Particularism and Multi-Cultural Education: Experience of Muslims in the United States

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An elementary school Muslim girl responded to her mother with the phrase, "BUT MOM, ALL MY FRIENDS DO THAT! WHY CAN'T I?" questioning the need to be different every time the mother said "No" to an activity the girl wanted to join neighborhood boys and girls in doing. The mother often contradicted herself and allowed her daughter to play because she was not able to explain the rationale for being different. The mother's spontaneous "No" response comes from the fact that in her home Islamic culture, children's activities are not usually separate from those of the family. Also, children rarely played in sexually heterogeneous groups where she was raised (the Indian subcontinent). Under the daughter's persistence, the mother gave permission, rationalizing to herself that a bicycle ride or video game with the neighborhood children would not affect the "Islamic" identity and values of her daughter. The mother rarely interacted with the parents of her daughter's playmates. She hardly knew who the playmates were or who supervised the play. Her understanding of these neighbors' values and worldview came only from what she saw manifested in their external behavior and in the norms of the society at large. The mother had contacts mainly with other mothers from her country of origin.

When the young girl reached puberty, her father, who rarely participated in decision making concerning his daughter's upbringing, told the young girl that she was to dress differently, she was no longer to have unnecessary conversations with boys, and she could no longer join in free play with her friends. The girl resisted her father's orders, and the mother supported her discreetly against the father's wishes. The mother thought that the father was being harsh and that there was no need to set such strict rules to ensure that the girl would develop the "Islamic" manners and the understanding of the "Islamic" religion as she, the mother, had been practicing it.

When the girl became a high school student, she took swimming as one of the sport activities required in the physical education course. She did not realize that close contact with the opposite sex, particularly in immodest clothes (a bathing suit in the presence of the opposite sex), violates a basic precept of the Islamic principle of modesty.

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Copyright 1993, The Islamic Academy - Cambridge. This is a pre-copyedited version of an article accepted for publication in the edited journal Muslim Education Quarterly following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available through the Islamic Academy - Cambridge. See also:


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The Islamic Academy


Muslim education in the US; Particularism and multiculturalism; Muslim mothers vs. fathers views; Islamic principles and practices


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Muslim Education Quarterly, The Islamic Academy, Cambridge, England, (1993: 10, 4; 35-45)

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