I am a Muslim parent in the US and I chose to send my children to a Catholic school

Published: March 2, 2017
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The spirituality taught in a Catholic school can help bind the gap between character education, academics and social interactions. PHOTO: REUTERS

My wonderful nani (maternal grandmother), Jamila Khatoon, was an advocate for missionary schools and hospitals in Pakistan. She would famously say,

“Schools and hospitals are best run by the mission.”

Resultantly, my mother and her siblings went to missionary schools in Karachi, as did my siblings and I.

Why is it that parents, belonging to other faiths, sometimes consciously make a choice to send their kids to a Catholic school? Is it because they feel that faith-based education, regardless of what faith the school believes in, imparts spirituality at a young age that leaves an impact through adult life?

I remember putting the same question to my grandmother some three decades ago. Her answer was comprehensive and inclusive, embracing diversity in religion and culture. She said that private education was a privilege that most middle class parents want to provide to their children, and missionary schools provide quality education at an affordable price, being 30% to 40% cheaper than most other independent private schools. She also insisted that many sought a spiritual grounding alongside academic education for their children, and missionary schools are an answer to that. Nani was also of the opinion that the mission is committed to the cause of giving back to the community it belongs to, hence it teaches with dedication and donates heavily to charitable causes to spread goodness, resultantly uplifting the society as a whole.

“My daughter requires discipline and rules, and wants to follow a regimen where accountability plays a strong role, hence we thought a Catholic school would suit her needs best, and rightly so. She is most happy with rules and regulations,” opines Sandeep Khana, a mother of three teenage girls.

She continues to say,

“Missionary schools have a great mix of kids from all social strata of the society, hence giving children a grounded foundation in values and morality.”

All faith-based schools impart knowledge from a religious perspective, and parents, regardless of their personal faith, sign up for this upon enrollment.

Although Jamil Kidwai was hesitant about this aspect of attendance and instructions, his child’s blossoming identity connects Jamil to what he learnt as a kid in his own country.

“Belonging to a minority religion, even if one is a secular person, and knowing as much as one can about how the moral identity of any religion connects a youth with the God they follow, regardless of what religion they practice at home, and gives them a moral foundation to go out into the world and be proud of their identity.”

Even parents who don’t experience affinity with any religious group often want their children to obtain an education steeped in spiritual lessons. They may not strictly and actively adhere to a faith, but mostly feel that the religious framework of their child’s education at a missionary school enriches his/her ability to debate at a spiritual level. It helps children, agnostic or those belonging to other faiths besides Christianity, to learn about religion, grow spiritually and question faith from an intellectual standing.

“It gave me an opportunity to discuss Islam with my children at a young age, which otherwise they would not have questioned or discussed until they were much older, especially as a Muslim immigrant living in the US. Enrolling them in a Catholic school gave us discussion forums and topics more often. We discussed comparative religions, religious tolerance, and learnt about different religions in order to understand the politics of the world and the country we live in,” said Jamil referring to the debate forum he shares with his teenage children.

Faith and spirituality provides a lens through which we examine the broader world, and this is also a reason why we as parents trust Catholic institutions for imparting academic education. Through religious connections, we examine an already existing framework for discussions and a common set of values that helps build a better understanding of society tolerance.

“Any kind of religious learning encourages empathy in a community. My daughters pray with their peers every day. The teacher stands by her desk and asks the students individually what they want to pray for that day. It could be as simple as praying for an improvement in a grade, for better health of a friend or relative, or prayer on the death of a pet, and the class joins in that collective prayer. Religion gives them all the same language, and as a group they can gather and send out good thoughts and have a consolidated focus for empathy, caring and forgiveness.

The spirituality taught in a Catholic school can help bind the gap between character education, academics and social interactions. Morals, ethics and character development form some of the fundamental beliefs and values of Catholic schools. This does not imply that other schools are not focused on character development, it simply means that Catholic schools insist on beliefs related to character development,” says Sandeep.

I questioned Muslim parents who made a conscious choice of sending their children to Catholic schools. I met one of the Muslim mothers, who willingly enrolled her children in catholic schools, and asked her,

“As a Muslim parent, did you ever fear that your child studying in a Christian school might turn out agnostic and have a skewed perception of religion, or would completely forego his/her own religion for Christianity – and what you as a Muslim parent thought about these possible outcomes?”

Not requiring any time to think about her decision or answer, she said,

“Neither of these possibilities occurred to me, simply because when one chooses to move as an immigrant to a Christian-majority country, and the children are born and raised in the western culture surrounded by all sorts of religions and cultures, there is always a possibility of the child choosing another religious ideology. However, that possibility and probability does not increase just because the children are going to a Catholic school.”

In my personal experience, I’m a practicing Muslim, my children have been attending Muslim Sunday school since they were kids, we move around in a social set up where their friends are Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus, or kids from other diverse backgrounds. They attend mass at school and come home and talk about comparative religions, finding similarities between their own faith and other faiths, and discuss contradictions.

Some 20-years-ago, I moved from Pakistan, with a very myopic view of Islam, where I was taught that only I was right or that the view of Islam taught in Pakistan was right. I was ready to judge others at the drop of a hat. However, I feel that my children have a very wide, accepting and non-judgmental view of Islam. In fact, their teachings at a Catholic school has made them closer to their own faith, and has also taught them respect and tolerance of others’ faith.

In the words of my teenage daughters,

“Mom, spirituality is all the same; all faiths teach goodness, their symbolism is different, and ways of practicing their faiths is separate. However, they seek the same goodness. How can anyone go wrong with goodness?”

Bisma Tirmizi

Bisma Tirmizi

The author lives for the simple pleasures and her musings over a cup of tea almost always find a way to be the written word. She also writes for pakteahouse.net. Her book 'Feast With A Taste Of Amir Khusro', published by Rupa Publications, is available in stores now.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rahul

    In the US, the Public Schools are often as good as the Private Catholic Schools academically and children receive a better rounded education in the Public Schools as there are children from all walks of life. Why load your Children with unnecessary religious baggage whether it is Catholic, Muslim or Hindu. Catholics can be as regressive and intolerant as Muslims so I am not sure what the children will get from a different brand of community that lives in the past.Recommend

  • KlingOn2K

    Not everybody is blessed with the kind of open-mindedness that your family seems to possess.Recommend

  • Ahmad

    What about when they teach her everyday that Jesus is the son of God?

    Will you be telling her everyday how that is wrong?

    Many children who don’t go to catholic schools turn out to be good as well.Recommend

  • marcos_marcotron

    “Why is it that parents, belonging to other faiths, sometimes consciously make a choice to send their kids to a Catholic school?”

    Because they want their kids to be told that they will be punished and will suffer for eternity if they don’t believe in Jesus being the son of a god?Recommend

  • KDP

    Unfortunately most Muslim Countries are homogeneous and lack diversity (More than 90% Muslims whose children perhaps have never met a Jew, Christian or Hindu until they migrate to western country) No wonder they grow to be intolerant of other faith, self righteous, with superiority complex of being God Chosen people !!Recommend

  • Critical

    Whats the big deal in that?

    Half of the Upper class English speaking schools in India are owned by Convent and 95% of them studying there are non christians..

    I too studied in a convent school. Yes,I had a Bible study class and test. Our prayers were to praise Jesus and we celebrated christmas ..But neither me or my parents minded.. We dont find it a sin to know about other religion.. I had few muslim classmates too,their parents also werent afraid to send their kids to a school where they teach ‘haram’ things..

    Only when someone is too insecure of their religion,they will be afraid of learning other religion…Recommend

  • Ajay gupta

    This endless debate over religion!!! Send ur children to whichever school u want. Why does this merit a blog? Why do we need to know ? Oh wait, is it to show u are a Pakistani liberal ? If that is the reason, god help ur la la land!Recommend

  • Dhanus Menon

    Please don’t come to other schools other than madrassas. Other religions are tired of looking after Muslims. Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    Good decision. But a simple question. Since Muslims consider Jesus to be their prophet, what is the issue here?Recommend

  • rationalist

    ” I moved from Pakistan, with a very myopic view of Islam, where
    I was taught that only I was right or that the view of Islam taught in
    Pakistan was right……..I feel that my children have a very wide, accepting and
    non-judgmental view of Islam”

    You and your children may be non-judgemental, but it is a huge stretch to say there is an “accepting and non-judgemental view” of Islam. Islam, and for that matter Christianity, both claim they alone have the absolute truth and their laid down path is the only path to follow. Islam further divides humanity as dar-ul-harb and dar-ul-Islam.Recommend

  • rationalist

    hmmm… good food for thought.Recommend

  • Parvez

    It’s good to see that you understand where the fault rests……it rests within us and our system..Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    In fact, their teachings at a Catholic school has made them closer kto
    their own faith, and has also taught them respect and tolerance of
    others’ faith.
    And what if one might ask is their own faith and how do they differentiate theirs versus the so called catholic faith? Remember, Madrassas are the only source of learning the religion of Islam and the foundtion of spirtualism! Besides Tolerence does not equal acceptance!

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Vish

    Pakistanis and their obsession with religious identity. Yawn. But hey wait isn’t this why Pakistan was founded, people of a particular religious identity can’t live with the other.Recommend

  • Hidayat Rizvi

    There is violence against minorities by the majority community in Pakistan. In Burma, Buddhists have waged an insurgency against the Rohingya people. In Sri Lanka, the Tamils, a Hindu community, are victims of atrocities carried out by Sinhalese. Until a voice like Gandhi’s speaks up against majoritarianism, it will continue to pose a threat in the entire Indian subcontinent.

    We need to talk about it every day. If communalism can be a repetitive subject, why can’t we have a daily dose of secularism? Why do we get tired of it? Why do we find it repetitive and look for new subjects every day?

    Rahul Gandhi clearly understands that his fight is against communal forces. But the Congress, on the other hand, is trying to break the image of being a pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu party. Due to this, it hesitates to comment on such issues.

    The Congress needs to clearly emphasise secular values without compromising and be vocal about it. But even when Rahul displays some courage, none of his party leaders back him up as strongly as they should.

    Social scientist Ashis Nandy, along with Archit Yagnik, had interviewed Modi in the early 1990s. After the interview, Nandy told Yagnik, “For the first time, I have met a textbook case of a fascist.” It is not the opinion of a political leader but that of an expert – a psychoanalyst….!!.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Exactly!! Why does this merit a blog!! And how many choices
    does the author have in schools, in the US? Are there strictly
    Buddhists schools,strictly Hinduism schools, strictly Jewish, or
    strictly Muslim schools …in the US? No, there are NOT.
    Even in Pakland, at one time, they had great Catholic schools.
    Run by Catholic priests or nuns. And they were the best. Like
    St. Patrick’s or St Joseph’s in Karachi. Or St Joseph’s in Kohat, or
    St. Joseph’s in Risalpur. Great learning institutions. At one time.
    Yes, there is a Northwestern University or Benedictine University
    in Chicago, heavenly influenced and run by Catholics. But anyone
    and everyone is welcomed and can attend them.
    Unfortunately, the blog is totally off, nothing more.Recommend

  • Najeeb A Khan

    I totally agree with you.I know many leaders and good ,honest and dedicated individuals who had learnt good things in catholic schools.Recommend

  • Najeeb A Khan

    But the Muslims dont agree to this or they dont convert to catholism.Those who turn good may be good due to family grooming etc.but those in rare numbers.Recommend

  • Najeeb A Khan

    Look at Mother teressa. How many mother teressas were produced by public schools?Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    I feel sorry for your children.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    “It gave me an opportunity to discuss Islam with my children at a young
    age, which otherwise they would not have questioned or discussed until
    they were much older, especially as a Muslim immigrant living in the US.
    Enrolling them in a Catholic school gave us discussion forums and
    topics more often. We discussed comparative religions,
    religious tolerance, and learnt about different religions in order to
    understand the politics of the world and the country we live in,” said
    Jamil referring to the debate forum he shares with his teenage children.

    I guss you do tell them regularly that Jesus is not the son of God and Paulus deliberately ommitted to narrate the laws in the Bible since he was of the view that the Gentiles would not follow the laws of God which among others forbid the consumption of forbidden foods and beverages such as pork and alkohal?

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • gp65

    Please read up on how Mother Theresa misappropriated funds meant for treatment of poor for her work to convert people to Christianity. Documented in great detail by Christopher Hitchens,Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    One learns ony good things in a school per se but in religion classes one learns the fundamentals of ones faith. Therefore in Germany the goverment is making an effort to teach Islamic faith to muslim children.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    The Very First Step On The Way Of Spirituality Is To Be “Free” From Beliefs, Superstitions, Misleading Illusions And Man-Made Gods!

    “Enlightenment For A Wave In The Ocean Is The Moment The Wave Realizes That It Is Water.” ~ A Buddhist Monk ~Recommend