Shaykh Mustafa Umar, of Anaheim, CA, is a fun interviewee. Like *Paul, from past articles, he has his own mosque tales to share. And like Paul, one of his tales is about how he despised Muslim Sunday school as a child. In fact, Shaykh Mustafa describes his education at Sunday school as having been like a “prison sentence.” However, now that he is a shaykh, and professor at the College of Islamic Studies (CIS) in Anaheim, he tries his hardest not to be a prison warden professor.
Shaykh Mustafa grew up in Garden Grove, which is also where he attended Sunday school. He was uninterested in his studies at Sunday school, so it was difficult for him to relate what he learned there to his own life. Also, he did not grow up in a practicing family, so this only made Sunday school even more irrelevant to him. Perhaps, if he or his family had been more religiously inclined, his Sunday school years might have been more enjoyable. But the Sunday school he attended had certain issues that did not awaken his religiosity.
He cited several problems with his Sunday school experience:
- It had an unfriendly atmosphere (it felt like a “prison”).
- There was an overemphasis on the Five Pillars of Islam.
- There were no qualified instructors.
- Instructors had poor English speaking abilities (this may be closer to an example of #3).
From looking at the list, problem #1 can actually be explained by the rest of the problems.
The shaykh attended Sunday school from Kindergarten thru 8th grade. And every single year the students had to learn about the Five Pillars of Islam. Because the Five Pillars of Islam are very basic (the declaration of faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and spiritual pilgrimage), it is surprising that the Sunday school instructors felt nine years needed to be devoted to the subject. That would be like going to kindergarten, learning the alphabet, and then being told to relearn it every subsequent school year. At some point it no longer feels like a learning experience; it feels like a penal code sentence for some kind of transgression. The only option is to hunker down and do your time.
Problem #3 is directly connected to both problems #1 and #4. Shaykh Mustafa described the mosque he went to for Sunday school as having a lot of “aunties” and “uncles” with English language problems. This surprised me, because that is exactly how Paul described his old mosque in Chicago (there were a high number of people who barely spoke English and behaved like “aunties” and “uncles”). Neither Shaykh Mustafa nor Paul sounded happy about the fact that there were a high number of ESL speakers behaving like aunties and uncles at their mosques. This is probably for the same reason that many kids don’t want to spend time with aunts and uncles who have a language barrier. But, this was the only adult population available to teach Sunday school, so there was no avoiding them. In short, both Paul and Shaykh Mustafa agreed that attending Sunday school was like being stuck in a room with a boring, unrelatable, older relative who doesn’t speak English well. Coincidentally, that combination of traits also does not make for a qualified instructor of easily bored children.
Nonetheless, Shaykh Mustafa does provide better instruction than what he received in Sunday school. This is for a variety of reasons:
- He doesn’t want to be a prison warden, so he does try to be friendly and available to students.
- He does not overemphasize the Five Pillars of Islam. Instead, he tries to “conceptualize” Islam and offer a holistic view.
- He is actually a qualified teacher.
- He speaks fluent English.
Though the Sunday school he attended was not a happy learning environment, he has learned from the failings of past instructors. As a college professor, he offers his current students a better learning experience than the one he received in childhood.
The College of Islamic Studies (CIS) is located at the Islamic Institute of Orange County. For more information on Shaykh Mustafa Umar and his credentials, you may click here.
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.