MET Tarbiyah & Character Building Program
The Tarbiyah Project is a vision, a framework, a set of programs, and a strategic plan for reform of Islamic education in North America.
Islam is founded on the principles of belief and righteous conduct. This connection between values and practice lies at the very heart of the Islamic way of life. Neverheless, a crisis in values and character development exists throughout the Muslim ummah today that is working to undermine the fabric of the Islamic spiritual, moral and social system. Lacking a clear moral compass, Muslims today find themselves marginalized socially, disoriented spiritually, and generally in a quandary about their role and responsibility in modern society. Without a proper understanding of the Islamic value system, there is little hope that the true goals, or maqasid, of Islam can be achieved.
Furthermore, the system of education in Muslim society has played a major role in the lack of strong character development among today’s Muslim youth. This includes the system of Islamic religious education as well. Many Muslim educators and practitioners would acknowledge that Islamic education, as it is taught today, has been ineffective in teaching and inspiring Muslim children to adopt and adhere to Islam as a way of life and a system of personal and social values.
The crisis of modern-day Islamic education is rooted, in large part, in the way we teach our children about Islam. This approach, which focuses primarily on conveying “information” about Islam, has failed to capture the hearts and minds of our youth. A renewed approach is therefore needed—one that addresses the real needs and concerns of students themselves. The field of Islamic values education—with its focus on beliefs, values, manners, feelings, attitudes, and moral literacy skills—should be the focus of contemporary Islamic education, as it was in the time of the Noble Prophet (r).
Fortunately, a sense of renewal is in the air today and enlightened Muslims are eager to find real solutions to the problems and challenges facing the Muslim community and, if necessary, to re-examine traditional paradigms within Muslim society—including how and what we teach our children about Islam. To achieve this goal, a unified and concerted effort is needed. Muslim educators, practitioners and families must increase and unify their efforts to find creative solutions that will effectively bridge the gap between values and practice in the upcoming generation of Muslim youth. Islamic schools have a crucial role to play in developing solutions and programs that will help foster this understanding among students and promote the role and responsibility of the family in the process of Islamic tarbiyah.
History of the Tarbiyah Project
The Tarbiyah Project began several years ago when a group of individuals involved in the field of Islamic education met to reflect on the direction and results of current Islamic educational practice. As a result of these early meetings and discussions, a national awards competition was sponsored in 1995 by Dar al-Islam Corporation in Islamic character education. The purpose of this competition was to encourage ways of strengthening the connection between values and practice in Islamic education and to explore ways of unifying the efforts of Muslim educators, practitioners and families in this area.
The top winners of this competition were awarded grants of $10,000 a year and were invited to join a consortium of Islamic schools that would work collectively in the area of Islamic values education. This led to the formation of the Tarbiyah Project in 1996. The purpose of the Tarbiyah Project is to bring together the talents of Muslim educators and intellectuals in order to find creative and effective ways to inculcate the Islamic value system in the hearts and minds of today’s Muslim youth. The project founders believe strongly that a program of Islamic values education is the heart of the Islamic education process and the best cure for the moral crisis of Muslim society today. The goal of the Tarbiyah Project is to expand our knowledge of successful practices in this area and to encourage and disseminate the most effective tarbiyah projects for others to learn from and implement.
The vision of Islamic education proposed by the Tarbiyah Project makes an important distinction between teaching “about Islam” and teaching “about being Muslim.” This is based on the view that the goal of Islamic education is not to fill our children’s minds with information “about” Islam, but rather to teach them what it means really to “be” Muslim. The project has set for itself the ambitious goal of developing a systematic curriculum to teach students the meaning of “being Muslim.” The framework of this curriculum is the area of Islamic values education—which focuses on beliefs, values, manners, rights and responsibilities, feelings, attitudes, and moral literacy skills.
Several assumptions about the nature and scope of Islamic teaching and learning undergird the work of the Tarbiyah Project and its vision of Islamic education. These include the belief that Islamic education, first and foremost, must focus on teaching values and must emphasize issues of Islamic identity and self-esteem, that it must address the real needs and concerns of students, that it must emphasize and provide for training in leadership, and that the involvement of parents is essential for achieving the goals of Islamic education.
Effective Teaching & Learning
The vision of Islamic teaching and learning proposed by the Tarbiyah Project is based on a dynamic, rather than static, view of Islam and Islamic education. This view is rooted in the belief that the mission of Islam is to positively effect and transform the world, and that the purpose of Islamic education is to prepare young men and women capable of carrying out this mission. According to this view, effective Islamic teaching and learning must have the power to inspire and transform students in the process of Islamic tarbiyah. Several factors are essential for effective teaching and learning to occur. Muslim educators and practitioners must become better aware of the important role these factors play in effective instruction and future programs in Islamic education should be evaluated in light of these or similar principles. These factors include the following:1
Meaningful. Students should feel that the content they are studying is worth learning because it is meaningful and relevant to their lives. Students must see the usefulness and potential application of this knowledge to their everyday lives.
Integrative. Instruction must be integrated--encompassing and engaging the whole child (spiritually, emotionally, socially, intellectually and physically). It must be integrative in the broad range of topics it addresses and its treatment of these topics; integrative across time, place and culture; integrative across the curriculum; integrating knowledge and values with action and application. These integrative aspects have the far-reaching potential of truly enhancing the power of Islamic teaching and learning (and thus making it genuinely “tauhidic”).
Values-based. Instruction should focus on values and considering the ethical dimensions of topics. In this way, Islamic education becomes a powerful vehicle for character development, thus achieving its true goal. Educators must realize also that every aspect of the teaching-learning experience conveys values and provides opportunities for students to learn about values.
1The following paragraphs are adapted from Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. Washington, D.C.: National Council for the Social Studies, 1994., pgs. 162-170.