early years (0-7)


• Imaginative

• Cognitive, social-emotional.

Middle childhood (8-13)



• Dialogue

spiritual development + purification

Adolescence (14+)


• Mediated role modeling

• Mastery + appropriation of

Islamic principles + practices

• Assembling one’s own Islam, relevant to place + time

(e.g. a telephone) (Göncü & Vadeboncoeur, 2017, p. 422). Children engage in imaginary play in order to explore experiences of emotional significance and to understand things that happen in their cultural worlds (Göncü & Perone, 2005; Lindqvist, 2001). For example, when a child pretends to be a mother, she begins to develop an understanding of the meaning of motherhood.

Play in Development

Several aspects of imaginary play hold potential for development. First, the pleasure of play often compels a child to act against immediate impulses and toward self-restraint. While play appears to be free, it is an illusory freedom because a child’s actions in play are subordinate to the meanings of things and rules stem from the imaginary situation itself (Vygotsky, 1967). Take, for example, two children pretending to be sisters: Sisters are supposed to act in certain ways. So, roles are governed by particular rules, based in experience and specific to the child’s understanding. While subordination to rules may be difficult in other areas of a young child’s life - resisting candy or sitting quietly in preschool, for example -in play, self-subordination to rules is not only possible but pleasurable because it extends the play (Vygotsky, 1967). A child’s greatest achievements come in play, “achievements which tomorrow will become his average level of real action and his morality” (Vygotsky, 1967, p. 14). As children literally role-play their social futures, there may be important implications of play with Islamic material, but this has not been studied. Second, play functions in the vital transition toward abstract thought, whereby children start to separate meanings from objects. For example, a piece of wood becomes a doll; a stick becomes a horse. The child has severed the meaning of horse from a real horse, but still needs the stick as a pivot “to keep the meaning from evaporating” (Vygotsky, 1967, p. 13). As a child begins to create imaginary situations and develop creativity (Lindqvist, 2001), s/he is simultaneously developing the ability to think abstractly (Vygotsky, 1967). Imaginary play has been linked to favorable outcomes including language and literacy development, social-emotional awareness, social competence, and divergent thinking (Berk, Mann, & Ogan, 2006). These features situate play as the leading edge of development because, in play, children are functioning beyond their current developmental level: “In play, a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior. In play it is as though he were a head taller than himself” (Vygotsky, 1967, p. 16). Play theorists have suggested that cultural differences in approaches to play raise the question of what is or is not “universal” in imaginative play (Goncii & Vadeboncoeur, 2017). Bearing this question in mind, you might consider optimal ways of engaging children in imaginary play in making meaning of Islamic material specific to your own classroom contexts.

Pedagogical Example of Imaginary Play

I explored the potential of imaginary play in a Muslim mother-child playgroup that consisted of nine children, ranging from two to five years old, along with their mothers2 (see Alkouatli, 2020). The mothers of this playgroup, whose cultures along with Canadian included Algerian, Moroccan, Bosnian, Pakistani, Syrian, Lebanese, were striving to establish Islamic identities with their children in a dominant secular Canadian culture. As an activity that allows both children and adults to make sense of the cultural contexts in which they are embedded (Goncii & Perone, 2005), play is well suited for a parent-child playgroup. Each session was framed around a story from Islamic history, told sitting together in a circle and enacted using wooden figures of animals, fabrics, stones, and shells (see Figure 11.1) to introduce context and concepts. The challenge was to draw

Storytelling materials assembled in preparation to tell the Hijrah storychildren imaginatively into a world that was geographically

FIGURE 11.1 Storytelling materials assembled in preparation to tell the Hijrah storychildren imaginatively into a world that was geographically, historically, and culturally different from their own, providing children with a whole new world in which to explore and create meaning (Lindqvist, 2001).

Within every story, there are natural points to interject imaginative play. In Ibrahim’s story, for example, after he left his wife and child in the deserted valley of Becca, they found the spring of Zamzam and the town of Mecca formed. Later, Ibrahim returned. Here, I paused to invite the children to imagine what we might do if we had actually been there. During these imaginative gaps in the story, I guided children as they discussed ideas collectively. How might his wife and child feel upon Ibrahim’s return? Would they be excited? How could they welcome him? One child suggested making a cake. Another suggested a meal. The children enthusiastically agreed on the meal idea and went off to prepare it, using natural play materials (see Figure 11.2), which they eventually arranged on a large tray and brought back to the storytelling circle. The story continued. In another imaginative gap, the children constructed a tent out of strips of fabric (see Figure 11.3), imagining a dwelling in which Ibrahim and his family might have lived.

Weaving imaginary play into storytelling is a way to encourage children develop cultural awareness and make meaning of Islamic material by effectively

Preparing to make a meal for Ibrahim

FIGURE 11.2 Preparing to make a meal for Ibrahim

Making a tent to live in the desert at Mecca

FIGURE 11.3 Making a tent to live in the desert at Mecca

inviting them to enter the story. For Muslim children, concepts in the Qur’an illustrated in the life story of Prophet Muhammad and the other prophets contain a wealth of play themes to explore. Engaging children in play pedagogy provides space for creative imagination to flourish toward enhanced cognitive, social-emotional, and spiritual development, as children assemble and internalize their own meanings of Islamic material.

Dialogue as Instruction in Middle Childhood (8-13)

As a leading activity in the middle childhood years, how we “do” instruction is critical. Student boredom can interfere with learning and has been a critique of pedagogy in some Islamic educational contexts (Shamma, 1999). Recalling that speaking together is foundational for thinking alone, dialogue is a type of participatory instruction that can contribute to knowledge construction and the development of critical, creative, and caring thinking (Lipman, 2003):

If we want children to question themselves, they should first learn to question one another. If they are to reason with themselves, they must first learn to reason with one another. [...] In sum, if we want children to learn how to think for themselves, we should engage them in thinking together. (Cam, 1995, p. 17, italics added).

Dialogue can evoke inquiring, collaborating, and challenging (Cam, 1995); it may be most effective when it is collaborative, when learners build upon each other’s ideas through contributing, listening, and responding (sometimes critically) in a process of advancing toward shared understandings superior to previous individual understandings (Wells, 1999). In thinking together in a mixed-ability dialogic group, facilitated by an educator, each child encounters challenge at the edge of ability in terms of content knowledge, ways of thinking, vocabulary, and/or grammar. Additionally, participants engage in processes of dialogue: “They come to think as the process thinks” (Lipman, 2003, p. 21). In guiding dialogue, then, an educator facilitates internalization not just of ideas and information, but also ways of speaking and thinking among learners. In an Islamic classroom, dialogue may be useful in terms of learning how to reason Islamically and triangulate thinking with Islamic principles. High-quality dialogue may be considered as a master instructional paradigm. While little empirical research has explored the potential of dialogue in Islamic Education, Ahmed (2014, 2019) studied how participation in halaqah, as a traditional, dialogic, circle of learning with an Islamic frame of reference, may contribute to learning, identity, and character development for young Muslims. Table 11.2 provides a sample lesson plan of how dialogue might be constructed with Muslim learners in exploring an important Islamic text:

Oh humankind. We created you all from a male and a female and made you into different communities and tribes, so that you come to know one another; the most noble among you is the one most aware of God (Qur’an 49:13).

Based on Lipman’s (2003) community of inquiry structure, the lesson plan is centered on a textual prompt, whereby questions are collectively generated to stimulate dialogue. Within an Islamic frame of reference, intended to guide learners in making meaning of an Islamic text, it is an example of an educational halaqah (Ahmed, 2014). While a primary goal of this lesson is to build individual and collective content knowledge, additional development benefits include sharpening children’s cognitive and social-emotional skills by generating questions, thematically categorizing similar questions, and collaboratively engaging in thinking together.

This basic dialogic design aims to foster critical, creative, and caring thinking skills in dialogue led by a more-experienced facilitator/educator.

TABLE 11.2 Sample dialogic halaqah lesson plan




Pedagogic Purpose

Text prompt

Students each read aloud a word from the verse (Qur’an 49:13).


Reading together strengthens reading skills + bonding.




Invite children to pose a question that came to mind from the text.

Write all questions on the board.

Together, categorize questions into groups with a leading question in each. Ask which leading question to explore (show of hands). Select question.


Brainstorming questions, analyzing questions into groups, and coming to consensus is collaborative cognitive work.

Dialogical inquiry

Discussion plan

As a group, discuss the question, asking for reasons, agreeing/ disagreeing, building on each others points.

A larger discussion plan contains additional related questions.


Speaking, reasoning, debating, and thinking together draws development forward

An educators metaperspective guides the discussion, bridges ideas, and maintains dialogic flow.

Extension exercise

Each child writes a reflection on what they learned during the dialogue.


Solidifies personal meaning making.


Present reflections to


Refines public speaking

the group. skills.

Discussion Plan

Discussion plans

Conceptual Topics

foster conceptual and instructional



Knowing God

• What are some dif-

• What does it

• How can we know


educators can

ferences between

mean to be


communities or


• What is the differ-

use these


• What can we do

ence between knowl-

questions to guide dialogue.

• Are differences

to increase our

edge and awareness?

always visible?


• What is the differ-

• How do differences

• Can people who

ence between iman

relate to gaining knowledge?

• How do you feel when you encounter differences in people?

are different to each other both be noble?

  • (faith) and taqwa (God-consciousness)?
  • • How does knowing God relate to nobility?

Companionship: Mediated Role Modeling with Muslim Youth (14-21)

Adult-young-person relationships are central to development in all age periods (Vygotsky, 1987) but may be particularly pertinent in last several years of childhood in an Islamic trajectory. Affective educator-student relationships, rather than didactic interaction, are primary in developing a young person “both mentally and morally for the capacity to act as and to remain ‘God’s caliph on earth’” (Polat, 2017, p. 810). Islamic education historically centered this adult-educator/ youth-student relationship differently from that of the parents: “The parents are the cause of the children’s present existence in this mortal life, while the teacher is the basis of their eternal life ...” (Al-Ghazali as cited in Abu Ghuddah, 2017). An educator’s companionship with students - including meaningful and mediated role modeling - may be as educative as direct instruction (Halstead, 2004). Mediation is described as helping a learner pay attention to important details in the learning environment, make connections between concepts, and draw deeper meaning out of a situation (Kozulin, 2003). Role modeling illustrates principles and practices in action. Mediated role modeling final forms of Islamic practices within an educative relationship may collectively contribute to depths of learning and development. Described in the literature as “giving the learner examples and adults serving as proper models for the young” (Obeid, 1988, p. 174), role modeling was empirically discerned in the two studies conducted with Muslim-Canadian educators. One described role modeling aiming toward primary objectives:

The Prophet Muhammad, what is he acting, actually? Islam! So, when I follow Muhammad I’m not following Muhammad for his personality] I’m following him because of Islam and what AllahSs has commanded him. Now, what are the children doing? They are acting like what I am acting. I am acting Prophet Muhammad and Prophet Muhammad is acting Islam! And in the end, we act Islam! (Imran, interview, March 2015)

In other words, the students follow the teacher, who follows Muhammad, who follows God. In enacting Islam, then, the educator is a living link between the students and God, via Muhammad, who perfected enactment of Islam.

In the critical-interpretive study on pedagogy (Alkouatli, forthcoming), while many of the 35 educators emphasized the primary pedagogy of role modeling final forms in Islamic Education - from social etiquette to mastery of ritual practices - some of them highlighted the importance of role modeling specific to local cultural context. Kuby, a homeroom teacher, explained: “There are thousands excellent examples in our Prophet’s daily life but, besides that, they [the students] need to see someone who is in Canada and who is interacting with non-Muslims, living their lives, and applying the teachings of Islam. Happily and successfully!” (interview, April 2019). Ruby illustrated mediated role modeling when teaching her students about salah (prayer) by showing them her own pocket prayer mat that she always carries in her bag, explaining: “No matter where I am, I don’t miss any prayer - even if I have to pray in public. I am proud of my religion and when I speak about the importance of praying on time, I mean it!” Here, Ruby was a contextually relevant role model for her Canadian-Muslim students.

An important aspect of mediation is providing young Muslims with the reasons underlying Islamic principles and practices. Rasha, a principal at an Islamic elementary school, emphasized “giving them why” (halaqah, April 2019) and other educators described insufficient reasoning: “Being born in a Muslim household is not a good enough reason” (Sideen), nor is, “Because it’s written in our Qur’an and Sunnah” (Fatima). Hamza noted, “Being a Muslim is not enough, you should understand why you are a Muslim” (halaqah, April 2019). Mediated role modeling final forms is a special form of role modeling in companionship with learners, whereby educators highlight the relevance of Islamic principles and practices to contemporary context and provide pertinent whys. In summary, leading activities build upon each other across the lifespan - we play, dialogue, and commune at all ages. The learning and development taking place through pedagogies in one period of life serves as a foundation for the next.

Toward Muslim Self-, Social, and Spiritual Development

Islamic classrooms are unique niches of development and Muslim educators can be catalysts in the development of young Muslims by optimizing relationships and opportunities for participation in Islamic practices. Dimensions of human beings, objectives, and pedagogies hail from a larger Islamic conceptual system, where human development is an ongoing process of self-, spiritual-, and social-transformation. Two implications are, first, that developmentally powerful environments for Islamic learning and development must be consciously constructed as microcosms ofa larger Islamic ummah, characterized by pedagogies relevant to time and place. Evoking positive affect and cognitive challenge include featuring pedagogies that are participatory, playful, dialogic, relational -built upon a foundation of deep purpose - all of which stimulate young Muslims in “their physical, intellectual, and spiritual capacities and potentials” (Al-Attas, 1980, p. 17).

Second, adult educators in the lives of children are paramount. Today, some adults are taking steps back from this central role, using technology as a replacement educator and deeming children as the experts when it comes to technology. Both sentiments are developmentally unsound. While technology can be an excellent educational supplement, nothing replaces the value of a living, breathing, human educator for whole human development, as illustrated in Islamic primary sources. The importance of the educator, central to Islamic Education since Muhammad first taught it, is enshrined in conceptions of Islamic human development (Abu Ghuddah, 2017; Alkouatli, 2018; Al-Sadan, 1997; Halstead, 2004; Mogra, 2010). Three characteristics of Muhammad as an effective educator are knowledge of human beings, including how people learn and develop; content knowledge; and a personality that attracted students’ hearts and minds (Abu Ghuddah, 2017). Muhammad’s attributes as an educator set a sacred precedent that many Muslim educators today endeavor to understand and emulate (Mogra, 2010). A child may be an expert when it comes to technological skills but her life experience and, consequently, her powers of discernment, vision, and imagination (Vygotsky, 2004) may be, as of yet, impoverished compared to an adult’s. Children need caring, visionary adults in their educational lives in helping navigate the complex developmental challenges that technology and globalization have wrought. Muslim educators need to be these visionary adults in a Divine responsibility to our communities’ children.

This chapter outlined some principles and pathways of human development to consider how Muslim educators might optimize Islamic learning environments and pedagogies for development. There has been significant change in cultural contexts and pedagogies of teaching Islam, over time, yet the process of making human beings Muslim has not changed: Participating in Islamic practices toward increasing God-consciousness and the embodiment of Quranic principles in character and consciousness in the way of an enduring role model for differing times and places.


  • 1 In this chapter, the term “educator” denotes any adult who teaches Islamic material and guides young Muslims along an Islamic path, including teachers in formal and informal Islamic schools, parents, and community leaders.
  • 2 I established this playgroup informally as community service; it was not part of an academic study. As such, the children featured in the photos are either unidentifiable or they are my own.


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