Muslims turning to home schooling in increasing numbers

Although three-quarters of the country's estimated 2 million home-schoolers identify themselves as Christian, a growing number of Muslims also are choosing to home-school their children.
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 21, 2010

On a chilly afternoon in western Loudoun County, a group of children used tweezers to extract rodent bones from a regurgitated owl pellet. A boy built a Lego launcher. A girl practiced her penmanship. On the wall, placards read, "I fast in Ramadan," "I pay zakat" and "I will go on hajj."

Welcome to Priscilla Martinez's home -- and her children's school, where Martinez is teacher, principal and guidance counselor, and where the credo "Allah created everything" is taught alongside math, grammar and science.

Martinez and her six children, ages 2 to 12, are part of a growing number of Muslims who home-school. In the Washington area, Martinez says, she has seen the number of home-schoolers explode in the past five years.

Although three-quarters of the nation's estimated 2 million home-schoolers identify themselves as Christian, the number of Muslims is expanding "relatively quickly," compared with other groups, said Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute.

They do so, he said, for the same reasons as non-Muslims: "Stronger academics, more family time, they want to guide social interaction, provide a safe place to learn and . . . teach them [their] values, beliefs and worldview."

Parents say it is an attractive alternative to public schools, with whose traditions and values they are not always comfortable, and Islamic schools, which might be too far away, cost too much or lack academic rigor.

If Muslims have come to embrace home schooling later than others, it might be in part because so many Muslims in the United States are immigrants who might not be aware of the option. In fact, for many immigrants, the idea of home schooling runs counter to their reasons for coming to America, which frequently include better educational opportunities. And public school has long been seen as a key portal to assimilation.

When Sanober Yacoob arrived from Pakistan 13 years ago and began to home-school her three children, she was the only immigrant she knew of who was doing so. Others from Muslim countries "thought I was weird," she said. "One of them said to me, 'I hope you're not going to destroy yourself, and they will grow up ignorant.' "

Now, more are following in her footsteps, and many use the highly regarded Calvert curriculum for home-schoolers.

Maqsood and Zakia Khan of Sterling, who emigrated from Pakistan two decades ago, say home schooling has allowed them to enhance and internationalize their children's curriculum. Now, in addition to the standard subjects, their children, ages 15, 14 and 9, study the Koran for a half an hour a day, one-on-one, with a woman who teaches them online from Pakistan.

"If they were going to school, we could never do that," Maqsood Khan said. "You spend any number of hours at school, you're tired, your brain is full and you don't want to spend hours with Islamic studies. But now it's part of their curriculum; we made it part of their time."

The food incident

The Khans decided to home-school four years ago after a kindergarten teacher, unaware of the religious issues, told their son that he could not refuse school food in favor of the Islamic-sanctioned food he had brought from home. The food incident was small, but it highlighted the issues many Muslims say their children face every day as minorities who don't celebrate Christmas, Halloween or birthday parties, who don't eat pork and who fast during Ramadan.

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