Sample Religious Studies Paper on Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gülen Movement

ABSTRACT

The high rate at which the Muslim population is increasing in different parts of Australia demands that children be taught various aspects of Islam so that they can gain a competent understanding about Allah. Different government authorities demand that children be taken to learning environments where they will gain quality education that can positively affect their lives. However, Muslim parents have also assumed a central responsibility of enrolling their children in relevant learning environments where they can be taught various aspects of Islam, including prayer, fasting, giving, faith and the concept of God. Teaching children about different aspects of the religion, as well as attributes of God, has ensured children are well informed about how they can relate to God, not in terms of appearance, but in terms of his divine qualities.

The process of teaching Islam is equally important as it lays a suitable platform through which children are taught the various ways they can connect to the divine power – ways that are distinct from the ways they connect to humankind. While different religions have continued to face significant challenges relating to the transmission of religious beliefs from one generation to another, Muslim parents perceive Islamic religious schools as the most appropriate platform through which their children can be socialised into serving Allah in the most honourable and acceptable way. This approach equips children with the correct knowledge, belief, practice, rituals and devotion that is not only pleasing to Allah, but which is equally acceptable. A review of relevant literature has indicated that different approaches have been adopted to dispense the knowledge of Allah to children. Scholars have established various ways through which Muslim children can be developed in their faith, as well as how different materials, including textbooks, enhance the knowledge of Allah among children.

The main aim for this study is to investigate the various ways through which Muslim children are taught about Allah. The study thus employed an array of methodologies to investigate the topic; it adopted varying strategies through which the methodology was justified. Different methods that could allow for in-depth data analysis, as well as interpretation, were employed in order to ensure quality results would be generated from the study. Different data collection methods, interviews and questionnaires, were used to collect data from children, parents and teachers concerning the various aspects of how children are taught about Allah.

Investigations were particularly inclined towards understanding the extent to which children are engaged in discussions intended to enhance their understanding about Allah, their beliefs about the abilities and nature of Allah, their level of commitment to Allah, and their perceptions of how different individuals should relate to Allah. Qualitative and quantitative methods of content analysis were employed to ensure that the varying ways through which the knowledge of Allah is dispensed among children were well understood.

The findings of the study indicated that most children have a strong belief about the existence and need to be a servant of Allah. It was established however, that most children are not conversant with the specific teachings and requirements of the Islamic religion in order to have a strong relationship with Allah, which bestows education stakeholders, including teachers and parents, with this responsibility.

1        BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT OF THE STUDY

1.1         Context of the study

1.1.1        Introduction

This study focuses on issues related to religious education in primary school children. The thesis of the study is that religious education determines children’s beliefs about Allah and that Islamic textbooks plays a significant role in the effective teaching of Allah to Muslim children.

The chosen schools are Muslim majority in Sydney, Australia. Sule College is non-profit, independent and non-denominational school. It was established in 1996 and built by the Turkish Community. The school started with only 33 students and today there are three campuses in NSW: Prestons, Auburn and Illawara. This institution has 1,000 primary and 800 secondary students. It caters for kindergarten to year 12 students. There are 42 different nationalities represented within the Sule College umbrella, which is a clear representation of multicultural society of Australia. My role in the school is teaching religious education.

The issues and research questions that gave rise to the research are discussed. They have also been analysed at length in chapters four and five of the thesis. However, it is important to establish the context of the study, and since Islam is still a minority religion in Australia (despite growth in recent years), it is pertinent to provide a general history of the Muslim presence in Australia. Secondly, because of its minority status in Australia, it is important to provide basic information about Muslim religious belief and practice, since this is related specifically to the research that was undertaken for this thesis. Thirdly, there is a particular emphasis on the concepts of God and prayer in Islam. This chapter introduces these concepts.

1.1.2        An overview of Muslim migration to Australia

Afghan Muslim cameleers came to Australia in the nineteenth century, and many reminders of the presence of these workers are found throughout central and far western Australia where their camels provided transport through Australia’s desert regions (Cleland, 2001). The Immigration Restriction Act (White Australia Policy) of 1901-1973, which restricted immigration to Australia to those of Anglo-Saxon descent, was partially lifted in 1967 when Muslim migrants began to arrive. Because of negotiations between the Turkish and Australian governments, Turkish workers were among the first to arrive (Yucel, 2010).

From a very few Turkish Muslims arriving in Australia in 1967, there were more than 24,000 Turkish Muslims by 1981. Although Lebanese migration to Australia began in 1880, the majority of Lebanese Muslims arrived after 1970 (Mahmoudian & Carmichael, 1998). Recently, Muslims have come to Australia from Indonesia, Egypt, the Sudan and many other countries. According to the 2006 census, approximately 340,392 people, or 1.71% of the total Australian population, were Muslims. Most of Australia’s Muslims live in Sydney (about two- thirds of the total) and Melbourne (about one-third). In addition, according to 2006 census, the Muslim population is young, with 81.89% of Australian-born Muslims – who make up 37.9% of the total Muslim population – under the age of 25 (adapted from 2006 census data).

There are a significant number of Muslim children in Australia. Table 1 shows the 2006 census data of Australian children affiliated with Islam. These results indicate that the number of Muslim children in Australia is highly like to increase, as evident in the comparison between the 0-4 and 10-14 age groups (adapted from Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006).

Table 1: Religious affiliation of children by age and country of birth of the parents

IslamBoth parents born overseasFather only born overseasMother only born overseasBoth parents born in AustraliaCountry of birth of either/both parents not statedTotal
child 0-422,0735,9842,6543,0412,96736,719
child 5-923,7824,1711,7961,7052,43233,886
child 10-1424,8872,3171,0019222,16231,289

 

1.1.3        A brief introduction to Muslim belief and practice

The five pillars of Islam

Islam is a monotheistic faith (Lane, Redissi, Saydawi, 2009) based mostly on the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Literally, the word ‘Islam’ means submission or surrender; whereas the word ‘Muslim’ refers to the one who has surrendered. The word Islam comes from the root word ‘salama’, which means peace (Trayler, 2010). Thus, a Muslim is one who has surrendered to God in deep faith and hence finds peace and balance both within themselves and within the social and natural setting. This is not a blind submission; rather it is a conscious surrender because of deep realisation of God’s compassion and majesty as mirrored within the universe through the works of God.

The word Islam is used to refer to the religion and the word Muslim refers to one who accepts Islam as a way of life. The Qur’an (the sacred book of Islam) defines another recurring term, ‘mu’min’ (a believer) that transcends a person’s religious identity –

and there are, certainly, among the people of the book, those who believe in God, within the revelation to you, and within the revelation to them, bowing into humility to God. They will not sell the signs of God for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord… (Qur’an, 3:199).

Instead of providing a mu’min with a selected spiritual identity, the Qur’an gives the criteria and characteristics that qualify a person as a mu’min. The Qur’an goes a step further and invites ‘believers to believe’, thus stipulating the importance of gauging oneself against the criteria. Once someone accepts Islam as their faith and means of life, it is obligatory upon that person to observe the five pillars of Islam. These five pillars represent the basic principles of Islam: a) Faith; b) Salat (ritual prayer); c) Fasting;d) Zakat (almsgiving); and e) Hajj (pilgrimage).

Faith

All prophets from the beginning of time taught the essentials of faith, which are the foundations of Islam: belief in God’s existence and unity, the planet’s final destruction, resurrection and judgment, prophet hood and all the prophets, all divine scriptures, angels, and decree (as well as human free will) (Buyukcelebi, 2005, p. 15).

Salat

Muslims are required to pray five times a day: at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and the hours of darkness. The prescribed prayers are recited in Arabic, but believers may use their own language if they do not speak Arabic.

Fasting

Fasting is prescribed within the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (lunar calendar). Mentally healthy, adult Muslims are required to refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. Those who are ill or unable to perform their fasting due to various reasons can make up for missed fasts later on and, if it is not possible for them to fast at all, they may make monetary donations sufficient to feed the poor (Hussain, 2011).

Zakat

Every year a Muslim ought to give a defined proportion (2.5%) of their wealth accumulated over a year to the poor and needy by way of this compulsory charity tax. The very poor are exempt and are instead the recipients of zakat.

The pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj)

Each Muslim who can afford this Pilgrimage should undertake it once during their lifetime. Hajj can only be performed during the pageant of Eid ul-Adha (celebrated annually on the tenth day of the twelfth Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah), and at this time every year up to three million Muslims from all nationalities are present in Mecca. A pilgrimage to Mecca at other times of the year is named umra (Eris, 2006).

Muslim belief

For Muslims, the purpose of life is found in belief in Allah. Furthermore, Muslims believe that the aim of one’s existence and creation is knowledge of Allah, and by this knowledge, one can continue in the path towards Allah. Leading a peaceful and tranquil family life is also achieved by staying on this path (Gulen, 2000).

Muslim scholars claim people need and yearn for faith or belief in a divine being (Ay, 1996), and humans are created with an inbuilt curiosity and desire to search for the creator. They claim that, when people have become distant from their creator, their society has struggled socially and morally. According to Nursi (2007), it is simply impossible to deny the fact there is a divine being in control and, according to the teachings of Islam, that divine being is Allah.

1.1.4        An overview of the concepts of God and prayer in Islam

Concept of God in Islam

The central concept in Islam is the absolute unity of God. Muslims believe that no other entity, human or non-human, has any share in God’s lordship, attributes or divinity. He alone has created and governs the universe, to Him belongs all attributes of perfection and to Him should all devotion and worship be offered (Nasr, 2002). While the Qur’an teaches that God has no gender, being neither male nor female, the pronoun “He” is mostly used as the word “it” does not exist in the Arabic language (Gulen, 2010).

In Islamic belief, God is both transcendent and personal. He is transcendent because of His attributes, being unlike anything else in his creation. Prophet Muhammad taught that God’s attributes are beyond human comprehension: “There is nothing whatever likes Him” (Shura 42:11). Further, Muslims believe God is not distant or unconcerned with human life: “He is nearer to us than our own jugular vein” (Qur’an, 50:16).

In Islam, God has 99 names. This list includes such names as All-Merciful, Most Compassionate, the Mighty, All-Knowing, the Loving, the Caring, the Living, the Bringer of Peace, the Avenger of Evil and the Generous. Through learning these names, Muslims are able to reflect on God’s attributes and see His presence in their lives, in nature and in the universe (Nursi, 1994).

Therefore, Muslims do not concern themselves with God’s appearance, but endeavour to relate to Him in His observable actions and thus appreciate His divine qualities. For example, by reflecting on the balance and equanimity of the universe and life on earth and how this can be maintained without human management, believers claim that God exists and that He is the Sustainer. In addition, Islam teaches that human beings are given freedom of choice by God. In turn, God asks them to apply justice and right choices in the human realm. Since every now and then humans contravene justice, upon death they will be called to give account in a Supreme Tribunal where true justice will be achieved.

Muslims believe Islam came to end idol worship. In Islam, it is a serious sin to worship an individual, statue or any different thing except the Creator, God Almighty. The sole divinity worshipped in Islam is God, who has no limitations and is beyond comparison with anyone or any being. No matter how holy an individual is, they cannot be the object of prayer or worship. These acts of devotion should be offered to God only, not to any of intermediaries. Here it is vital to point out that Muslims do not worship Muhammad. He is not considered divine. He was an individual human being; however, with the mandatory role of being a revelation-bearing prophet, a messenger to guide Muslims and humanity (Gulen, 2010).

In the Arabic language “ilah” means “god” and the Arabic article “al” is the same as the English article “the”. In fact, the use of the word Allah in Arabic can be compared to the use of the word God with the capital “G” in English to address the one and only God. Therefore, “Allah” means “the God”. Therefore, when Muslims and Christian Arabs apply the word “Allah” in their scriptures, they literally mean “the God” (Buyukcelebi, 2005).

On the other hand, the word “Allah” is special in that it does not have any plural form (like “gods” in English), female or male connotations (e.g. “goddess”) or miniature connotations (e.g. “demigod”). In this respect, Muslims use the word “Allah” as the most acceptable name for God.

Concept of prayer in Islam

Formal prayer, known as salad in Arabic, is one of the five pillars of Islam. However, salat is quite different from the non-public prayer or invocation related to the Christian faith. In Islam, that is referred to as dua, or supplication, formal and informal. Formal dua are found within the Qur’an, prophetic traditions and religious texts. Informal dua are personally controlled or spontaneous prayers that a person offers to God. The word dua comes from roots of d-a-wa in Arabic. This word suggests that “to make decision upon, to guide someone, to ask someone or to grieve for a deceased person” (Soysaldi, 1996, p. 13).

In the Qur’an, the word salat may be applied to God, angels and people. For God, it means He inclines towards being merciful to humans; for angels, it suggests they ask forgiveness for humans in supplication to God (Al-Ghazali, 2004, p. 4). In Islamic texts, prayer is known as salat and dua. Muslim scholars have perceived that salat, a kind of formal prayer, has helpful effects on the sick. Salat is a method of prayer involving specific movements and invocations. It begins with the takbir, raising hands to face level. The person stands straight, an edge referred to as qiyam and recites certain Qur’anic verses. They then bow with hands on the knees in the ruku position. After standing up straight once more, they go all the way down to prostrate, sujud. After two sujuds the individual is in julus a sitting position and at last ends with the salam, turning the head towards the right and then left shoulder. Each movement and position is accompanied by praises to God such as Allahu Akbar, which can be translated, as God is great. The prayer professes gratitude – glorifying and exalting God (Al-Ghazali, 2004, p. 4).

The word dua is defined in several ways in the Qur’an, as a kind of worship (10:106), requesting aid (2:23), as God’s call to humans (17:52), and as praise to God (17:101). The characteristic common to all four definitions is dua as communication between an individual and God. According to Nursi (1994), there are three kinds of duas. The first is a request within one’s present condition. For example, if a student needs to pass an exam, their act of being successful in the exams and studying for it creates an active form of dua. The second type is to want from the heart, and the third is a direct verbal request arising from desperate need (Nursi 1994, 353-354).

Although clear definitions of dua differ from scholar to scholar, it is generally viewed as a form of communication between an individual and a greater power. Traditional Muslim scholars view dua as a type of worship and asking from God. Muhammad Iqbal (1873-1938), a Pakistani theologian, philosopher and poet, viewed dua as a type of deep feeling of humankind towards the Creator for their desires (Dogan, 1997). Nursi stated dua is a “mighty mystery of worship; indeed, it is just like the spirit of worship”; to ask God for that which they cannot grasp with their own power and can (1994, p. 353-354). Gulen (1993) states dua is asking God for a thing that the human cannot attain by their power. Cilaci (1964) stated dua flows “from the younger to the older, from the underside to the high, from a lower power to a higher one” (1965, p. 528). The first half of the definition applies to human-human relations and not human-God relations. Kayiklik views dua as removing the obstacles between oneself and God, permitting them to reunite (1994, p. 23-24).

Sufis see prayer as mystical love of God and the act of a follower asking something from the beloved (Seriati 1993, p. 51). According to Sufi students, prayer is the manifestation of God’s love to humans (Seriati 1993, p.44). al-Qushayri, one of the mystic leaders who established the principles of Sufism, stated; “Only the tongue of beginners speaks prayers. The prayer of Gnostic consists of the perfect mystical states” (al-Qushayri, 1990, p. 11). For al-Qushayri, individual verbal prayers represent the first levels of spirituality, which means that, as the person advances spiritually; their form of prayer will be actions rather than the verbal supplication, just like the example of the student.

In Islam, therefore, prayer falls into either one of two classes: communication or supplication. Communication is applied when one calls upon or invites. This can further be divided into two subclasses. A person can request from God through either silence or praying from the heart or action. Supplication is when prayer is in the form of an uttered request.

1.2         Religious education for Muslim children in Australia

1.2.1        Introduction

After reviewing the background of Islam, it is now essential to discuss how this content is related to the religious education of Muslim children, since this is the focus of the research for this thesis. Like all religious communities, the Muslim community in Australia has the right to educate its children about their own religion:

Everyone is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, p.18).

The Australian constitution upholds this right and provides a diverse range of schools so parents may choose the form of education that they believe will help their children grow in their own religion.

1.2.2        Religious socialisation in religiously oriented schools

When parents choose a religiously oriented school for their children, it is assumed that they hope for some level of religious socialisation for their child. Like all religions, Islam has a body of teachings that are accepted and taught objectivelyas the story and tradition of the religion. Again, like all religions, and especially in secularised nations like Australia, Islam faces the problem of transmitting its beliefs and teachings from one generation to the next (Berger, 1990) and of having the succeeding generations legitimate these (Berger & Luckman, 1966). This problem is addressed particularly in the religious socialisation of the young. The new generation is initiated into the meaning of the culture, learns to participate in it, to accept or analyze the roles as well as the identities that make up its social structure, and to contribute to its future or be part of its transformation. The future of any religion in the Western world assumes that among those who will carry it forward there will be “knowledge and experience” of the religion as it is now and a robust religious socialisation that has been personally negotiated and constructed. Scholars of religions have found there is surprising agreement about the ways in which religiosity is manifested. Two of the most enduring sociologists of religion, Rodney Stark (2000, 2004) and Charles Glock (1973, 1976) have agreed on five dimensions of religiosity that are manifested in the religiously socialised person across nations and religions (Stark & Glock, 1970). The first of these is beliefs. In general, the religious person holds the tenets of the religion to be true, although there are always variations in the content and scope of these beliefs. This dimension, consisting of beliefs about the nature of reality and the nature of the disposition of the supernatural, is fundamental to all other dimensions and is at the heart of religiousness. The second is religious practice, meaning the things that religious people do to carry out their religious beliefs. There are two aspects of religious practice: formal rituals, which is exercised by all adherents and devotion, which consists of personal acts of worship and prayer that are informal and private. Both religious practice and devotion take place within the framework of belief and are incomprehensible apart from it. The third dimension is religious experience, which involves contact and communication with the divine. The fourth dimension is knowledge, closely related to belief, which means the religious person has at least basic information about the religion, its beliefs, rites, texts and traditions. The fifth dimension Stark and Glock (1970) refer to as consequences. This refers to the ways in which religiosity affects the day-to-day life of the believer, the consequences it has for their decisions and the ways in which they act and relate in the world. Although the most important agent of religious socialisation is the family, religiously operated schools have an important part to play in it, especially but not exclusively through their religious education curriculum.

1.2.3        Introducing Muslim children to the concepts of God and prayer

Introducing Muslim children to belief in God

It is important for parents to teach their children to thank God when they receive something. This can be done by saying Alhamdulillah for everything they receive. Even if a child thanks their mother for the tasteful food she has presented, she should teach the child to thank God for all His blessings. The kindness, blessings and beneficence showered upon us by God are uncountable, which is why parents should make sure they teach their children about His mercy (Ahmad, 2008). Children are able to build trust, love and belief in God by understanding how He is the one who provides us with food, life and sustainability. He is the one who protects us from all evil and evil doings, and also mercy and affection in the time of need. The kindness and blessings showered upon us by God are the reason why tiny beings are able to survive without any difficulty in this world and, by using the right kind of language and explanations, the children should be taught how this is possible.

The home environment is the most important factor to be considered when a healthy generation has to be brought up (Pohl, 2011). If the family is linked to God, then automatically the children are inclined to be the same. The family is expected to be honourable, righteous and cognisant of relevant aspects, even if one of the parents strongly believes in God and His will to provide the blessings of daily life. In such a family atmosphere, where they are submissive to God, serious issues are usually avoided.

When the Messenger of God prayed in the mosque, he would take his granddaughter Umamah, keep her on the ground at the time of prostration and put her on his back when he stood up. This story is a guide for the rest of the Muslim generations to indicate that children should be motivated to attend mosques and visit their gardens so they remain inclined towards attending when they grow up (Suwayd, 2005). The Prophet never had a harsh attitude towards children and did not force them to visit the mosques to pray; he believed that with love and affection it would be possible to achieve this activity much better. Children should be given the opportunity to attend at their own free will and conscience to make sure they are comfortable with their actions, have belief, and trust in their creator.

When talking about prescribed prayers, it is recommended that the father take his child to his mother when she prays and makes him watch how it is done. Through this activity, the child will be able to absorb the spiritual depth present in praying once they are old enough. Prayers are one of the most important and closest thing to God and in this way the child will be inclined to be as close to God as his parents (Ay, 1996). Children who are too shy to ask questions regarding their religion or anything in the world are called introverts. Many children pose questions regarding Islam to their parents and it is necessary that these children feel comfortable to ask in open words about religious matters (Sully, 1986).

Questions asked by children should be answered promptly otherwise they would build up inside and in the long run prove to be negatively affecting their attitude. They would have doubts and hesitation regarding the beliefs the parents is trying to instil.

At times, parents take too long to understand the inner uncertainties of a child, which are growing rapidly and may cause a spiritual collapse within the child. The child may pray with you at the mosque, but deep down inside they may not have the same beliefs or feel God is the creator of all. Deep inside, the child may be suffering from spiritual issues and inner conflicts may be making them miserable. The child needs to be subjected to a positive spiritual environment at home since when they are admitted to a school to gain social knowledge, they can be subjected to a variety of religions and beliefs. If the child is spiritual beliefs are strong, then it is not possible for this social environment to corrupt their belief system. Spiritual or any other kind of education and mental and emotional aspects should all be subjected upon the child according to their age (Gulen, 2012).

Children used to be taken care of nannies in the past and at this time; they were educating them spiritually as well as socially. It is believed however, that the best education that can be provided to a child is through the parents. If the parents are unable, then it is necessary that another learned family member fulfil the duty. In this way, the parents can make sure the child does not go astray and has a firm belief in God as the creator.

There should be a place and time for performing prayers at home (Metcalf, 2009). Prayers should be performed at home as a family to prompt the child to pray and, if a place and time is already determined, then they can be prepared accordingly. If the child is taken to the mosque, then they must feel secure and happy about going. There are occasions when the mother is unable to perform her prayers, such as during menstruation, which is why taking the child to the mosque may be appropriate. Looking only at the mother, the child may feel praying is optional and it may be skipped at times. It is essential to remove such misunderstanding and, if it is not possible to take the child to the mosque, then it is advised that the mother portrays as if she is praying, sits on the prayer rug, opens her hands and asks God Almighty for His blessing. Through this act, not only does she gain blessing from God, but also teaches her children how it needs to be done.

Gulen (2009) asserts that, when a child is being brought up, it is necessary to handle these aspects in an efficient manner as, when a child sees hands open for prayers, prostrating heads and weeping eyes, he starts to believe in the same things as the family. If the child has realised their worth in front of God, they will always make sure they are prepared at adhan (call to prayer). They will also tell their parents to go pray even if the adhan is not heard and it is time for prayers. Hence, the parents always reap the fruits of labour, which is why they are advised to take out time for God to benefit themselves as well as their children. The prayers should be for God and all refuge is to be taken from the creator of humankind, since He is the most merciful of all. If God is prayed to loudly, the children are able to hear and learn from this action.

According to Ergin (2012), another important teaching in Islam is to teach the children how to read the Qur’an. The children need to understand the advantages of reading the Holy Qur’an and parents need to help them relate to it as the words of Allah. Presently, the issue faced by children is that people are only focused on the sounds of the words when reciting the Qur’an. It is believed that, if the Qur’an is recited in a proper manner, then the Messenger of God and Allah would be happy and all those around would also benefit. While reciting the Qur’an, if the parents have tears rolling down their cheeks, then the children would be able to feel the intensity of the respect and love the parents have for their creator. If the Qur’an is recited flatly, then it is possible that insensitivity towards the words of Allah will arise.

Recently, some Muslim countries’ younger generations have not been subjected to the correct knowledge of Islam as a religion. The meaning for all has been different, which is why such unfortunate situations have risen. Many of the followers state they have strong faith in Islam and Allah, but in reality, they are unaware of all the teachings and requirements of their creator. They do not comprehend the meanings of religious concepts correctly and confuse their inner and outer worlds, which makes them unable to maintain a proper balance. Throughout history, this issue has been constantly appearing. The generations are not yet able to extract maximum benefits from the blessings being provided by God Almighty. Our duty as Muslims is to fill the hearts of our children with love and respect towards God and His Messenger, and answer their questions wisely. They should not be forced to pray or blindly follow beliefs that are present in the family for generations. Their prayers should be remembered and memorised so they may be able to pray at the required time. Religion should not be considered a formality by the parents that need to be fulfilled. It should be an activity, which fills the heart of the parents as well as the children. A six-month-old child should not be given food that adults consume. In a similar manner, religion should be instilled in a child in an appropriate manner according to their age otherwise after a point in time they will not be willing to learn. They should want to love Islam instead of being forced to follow the path. Internally, they should be content about the path they follow and parents should make it as enjoyable as possible. Spiritually, the minds and hearts of children should be opened by the efforts of the parents. Children should be motivated to read the Qur’an and they should pray to Allah for the ability to comprehend and read the Qur’an in an efficient manner so they can follow the right path according to the words of Allah Almighty (Gulen, 2012).

The Islamic faith has certain pillars and one of these pillars is the belief in God, which is the most important (Nursi, 2007). This concept needs to be given high importance since the entire belief of Islam is based on this fact. If a person does not believe in God, then they do not believe in the religion of Islam either. When children are of the right age, which is usually between seven and nine years, the sacred notions of Islam should be instilled in their heart with love. Every now and then, parents should talk about how important God is and how He should be made a part of a person’s life every step of the way. The Messenger of God has shown the right path to the believers, which should be followed (Gulen, 2002).

Anything that is sacred to a being should be reflected in his actions, like the Ka’ba is a sacred place and when talking about the Ka’ba it is necessary to give it respect. When a Muslim enters the Ka’ba or Medina, they should be filled with respect as they touch the ground.

Hence, it can be said it is the duty of all Muslims to show their children the straight path and ask them to pray to God. The pillars and faith of Islam along with the words of the prayers are the basic requirements that need to be taught to save them from the evils of the world. If a pure atmosphere is provided to the children and they are obedient servants of God, then it is possible to attain the blessings promised by their creator.

Introducing Muslim children to prayer

According to a hadith, the word ‘Allah’ should be taught to a baby as their first word around the age of 2-3 years (Heysemi, 1987). Parents should teach the child intently how to say ‘Allah’ when their child is at this age. If the child learns how to say ‘Allah’, they will gain the experience of making dua to Allah at an early stage of life. This shows us a child can be taught to start making dua at an extremely young age. Dua is an essential refuge for a child who expects their childhood desires to be fulfilled (Ay, 1996).

The Prophet said, “Teach your children to perform salat when they become seven years old…” (Naim, 1966). This does not mean that parents can only begin teaching their children how to perform the prayer once they reach the age of seven. Rather, informal instruction ought to start when a child starts to indicate an interest in salat. According to Gulen (2002), there ought to be an area and time for performing prayer in congregation at home or at the mosque. In addition, one should spare time each day to pray to God so the child will understand the importance of prayer in a person’s life. Moreover, it is better to pray aloud next to children. This clearly indicates the necessity to teach children how to pray; one should do the prayers in a way that they can be heard by the children.

1.3         Religious education for religious socialisation

For most, the beginning of religious socialisation occurs at a very young age. Religion is acquired through the interaction with parents and other adults in daily lives. Adopting a religion and its practices is a result of having been exposed to it. A child learns the meaning of life and moral education according to a religion, its teachings and the basic principles of the belief system, via the people in their life who are mostly their parents (Brethertion & Waters, 1985), relatives and other adults. Learning about and living according to a particular religion leads children to religious socialisation. The norms of the children’s lives, the rules and customs, the way of worshipping and holidays are all determined by the religious beliefs children acquire.

It is also argued that, for children from a religious background, education in their own religion is important and necessary. For many people, religion plays a pivotal role in ensuring a sense of meaning in life. A person not only has physical or materialistic needs (such as money), but also spiritual needs (Vakkasoglu, 2006).

For a person who is committed to a religion, faith will shape their lives. Their faith gives them responses to their questions about the spiritual world. Believing in a divine creator helps in putting to rest a believer’s fears, anxiety and negative feelings. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights upholds the right of parents to provide their children with education in their own religion (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, p. 26.3). Therefore, religious education is the aspect of initiating children into their own religious tradition; this is the basis of this research.

1.4         Approaches to religious education for religious socialisation

1.4.1        Religious education as cognitive and affective

Cognitive dimension

There are two important dimensions in religious education – cognitive and affective. The cognitive dimension is concerned with knowledge, and is focused on progress in knowledge and skills, such as beliefs, ritual practices, social structure, history, ethical positions, symbols, stories or texts of a particular religious tradition (Engebretson & Buchanan, 2008).

Cognitive learning outcomes are generally set out in clear statements that indicate the knowledge and skills intended for the students to achieve by the end of a lesson. In addition, cognitive learning outcomes allow students and teachers to interpret clearly the need for levels of achievement (Engebretson & Buchanan, 2008).

Affective dimension

In the affective process, the effects of the content need to be integrated with life experiences. This then enables a personal and creative response to the content. The affective dimension is applied in the cognitive learning process and its consequences. The affective domain allows the student to internalise the knowledge content and has the potential to touch a display of feelings and reflective capacities (Engebretson & Buchanan, 2008).

The affective dimension is difficult to control in terms of whether intended outcomes have been achieved in a lesson, as it is more of a development of feelings, reflections, values, attitudes and faith. Entering the affective dimension may involve an experience of inner change and not all students are ready to do this at a particular or given time (Engebretson & Buchanan, 2008). It is the combination of cognitive and affective dimensions of religious education that have been referred to as the educational approach to religious education (Buchanan, 2007).

The educational approach to religious education is the learning and teaching of religion for all students, regardless of their background and level of belief. It is the teaching of religion to students, not necessarily from the same belief background as the religion being taught. In this sense, religious education is seen as any other subject, hence being accessed equally by all students (Buchanan, 2007). It is only cognitive outcomes that are assessed; however, the teacher provides opportunities for the reflections, thoughts, prayers and considerations that belong to the achievement of affective outcomes.

An outcomes approach can be seen as the formalisation of religious education; that is, teaching it through a religious education curriculum with a set of outcomes to achieve, similar to other curriculum subjects. This approach provides a more accurate and consistent method to measure students’ learning and achievements (Buchanan, 2007).

The cognitive aspect of religious education focuses on knowledge content, whereas the affective aspect focuses more on the students’ personal interaction with the knowledge. That is, the affective aspect is an emotional connection, and can be concerned with personal faith and values (Buchanan, 2007).

1.4.2        Cognitive and affective theory of religious education in relation to Muslim schools

Religious education in Muslim schools can be taught using the cognitive and affective dimensions of learning. These dimensions are interlocked processes that allow students to learn about religion based on specific outcomes. The cognitive dimension refers to students objectively and systematically learning outcome-based content e.g. religious beliefs, ritual practices, social structure, history, ethical positions, symbols, stories and texts. Cognitive outcomes should be set out by the teacher using clear statements in order to indicate the exact knowledge and skills intended for students to achieve by the end of the lesson, as stated by Engebretson and Buchanan (2008).

In addition, according to Engebretson and Buchanan (2008), cognitive dimensions and the affective process are interlocked in order to assist students in making sense of what they learn and relate this at a personal level. This involves students relating what they have learnt to what they already know. It also requires students to integrate this understanding to their life situation to make it more meaningful. It is the teacher’s role to make the implicit content more explicit and provide opportunities for self-reflection. This should be done with outcomes that relate to cognitive learning.

However, it is important to note that affective learning outcomes, unlike cognitive outcomes, can less be achieved fully in one lesson. This is because they cater for the development of personal and internalised religious understanding, which is more complex and may take longer than learning outcomes based knowledge and skills, as stated by Buchanan (2007).

Therefore, the research discussed in this thesis presented the following questions:

1        What does a group of Muslim primary school children believe about Allah?

2        What questions do the group of Muslim primary school children have about Allah?

3        Which features of teaching materials used to teach Muslim children about Allah are most helpful and why?

2        LITERATURE REVIEW

2.1         Introduction

There are four areas in this section. The first section reviews how children develop in faith. The second area is concerned with presentation and analysis, the third deals with Muslim religious education and the final area deals with religious education textbooks. These areas of literature have been chosen because of their direct relationship with the research questions.

2.2         Section 1: Spiritual and faith development in children

2.2.1        Fowler’s stages of faith

The first section of the review of the literature looks into the development of faith in children at different ages, particularly in view of the theory of faith development put forward by Fowler (1981).

Stage 1: Intuitive-projective faith: 2-6/7 years of age

The intuitive-projective stage of faith development, according to Fowler, ranges from two to six or seven years of age. At this stage, children use new tools of speech and symbolic representation to organise their sensory experiences into meaningful units. Particularly between the ages of 2-3, children are very curious and constantly ask ‘what’ and ‘why’. These children demonstrate cognitive egocentrism, as they are yet not able to coordinate their perspective with another intuitive-projective child.

Older children at this stage demonstrate rich imagination and grasp of symbols. In the progress of Fowler’s research, an interview was conducted with a six-year-old boy named Freddy from a Catholic family and a four-and-a-half year-old girl named Sally who had not been exposed to religious symbols by her parents. The children were given scenarios of religious thoughts and were asked questions about God and their belief in God. Freddy had been exposed to a rich range of symbols that he used to form images in his head associated with God and the sacred. However, children like Sally who comes from non- or anti-religious homes showed similar tendencies, but with a lot more limitations.

They were also asked the kinds of things that made them afraid. Their responses showed that children between these ages have strong imaginations where reality and fantasy are mixed. It is clear from Fowler’s emphasis on imagination and fantasy in this age group that the imagination of a child can be exploited by some adults and, therefore, education for children in all settings is a crucial responsibility for the quality of images and stories we provide for our children’s fertile imaginations. Children should also be given the opportunity to express their ideas freely about ‘images’ they form (Fowler, 1981).

According to Fowler, the emergence of a religious awakening is evident in a child between the ages of two and six years. Aside from just rote learning of religious facts, questions regarding emotional issues arise (Ay, 1996). If we consider the psychological status of children, understanding their developing religious questioning will be eased. It is at these ages that children display behaviour such as imitation, similar to animation, egocentrism, stubbornness, anti-social behaviours and curiosity. It is at this stage where children have a desire to have themselves accepted by their surroundings and are eager to show that ‘I exist as well!’ (Ay, 1996). Some of these behaviours are more intense than other behaviours and some are more evident than others are.

Stage 2: Mythic-literal faith: 6-12 years of age

The stage when a person begins to accept and identify themselves with the stories and beliefs of their community is referred to by Fowler (1981) as mythic-literal faith. Symbols are a way of understanding their world through imagination. Stories add to this and provide an opportunity for unity. Individuals at this stage are aware of concepts, such as being just and fair and the characters in the stories are affected by symbolic occurrences for either good or evil. The mythic-literal child is able to recount the story with exact detail; however, cannot derive an analytical meaning or message. At this stage, according to Fowler, there are limitations of being too literal as it can become overpowering and too controlling.

The transition to stage three will give way to individuals noticing certain flaws or contradictions in the myths. This is when reflection in meanings will take place. These sorts of contradictions in the literature must be dealt with, as it is reality that they do happen (Fowler, 1981). For the purposes of this research, which is concerned with primary school children, Fowler’s stages one and two are most relevant.

Children aged between seven and nine years are usually more interested in the oneness of a sole creator. They are curious about a number of attributes about their Creator such as His size, where and how He came about, why there is only one and not any other. They are more concerned with how they need to understand their Creator. In addition, children at this age also view their Creator as the one who is the mightiest, most powerful, the creator of everything, the one who oversees everything, the creator of all humans, protector, sustainers and provider of all. The comprehending of their Creator is evident at this stage (Ay, 1996, p. 112). Pedagogically, in order to effectively explain the oneness of the Creator, teachers can use the ‘see and observe’ method such as; observing the creations of Allah in order to understand that He is the creator, to accept that He is fair and just with all His creations. To explain the existence of a creator, teachers should try to use daily and real life examples. They should encourage the children’s curiosity and questioning with valid answers. They should encourage children to be observant of their surroundings and more aware of the colours, shapes and textures that surround them and to think constantly of the Creator who created all. In addition, to be well aware of is the unique design that runs in the universe. According to Muslim educators, this is a significant step in the process of the child getting to know, explore, believe and, most importantly, love their Creator (Selçuk, 1990).

Stage 3: Synthetic-conventional: age 12

At this stage, faith has more places in the day-to-day living and outlook of a person’s life, though these values will be based more on the ideologies and judgments of the authoritative figure or group. An individual within this stage will not reflect on what faith means, even though they may have deeply felt ideologies, therefore will not be fully aware of them. One downside of this stage is that since the individual is internalised with the authority’s ideologies, others’ differing judgments can lead to betrayal or despair, which in turn would result in a breakdown. This is often the age when the peer group becomes more important than the family and the religious group. Through reflection of the self, values and background, individuals will make the transition to the next stage (Fowler, 1981).

2.2.2        Critique of Fowler’s theory

First, Fowler’s work has been criticised for its use of small and not significantly varied samples; later researchers have broadened the sample size.

By applying the concept of “face plausibility” to Fowler’s theory, Barnes, Doyle and Johnson (1989) devised one of the most widely accepted questionnaires that is used to assess the stages of faith (Timpe, 1999). To assess the manners of thinking characteristics of stages two through five, a forced option instrument was deemed as the best option by Barnes et al. to be applied on adults. It comprised nine paired statements and each statement was concurrent to the characteristics defined by Fowler to explain these stages. These statements were a determined attempt to mirror Fowler’s stage differences. One from the paired statements had to be selected by the person taking the survey. In total, five statements are present to cover stages three through five. Whereas, three statements are reflective of stage two. The reason for this was the deficient amount of longitudinal data and an adequately diverse age group needed to decide if the sample group experienced the stages in chronological order or not. According to Barnes et al., the dissimilarities are not of faith “styles” but “stages”. This explanation covers more generalised stage characteristics like, for stage three the apprehension toward the standards of the group and in stage four the willingness to bring all the aspects of reality on a single junction. Despite these facts, these characteristics were more generalised and not exactly classifiable to Fowler’s seven structures. Moreover, this model does not include stages one and six, as they are not repeatedly observable in adults. One statement that explains Fowler’s stage two is “those who do what God wants are given special rewards” and “love of neighbour requires being open to new ideas and values” explains stage five of Fowler’s seven structures.

Second, some argue that Fowler has not adequately defined what he means by “religion”; e.g., according to Moran (1987), Fowler’s definition of religion is restricted to the cognitive realm, and the definition ignores other dimensions of faith. That is, Fowler’s religion development theory is cognitive, omitting aspects like forgiveness that usually are associated with deep religious commitment (Fernhout, 1986). This is a crucial question and one that points to the affiliation between evaluating religious development measures and evaluating religion development theory (Parker, 2006). While an adequate answer to this question lies beyond the scope of this thesis, people who want to evaluate the adequacy of the religion development measures reviewed here must keep in mind that answers regarding the reliability and validity of instruments do not necessarily answer these larger queries concerning theoretical adequacy (Clore & Fitzgerald, 2002; Streib, 2005)

It is argued by Webster that the research method applied by Fowler was inappropriate. The criticism is based on the following point: the theory cannot be applied at a normative level because most of the sample group was white and Christian (Webster, 1984, p. 16). Moreover, Webster deems the research inappropriate, as there is no reason for only selecting seven aspects to each stage from a wide array of options. In addition, Fowler’s theory was driven by the works of Piaget, Kohlberg and Selman, and Webster questions the modifications that Fowler made to their works (Webster, 1984, p. 16). Webster criticises the reliability of Kohlberg’s work, which raises questions about the reliability of Fowler’s work. He also points out that Kohlberg was of the belief that moral development is a stage of faith development, but Fowler negates this notion (Webster, 1984, p. 17). In addition, Kohlberg worked in a hierarchical manner, while Fowler’s work cannot be included in such a classification. However, Smith (1992, p. 87) does not agree with Webster and, according to her, Fowler and Kohlberg are stating the same thing in different styles.

2.2.3        Elkind

In the US, David Elkind’s investigation about mental progress regarding religious understanding was one of the first works to be published. “Elkind is responsible for demonstrating the studies done by Piaget in front of the viewers from America, also for copying several studies revealed by Genevan, and the first studies to be printed about cognitive development in religious understanding were his,” as stated by Hyde (1990, p. 18).

For Elkind, three developmental themes were of focus: perceptual development, issue of egocentrism and religious development.

He interviewed 790 children ranging in age from five to 11. According to their responses, children were assumed to belong to one of the three stages of development. Personal religion “would be the sensations, ideas, and behaviour that adolescents establish and might also be felt in case of being in a relation or association with a person, nature, or even animals.” He considered that it was hard to understand and observe personal religion. Elkind studied “how children increasingly modernise religion–the theories, activities, and philosophies of traditional religions” (p. 5). By supposing that religion is made possible by cognitive development (cf. Worthington, 1989, p. 559), Elkind proposed in one of his writings (1970) that cognitive require positions, which develop and convert into features of different stages of children’s development, for instance the hunt for saving, demonstrating, associations and understandings, find their piece of explanations, individually, in some of the basics of the traditional religion: the concept of God, scripture and prayers.

Stage I (ages 5-7)Stage II (ages 7-9)Stage III (ages 10-12)
Children of these ages have the same kind of thinking, understanding and approach; thus, the impressions regarding religions uniqueness for these children is also the same. “Through an overall view it is noted that children at this age usually are unable to differentiate between a Protestant, Jew or Catholic” (1978, p. 14).Children get cleverer and develop the idea of religious belief or associated thoughts. At the second stage, a child selects particular references, characteristic of different denominational groups and primary actions. At this stage, children express their religious identities according to their experiences with religious rituals, forms of worship and family relations (Elkind, 1970).Children transform their thinking further in terms of religious faiths, as they begin to engage in higher order thinking about different religious groups. During this period, children begin to understand differences between their belief, ways of worship and other religious denominations or religions (Elkind, 1970).

Studies in this field conducted by Fowler and Elkind focus on specific groups, such as white Christians and Americans, respectively. In the research for this study, I will relate the stages of Fowler and Elkind to the responses from the Muslim children.

2.2.4        Are Fowler and El Kindi’s ideas suitable for Muslim children and why

Fowler’s stages of faith theory looks into development of faith in children at different ages. The theory outlines the developmental stages as the intuitive-projective stage (2-6/7 years of age) the mythical-literal faith stage (6-12 years of age) and the synthetic-conventional stage (12 years of age). During his research, Fowler conducted an interview, where he used a six-year-old boy named Freddy from a Catholic family and a four-and-a-half year-old girl named Sally who had not been exposed to religious symbols by her parents. The children were given scenarios that led to religious thoughts and were asked questions about God. Freddy had been exposed to a rich range of symbols, which he used to form images in his head associated with God and the sacred. However, children like Sally who come from non- or anti-religious homes showed similar tendencies, but with a lot, more limits.

This presents the first initial shortcoming of the theory, because Fowler only used one type of experiment to prove or develop his theory. For a theory to be more concrete and believable, a scholar should use of more than one experiment. This could also explain the reason why various scholars have tried to prove or disprove his theory. In addition, Fowler’s theory has been proved as inappropriate because it lacks a definition of religion. This is because it was restricted to the cognitive realm and ignored other dimensions of faith, such as forgiveness. Apparently, forgiveness is a crucial component of religion and its omission does not augur well with critics of religious theorem. In carrying out his research, Fowler’s sample was white and Christian, and therefore this cannot be used as a representative of a whole society that is made up of numerous religions and an equally large number of ethnic and racial groupings. The fact that Fowler’s work was drawn from the previous works of Piaget, Kohlberg and Selman also raises concerns as to the appropriateness of the research. Kohlberg’s work has borne criticism and it therefore follows that any work driven from it cannot be reliable.

In the United States, Elkind’s investigation about mental progress regarding religious understanding was one of the first works to be done and publicised. As opposed to Fowler’s theory, Elkind’s theory focused on three developmental themes, perceptual development, issues of egocentrism and religious development. As in the case of Fowler’s theory, Elkind’s sample was made up of white and Christian children and therefore was not a representative of the whole as it lacked diversity. The research also left out a crucial stage of children between ages two and five, a stage at which children learn how to speak and recognise things around them. Just like Fowler’s theory, Elkind’s theory does not identify the basic essence of religion and what the partakers of religion believe in or practise.

Overall, the two theories are useful in understanding the development of religion in young children beginning from an early age, as the different stages in both theories can be applied to the day-to-day aspects surrounding the development of religion in children. Nevertheless, both theories do not fit completely the case of Muslim children. Despite the existence of many similarities between Islam and Christianity, there are also differences in these two respected traditions. Elkind and Fowler draw their conclusions from single experiments involving white Christian children, whereas Muslim students come from many different ethnic, social and traditional backgrounds.

2.3         Section 2: Issues in Muslim religious education

2.3.1        Training of prayer

According to Trent, Osborne and Bruner (2000) and I Thessalonians 5:17, young children should be told they can converse with God regarding any subject as God can hear them. Capehart in 2005 and Helm in 2008 discussed whether teachers at school should also tell their young students about several prayers and the children should pray to God. Whereas, according to Watkins (2008), the manner in which children are engaged with God in praying and convincing Him is also worth learning for the adults. What Somers (2006) has observed is that young children become involve in praying to God with complete devotion and they welcome their seniors to join them without any hesitation.

2.3.2        The importance and role of parents

Parents are the initial instructors of a child’s life; hence, the responsibility of teaching children to study and remain in contact with God is also from their parents, and not solely the responsibility of their teachers, as explained by Schultz in 1998. The links that make up a child’s environment have been displayed in Bronfenbrenner’s theory of ecology (1979). Morrison in 2009 explained the part of Bronfenbrenner’s theory in which a mesosystem has been shown as the link in the environment where children spend most of their time. Whereas, Boyatzis in 2008 emphasised that scholars and experts should also study the association between the home and preschool while checking on the children’s spiritual development.

According to Bellous, de Roos and Summey (2004), to be converted, to be a good Christian, to read and learn the stories related to Bible and to become God fearing and to learn how to pray are the general basic goals included in religious education. However, in 2003, Wangerin and, in 2008, Stonehouse and May stated that these objectives can be only achieved if reading the Bible is done thoroughly and the religious teachings are provided by a strong belief-based religious school, along with worshipping (Steward & Berryman, 1989) and service opportunities. In order to practice all these things, more time should be allocated for the teacher-student relation to become stronger (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). All of these program practices must include the participation of parents to whom the Bible gives the primary responsibility of religious instruction (Schultz, 1998) and spiritual nurture (Stonehouse & May, 2008).

Hattie (2009) stated that students’ effectiveness at school was directly proportional to the role of their families in their education, while the topic of the parent-school relationship still needs to be properly studied in terms of the role parents play in educational institutes and how has the influence and participation of parents increased over the years (Saulwick Muller Social Research, 2006). Those schools that were experiencing bad times should strongly put emphasis on the relationship of parents with schools so that families contribute to education at a domestic level and help development in a healthy way for the students, as well as for the schools (Leithwood & Steinbach, 2002).

Although the topic of the parent-school relationship requires a great deal of focus, it is not given much importance in educational research because there are other more pressing factors that play significant role in students’ education. The concept is being addressed properly in Australia’s educational research (e.g. Anderson, 2006; Chan & Chui, 1997; Millar, 2006; Saulwick Muller Social Research, 2006). Spry and Graham contributed a list of the chief elements of Australia’s parent-school linkage and depicted an early application of the relationship project, as financed by Lismore Catholic Education.

Islamic schools in Australia have been the focus of research in recent times, but only a few of them give the participation of parents in the school’s education program. Investigations found Muslim parents participated at a decreased level in non-Islamic educational institutes than Islamic ones because of cultural, language and employment differences (Clyne, 2001). The study conducted by Clyne did not put much emphasis on Islamic schools, although there are two major reasons why research must be conducted over the Islamic institutions in Australia. The first reason is that the Muslim population has dramatically increased in Australia in the past few decades and, secondly, with more Muslim, there is a greater demand for educational institutions with Islamic education and culture (Saeed & Akbarzadeh, 2001).

The first Australian Islamic educational school was set up in Melbourne in 1983. Today, more than 15,000 students are receiving education at 30 Australian-Islamic institutes around the country. Those Islamic schools have their own identity and are run parallel to other state schools, but the federal and state governments heavily sponsor them. Hence, while studying the parent-school relationship in Australian schools, it is necessary that Islamic schools are also included in research because they are part of the government school program in all respects.

For obvious reasons of cultural and ideological coherence and religious affiliation, Muslims are more involved in Islamic schools than non-Islamic ones, to remain attached to the home culture (Clyne, 2001; Saeed & Akbarzadeh, 2001). Such a thought does not necessarily stand true. Muslims parents in the Netherlands do not show as much involvement in their children’s education or Islamic schools, according to some studies (Driessen & Merry, 2006; Merry & Driessen, 2005). This decreased participation can be attributed to the parents’ thinking that their children’s education is only the responsibility of their schools, the distance from school to home and their challenging employment. In America, Muslim parents are very much involved with their children’s education and participate in strengthening parent-school relationships (Merr, 2005). This enthusiastic involvement can be resultant of the competition enforced by other local immigrants.

Success of schools is possible by effective parent-school relationships through numerous ways. Parents are the first and foremost educators of children (Saulwick Muller Social Research, 2006). Students’ production is less than their expected production if families are not participating in their learning cultures (Leithwood & Steinbach, 2002). School attendance, student behaviour, academic excellence, discipline and the standard of school programs are all the result of parents’ involvement in studies (Michael, Dittus, & Epstein, 2007; Leithwood & Steinbach, 2002). The knowledge and expertise of school activities and programs are also linked with parents’ participation (Saulwick Muller Social Research, 2006).

2.3.3        Textbooks in education

Although educators in some quarters maintain that the faithful old textbook has become obsolete and irrelevant with the dawn of Googleand other search engines, the need for and purpose of textbooks may nevertheless persist for the more mature, conservative, older students and researchers as well as for children in schools.

According to Crotty & Crotty (2000), the use of textbooks raises several questions, like whose knowledge was disseminated in the education process and for which purpose. These questions may apply to religious education and textbooks as well; not because of perceptions about the school, but because of the textbooks’ content. This is controlled by society’s mainstream approved curriculum. A curriculum is a learning structure that is prescribed by somebody’s knowledge; it is not neutral knowledge that is spread across the educational board. Culture, politics, economics and religion affect the way the curriculum is structured and therefore cannot be separated entirely from it. Again, Crotty & Crotty (2000) present the argument that, although textbooks present legitimate knowledge to students, the problem is that textbooks are used and determined by teachers with certain views and these views are often put as fact. The textbook is caught in a web of social and ideological relations. Then the teacher that mediates it transforms it and by the student, that reads it. However, we still need textbooks, as they play a very important role in religious education and provide useful resources for students and teachers. On the other hand, textbooks should constantly be updated to keep up with the demands of present days’ educational needs. For example, a textbook written 30 years ago may not be relevant to the needs of students these days. Most institutions still use the textbook as the main resource for their teaching elements – presented material may be modified according to students’ needs and abilities, such as preparing worksheets, assessments and quizzes. Education without textbooks is like building a house without a foundation.

Dwyer (2000) argues that any textbook can have positive and negative attributes, which can lead to its misuse as it can set narrow parameters for teaching and learning. On the other hand, a good textbook can be a powerful resource for any teacher, especially for a teacher who is unfamiliar with the course content. Especially new teachers who do not have enough experience in the content area will need a textbook as a guide, otherwise, they may end up teaching in fragments. As a result, students will not receive a coherent education in the subject area. This may even frustrate the parents as they may assume their children are not learning enough and perhaps may not be in a position to help them.

Ryan (2000) states school textbooks include not only an explicit content, but also an implicit content that reflects ideological meanings and a thorough reading is required to detect those meanings. The teacher needs to uncover these embedded meanings in school resource materials and judge the message they give to students. On the other hand, Ornstein (1994) criticises textbooks as they provide explanation, but do not promote critical thinking. With the aim of encouraging students to gain critical thinking abilities there should be comparisons in religious textbooks, which will inevitably lead to controversial issues; however, such issues should not be avoided. With the influence of Elliot Eisner (1995), the author emphasises the importance of making students gain critical imagination through textbooks and challenges traditional textbooks that are contrary to traditional texts implicitly claiming that the knowledge and outcomes are certain and there is no need for debate.

2.3.4        The teachings of the hadith

According to hadith, it is necessary for fathers to have a yearning for their children to acquire good morals, for the sake of themselves, their children and society (Tirmidhi, Birr, p. 33).

According to al-Jawziyya, the disorder in most children is a result of their fathers; they have gone astray because of their father’s neglect and abandoning of teaching religious fundamentals. He connects these problems to the father’s neglect in accustoming his children to religious practices, that is, not providing them with a religious education from the early age of nine (al-Jawziyya, 1961). Imam Ghazzali (1981), on the other hand, has characterised the child as one who is entrusted to his parents, and the child’s clean, pure heart is similar to a gemstone that is free of blemishes. This is why children are capable of accepting what is given, and as such, it is important to teach them about good and that it will bring happiness in this world and in the hereafter. Thus, a child’s pure heart will be filled with good at a young age and will get ready to know the God.

Nursi (2007) has stated that education, particularly religious education, should be given to children at an early age, and when they grow up they should adopt the moral values provided by the fundamentals of religion. He has urged fathers to be sensitive in this regard, and has recommended them to provide their children from an early age with religious, moral and social values that will give happiness in both worlds (Nursi, 2007).

2.3.5        Gulen’s educational vision

We can observe patterns of similarity between the Australian educational system and the education imparted by Fethullah Gulen. Educational institutions have been experiencing a setback due to their deviations from the humanistic morals to achieve materialistic success that resulted in youngsters becoming educated without developing appropriate ideals (Postman, Whitehead & Gulen, 1998, p. 110). Nature and other living things have been kept inferior due to scientists’ new tactics (Gulen, 2003). Numerous international issues have occurred due to the irresponsibility of the scientists’ work, such as creating environmental pollution (Gulen, cited in Agai, 2003). Generally, there was a lot of corruption and greed in the society. Tranquillity and understanding will become widespread only when the worldly and spiritual jurisdictions are settled (Gulen, 2000).

According to Gulen, understanding the materialistic and spiritual realms is not possible without the ingredients of love and knowledge. Without knowledge, students are handicapped and behind others in their awareness and intellectual abilities, as knowledge is the domain of sciences. However, knowledge, and therefore science, alone cannot help people gain insight and benefit, and hence love is mandatory. An individual’s most significant ingredient is love (Gulen, 2002, p. 41). Love is not the worldly desire, but the self-sacrificing, submissiveness and sincerity to God for the sake of others instead of personal benefits or gains. Such admiration includes self-sacrifice, abstention and determination to change one’s life on earth (Yavuz, 2003, p. 34; see also Özdalga, 2003a, 2003b). Pedagogy or schooling is established on such kinds of love.

However, not all tutors can be called educators. Like Russel (1967) and Huebner (1999), Gulen (2004) also stated that education and teaching are two different things. Several people have the ability to teach, but only a few have the skill to educate (p. 208). Teaching is only the imparting of knowledge. Education consists of giving knowledge along with love and guidance: in the words of Gulen (2004, p. 208), sincere teachers sow authentic seeds and reserve it. They revolve around things that are good, beneficial and nutritious; they make sincere efforts to guide their students through life’s difficulties with ease.

Hence, teaching is a holy and sacred occupation and the chief objective of a pure teacher is to develop the ability in their pupils to polish themselves and gain an optimistic and pragmatic transition within themselves (Gulen, 1998, 2004). Not only are teachers responsible for imparting knowledge, but also to use it with wisdom and for contributing ample guidance through spirituality and love, and not merely by teaching morals and values.

The core objective of Gulen’s educational aspiration is to create a “Golden Generation” that comprises people who love, know how to amalgamate knowledge and spirituality and who work to give something beneficial to the society in which they dwell. (Gulen, 1998). An individual who has “two wings” is known as dhu al-janahayn who represents an integration of mind and heart (Gulen, 1996b) that means spirituality is combined with the worldly knowledge of science and modern awareness (Gulen, 2004), which later creates people who are intellectual and spiritually superior (Michel, 2003; Gülen, 1996a) who make efforts for the benefit of the other human beings out of goodwill and love (Gülen, 2000; Yildirim & Kirmizialtin, 2004).

2.3.6        Gülen’s schools

An excellent educational schooling project was established throughout the world due to the profound enlightenment and vivid vision of Gulen and his followers in the early 1980s. Seven universities and hundreds of schools in Turkey and rest of the world were created on the same principles.

The curriculum and materialistic items of these educational institutes are similar to that of other schools of the world. The computer equipment and laboratory instruments are technologically upgraded and the standard of education is high (Agai, 2003; Balci, 2003; Özdalga, 2000; Yavuz, 2003). Students of these schools are way ahead of other students from various institutes in academic competitions, information sciences, natural sciences and languages, as stated by Thomas Michel (2003), Secretary for Interreligious Dialogue of the Society of Jesuits and ecumenical secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. He said the students are “among the most dynamic and worthwhile educational enterprises … in the world” (p. 70).

The moral character of these schools’ staff and teachers is also quite reputable. For example, half of the population at the Philippines-Turkish School of Tolerance is Muslim and the other half is Christian. The military and parliamentary forces fail to provide the students with enough ways to communicate in a positive manner, which is given to them by these schools (Michael, 2003). The Philippines is blessed to be the host of a school that lives up to its name in literal meaning and that it maintains a strong relationship with the Christian community.

Albania Gulen schools are another example. Albania schools were established in strict opposition to the Ottoman Empire (Agai, 2003, p. 44), and do not encourage Islamic principles or Turkish nationalism to prevail in their schools. The state and the public gave their consent for the development of Gulen schools in Albania because of their exceptional morality and values, and emphasis on science and quality education.

All these schools developed on the lines of Gulen doctrines have similar values and patterns, as found by Özdalga (2003b) when he interviewed the female teachers of those schools. The values included self-criticism, professionalism (teaching), love (global love that is considerate towards the entire society), humility and pietism (p. 63). The teachers also stated they made special efforts to avoid conflicts and maintain harmony at work (p. 69). Such a working environment makes these institutions adapt the values and norms of relevant religions so that, instead of specially teaching about a particular religion like Islam, the teachers try their best to educate pupils by representing themselves as custodians of good deeds (Özdalga, 2003b, p. 86).

An educational institute must try to excel as much as it is possible in terms of spirituality and academics (Gulen, 2004). The teachers must try to have a grasp of their subjects and excel in their fields and work while developing their personality in a better way and more strongly than they try to polish their students’ characters. The students are treated with compassion and care. The educators believed that, instead of working on the students’ personality development, trying to work upon one’s own character is more significant.

In the religious of education of a child, family and teachers play significant roles. If parents participate in children’s activities, the children will show a better performance. As Gulen states, a teacher is not a person who only teaches but also who can illuminate people with the help of love and devotion. For this reason, my study encourages both parents and teachers to take part in children’s activities.

2.4         Section 3: Textbooks in religious education

2.4.1        Australian research on textbooks in religious education

As mentioned before, a great deal of information and data is accessible online through websites with related and connected links. In religious education, however, there will always be textbooks, reference books and prescribed texts to work from. For this very reason, faith-based schools, communities and school boards will always be around to “dictate” which quality textbooks will best serve the interests of their specific communities. The quality of a textbook in religious education is sometimes compared to the quality of textbooks in other disciplines. According to Rossiter (2000), the effectiveness of placing good materials in students’ hands is seen in their learning on religion. The materials, coupled with the teacher’s inbuilt philosophy on teaching, will help deliver a rich learning strategy. Rossiter (2000) believes good student resource materials usually have appropriate and creative methods of presentation built into the format of the text.

Furthermore, Rossiter (2000) provides explicit details of what is considered the best features of high quality student religious education texts. Firstly, the appearance and production of student texts in religion must be comparable to other texts in humanities, such as English and geography; otherwise, students will see it as being deficient, and hence negative views on religious education will be reinforced. Additionally, religious education texts must keep up with changes in the format used in other texts. An example of this is that textbooks in other fields have developed their traditional presentation of content from factual and systemic to focusing on analysis, interpretation and critical thinking. It is of paramount importance that the content includes issues that are relevant to the lives and experiences of students. Finally, Rossiter (2000) states he would prefer to have smaller booklets covering units of work rather than a single thick text with a large amount of content to be covered. Most importantly, he is aware of the need to develop CDs and internet resources to deliver religious education in today’s digital world.

The analysis by Mudge (2000) deals with the heart and its contemporary understanding as the primary focus of ‘relationality’ and educational endeavour. He delves into various sources in order to stress the dilemma that religious educators and text writers have with the over-emphasis on the cognitive or intellectual dimensions. Mudge (2000) talks about the ‘aesthetic attitude’ and how it has been traditionally hindered by the belief that a choice is required between an objective, distanced approach and an affective, incarnation approach when relating to the ‘text’. Mudge (2000) argues that an understanding of any text should involve both these dimensions. As such, when studying the religious text and the challenges it offers, these should be seen as directed to the ‘heart, soul and spirit, as well as the mind or intellect’. The heart is critical because it is a sacred space and contemporary spirituality and educational discourse hold the heart to be a central educational matrix. Mudge (2000) believes readers need to engage the heart in the pedagogical process and in reading or interpreting religious texts.

Cotter (2000) claims the text should be based on the integration of two essential principles:

  • Tradition: respect for the richness and depth of religious tradition, desire and sense of belonging.
  • Experience: respect for life experiences and the ideas of young people.

Teachers who teach the cognitive meaning of the faith tradition must be well familiarised so they are secure in their knowledge of tradition and confident in their skills.

Ryan (2000) also claims that choosing religious textbooks is mostly determined by the clerical hierarchy, which is predominantly male, unskilled in educational theory and has conservative values. There is an added complexity of the interpretation of the religious text by the teachers and students.

According to Engebretson (2000), high-quality religious education textbooks used in secondary education include, but are not limited to, the following individualities (Engebretson, 2000, p. 29):

  • The text explores historical, cultural, scriptural, liturgical and ethical assets by engaging students with comprehensible literature, enlivening higher order thinking, while respecting the student’s intellectual and psychological development.
  • The text exposes students to current developments in scriptural and theological scholarship, and these are used either as particular methodologies in the text, or included as part of the information on a given topic.
  • The religious education text, unless intended, recognises diversity of religious commitment and cultures. In doing this, generalisations and assumptions that all students have similar beliefs and faith practices are eliminated. The text should not use ‘presumptive’ language as this may alienate or isolate students who do not have a strong connection to religion.
  • The text allows the student to interact personally with the information in the way that they are comfortable; simultaneously, it should challenge the student at an intuitive, creative and reflective level. A quality text gives opportunity for personal reflection on belief through information, activities, discussion topics and examples of prayer.
  • The text contains exceedingly explicit information on any given topic, organised into specific components; thus, this becomes a useful resource for the teacher to easily navigate.
  • Numerous choices are given in the form of activities, research assignments, discussion topics, revision questions, quizzes, and activities, which use the student’s creative capacities.
  • A good religious education text is very visually attractive, which enhances and extends the text. It educates not just through the printed word, but by beautiful examples of traditional and/or contemporary art.
  • The text acknowledges the significance of information technology in education, and provides assistance to students to use this technology to find out more about topics under consideration.

Beyond being an educational tool, a good religious textbook has the ability to change a learner’s perspective about the world in the religious field.

2.4.2        The qualities of a good religious education textbook for Muslim religious education with young children

  • Islamic religious education textbooks should satisfactorily answer children’s questions about Islam.
  • Students should be able to understand these textbooks without the help of the teacher.
  • Religious education textbooks should be relevant to children and cater for their needs.
  • Religious education textbooks should have enough exercises or activities to help children learn.
  • Religious education textbooks should always be upgraded and updated in order to keep up with the demands of present days’ educational needs.
  • The examples used in these books should be relevant for Australia today.
  • Information in Islamic religious education textbooks should include suitable texts from the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the inner lives of significant people, as these people could be examples for the students in their lives.
  • The textbooks must appeal to the interests of the age group the textbook targets.

Islamic textbooks should be coherent, concise and take children on an educational journey that is thematically sound. This can be achieved by using diagrams, concept maps or charts.

The analysis in of textbooks in this thesis has been conducted according to these characteristics of good textbooks.

2.5         Conclusion

This chapter has emphasised the importance of building religious beliefs in children from a young age so they can practice their religion and know how to converse with God. Parents, teachers and textbooks play an important role in this purpose. The support and encouragement of parents, devotion of teachers, and authentic and attractive textbooks can help teach children about religion.

3        METHODOLOGY

3.1         Introduction

3.1.1        Purpose of the study

This study is concerned with religious education for Muslim primary school children. The purpose of this study is to determine children’s beliefs about Allah and the potential of religious education textbooks in effectively teaching belief in Allah to Muslim children.

3.1.2        Description of the institution

Sule College Auburn Campus, located in Auburn in NSW, will be used for this study. Sule College is a ‘not-for-profit,’ ‘self-governing’ and ‘non-denominational’ school that was established by the Turkish community in 1996. The institute began with only about 33 students; however, it now has three campuses: ‘Preston,’ ‘Auburn’ and ‘Illawara.’ Presently, it has about 1,000 students in primary and 800 students in high school. The school caters for students from kindergarten up to year twelve. Forty-two different ethnic groups of students exist within the institution community, which is a perfect portrayal of the multiethnic society in Australia.

3.1.3        Research questions

The research discussed in this thesis presented the following questions:

1.       What does a group of Muslim primary school children believe about Allah?

2.       What questions do the group of Muslim primary school children have about Allah?

3.       Which features of teaching materials used to teach Muslim children about Allah are most helpful and why?

3.1.4        Research design

The research design methodology encompasses qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods. The main data collection will be through questionnaires.

This chapter will provide a review of the research design that was used for gathering the data. It will explain the philosophical basis of the research design, how the research was carried out and how the data was analysed.

3.1.5        Justification of the research design

This chapter explains the epistemology that underlies the study and the theoretical perspective that was employed. A mixed methodology was used in this research and the methods selected for the study were documentary analysis, surveys of children and interviews. Content analysis was used to analyse the data and allow for its interpretation. Qualitative and quantitative research methods were used to comprehend the range and depth of views linked to research areas. A mixed method design, consisting of qualitative and quantitative paradigms, was chosen as the most suitable methodology for the study due to the nature of the focus of the study. Figure 1 gives a summary of the design that was followed in this research (Crotty, 1998).

Figure 1: Summary of research design

3.1.6        Epistemology

Crotty (1998) affirms that epistemology is one view of how to construct knowledge, and it may include the understanding of what is involved in knowing, that is, how people know what they know. Epistemology deals with the nature of knowledge, its possibility, and scope and general basis (Creswell, 2007). Crotty (1998, p. 8) describes the importance of epistemology to research: “epistemology is concerned with providing a philosophical grounding for deciding what kinds of knowledge are possible and how we can ensure that they are both adequate and legitimate.” Studies indicate that positivism perfect expertise comes only from what is termed as “positive affirmation philosophies,” provided by steady scientific method (Creswell, 2007).

Social constructivism is another epistemological approach. Creswell (2007) noted that, “in this worldview, individuals seek understanding of the world in which they live and work.” Furthermore, “they develop subjective meaning of their experiences; meaning directed toward certain objects or things” (Creswell, 2007). Social relations, culture and historical background play major roles in constructing meaning. “In other words, they are not simply imprinted on individuals but are formed through interaction with others (hence social constructivism) and through historical and cultural norms that operate in individuals lives” (Creswell, 2007). For Crotty (1998) “constructivism describes the individual human subject engaging with objects in the world and making sense of them.”

Social environment and culture play very important roles in the process of developing the behaviour of individuals and knowledge. Thus, social constructivism is the epistemology that inspires this study, which deals with shared perceptions about Islamic textbooks. Perceptions will be shared between participants in focus groups and between the researcher and participants.

3.1.7        Theoretical perception

Symbolic interactionism is a hypothetical acuity within the general epistemological area of constructivism that is pertinent to the interpretations in this study. Symbolic interactionism proposes that the ‘truth’ about a given situation can be established through analysis of the relationships and interactions within the situation. Consequently, with the understanding that truths about the situation can be found through examining the ways in which individuals or groups generate their own understanding of the reality, social phenomena, such as language, decisions, conflicts and hierarchies, exist objectively in the world and exert strong influences over human activities, because people construe them in common ways. Things that are believed become real and can be inquired into (Miles & Huberman 1994). Symbolic interactionism is concerned however, with causal descriptions that explain the social processes that lead to particular outcomes and symbolic interactionism is an interpretive perspective that encourages investigators to examine the underlying assumptions (Miles & Huberman 1994). This gives rise to how individuals and groups interpret experiences and the types of understandings that flow from shared interpretations. Miles and Huberman (1994) noted that symbolic interactionism was valuable as a research tool as it allowed analysis of the tendency of people to act towards situations rather than roles or structures.

Generally, figurative interactionism, as seen by Miles and Huberman (1994), “is a more ecumenical perspective that allows the researcher to integrate a multiplicity of methods to different extents of the same event or situation.” Symbolic interactionism can be seen as having the capacity to continually redefine the variables under examination and, therefore, is able to accommodate a range of approaches to the same reality (Glaser, 2009). In this way, it can co-exist with post-modem approaches (Glaser, 2009) with their interpretive foci and flexibility. Symbolic interactionism will be brought into interaction with the symbols of the researcher. The meanings created in these interactions will provide the descriptions necessary for the interpretation of data. Thus, symbolic interactionism is a suitable theoretical perspective for this research project.

3.2         Methodology

3.2.1        Mixed method

A mixed methods or multi-strategy research design can be understood in terms of its combining two paradigms into one research: qualitative and quantitative. It includes justified methods, instruments and rationales worked together in a single research study (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). While carrying out a mixed methods research study, it is significant to gather, analyse and construe the data coming from these two streams into one major stream. It can also spread into several other studies where the same research issue is investigated through different paradigms. In this connection, Johnson and Onwuegbuzie (2004) argue that

The epistemology of a research study bases on the justified use of induction or discovery of patterns, deduction (testing of theories and hypotheses), and abduction (uncovering and relying on the best of a set of explanations for understanding one’s results).

A mixed methods research approach offers a rationalistic and instinctive solution, and can be justifiably used to combine different research paradigms. This feature, likewise, has to date enabled an ever increasing number of researchers to carry out research studies under this approach (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004).

As already discussed, a mixed methods study design integrates the strong points of the two research traditions together, i.e. qualitative and quantitative approaches, and thus, they are appropriately applied in this study. These two paradigms hold strongly justifiable grounds to be independent approaches; however, common scholarly opinion favours combining them for investigation that is more effective.

Yin (2006) state “the goal of mixed methods research is to draw on the strengths and minimise the weaknesses of both types of research.” Principally, it is imperative for the researcher to be cautious enough to distinguish the subtleties of a research design and decide the methods and paradigms upon the major research questions being posited. In addition, if this careful, rationalistic thinking leads to the decision that the mixed methods research design would best address the researcher questions, it should be adopted without hesitation. This also means designing instruments from the two approaches to achieve intended results. Yin (2006) presents further argument that a mixed methods research design is effective because it is founded on the rational thought patterns that cause human minds to further develop the world and its scholarship. There are instances where research studies cannot be very clearly justified in terms of either the research paradigms or the research questions posited that lead to a different approach than a pure one-paradigm study. This is rationally a very likely justification for carrying out a study under the mixed methods approach so the strengths of both methods are best used. Yet, a Yin (2006) state it is not fundamental that a mixed methods research study always integrates two methods. In other words, in some cases two different but still quantitative research methods may be combined, an example of which can be, according to Yin (2006), experimental research method employed with survey research. Yin (2006) points out that this approach can help the researcher accentuate internal and external validity that is not possible if two methods are used in isolation.

Yin (2006) further argues that, keeping in view the research aims, quite a few research designs can be formed for different research purposes. Yin also states that today a number of creatively justified research designs are possible, the main point being a clearly justified ground for choosing a certain approach or method. A mixed methods approach allows exploration of a variety of research phenomena, as under this approach there is high scholarly freedom. As already discussed, in research it is quite convenient to use two approaches, building on the strengths of each approach in order to pursue stronger evidence (Yin, 2006). Integrating the qualitative and quantitative methods into a single study rationally offers grounds that are more robust for decision-making purposes.

Another important characteristic of the mixed methods approach is that data collection can be carried out simultaneously, which will benefit the research schedule. Moreover, a mixed methods research study provides other advantages. For instance, narrative accounts can effectively accentuate statistical evidence. A mixed methods research design may also be useful for the aims of triangulation or development, complementarily, initiation and expansion (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). ‘Triangulation’ is imperative to enhance the cogency and consistency of an examination study. Similarly, complementarily improves a research’s interpretability and validity by efficiently coping with the instances of data burdening or overlapping. In this way, it remains keenly focused on the significant areas being explored in a phenomenon.

To achieve scholarly robustness in a research study, a mixed methods approach employs initiation to resolve inconsistencies found in the results coming from qualitative and quantitative methods. In particular, a mixed methods research design augments a study in connection to its vividness, accuracy and depth. This is obvious when interpreting the study conducted on women and meetings carried out by Yin (2006). In its data analysis section, the author states the underlying assumptions as: a research study is more convincing when it employs two research paradigms integrally to add to the present human knowledge. Last of all, dialectical investigators argue that a mixed methods research design is more logical and ethical since a vast array of experiences, voices, standpoints and ways can be effectively explored (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004).

Data for this research was based on mixed methods with the majority being qualitative research methods favoured over quantitative methods because the richness this method provides for eliciting participants’ views and in-depth feelings. These issues cannot be accessed through structured quantitative-based surveys. As pointed out by Johnson and Onwuegbuzie (2004), the constructivist researcher is most likely to rely on qualitative and quantitative methods (mixed methods) since studies indicate that qualitative data may be used to support or expand upon qualitative data and extend the portrayal.

In this study, quantitative data collected in the first stage was used to focus qualitative data collection in the second stage. Consequently, the main reason for the choice of this method was to bring together the strengths of both forms of research to compare, validate and corroborate results (Creswell, 2008). The research questions required more than a single survey response; a mixed method was found to be more appropriate. While the study attempted to gain deeper insights through qualitative research, it sought to collect broader insights with quantitative methods and thus gaining perspective breadth and depth (Yin, 2006). In other words, the initial quantitative data was used to identify the issues that were then used to guide further investigation in the qualitative phase of the research.

3.2.2        Distinguishing ‘qualitative’ and measurable examination approaches

When an investigator understands well the ontological and epistemological assumptions behind the two methods, it may be feasible for them to decide whether to employ a quantitative or qualitative approach individually or together. In this regard, Crotty (1998) states that “whatever research we engage in, it is possible for either qualitative methods or quantitative methods, or both, to serve out purposes.” Additionally, Creswell (2007) offers a convenient explanation of qualitative research as qualitative research begins with assumptions: “a world view, the possible use of a theoretical lens, and the study of research problems inquiring into the meaning individuals or groups ascribe to a social or human problem.” Both quantitative and qualitative research approaches bear different ways, procedures and assumptions for research design. In this context, Wiersma (2009) notes that quantitative researchers are more attuned to standardised research procedures and predetermined designs than qualitative researchers. The latter are more flexible once they are into the research and qualitative research involves multiple methods more frequently than quantitative research. Qualitative research is subjective because it mainly deals with social information and its interpretation involves not only the participants but also the researcher.

However, quantitative research revolves more around the principal or ontological assumption of objectivity and so studies are designed so the researcher, interviewer’s and/or observer’s influence can be excluded as far as possible (Flick, 2009). It is well established that these two research paradigms bear different ontological grounds conceding different epistemologies. Wiersma (2009) notes that “qualitative research is done for the purpose of understanding social phenomena, being used in a broad sense.” The quantitative research survey method was chosen for the following reasons (Creswell, 2007; Flick, 2009) and it attempts to understand the whole of the environment being investigated. To begin with, it provides an opportunity for the researcher to develop insight into the basic aspects of human perception, behaviour and attitude. Secondly, since information is often given anonymously, respondents are more likely to be truthful in their responses to the issues raised in the questionnaire. Thirdly, the researcher can use scientific research tools, such as a questionnaire, to collect data and analyse it by means of computer statistical programmes. Finally, it gives some measure of objectivity, because the statistical and mathematical methods of analysis are free from subjective bias. Quantitative research is conducted to determine relationships, effects and causes (Flick, 2009).

Subsequently, this research investigation will be carried out to capture the data in natural settings over an extended period addressing research aims. Creswell (2007) affirms that qualitative investigators tend to gather information at the site where participants experience the issue or problem under study. Creswell (2007) sees the researcher as the focal person in a qualitative study because “qualitative researchers collect data themselves.”

This research is concerned with exploring certain aspects of Muslim religious education for primary school children, in particular the belief of children regarding Allah and the features of teaching material used to educate Muslim children about Allah. I collected data through interviews with three teachers and two parents, and conducted a survey among primary school students between the ages of nine and 12. This study largely employs a quantitative approach using questionnaires for data collection. In addition to the quantitative approach, this study applies a qualitative research approach to understand children’s responses to the survey and help the researcher interpret which features of the teaching materials are most conductive and why.

3.3         Methods

3.3.1        Document analysis

Document analysis is a social research method that will be employed to collect some of the data for this project. Spradley (2010) noted that document research and analysis are the main methods used by historians, and it epitomises the case study research strategy. There are a wide variety of document sources, such as letters, minutes of meetings, public records, private papers, progress reports, newspapers, biographies and presentations. In essence, minutes of meetings and presentations are very helpful in carrying out a research study of this kind; from time to time ideas or techniques found in them helped in gathering the required data together with the necessary analysis. Studies show that few people realise that congressional staff and others, who may have testified before the document is printed in final form, deliberately edit even “transcripts” of official United States congressional hearings (Yin, 2003). Triangulation is a helpful method to examine the validity of data and avoid being misinformed by documentary evidence. The documents that were studied were not written to provide answers for the research questions, but to serve specific purposes and inform certain audiences. Accordingly, with triangulation skills, it was easy to collect and relate data with the research questions to come up with clear and concise information.

Spradley (2010) emphasises that documents are not drawn up to answer research questions, but are part of the evidence base. It is crucial to relate the data collected from document analysis to the research questions. Spradley (2010) suggests that relevance comes from weighing, assessing and selecting evidence that has a bearing on the research issues. Reviewing religious education textbooks will provide data about the qualities of writing and content that will be most effective in teaching belief in Allah to Muslim children.

As is well known, choosing a good textbook is an essential part of teaching. Effectively, teachers make that determination so much that they end up being critical of every book they adopt because they know its weaknesses as well as its strengths. In relation to the content of the required textbooks for teaching children about Allah, each textbook was analysed in light of the following aspects. The first question that was asked about the textbook was ‘how is Allah taught to children?’ The second question sought to know which methods were used and thirdly what strengths did the book have? The fourth question was to find out the weaknesses that the textbook under analysis might have. Other questions were used to derive information that revealed how the book satisfactorily answered children’s questions concerning Allah and if the information in the textbook was relevant and interesting to children. The next question was aimed at knowing if the language used was suitable and easy for children to understand. Moreover, the researcher desired to know if there were enough exercises or activities in the textbooks to help children learn. Finally, the researcher needed to know if the examples used were relevant to Australia. This list was confined according to the research questions, which were discussed in the previous section. As a result, the study findings confirmed if the textbooks were helpful by providing significant evidence to support the information collected.

3.3.2        Surveys of children

This research is concerned with exploring aspects of Muslim religious education for primary school children. The main data collection will be through questionnaires that will ask the children about:

  • What they believe about Allah?
  • What questions they have about Allah?

The children completed the questionnaire in less than one hour; the questionnaire was written in an appropriate language for their ages. The teacher of the class introduced the questionnaire, explained any terms the children may not know and assured them that their responses are confidential so they may be honest.

Quantitative questions were used to obtain statistical data. Qualitative questions were used to obtain the children’s opinions and feelings. The specific questions were chosen to understand what Muslim primary school children know and how they feel about the religious education they have received in relation to Allah, prophets, prayer and the Qur’an. The full survey has been attached at Appendix A.

3.3.3        Ethics considerations

Carrying out a research in one’s workplace can be very tricky. This is especially so in relation to ethical matters. In research, an individual is must not fabricate, falsify or misrepresent research data and must promote truth. Secondly, ethical standards must be followed in order to promote the values that are essential to collaborative work, such as accountability, trust, fairness and mutual respect. Many ethical norms in research, for instance policies and guidelines pertaining to copyright, authorship, patenting, confidentiality and data sharing, are designed to encourage collaboration, and at the same time, protect intellectual property interests.

At the onset of the research, I spoke to management regarding my intentions and authority was granted, though with limitations. Along the way, it was difficult to separate between the information gathered for the research and the information gathered in the line of duty. Being a member of staff, I am privy to data that could make my research more credible and stronger, though it would be unethical to use it because it would be in violation of confidentiality. Maintaining confidentiality of the information that I access in my line of duty comes with integrity on my part.

In regards to honesty, some data that was collected during the research did not feel appropriate to support my research so often I felt a need to amend or use other information that I had gathered. Remaining objective and avoiding bias is difficult, because a researcher is always inclined towards the direction they believe the study should take. Therefore, any data and information that does not support their point of view can be deemed “inappropriate”. In research, all data and information collected from sample groups is crucial and should not be eliminated just because it is not in line with the beliefs of the researcher.

When carrying out a research in a familiar setting like a place of work, protection of human subjects proves difficult, especially when there is a hierarchy involved. Working with students to extract information sometimes felt like they were giving it to me out of fear and obligation, as opposed to of their own free will. To avoid these issues as much as possible, I always spoke to them beforehand and reminded them they were not under any obligation to talk to me. I gave assured them I was not forcing them to talk, and if they felt uncomfortable with anything, they could inform me and stop.

3.3.4        Interview

An interview is a dialogue that has an arrangement and a determination. It goes beyond the impulsive interchange of views in everyday discussions, and becomes a careful interrogation and heeding tactic with the drive of obtaining thoroughly verified information (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009). An interview is a method that is widely used by social workers, counsellors, medical staff, marketing staff, politicians, researchers and many others. Although only interviewer and respondent are present in most interviews, it can be conducted over the phone or through other media.

There are many different types of interviews to rationalise the purpose of research; research interviews, clinical interviews, media interviews, job interviews, parent-teacher interviews and group interviews are some examples. Respondents may not be ready to answer all the questions or may not answer the questions accurately all the time, but the interview gives the researcher an idea about their interest in, understanding and absorption of the topics that have been raised. Although interviews are often classified as either structured or unstructured, the fact is, all interviews have a structure of some kind (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009). A well-planned structure is needed for the success of all interviews; it gives a framework for the interviewer to control and run the interview smoothly. The variables, which contribute to structure, relate mainly to characteristics of the interview schedule. These are the content, order of questioning, question and response format, methods of recording the responses, and methods used for coding, interpretation and analysis of the responses (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009).

Kvale and Brinkmann (2009) assert that the content of the interview is what the questions are about. Questions are the vital part of interview; thus, they should be well constructed, clearly phrased, should not reveal the interviewer’s personal views and should invite answers from the respondent. The wording of the questions should be carefully developed and the questions should be in logical order. Kvale and Brinkmann (2009) recommend that, since an interview takes place within a temporal framework, all interviews progresses through a certain temporal order, whether they are highly structured or informal.

The questions should be arranged according to the three stages of the interview: opening interview, developing interview and conclusion of interview. The question format should be planned and, in most cases, the question format is either open ended or provides multiple choices. Carlson (2005) emphasised that the format refers to the form in which the questions and responses are expressed. Question format will naturally shape response format. Carlson (2005) stressed that, for research interviewing particularly, the question format should allow for a range of possibilities to be given in the response. Tape recording, video recording and note taking are the methods that have been widely used to record responses. To conclude the interview structure, the researcher should decide the methods of analysis without waiting until the interview is completed. Kvale and Brinkmann (2009) emphasised that “the perfect dialogue is already examined by the time the ‘sound recorder’ is turned off.”

In essence, the investigator should uphold impartiality and ensure the cogency of the collected information throughout the dialogues. Kvale and Brinkmann (2009) believed that, in principle, a well-crafted interview could be an objective research method in the sense of being unbiased. There are tests and tactics available to check the validity of data such as triangulation, weighting the evidence and receiving feedback from informants. Miles and Huberman (1994) emphasise there are no canons or infallible decision-making rules for establishing the validity of qualitative research. Their approach is to analyse the many sources of potential biases that might invalidate qualitative observations and interpretations; they outline in detail tactics for testing and confirming qualitative findings (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009).

The interviewer should manage the interview situation, which includes preparing recording equipment, planning how to protect and store the recorded data, and choosing a suitable physical environment. According to Carlson (2005), this environment should make communication easy and the participants feel comfortable and able to interact. The interviewer should inform the participants about the length of the dialogue and the time should be allocated according to the participant’s availability. Interpersonal relations, personal appearance and gestures also contribute to the value of interviews.

Certain skills are required for successful interviewing; Kvale and Brinkmann (2009) noted that, when the researcher becomes the main research instrument, their competence and artisanship of the skills, sensitivity and knowledge become essential to the quality of the knowledge produced. Consequently, preparing the interviewer is essential to promote good interrogating expertise. Speaking skills are vital for an interviewer, and Carlson (2005) suggests that the interviewer must be able to convey the questions in a way that the respondent can hear, understand and respond easily. Listening is different from hearing, so the interviewer should go beyond the surface meaning to interpret the respondent’s intention. Carlson (2005) emphasised that the interviewer has to listen carefully both to what is being said and to how it is said. The interviewer must make “listening” an active behaviour not a passive state. The interviewer must comprehend what has been said and recall details as necessary. The onus is on the interviewer to understand, rather than on the respondent to express themselves clearly (Carlson, 2005). In this study, interviews with teachers and parents will allow the researcher to collect data about their personal experiences and thoughts; this will allow the researcher to gain evidence about what features of teaching materials that are used to teach Muslim children about Allah are most helpful.

3.3.5        Parent interviews

Parents have some impact on their offspring’s growth and ways of thinking; they transfer social acquaintance to their progenies. According to Carlson (2005), immigrant children create a sense of cultural identification based on a combination of their own experiences and cultural knowledge transmitted from their parents. Two parents were present for the dialogue and the research took place on a personal basis, since the researcher is a teacher at the school. In addition, they were interested in religious education textbooks and they also worked at Sule College as teachers a few years ago. The interview was scheduled in the morning hours and involved two sessions; one session allowed one parent to participate in the interview and lasted for one and a half hours. The questions were sequenced in a way that allowed the parents to begin and open up to a friendly discussion. The first question was how they perceived the relevance of the research study. The second question followed a lengthy and warm discussion concerning the first question; the second question was used to seek answers about the parents’ views about the textbooks that were used.

3.3.6        Teacher interviews

Data was also collected through interviews with three teachers who teach religious education at Sule College. The researcher interviewed the three religious education teachers for their perception or opinion concerning the textbooks used for teaching children about Allah. The dialogue focused on the textbooks’ content and how they are structured to meet the expectations of teachers of the Muslim faith. This was used as a platform to gain more insight concerning the content of the textbooks used in teaching children about Allah (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009). The interview was scheduled in the morning hours and each interview lasted for an hour and a half. Being a teacher at the school was dealt with by formalising the meetings and preparing adequately; the participating teachers were informed of the relevance of the research study so they could take everything seriously from the start. Generally, the interviews were conducted to collect more information regarding the research questions and the aim of the study. One teacher is the head of the religious education department, another is a religious education teacher at Sule College Auburn campus, and the third is a religious education teacher at Preston campus.

3.3.7        Content analysis

Content examination is the inspection for configurations in information and for ideas that help explain why those arrangements are there in the first place (Bernard & Ryan, 2010). It is a tool for identifying patterns in data and interpreting these patterns to answer the research questions. Bernard and Ryan (2010) assert that, although analysis may start before the beginning of a research project, one cannot begin systematic analysis until there is a corpus of data to study. Thus, an investigator starts with gathering qualitative information and then they process it, through investigative measures, into a clear, comprehensible, perceptive, dependable and unique scrutiny (Gibbs, 2007).

Content examination is any procedure for creating implications by classifying empirically and steadily, definite features of communications (Franzosi, 2004). It is a research tool to study the text or sets of text, such as books, essays, interviews, discussions, newspapers, historical documents, speeches and conversations. This is achieved by counting and measuring various characteristics of its content. Since content analysis is concerned with finding meaning in the text, it is currently used in a vast variety of fields, such as marketing, media, ethnography and cultural studies, sociology and psychology. Franzosi (2004) believes the strength of content analysis is in processing large volumes of qualitative data. Consequently, Bernard and Ryan (2010) suggest these methods are used across the social sciences and the humanities to explore explicit and covert meaning in text, also called manifest and latent content, and for testing hypotheses about texts.

According to Bernard and Ryan (2010), when conducting content analysis, the researcher should go through seven main stages. To start with, the investigator has to formulate a research question or hypothesis, based on existing theory or prior research, and then select a set of texts. Consequently, the researcher has to create a set of codes; variables and themes in the research questions or hypothesis. Moreover, a researcher has to pre-test the variables on a few selected texts. In addition, they need to fix any problems that emerge regarding the codes and the coding so it becomes consistent. The researcher then has to apply the codes to the rest of the text. The sixth step allows the researcher to create a case-by-case variable matrix from the texts and codes. The final step reminds the researcher to analyse the matrix using an appropriate level of analysis.

On the other hand, identifying research questions is the first step in most research methods. Collecting the related data is the next step, with interview recordings and field notes needing to be transcribed. It is necessary to transcribe all collected information in order to analyse it (Gibbs, 2007). Essentially, the collected data related to the research questions needs to be divided into a number of units and categories. Sampling and summarising the data into groups is important to be able to compare the data easily. Franzosi (2004) suggested that, rather than work with all the possible sources and documents, the reserach should sample an appropriate number of sources and documents. In essence, Gibbs (2007) reveals that coding is the manner in which the definition given to the data in a research is employed to achieve the desired meaning. Thus, ‘coding’ is a way of tabling or classifying writing in order to create a structure of ‘thematic’ ideas (Gibbs, 2007). Coding is required to decrease the information into an adaptable mass. Furthermore, in content analysis, each characteristic of interest is typically formalised as a coding category (Franzosi, 2004). These codes initially may be applied to a small amount of text before applying them to entire text to fix any problems related to codes and coding. Franzosi (2004) noted that pre-testing of the coding scheme and input material sampled is key to a successful research outcome. By presenting the findings on a matrix, the data is ready for analysis.

Content analysis will be used to analyse all the collected data in this research project. The purpose of this study was to collect the data to answer two questions: what do a group of Muslim primary school children believe about Allah and what features of teaching materials used to teach Muslim children about Allah were most helpful, by citing examples and reasons or evidence of the same views. To achieve the scope of this study, several interviews with students and some teachers were involved. After every interview, details were analysed by applying quantitative and qualitative methods to find the underlying cause of collected data. This allowed correct and appropriate analysis to ensure relevance of findings in regard to research questions, which guided the research process.

3.4         Data analysis

The information gathered in this learning process was scrutinised in order to explore the study queries, and the methods used to carry out the study are outlined below.

3.4.1        Quantitative data analysis

In the first stage, information drawn from the feedback form was entered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for examination. Responses to quantitative questions were entered directly and responses to qualitative questions were coded and entered in number formats in order to make analysis easier. The quantitative data is presented in percentages and statistics as shown in tables 1 and 2. Questionnaire data information has been analysed naturalistically, identifying patterns, themes, trends and linkages, as described by Patton (1990). Policy implications have been derived through reflections on the outcomes and findings.

Table 2: Number of children and their age distribution

Age9101112Total
Total number of children in each age group1219191060
Percentage2031.731.716.6100%

The total number of children was divided by age groups and a percentage for each age group was calculated. The children were further divided into how many boys and girls participated in each age group and their percentages calculated.

Table 3: Breakdown of number of children

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirls
Number66910712642832
Percentage10101516.711.720106.646.653.4
Total1219191060
Percentage2031.731.716.6100%

For instance, 15% of the survey participants were 10 year old boys, and 6.6% of survey participants were 12 year old girls. From the calculations, it was found that 46.6% of participants were boys and 53.4% were girls.

3.4.2        Qualitative data analysis

Qualitative data aims to understand phenomena in ways that extend and enrich participant voices; documenting feelings and sentiments ensures report findings are not merely represented by numbers and statistics, just as the tabulated data shows. Patton (1990) asserts that the value of thematic analysis provides the researcher with the opportunity to examine data line by line. In doing so, the researcher is able to track and expose patterns and over-arching themes that tell a story. Every interview session yielded short notes that were analysed carefully before being compiled into a comprehensive report for documenting. Thus, qualitative data from the children was analysed; the process started by reading the answers of questions in free form, which paved the way for finding common ideas among students. In essence, the most common answers to each question were sought for making assumptions. For instance, one of the questions used was: ‘what do most of the children think about this question?’ To analyse the answers well, the researcher had to put himself in the children’s shoes. This allowed the researcher to understand what the children thought and at the same time determine why children thought that way. This allowed generation of answers purely from the researcher’s mind while basing them on the answers given in the questionnaires.

3.5         Conclusion

This study aims at discussing religious education for Muslim primary school children. Therefore, it determined to find out children’s beliefs about Allah and the potential of religious education textbooks that are most effective in teaching belief in Allah to Muslim children. In order to achieve its set objectives or purpose, various methodologies were employed, including mixed research approaches, and qualitative and quantitative methodologies. For instance, this study realised that quantitative research revolves more around the principal or ontological assumption of objectivity and so studies are designed in such a way that the researcher’s as well as interviewer’s or observer’s influences can be excluded as far as possible. Accordingly, a mixed methods research approach offers a rational, inherent explanation and can be justifiably used to employ two different research paradigms in one study. Qualitative research mainly deals with social information and its interpretation involves not only the participants but also the researcher.

The study also discussed methods including interviews and content analysis. The information gathered in this learning process was scrutinised in order to explore the study queries, and the methods used to carry out the study through the process of data analysis. First, the research employed quantitative data analysis and later used qualitative data analysis to achieve its purpose. On the other hand, quantitative data is presented in percentages and statistics. Therefore, this study was successful because of the various methodologies employed in determining children’s beliefs about Allah in Muslim primary schools.

In the next chapter, the collected data will be analysed and discussed through the methodology outlined in this chapter.

4        SURVEY ANALYSIS

4.1         Section 1: The survey

This survey was conducted to determine Australian Muslim children’s understanding of Allah. The survey engaged 60 school children of age ranging from 9-12 years in a Muslim majority school in Sydney, Australia. Approximately 53% of the children who took part in the survey were girls and 47% being boys. Approximately 20% of the school children were nine years old, 32% were ten years, 32% of the students were eleven years and 17% were twelve years of age.

Table 4: The number of children participating in the survey and their age distribution

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirls
Number66910712642832
Percentage10101516.711.720106.646.653.4
Total number1219191060
Percentage2031.731.716.6100%

The survey was a structured questionnaire where the students filled in their responses. The questions were prepared to cover various issues ranging from children’s understanding of Allah to their own personal beliefs and opinions about Allah. The questions also gauged the role of parents and friends in enhancing the Muslim religion and instilling the teachings of Allah.

4.2         Section 2: Reasons for using the survey questions in the research and their importance

The range of survey questions explored diverse areas of the Muslim religion and each question was significant to the context and purpose of the survey. In this section, I will analyse the various reasons and importance of the questions applied in this survey.

Q1: Do you believe in existence and oneness of Allah?

This question was included because Islam is founded on monotheism and the oneness of Allah is a fundamental belief for all Muslims. This question was formulated to determine whether the children were conversant with this very significant theological doctrine. This question also gauged the knowledge of the children about the Qur’an, which continuously refers to Allah as “the One”. Children have reflected that they trust in One God who they believe as being strong. This question gauged the children’s understanding of the nature of Allah since it has a significant impact on their duties to Allah. This question also evaluated the ability of children to understand some of the attributes of Allah and their realisation of His supremacy (Al-Ghazali, 2004).

Q2: Explain your answer to question 1.

This question was formulated to determine the foundation from which children based their response about the existence and oneness of Allah. The question was broken down into various options to confine the children’s responses and assist them in providing an answer. This question was designed to supplement the response of the first question and gauge the children’s understanding of Allah. Based on their choice, the child’s response could portray whether they had a deeper understanding of the Muslim faith or whether their decision was not based on religious knowledge. For instance, the children who would tick the explanations that “Allah is the creator” or “Allah is the only one” indicate a deeper understanding of the attributes of Allah from the Qur’an (Al-Ghazali, 2004). Conversely, those who would tick the justification that “Allah has no parents” or “forget about Allah” portrayed their limited understanding. This question is significant in determining the children’s seriousness about the Muslim faith and their view of Allah (Al-Ghazali, 2004).

Q3: Do you talk about Allah with your parents and friends?

This question sought to determine whether the Islamic teachings were popularly discussed in the Muslim community and especially among friends and parents. This is because parents are the ideal role models that children can have and the Islamic faith is full of divine lessons on the best ways to bring up children (Anderson, 2006). This makes it a requirement upon parents to be good Muslims so their children will make efforts to copy them. Therefore, this question sought to determine whether the parents take Muslim teachings seriously, which would be reflected in the children’s response. This question determined whether parents taught their children the importance of worshipping Allah as this is the primary message of Prophet Muhammad as the key to reaching Allah. It is advisable for children to be among adults, particularly when attending Islamic lectures (Anderson, 2006). Therefore, the main objective of the question was to determine whether there was any form of discussion about Allah between parents, friends and children.

Q4: If you talk about Allah, write one sentence that you talk about.

This question sought to enhance and support the previous question about children’s discussions about Allah with their parents and friends. The question sought information about what specifically children talk about concerning Allah. Nowadays, it is exceptionally difficult to expose children to a perfect Islamic upbringing, given the influences from media, friends and other members of the family (Anderson, 2006). Muslims believe it is the responsibility of parents and adult friends close to the children to set the right example. It is impracticable to protect children from all the harmful forces that can affect their minds and, eventually, their manners. However, good examples and discussions with parents can set children on the proper direction, which is to abide by the instructions of Allah and Muhammad (Anderson, 2006).

Q5: When you hear about prayer, fasting, going to mosque, Allah, the Prophet, heaven and hell do you feel an interest in learning about them?

Asking young children about their interest in learning about prayer, fasting and going to mosque was a very important question to determine their attitude about these teachings. It sought to understand whether Muslim teachings were imposed onto children by their parents and community involuntarily or whether the children had a genuine interest in learning the teachings. The responses to this question would serve to understand the attitude of Muslim children towards various fundamental aspects in Islam, such as the Prophet, fasting, heaven and hell (Anderson, 2006). The responses were also separately analysed by those from girls and those from boys to determine whether there was more interest from one gender and why.

Q6: How important is belief in Allah?

The question about the importance of believing in Allah was designed for the children to gauge their realisation about the supremacy of Allah or their ignorance. The question was a way of analysing their understanding of Islamic teachings, which continually emphasise the need to believe in Allah in order for lives to be more meaningful. Failure to believe in religion makes our lives rotate around physical or material enjoyments and consequently become fruitless. The responses the children gave to this question assisted in determining their seriousness about Allah and how they view of Muslim teachings. These responses were also considerable pointers towards the knowledge and understanding instilled in the children about Allah by the people close to them and Islamic teachings (Ay, 2007).

Q7: Do you want to read the Qur’an, learn dua and pray five times a day?

This question gauged the children’s interest in reading the Qur’an and praying. Prayer is one of the pillars of Islam and a requirement for all Muslims. Prayer according to the Qur’an is a Muslim’s personal communion with Allah and is the basis of faith. This question assessed children’s awareness about the importance of a Muslim reading the Qur’an and praying. Understanding the Qur’an and fasting are opportunities for a Muslim to communicate to Allah anything they feel and need. This question assisted in evaluating the feelings and attitudes of children about praying to Allah five times a day and constantly reading the Qur’an (Anderson, 2006).

Q8: When you were small you could not walk, but Allah created you in such a way that you can walk. So, when you grow older you can start to walk. In the same way, Allah created us with belief in Him even before we start believing in Him when we are younger. So, when we get older we can find this belief of Allah inside us and believe in him. What do you think of this idea?

This question attempted to get the children’s response to whether people are created with the belief in Allah within them or whether belief is instilled by teachings. The question sought to obtain understanding about the origin of belief in Allah in young children. Noting the differences among age groups, the largest increase in belief in Allah most frequently happens among older people (Anderson, 2006). Asking such a question to children is a good way of determining their deeper understanding about Allah and what motivates these children to have a strong confidence in His existence, even without seeing Him. This assisted me to analyse the children’s thoughts about whether they were born believing in Allah or whether they were taught to believe in Him after they were born.

Q9: If you did not hear anything or were not taught anything about Allah, would you believe that Allah existed and would you search for Him?

This question sought to gain a deeper understanding of the children’s commitment to Allah, by enquiring whether they would still trust and be eager to learn about Him if nobody ever told them about His existence. This question was formulated to test the children’s faith in a divine being that is not seen and to test their commitment to Islam even without the involvement of parents and religion. Trust is one thing that makes us believe in Allah even when we have never seen or heard of Him. The question sought to stress the teachings of Prophet Muhammad that no one has ever seen Allah, but we are able to make some form of contact with Him. This question examined the trust that young children had on things that they had not seen or heard, and how far they would retain that trust if no one intervened in their lives.

Q10: Does everyone need Allah?

This question assessed the children’s understanding about the significance of Allah in everyone’s life. Muslims believe Allah created human beings principally in order that they may identify their maker through His mighty works. This question assessed the understanding of children about the freedom given to human beings by Allah to choose between right and wrong. Comprehending the character of God is vital to children, since it has considerable impact on a Muslim’s responsibilities to Allah. This question is significant to this survey because it assisted in determining the children’s understanding about the independence of Allah as the creator of all things and the giver of life (Ay, 2007).

Q11: Where do you think Allah is?

Question 11 sought to find how the children understood Muslim belief about the residence of Allah from the children. Various options were given to the children about the widely speculated areas where Allah could be residing, such as everywhere, in heaven, the sky and our hearts. Based on the numerous arguments about the residence of Allah among various religions of the world, this question was posed to assess children’s understanding about Allah from their personal opinion and Islamic teachings. This question sought the children’s capability in making important decisions about Allah and their reliance on religious teachings to make personal decisions.

Q12: Does the beauty of nature help you to understand the presence of Allah?

Question 12 attempted to get the children’s view about God when they see everything that is in the universe. It also sought to gain their understanding about their role and responsibility in the universe. This question was essential in determining what comes to the minds of children when they see the beauty of the universe; do they view the beauty of the universe as a gift from Allah or just a mere wonders of the world.

Q13: If things don’t go the way you want in life, do you get angry with Allah and ask why things are not going right for you?

Question 13 sought to get the children’s opinion regarding their attitude to Allah based on bad or good happenings in their daily lives. By asking about their feelings and attitudes regarding occurrences in their daily lives, this question served to assess their degree of spiritual development and understanding of Islamic doctrines (Ay, 2007).

4.3         Section 3: Explanation of the children’s answers and their connection to the stages of faith in the literature review chapter

Belief in oneness of Allah

Table 5: Belief in oneness of Allah

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoth genders
All the time668971264273158
%101013.31511.720106.64551.696.6%
Most of the time00110000112
%001.71.700001.71.73.4%
Some-times00000000000
%00000000000%
Never00000000000
%00000000000%

All the children emphasised their belief in the existence and oneness of Allah. This was in line with Fowler’s research, which concluded that children at this stage develop the means of dealing with the world and making sense. This can be used by the children to criticise and evaluate the previous stage of fantasy and imagination. However, in this survey no child, regardless of age, disputed the fact about the existence and oneness of God.

Reasons for belief/disbelief

When asked about their reasons for believing in the oneness of Allah, 52% of the children justified their answers by stating that Allah is the creator of everything and He is the one and only God. The fact that several students also stated that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah proves Fowler’s synthetic-conventional stage that children up to the age of 12 years tend to base their values and beliefs more on the ideologies and judgments of authoritative figures. The authoritative figures in this respect are parents, teachers and adults in different capacities. In this case, most of the children of this age emphasised that Muhammad being Allah’s messenger was an indication of their belief in him as an authoritative figure in the Muslim faith (Fowler, 1981).

Talking about Allah with parents and friends and what they discuss about Him

According to Muslim belief, it is imperative for parents to teach their children about Allah and His teachings. This can be done by teaching them small things like giving Him thanks every time they receive something by saying Alhamdulillah (Praise to God). According to Fowler, children over the age of 12 years are considered to be at the synthetic-conventional stage where the peer group becomes more important than the family and religious groups (Ay, 2007). Children at this age believe what friends say more than they believe others. This was evidenced in the answers of the children when asked whether they discussed Allah with parents and friends and approximately 98% gave an affirmative response. Only one child aged 10 years responded negatively to this question. The questions also evidenced the enormous role that parents play in educating children about Allah and Islamic teachings.

Table 6: Understanding the qualities of Allah

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoth genders
Greatness and power of Allah343122018816
%56.651.73.33.301.713.313.326.6%
Allah as a creator200203305510
%3.3003.305508.38.316.6%
Other attributes of Allah (loving, helpful, all-seeing, all-knowing, etc.)001123215510
%001.71.63.353.31.78.38.316.6%
Prophets and angels of Allah00220200246
%003.33.303.4003.36.710%
Islam00001101123
%00001.71.601.71.73.35%
The oneness of Allah00010000011
%0001.7000001.71.7%
Judgment day01000000011
%01.700000001.71.7%
Responsibility of a Muslim00000001011
%00000001.701.71.7%
Other answer11220110448
%1.71.73.33.301.71.706.76.713.4%
No answer00112000314
%001.71.73.300051.76.7%

Table 3 indicates the reality of Fowler’s second stage, mythic-literal faith, which states that children aged between seven and nine years are fascinated in the oneness of a sole Creator. They are inquisitive about several attributes of their Creator such as His size, where and how He came about, and why there is only One and not any other. They are highly concerned with how they need to understand their Creator. In addition, children aged between six and 12 years also consider their Creator as the one who is the mightiest, most powerful creator of everything, the one who oversees everything, the creator of all humans, defender, sustainer and giver of all (Fowler, 1981).

Interest in knowledge of God

Table 7: Interest in knowledge of God

GenderBoysGirlsBoth genders
All the time181836
%303060%
Most of the time9615
%151025%
Sometimes178
%1.711.613.3%
Never011
%01.71.7%

All the children agreed they had an interest in learning about Allah, the obligatory prayers, fasting and other aspects of Islam. Although some stated this interest emerged sometimes, about 88% indicated they had a genuine interest in learning more about Allah. The fact that only a single girl indicated a lack of interest in learning about Allah strengthens Fowler’s argument that children between six and 12 years of age want to identify themselves with the stories and beliefs of their religion (Fowler, 1981). The mythical-literal faith makes children within this age group desire learning about the teachings of Qur’an, fasting and praying in order to feel part of the Islamic community. The children are able to recount the teachings with exact detail, but cannot derive an analytical meaning or teaching,

Importance of belief

Table 8: Significance of belief

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoth genders
Very6681071264273259
%101013.316.711.720106.64553.398.3%
Not very00000000000
%00000000000%
I don’t know00100000101
%001.7000001.701.7%

When asked whether belief in God is important, about 99% of the children acknowledged that this is very important. As Fowler stated, children aged between nine and 12 years are typically more concerned in the oneness of a sole Creator. In addition, children at this age also view their Creator as the one who is the mightiest, greatest, the maker of everything, the one who oversees everything, the creator of all humans, protector, sustainer, and provider of all (Gurr, 2010). The understanding of their Creator is apparent at this stage. The fact that only one child indicated his doubts in believing Allah shows that children at this stage of their development understand the existence of Allah and believe in Him. Fowler’s mythic-literal stage identifies this stage as very critical to the development of a child’s faith in God. This is the stage that children start to accept and identify themselves with the stories and beliefs of their community. Parents and religious leaders should ensure that children at this stage are given the right religious teachings and knowledge about Allah (Gurr, 2010).

Interest in praying and reading Qur’an

Table 9: Interest in praying and reading Qur’an

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoth genders
All the time66445632181836
%10106.76.78.31053.3303060%
Most of the time005124219615
%008.41.73.36.63.31.7151025%
Some-times00040211178
%0006.603.31.71.71.711.613.3%
Never00010000011
%0001.7000001.71.7%

When asked how often they read the Qur’an and did the obligatory prayers, over 85% of the children stated they read and prayed all the time. Table 6 indicates a balance between girls and boys in terms of their responses to the question. The results indicate that both genders are quite conversant with the Qur’an and the obligatory prayers of Islam. However, a large number of boys have shown more commitment than girls. This is evidenced by the fact that seven girls stated their inconsistency in reading Qur’an and one girl stated her absolute lack of interest. This is a challenge to parents and religious leaders that adherence to religion and the teachings of Allah are meant for everybody regardless of gender. The girl child should be treated as equal to the boy child in matters concerning religion (Graham, Walton, & Ward, 2005).

Are people created with the belief in Allah?

Table 10: Belief is inborn

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoth genders
I agree very much46776962232447
%6.61011.711.71015103.338.34078.3%
I agree10010102145
%1.7001.701.603.31.76.68.3%
I don’t know what I think10221000426
%1.703.33.31.70006.73.310%
I don’t agree00000100011
%000001.70001.71.7%
No answer00000100011
%000001.70001.71.7%

This was a very critical question, especially when asked to children of the age between nine and 12 years. The fact that girls demonstrated a high conviction about their belief in Allah even before they were born is a good indication of their strong belief in Allah. This is also enforced by the 87% of the overall respondents who agreed with the question. Elkind argued that the concept of belief in Allah being inborn is well evidenced by his first stage of faith. At this stage, Elkind stated that children between the ages of five and seven years have a similar form of thinking, comprehension and approach and thus the impressions pertaining to religious uniqueness for these children is the same (Graham et al., 2005). Therefore, the responses indicate that children at a young age have some inborn belief about a supreme being. It is the notions that are instilled in them afterwards that shape and guide their belief in Allah.

Pursuing and being committed to Allah

Table 11: Commitment to Allah

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoth genders
Yes definitely4253223214923
%6.73.48.353.33.353.323.31538.3%
Yes222203004711
%3.43.33.33.305006.711.618.3%
I don’t know0222263271219
%03.43.43.33.31053.311.72031.7%
No00023100336
%0003.351.7005510%
No answer00010000011
%0001.7000001.71.7%

Slightly over 57% of the children admitted they would still make efforts to read and believe in Allah even when they did not know anything about Him. It is also worth noting the response by 42% of the respondents who responded they were not sure or did not think they would believe in Allah if they were not taught about Him. The number of children who responded positively to this question is especially high between the ages of 10 to 12. This proves the research findings of Elkind’s third stage of faith where he observed that children within this age extend their thinking further in terms of religious faith since they begin to engage in higher level thinking about different religious groups (Spry & Graham, 2009). During this period, children begin to understand differences between their belief, ways of worship and other religions, which makes them respond the way they did. However, the fact that 32% of children, with almost all of them aged 10 to 12 years, indicated their doubts in believing in an unknown God poses a serious challenge. All the stakeholders of religious studies need to equip children with the understanding and teachings of Allah as early in life as possible (Stonehouse & May, 2008).

The worth of Allah in everyone’s life

Table 12: Perception of Allah

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoth genders
Yes definitely658661144242650
%108.313.3101018.36.76.74043.383.3%
Yes01111110336
%01.71.61.61.71.71.705510%
I don’t know00030010134
%0005001.701.756.7%
No00000000000
%00000000000%

Approximately 93% of students, regardless of age and gender, agreed that everybody needs Allah. About 7% admitted they did not know if everybody needs Allah, but no child admitted that everyone did not need Allah. Fowler indicated in his mythic-literal stage that children at six to 12 years of age also regard their God as the one who is the mightiest, most powerful, the maker of everything, the one who is responsible everything, the creator of all persons, guardian, sustainer and provider of all. This finding attempts to explain why the majority of the children were very positive about the importance of Allah in everybody’s life. The fact that 7% of the children expressed their doubts about the importance of Allah in every person’s life indicates their limited knowledge and comprehension of Allah (Spry & Graham, 2009).

Residence of Allah

Table 13: Dwelling place of Allah

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoth genders
Everywhere33434532141327
%556.756.68.353.423.321.745%
Heaven0314020111011
%051.76.603.301.71.716.618.3%
High in the sky20010300246
%3.3001.705003.36.710%
I don’t know00300110415
%005001.71.706.71.78.4%
By our side, with us10000100112
%1.600001.7001.61.73.3%
In our hearts and souls00010000011
%0001.7000001.71.7%
Nobody knows00001000101
%00001.70001.701.7%
Other answer00010011123
%0001.6001.71.71.73.35%
No answer00102010404
%001.603.301.706.606.6%

The question about the residence of Allah has been subject to a lot of argument in various religions. Fowler argued that children between seven and nine years are very inquisitive about the existence and residence of Allah (Stonehouse & May, 2008). The children mostly ask these two questions to try and understand their maker. This finding is proved by the diversification of answers put forward by the respondents. For the children questioned, about 45% believed that Allah is everywhere and 10% believed He is in the sky. Four children lacked an answer to this question. The diverse responses suggest the curiosity of children and their quest for information about Allah. It is important to note that the majority of the responses appeared to be those they had heard or were told by parents and other friends. Therefore, this is a delicate age for children and they should be instilled with the right form of religious education about Allah since they tend to believe everything said about Allah.

Understanding the presence of Allah by observing the beauty of the universe

Table 14: The power of sight in children

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoth genders
Yes definitely61555352211132
%101.78.48.38.358.33.33518.353.3%
Yes0524291252025
%08.33.46.73.3151.73.38.433.341.7%
I don’t know00200000202
%003.3000003.303.3%
No00010000011
%0001.7000001.71.7%

Most of the students in all age and gender groups admitted that the beauty of nature helps them understand the presence of Allah. Fowler’s mythic-literal stage of faith points out that children aged six to 12 years use symbols as a way of understanding their world (Spry & Graham, 2009). Children at this stage are able to recount and narrate what they see more than what they learn. This justifies the response given by 95% of the children about understanding Allah by observing the beauty of the universe. Around 5% of the children expressed doubts and responded negatively about the question.

Being upset with Allah

Table 15: Emotional superiority in children

Age9101112Total
GenderBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoysGirlsBoth genders
Yes definitely00010001022
%0001.60001.703.33.3%
Yes00010211145
%0001.703.31.71.71.76.78.4%
I don’t know244221008715
%3.36.76.73.33.31.70013.311.725%
No42565952191938
%6.73.48.3108.3158.33.331.631.763.3%

The majority of the children, about 63%, stated they would not get angry with Allah if their issues did not go according to how they wanted. This showed children’s trust in Allah and His influence over their lives. Fowler underscored this point when he stated that children between seven and nine years consider Allah as the one who is the most powerful, the one in charge of everything, protector, sustainer and provider of everything. 5% of the children who said they would get angry with Allah were girls. This is an indication of spiritual weakness about Allah and a lack of sufficient understanding about His teachings.

4.4         Section 4: Findings about the children and suggestions for religious education for children

The survey indicates that most of the younger children have not been subjected to proper knowledge of Islam as a religion. Many of the children have indicated their strong faith in Islam and Allah, but unfortunately lack the knowledge of all His teachings and requirements. However, this is natural at this stage. There is an urgent need to initiate children into their own religious tradition, distinct from that of adults and their parents (Streib, 2005). Many of the responses revealed this necessity since most of the children did not have any personal basis, but relied on what they saw from their parents and other important people to them. Additionally, children at this age have indicated the need for perfect religious examples from everybody in the community and particularly parents. Islam is full of divine counsel on the perfect ways of bringing up a child, which makes it an obligation upon all to be good Muslims in order that children can emulate them (Streib, 2005).

Muslim educators and parents should feel obligated to teach children about love and respect towards God and his teachings. Religion should not be viewed as a formality by educators and parents, but should be an activity that satisfies the hearts of the children. Children should love to learn and follow Islam rather than being forced to follow their parents’ path by instilling religion at the right time and in the right manner. Children should be motivated to read the Qur’an and pray to Allah for the ability to understand and be guided by the holy book in the right path according to the wishes of Allah. Lastly, as indicated in the section above, when children are in their early years of between seven and 12 years, it is the proper time for the ideas of Islam and the importance of Allah to be instilled in them with great love (Graham et al., 2005).

4.5         Discussion

Teaching children about Allah has been enhanced through various theories and studies on how children learn. The cognitive and affective approaches have been found to be extremely critical in the understanding of Allah by the children. Cognitive and affective approaches are constructs in religious education that integrate knowledge and skills with life experiences. Cognitive knowledge looks at beliefs, social structures, ethical positions and traditions in relation to religious practices (Buchanan, 2007). In a classroom setting, cognitive outcomes generally lay the ground for knowledge discussion and interpretation. In that case, beliefs affect competence of decision-making by students while learning about Allah. A cognitive approach focuses on the educational content and thus reflects on religious teachings along with ideologies. Teachers may allow students to share religious thoughts, prayers and concerns in an attempt to achieve affective outcomes (Boyatzis, 2008). Absorption of the program in the school curriculum sets a more accurate and consistent teaching method. Teachers should be actively involved in the structuring of cognitive outcomes expected out of certain skills and knowledge.

An affective approach recognises life experiences in a classroom as it deals with personal reaction to religious knowledge. This approach stimulates feelings, insights and reflective aptitude. However, it may be difficult to control the affective dimension as the teacher tries to influence the mind, values, faith and attitude. Teaching students about Allah is advanced if students are willing to change their beliefs to accommodate the new faith (Buchanan, 2007). Classroom application of interpersonal knowledge by teachers gives learners an opportunity to share personal experiences for the furtherance of the program. Students in a classroom are taught by influencing the mind thereby affecting faith and values. Thus, cognitive and affective approaches to teaching are interlinked in that knowledge is required to influence behaviour and actions (Boyatzis, 2008). Muslim schools thus should integrate cognitive and affective methods in teaching about Allah to point on beliefs, rituals, ethics, stories and historical background. Hence, cognitive and affective processes promote religious teaching by assisting students make sense of teachings and resultant outcomes.

Using Fowler’s stages of faith, different age groups of children have been identified in which the children faith develops. For instance, it has been ascertained that the ages between two and seven, which is referred to as the intuitive and projective stage, are very critical in the development of faith. It is at this stage that children will start applying new tools of speech and symbolic representation to organise their sensory experiences into meaning units. This is the stage where children will portray a lot of curiosity and be inquisitive about their surroundings. This can be a good time to introduce children to the concept of faith and the related concepts about Allah. The other stage is referred to as the mythic-literal faith stage, which is present to children between the ages of six and 12. This stage is characterised by children grasping basic concepts of the world through imagination. At this stage, children are best introduced to the concepts of faith and Allah through pictures that symbolise good and evil. It is critical for children to be shown the benefits of being good and the costs of being evil through the use symbolic stories. The next stage is referred to as synthetic and conventional stage where children of 12 years are conscious about their faith in day to day activities. The children’s values are based on judgments and ideologies of authoritative figures or groups. Although children in this group will be fully aware of the ideologies, they will not reflect on the meaning of faith. A problem with this group is that children will have differing opinions about faith and this could lead to despair or betrayal because the children are internalised. This group has been noted for being influenced more by peer pressure rather than family or religious institutions (Fowler, n.d.). The other important theory is one that was brought forward by Elkind. He identifies that children are likely to fall into three major groups: first, second and third stages. The first stage is described for children aged between five and seven years where they are identified as having the same kind of approach, understanding and thinking. The second stage is between the ages of seven and nine where children start becoming cleverer and develop religious belief and ideas. The third stage is for children aged between 10 and 12, where children transform their thinking further of terms of faith.

4.6         Conclusions

The survey revealed that most children believed in the existence of the Oneness of Allah. 96.6% of the children who responded to the survey questions believe that Allah existed. None of the children stated they never believed in the existence of Allah. 52% of the children stated they believed Allah existed because of the evidence offered by his creations. There were students who also stated Muhammad was a messenger of Allah, hence qualifying Fowler’s synthetic stage where children base their beliefs and values on judgments and ideologies of authoritative figures or groups. There were discrepancies on how children believed in the existence of Allah. Fowler states children from a religious family better understand the existence of God. However, most of the children acknowledged the existence of Allah through other attributes, such as He is all knowing, all seeing, helpful and loving. Most children (60%) revealed they were always interested in knowing about God. 98.3% of the children also revealed that belief was very important. Over 85% of the children stated they read and prayed all the time. 87% of the children also stated they believed people are created with belief in Allah. The children also were much inclined in their belief that Allah was worthy in everyone’s life.

5        TEXTBOOK ANALYSIS

5.1         Introduction

The need for students to have a clear understanding of Islamic concepts and the Islam as a religion is more essential in the contemporary Australia than it was previously. The emphasis to achieve this goal should be incorporated therefore through the educational curriculum. A rapid trend is growing not only in the media, but also in the social-political arena that calls for a compulsory focus on the Islamic religion and culture among students through the academic curriculum. This policy is to affect the Australian position in Asia Pacific and globally.

 In 2008, the Australian government demonstrated its commitment to the importance of promoting Islamic education in the country. This was through funding the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies (NCEIS). This organization comprises a consortium of three different universities – the University of Melbourne, University of Western Sydney and Griffiths University. The main objective of this funding was to promote the comprehension of Islamic affairs among students (Hassim & Adams, 2007).

Since this establishment, Islamic schools have been rapidly growing in Australia. They are presently regarded as one of the fastest sectors in the state. This expansion has obligated some schools to freeze the enrolling lists of students as an approach of limiting the numbers of new enrolments. Previously, for instance, the number of Islamic schools in New South Wales has increased from 15 to about 22. The total population of students in Islamic schools has also doubled to at least 10,000. Today, the Malek Fahd Islamic School is one of the largest and most famous in the region with over 2,500 students (Douglas, 2011). In addition to this, most of these schools have recorded high levels of academic performance. This is in spite of having less than half of Muslim teachers. These schools in Australia also have higher percentages of students who come from mostly non-English speaking countries.

5.2         Analysis of the textbooks

5.2.1        General analysis of Islamic textbooks in Australia

According to Douglas (2011), most of Australian authors have used textbooks to highlight the pertinent issues affecting the Islamic religion. Among the issues highlighted are the cases of how Muslim women are perceived in the society and the issues related to terrorism. These books have been targeting adult Muslims. This is due to their ability to deeply analyse such grievous matters with a clear understanding. From the journals, it is clear that Muslims in the Diaspora are segregated and persecuted. This action is attributed to the perception that they may be terrorists. Muslims undergo daily challenges at their place of work. This is evident in the process of job search as they are expected to meet all the requirements of the job market. These are often inclusive of the modes of dressing.

 In general, Australian authors have also brought into play textbooks to explore other essential factors that Muslim minorities encounter. These are inclusive of the socio-cultural factors, matters of legal processes and the various religious dilemmas. For instance, Islamic women, have often been viewed as weaker. There have therefore been obliged to encounter social challenge of getting a divorce from their polygamous husbands. Islamic authors from the west are bias against Islamic families. Their writings have always emphasised learning of the Islamic language. Some have applied their skills to critically analyse issues of concern such as the long term effect of speaking English language in mosques.

5.2.2        Analysis of the textbooks used in this research

Textbooks in this study are based on introduction to Islam. The audience for these texts are younger generation who are still being initiated to Islamic culture. This target group need to be equipped with the basic concepts for the formation of strong Islamic foundations. Below is the list of the books.

  • Aldemir, H., Erdil, M., Kartalci, M., Kirazli, S. (2009). Religion and values. Melbourne: Lotus Publications.  
  • Ansari, A., Sadoun, N., Yousef, M. (2007). I love Islam. Turkey: Islamic services Foundation.
  • Aziz, A. (2003). Studies in Islam. New Delhi, India: Kazi Publications.
  • Ghazi, A. & Ghazi, T. K. (2002).Our faith and worship. Chicago: Iqra’ International Education Foundation.
  • Ghazi, A. & Ghazi, T. K. (2002). Teaching of the Qur’an. Chicago: Iqra’ International Education Foundation.
  • Emerik, Y. (1998). Learning about Islam. NorthAmerika:Islamic Foundation of North America.

The underlying principle behind the choice of the six textbooks is their lessons on the introduction to Islam. They are intended for younger generations that are being initiated into the Islamic culture and include basic concepts that help them form a strong Islamic foundation. In addition, the chosen books are part of the academic texts in most schools. They are also a basis on the appropriate measurement of the benefits to students.

A common characteristic among all of them is that they have been published in the English language. This is because, as Noh and Kasim (2012) note, the English language is critical for all Australian students who are Muslims, who are on a similar platform of learning with non-Muslim students. Most Muslims in the country understand the need to have proper knowledge of the English language in order to achieve the academic results that are needed not only for employment, but also to effectively communicate on a daily basis. The textbooks have content aimed at reaching Muslims, who currently comprise almost one-third of the global population. This implies the Islamic world’s literacy levels are rapidly increasing as a consequence of the interactions Muslims have with their non-Muslim counterparts. The textbook contents are geared towards highlighting issues that currently revolve around the Muslim world of politics, economics, education, health and sports activities. As a result, they have created much impudence within Muslims and have been highlighted in the media. The content is also beneficial to students who are not Muslims because they get to interact and empower their cultural understanding and global perspectives of Islamic issues to effectively argue during discussions. The challenge with these textbooks is that the majority of them still have their content rooted from an angle of the Western countries with European examples.

These textbooks have succeeded in playing integral roles in promoting Islamic education through the academic curriculum by acknowledging and highlighting the various roles played by Islam and Muslim worshippers during the historical period and the modern day. The books are effective in representing the various desires and interests of the population of Muslims that is increasing in Australia. I love Islam emphasises teaching children about who Allah is and the various names used to refer to Him (Hyde, 2012). This is a basic and most fundamental foundation in Islamic studies. Not only are the children empowered about Allah, but their knowledge about His prophets and faith is strongly reinforced.

Learning about Islam meets the qualification of a good religious textbook as its text is relevant to children through catering for their needs. The information and language used to explain events is appropriate for the age group. There are also short stories and fables to attracted target child audiences, with engaging graphics that suit young readers. Furthermore, the textbook is visually attractive as it has minarets of a mosque on the front cover, which immediately attracts the reader; however, brighter colours could have been used to make it even more attractive to children. Attractive patterns and borders are detailed throughout the textbook as well as illustrations that catch the attention and interest of the reader.

The textbooks’ content is designed to provide assistance and engage with new Islamic migrants in Australia and those who are refugees in the process of learning the English language. These books have also been designed to be whole in design, so they strengthen the relationship existing between the Islamic students and their colleagues from other religions. This is the case with Our faith and worship. What is intriguing is that some of the content in these textbooks are still considered topics of contention within the Islamic religion, especially among parents and their children. This is in line with the moral aspects of the Islamic religion that regards it illegal to openly discuss certain issues in the classroom, including texts that have reference to sexual content, use of drugs, sensitive music, cases of crime and immorality, mentioning or elaborating on non-Islamic religious celebrations like Easter and Christmas, and instances of religious bias where Muslims are misrepresented (Hyde, 2012). Having these issues in the academic curriculum (textbooks) is perceived by staunch Muslims as a violation of the spiritual aspects and social regulations that guide personal conduct of the students. The textbooks are written to in a manner that keeps provoking the ethical question on what the Islamic religion would say regarding such matters of high contention.

These textbooks analysis led to the selection of the key questions that this study seeks to answer, as discussed below.

5.2.3        Australian research on textbooks in religious education

As mentioned before, there is a great deal of information and data online through websites with related and connected links. In religious education, however, there will always be textbooks, references and prescribed texts to work from. For this very reason, faith-based schools, communities and school boards will always be around to “dictate” which quality textbooks will best serve the interest of their specific communities. The quality of a textbook in religious education is sometimes compared to the quality of textbooks in other disciplines. According to Rossiter (2000), the effectiveness of placing good materials in students’ hands is seen in their learning about religion. The materials, coupled with the teacher’s inbuilt philosophy of teaching, will help deliver a rich learning strategy.

Rossiter (2000) believes that good student resource materials usually have appropriate and creative methods of presentation built into the format of the text. Furthermore, Rossiter (2000) provides explicit details of what is considered to be the best features of high quality student religious education texts. Firstly, the appearance and production of student texts in religion must be comparable to other texts in humanities, such as English and geography; otherwise, students will see it as being deficient and hence negative views on religious education will be reinforced. Additionally, religious education texts must keep up with the changes in the format used in other texts. An example of this is that textbooks in other fields have developed their traditional presentation of content from being presented factual and systemic to focusing on analysis, interpretation and critical thinking. It is of paramount importance that the content includes issues that are relevant to the lives and experiences of students. Finally, Rossiter (2000) states he would prefer to have smaller booklets covering units of work rather than a single thick text with a large amount of content to be covered. Most importantly, he is aware of the need to develop CDs and internet resources to deliver religious education in today’s digital world.

The analysis by Mudge (2000) deals with the heart and its contemporary understanding as the primary focus of ‘relationality’ and educational endeavour. He delves into various sources in order to stress the dilemma that religious educators and text writers have an over-emphasis on the cognitive or intellectual dimensions. Mudge (2000) talks about the ‘aesthetic attitude’ and how it has been traditionally hindered by the belief that a choice is required between an objective, distanced approach and an affective, incarnational approach when relating to the text. Mudge (2000) argues that an understanding of any text should involve both these dimensions. As such, when studying the religious text and the challenges it offers, these should be seen as directed to the ‘heart, soul and spirit, as well as the mind or intellect’. The heart is critical because it is a sacred space and contemporary spirituality and educational discourse hold the heart to be a central educational matrix. Mudge (2000) believes that readers need to engage the heart in the pedagogical process and in reading or interpreting religious texts. Cotter (2000) claims the text should be based on the integration of two essential principles:

  • Tradition: respect for the richness and depth of religious tradition, desire and sense of belonging.
  • Experience: respect for life experiences and the ideas of young people.

Teachers who teach the cognitive meaning of the faith tradition must be well familiarised so they are secure in their knowledge of tradition and confident in their skills. Ryan (2000) also claims that choosing religious textbooks is mostly determined by the clerical hierarchy that is predominantly male, unskilled in educational theory and has conservative values. There is an added complexity of the interpretation of the religious text by teachers and students. According to Engebretson (2000), high-quality religious education textbooks used in secondary education include, but are not limited to, the following individualities:

  • The text explores historical, cultural, scriptural, liturgical and ethical assets by engaging students with comprehensible literature, enlivening higher order thinking, while respecting the student’s intellectual and psychological development.
  • The text exposes students to current developments in scriptural and theological scholarship, and these are used either as particular methodologies in the text, or included as part of the information on a given topic.
  • The religious education text, unless intended, recognises diversity of religious commitment and cultures. In doing this, generalisations and assumptions that all students have similar beliefs and faith practices are eliminated. The text should not use ‘presumptive’ language as this may alienate or isolate students who do not have a strong connection to religion.
  • The text allows the student to interact personally with the information in the way that they are comfortable; simultaneously, it should challenge the student at an intuitive, creative and reflective level. A quality text gives opportunity for personal reflection on belief through information, activities, discussion topics and examples of prayer.
  • The text contains exceedingly explicit information on any given topic, organised into specific components; thus, this becomes a useful resource for the teacher to easily navigate.
  • Numerous choices are given in the form of activities, research assignments, discussion topics, revision questions, quizzes, and activities, which use the student’s creative capacities.
  • A good religious education text is very visually attractive, which enhances and extends the text. It educates not just through the printed word, but by beautiful examples of traditional and/or contemporary art.
  • The text acknowledges the significance of information technology in education, and provides assistance to students to use this technology to find out more about topics under consideration.

Beyond being an educational tool, a good religious textbook has the ability to change a learner’s perspective about the world in the religious field.

5.3         Selection of questions

The textbooks analysed in this study were selected with the aim of establishing answers to the following questions, with each aimed at addressing particular needs as discussed below.

How is Allah taught to children?

This question was selected with an aim of wanting to analyse how the current curriculum in the educational sector has embraced the dimension of change in incorporating religious studies in Australian teaching practice. This is because, in the past years, religion was a very contentious issue that sparked controversy and debates, especially among conflicting religious opinions and perspectives among Muslims and Christian students or others. The challenge is that, despite this controversial nature, the religious aspect is still very essential in the process of teaching development of a country, thus cannot be overlooked. Teaching students about Allah is a strong indication that the root foundations of the Islamic religion are belief and His teachings (Douglas, 2011).

Which methods are used?

This question seeks to evaluate the various methods teachers put into practise within the classroom to teach the Islamic religion. This is because, as McNeilage (2013) argues, there is need to use teaching methods that promote children to memorise and be able to recall basic Islamic values and beliefs. The objectives of Islamic education are numerous, thus there is no single formula within the education system that can be solely voted as the best teaching method. Teachers are at liberty to make the best selection of a teaching method that will work best for their students, depending on their educational systems and learning environments in order to promote very high levels of children participation in the learning process. The methods should enhance the abilities of the students in line with the subject matter being studied. This implies that various approaches may be appropriate, especially in reinforcing the Islamic doctrine in depth. The available teaching methods that Islamic teachers could adapt include using the question and answer system, lectures, examples, stories and note taking, depending on those deemed to be most appropriate.

What are the strengths of the book?

The Islamic religion plays a critical role in the process of understanding historical events, activities, leaders and society as a whole. It is thus essential for the textbooks to present information in a manner that is attractive to the children in order to reinforce their understanding of such issues. The strength of the textbooks is a question designed to evaluate the presentation of facts and omission of other critical details that may enhance the understanding of students. This is because any important information left out may only mislead the students and give them false impressions of the Islamic religion. There is need for children to understand the basic symbols, concepts and beliefs of the Islamic faith. This calls for strong ways of presentation that makes the information memorable through coloured pictured, drawings and diagrams.

What are its weaknesses?

The question on the weaknesses seeks to evaluate how the textbooks address the issue of the students’ needs in knowing the Islamic faith, the general textbook layout and whether information is presented in a friendly language to the children to enhance easier understanding and proper memorisation. The weaknesses will also reveal any aspects of bias that depict the Islamic religion in a negative light, especially those written by scholars from Western countries.

Is it relevant to children?

The need to teach doctrines of Islam is essential to enable the young generation to have clear knowledge that can help them conceive the realities of the events taking place within their environments of operations. The major goal of teaching the children about Islamic aspects of theology is to impart more knowledge spiritually to enable them overcome the current Western notions of Islamic ethical globalisation. The lessons must be relevant to the children, to enable them to understand not only their history but how to deal with contemporary issues, like secular humanism. This is because such ideologies, especially from the West, often tend to influence or brainwash the minds of young children.

Can this book satisfactorily answer children’s questions about Allah?

This question seeks to establish the credibility of the publishers of the religious educational books to empower children. This means that religious content must be developed for the children by Islamic clerics and experts who can adequately address the key concerns of Allah that children should know at their tender ages. It also seeks to analyse the parents’ commitment in knowing what their children are being taught in school. This tests whether they are committed to work with teachers to ensure the relevant content, and not misguiding perceptions, are being passed down to the younger generations. The question also puts the concept of Allah into the Australian environment, which is full of Christians and other religions; thus, there is a need to clearly distinguish who Allah is from the various religions available.

Is the material interesting for children?

This question seeks to understand the measures and strategies used by teachers to not only make the children understand Islamic religion through their textbooks, but to also sustain their interest in the whole learning process. Research findings indicate that most often teachers only focus on passing across religious knowledge to the children without emphasising the use of modern techniques and materials. In addition, the question is intended to identify whether most of the Islamic education teachers have mastered the application of various teaching aids in the classroom set up. This is because, in the past, some have complained of the heavy workload that hinders them from delivering effective teaching of religious studies. Children also have various ways of learning and require elements that make their lessons memorable; thus, the question is aimed at evaluating all these factors. This depends on the type of language used and the balance between text and illustrations in the books.

Is the language used suitable and easy to understand for children?

Early childhood teachers have for quite a while addressed methodologies in training that centre on the advancement of thinking and rational cogitation. They have, thus, started to prefer dispositional systems in inclination to learning frameworks. In spite of the fact that securing of learning abilities and capabilities is a fundamental feature of religious education, contemporary exploration shows the demonstration of the learning process should develop beyond the thinking and concerns of other non-cognitive extents. Nonetheless, there is minimal confirmation to recommend that dispositional frameworks have been used in religious education in the early childhood years of pupils in Islamic schools. This introduces a challenge for contemporary religious educators in the early years’ classrooms in which results-based theories centre upon self-evident capabilities rather than the techniques learners use in their academic process.

Are there enough exercises or activities in these books to help children learn?

Islamic education focuses on the need for Muslims to lead all parts of their lives in the best conceivable way, both profoundly and essentially. For example, a Muslim needs to pray five times each day; pay zakat (a charitable donation made by the rich to poor people); fast throughout the month of Ramadan; perform hajj (a journey to the locales of Mecca and Medina) once throughout their lifetime; and show generosity and tolerance. As it were, teaching Islamic convictions (aqidah) in Islamic education possesses a focal place in the ordinary life of Muslims. Also, the subject frequently focuses on the past (what happened to historic Muslims) instead of the present (what is going on today).

Are the examples used in these books relevant for Australia today?

Islam is dependent upon aqidah (faith-belief system) and on Shari‘a (Islamic law). The components of its doctrine are the faith in Allah, His holy messengers, His books, His prophets, the hereafter and destiny. Islamic law is a set of rules given by Allah to make it conceivable for a Muslim to form their relationship with Allah, with other individuals (Muslim and non-Muslim), with the universe, and with life on earth and in the hereafter. While keeping in mind the end goal of giving Muslims persuasive responses to the current challenging questions and situations in their learning environments, the control of educating Islamic convention and convictions (aqidah) needs a change with another ideal model in system and content. It is important to stress the importance of the dynamic and updated philosophy of Islam by tending to the developing contemporary necessities using the premises of accepted roots or sources and unique terminologies (Habel & Moore, 1982). In this manner, it will not overlook the modern ilm al-kalam (knowledge of theological rhetoric) from its great contributions traditionally. There is a need to study present day Western disciplines and uncover their shortcomings and paradoxes from sane and moral perspectives before testing them from an Islamic point of view.

5.4         How does each of the books measure up to the criteria for a good religion textbook described earlier in this proposal?

The findings in this proposal established various aspects that characterise a good textbook in religious education, including: the fact that the books satisfactorily answer children’s questions on Islam, promotes children’s understanding without necessarily having to heavily rely on teachers, are relevant in covering topics that are aligned to the children’s needs, have enough exercises or activities and finally are updated with current Islamic affairs. The textbooks highlighted have content that are learner (children) centred. The language used and design approach targets the children. The instructions are teacher friendly with enough references and instructions to guide activities in the classroom. The books have pictures and illustrations that enhance the understanding of the content and make it memorable for the children. The textbooks use narratives to express the Islamic religious concepts in a great way. The textbooks thus help children to understand the characters in the books, admire some of them and even imitate them as role models. Such detailed illustrations used in the book enable them to understand and feel contented with the basics of Muslim faith.

Qualities of a good religious education textbook

Islamic religious education textbooks should satisfactorily answer children’s questions about Islam. They should help the students understand these textbooks without the help of the teacher on a basic level. These books ought to be relevant to the children in terms of catering for their needs. Religious education textbooks should have enough exercises or activities to help children learn and master religious concepts. Religious education textbooks should always be upgraded and updated in order to keep up with the demands of present days’ educational needs. The examples used in these books should be relevant for Australia today. Information coverage in the Islamic religious education textbooks should be inclusive of the most appropriate and suitable texts from the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the inner lives of significant people highlighted in the book, as these people set the examples as role models for the students in their lives. The textbooks must also appeal to the interests of the age group the textbook targets. Islamic textbooks should be coherent, concise and take children on an educational journey that is thematically sound. This can be achieved by using diagrams, concept maps or charts.

Qualities of a good religious education textbook for Muslim religious education with young children

In a normal classroom, students are intelligent learners who have the capability of grasping the nature of the complex information they will use in the future to clearly comprehend religious past, present and future events. A good textbook that is well written is one that elaborates on the historical, ethical, cultural and scriptural aspects of issues to enhance the development of the children’s psychology in this regard. The level of language used and information arrangement should be engaging to the minds of the children to use their logical thinking. A good textbook will also give students an opportunity to access steps in the current process of development in terms of spiritual scholarship by use of various methodologies in the textbook, as part of the published information (Habel & Moore, 1982).

Another quality of a good textbook is that it is cognisant of diversity. It acknowledges that children are from different backgrounds and their levels of religious commitment vary from unbelief to belief. while others remain in between these states. The book acknowledges different religious cultures present within Australian schools. This implies the textbook does not delve into making generalisations regarding the student, nor does it use a language that is presumptive in nature, assuming that all children have common beliefs and share their faith practice. The language, style and chapters must not alienate children who may not understand Allah from the onset of their educational journey. This implies a good textbook provides relevant information that also respects the religious freedom of the students to interact with the information in a way they can personally understand. In as much as it creates this sense of freedom for the children, at the same time it provokes their intuition and levels of creativity at reflective levels. It gives children the opportunity to reflect on their personal belief through the various activities, discussions and examples of prayers to be mastered. By doing this, the textbook engages the students intellectually and personally at reflective levels. A good religious textbook also furnishes the children with highly particular information, more than what could be given on any given theme. Instead of giving a general diagram of a subject in the broadest of terms, a great textbook will break the information into areas of focus for children to easily understand. This enables a textbook to be resourceful to the teachers who will eventually select the materials that need to be completed in line with the curriculum outline. Various decisions are given as exercises, examination assignments, exchange subjects, update inquiries, tests and exercises, which use the learner’s innovative limits (Victorian Board of Studies, 1994).

A great religious educational textbook is quite attractive in visual display and very compelling. It instructs through the printed word as well as by wonderful illustrations of accepted or contemporary symbolisation. These improve and expand the content. It welcomes the children learners to investigate their past, present and future through the printed word into music, craft, verse and building design. An excellent religious educational textbook affirms the role played by modern information technology in the process of learning and in the educational curriculum. It thus furnishes and supports learners to use this innovation to discover progressively about subjects under attention (Rossiter, 1983). It is straightforward and very direct in nature. This does not imply that vocabulary needs to be excessively oversimplified or that style ought to boring, but a balance is created between the two extremes. The book often pays attention on more action. This indicates its unobtrusive mental occasions are frequently inferred through narration and remark on movements. A good textbook targeting children is all about religion at the childhood level; it brings out religion from a child’s point of view, is full of hope and optimism for the future of the Islamic religion under discussion, and tends to rely on stories.

More intriguing religious educational textbooks reflect ambivalence about yearning to have the solaces of home and the energising dangers of experience, longing to be pure and experienced, longing to be an adult, but remain with child-like memories and so on. Generally, children’s expression has been seen as endeavouring to teach children. An all inclusive topic is educating children that, notwithstanding its boredom, religion is the ultimate goal for them to know and develop a personal relationship with Allah. The textbook also has a repetitive element. Repeating assignments is a fundamental system for training. Reiteration is a normal quality of oral literary works. Reiterations with varieties of statements, expressions, scenarios and story examples are regular in children’s literature. It has a tendency to equalise the unspoiled and the educational. A few books are essentially totally instructional (showing them how to act like mature people) or ideal (reflecting a longing to hold the purity of their youthfulness); however, most books combine the two methodologies (Victorian Board of Studies, 1994).

5.5         Findings from the textbook analyses

Course books in religious education can do numerous things. As well as different assets, they can fill in the educational gaps that exist between produced reports, like guidelines, and study outlines. They paint the bigger picture to the children, which lays the foundation for a stronger educational basis in Islamic religion. Religious educational textbooks and different assets help teachers settle on choices about precisely what will happen in the classroom. A great course book can provide educators with services and the most updated information regarding the most appropriate educational program that a teacher might not have point by point information about. An exceptional religious education textbook, in the hands of a great teacher, is an instrument that is completely subject to the aims of the educator for the children in the class. It helps the teacher and learner by providing information, recommending exercises, furnishing talk inquiries to help learners to think about the data offered and to take it further in analysis and relating to personal experiences.

Exceptional content helps the teacher decipher broader targets and results into thorough analysis of work in the classroom. It can captivate Islamic studies in the broadest sense inclusive of aptitudes, from appreciation, requisition, dissection, questioning and assessment to reflection, consideration, instinct and inventiveness. Another finding of this study analysis is that religious education textbooks use a part of an educated way and are not received uncritically as supplanting an astute educational program improvement, can help teachers and scholars to accomplish brilliance in religious education (Rossiter, 1983).

5.6         Conclusion

It is worth noting that not every child’s religious textbook can meet the entire requirements of the set standards of excellence. This can only imply that, in many cases, the value of a religious educational textbook will often outweigh the various aspects that might either be questionable or problematic in nature. Curriculum developers in Australia and across the globe should hence focus on examining children’s religious textbooks for critical elements like historical accuracies, the realistic types of lifestyles for Islamic believers, desired significant people, and the use of authentic language that is in line with the target audience, who in this case are children.

Religion is essential in the life of individuals as it sets the foundation for a stronger relationship with a higher being. In this case, Muslims have the opportunity to develop their association with Allah through His word. The religious books selected for children in schools must thus portray a representation of various settings that are inclusive of approaches used in problem-solving, life realities on faith and belief. The books should also present and provide the appropriate opportunities for young children in schools to enable them to consider the various perspectives and religious values. The books ought to be designed in a multicultural way that not only addresses the issues of a limited group of people, but to all children who are of the Islamic religion. Another important factor of children accessing religious education is that it provokes within them the various challenging questions regarding the ultimate meaning of life and Islamic purpose about Allah, His prophets, the nature of facing faith-oriented realities, issues pertaining to good or bad, right and wrong, and the implications on a Muslim’s life. Islamic religious education helps in advancing and developing the knowledge of a pupil towards understanding the basic concepts, principals, traditions and worldviews of other religions like Christianity to harmoniously live with non-Muslims. Such an education provides opportunities for the personal reflection of the children in schools and enhances their spiritual development. It upgrades the children’s mindfulness and comprehension of religions and convictions, teachings, practices and types of declarations, and in addition, the impact of religion on people, families, groups and societies.

Religious education influences how children gain experience from distinctive religions, convictions, qualities and customs while investigating their own particular convictions and inquiries of importance. It challenges the students to think about, examine, decipher and assess issues of truth, conviction, confidence and morals and to convey their reactions. Religious education, through the textbooks, helps children advance their feelings of character and having a place in the society. It empowers them to prosper exclusively inside their groups and as subjects in a pluralistic social order and worldwide group. Religious instruction has a significant part in preparing students for grown-up life, work and deep rooted studying. It empowers students to improve regard for and affectability to others, specifically those whose beliefs and convictions are unique in relation to their own particular. It advertises wisdom and empowers students to battle prejudice. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that parents have a role to play in advancing the religious educational textbooks’ content in the children’s worldview. They are not only expected to send children to a madrasa (type of educational institution) for education with the whole integrated curriculum, but also ensure they buy such textbooks for their children and provide the needed guidance on how to become good Muslims. They should reinforce what the teachers have taught in schools so the children’s abilities of reading and writing about Allah are enhanced.

6        CONCLUSION

6.1         Major objective of the entire research study

This research thesis set out to establish the issues in religious education for primary school children in a Muslim majority school in Sydney, Australia. The purpose of the study was to determine children’s beliefs about Allah and the potential of religious education textbooks in effectively teaching belief in Allah to Muslim children. Islam is still a minority religion in Australia (despite growth in recent years); however, there has been a Muslim presence in Australia for many years. Like all religious communities, the Muslim community in Australia has the right to educate its children about their own religion: this is because everyone is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance as established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The Australian constitution upholds this right and provides a diverse range of schools so parents may choose for their children the form of education that they believe will help their children to grow in their own religion The vision for education as communicated in the elementary school educational module is to empower the child to carry on with a full life as a child and understand their potential as a unique person. The educational module, accordingly, considers the emotional, ethical and religious extents of the children’s experience. Religious education is that part of the educational module that permits the child to advance profound and ethical values and to go to the learning of Allah. Consistent with the rules for national schools, it is the most important part of the essential educational module (Irish National Teachers’ Organization, 2003).

The current changes are likewise reflected in the teaching profession. Essential educators have dependably assumed a focal part in passing on the confidence and have generally been parts of the same confidence group as the students they instruct. The lion’s share of teachers still underpin the instructing of religion in elementary schools; however, the reasoning around educators is evolving (Naquin, 1980). Maybe, in the setting of the present Education Act, which regards assorted qualities of qualities and convictions, and which advertises a soul of association, there is now the time and opportunity to ponder the motivation behind religious education in grade schools. Religion is offered as a curricular region in all grade schools. The essential educational module tries to advance the full potential of every child, considering the children’s profound, ethical and religious needs. Religious education is seen as empowering the child to improve otherworldly and ethical values, and to go to the learning of Allah (Khalediy, 2010).

Responsibility for the religious educational module lies with separate benefactors. The points and destinations of the religious programme, the recommending of its content and methodology, and its supervision and examination are capacities bestowed by the diverse denominational powers. It could be contended, along these lines, that the state has ceded its authority in the territories of ethical advancement and religious education to denominational religious powers (Sewall, 2008).

Most of the expositive expression composed of Islamic instructive thought was intended to manage general issues, for example, points, foundations, teachers, and so on. Muslim researchers did not expand on the subject of education. Instructing and studying were extremely significant in Islamic society; however, no deliberate investigation of the present routines was attempted. Examining and portraying the instructive frameworks taking into account Islam is, consequently, a fascinating test. Islam is a learning-based religion, a religion of the Book. The investigation of that specific society uncovers what the individuals said and completed in each period and each range and how they attempted to verify the conduct of people. The Muslim instructive arrangement of our times delights in the benefit of a rich social legacy that goes over to the ascent of Islam (Khalediy, 2010). Since Muslim civilisation has religion as its binding force, it is regularly dependent upon the Qur’an and customs (hadith).

The Qur’an proposes the standards, which direct man’s existence and manage his conduct to Allah, his fellow men and his neighbourhood. It is additionally a school for goals like philanthropy, persistence, fulfilment of the guarantee, benevolence and appreciation to parents. Since all standards of righteousness are held in the Qur’an, the sacred book must be the foundation of all education. On the foundation of the Qur’an, and the practice and declarations of Muhammad, researchers have manufactured and advanced an entire arrangement of behaviour for the individual, the group and the state (Khalediy, 2010).

There are several establishments made on the need to educate children about Islamic faith and beliefs, all of which are strengthened when this sort of educating happens in the connection of duty to religious flexibility and human rights. These incorporate:

  • Islamic faith and beliefs are essential constraints in the lives of people and groups, and subsequently have incredible noteworthiness for social order overall. Comprehending these feelings is essential if children are to understand and interact with each one in turn of their differing social orders, and additionally in the event that they are to like the significance of the rights that secure them.
  • Learning about Islamic faiths and beliefs helps shape and improve the self-understanding, counting a deeper energy about the children’s personal growth in faith. Contemplating Islamic faith and beliefs opens people’s brains to inquiries of significant reason and lays open learners to discriminating moral issues tended to by humanity all around history.
  • Much of history, writing and society can easily be misled without information about the Islamic faith. Subsequently, a study about Islamic faith and beliefs is a crucial part of an overall adjusted training. Looking into Islamic faith and beliefs structures part of one’s own supply of training, widens one’s frame of reference and extends one’s knowledge into the complexities over a significant time span.
  • Knowledge of Islamic faith and beliefs can help push conscious conduct and improve social union. In this sense, all parts of social order, independent of their own feelings, profit from information about religious beliefs.

In order to achieve its objectives, the research study was guided by three major questions whose responses generated the findings of the research. These are further highlighted as follows.

6.2         Response to first research question: What does a group of Muslim primary school children believe about Allah?

All the children emphasised their belief in the existence and oneness of Allah. This was in line with Fowler’s research, which concluded that children at this stage develop means of dealing with the world and making sense. This can be used by the children to criticise and evaluate the previous stage of fantasy and imagination. However, in this survey no child, regardless of age, disputed the fact about the existence and oneness of God.

When asked about their reasons for believing in the oneness of Allah, 52% of the children justified their answers by stating that Allah is the creator of everything and He is the one and only God. The fact that several students also stated that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah proves Fowler’s synthetic-conventional stage that children up to the age of 12 years tend to base their values and beliefs more on the ideologies and judgments of authoritative figures. The authoritative figures in this respect are parents, teachers and adults in different capacities. In this case, most of the children of this age emphasised that Muhammad being Allah’s messenger was an indication of their belief in him as an authoritative figure in the Muslim faith (Fowler, 1981). When asked whether belief in God is important, about 99% of the children acknowledged this is very important.

As Fowler stated, children aged between nine and 12 years are typically more concerned in the oneness of a sole creator. In addition, children at this age also view their Creator as the one who is the mightiest, greatest, the maker of everything, the one who oversees everything, the creator of all humans, protector, sustainer, and provider of all (Gurr, 2010). The understanding of their Creator is apparent at this stage. The fact that only one child indicated his doubts in believing in Allah shows that children at this stage of their development understand the existence of Allah and believe in Him. Fowler’s mythic-literal stage identifies this stage as critical to the development of a child’s faith in God. This is the stage that children start to accept and identify themselves with the stories and beliefs of their community. Parents and religious leaders should ensure children at this stage are given the right religious teachings and knowledge about Allah (Gurr, 2010).

6.3         Response to second research question: What questions do the group of Muslim primary school children have about Allah?

The findings to this question were also in line with Fowler’s second stage, mythic-literal faith, which states children aged between seven and nine years are fascinated in the oneness of a sole Creator. They were very inquisitive about several attributes of their Creator such as His size, where and how He came about, and why there is only one and not any other.

They were highly concerned with how they needed to understand their Creator. This was especially the case with children aged between six and 12 years, who considered their Creator as the mightiest, most powerful creator of everything, the one who oversees everything, the creator of all humans, defender, sustainer and giver of all. These children were also very inquisitive about the residence of Allah or His dwelling place. This was the case especially with those children between seven and nine years of age. This study established that children at this period are very curious and have a deeper desire to get a clear picture of who Allah is and to understand their maker.

From the responses given, the majority of the children had a rough idea of Allah’s nature of omnipresence with a minority still believing of His existence in the skies. This is a call to textbook publishers that there is a need to clearly emphasise Allah’s presence in all places through content development. Children should be reminded that Allah is everywhere even in their classrooms and within the school compound. Some of these curiosities can also be answered by parents who have more time with the children after school. This is a call to parents, that they also must grasp the content of their children’s textbooks and evaluate the appropriateness of the content. They can then help in re-emphasising the contents through responding effectively to concerns raised by their children. This way, they will help pass the same information to children to avoid contradicting views of Islamic faith.

The diverse responses suggest the curiosity of children and their quest for information about Allah. It is important to note that the majority of the responses appeared to be those that they had heard or were told by parents and other friends. Therefore, this is a delicate age for children and they should be instilled with the right form of religious education about Allah since they tend to believe everything said about Allah.

6.4         Response to the third research question: Which features of teaching materials used to teach Muslim children about Allah are most helpful and why?

These textbooks have succeeded in playing integral roles in promoting Islamic education through the academic curriculum by acknowledging and highlighting the various roles played by Islam religion and Muslim worshippers during the historical period and the modern day. The books are effective in representing the various desires and interests of the population of Muslims that is increasing in Australia. Islamic religious education textbooks should satisfactorily answer children’s questions about Islam. They should help students to understand the knowledge without the help of the teacher on a basic level.

These books ought to be relevant to the children in terms of catering for their needs. Religious education textbooks should have enough exercises or activities to help children learn and master the religious concepts. Religious education textbooks should always be upgraded and updated to keep up with the demands of present days’ educational needs. The examples used in these books should be relevant for Australia today. Information coverage in the Islamic religious education textbooks should be inclusive of the most appropriate and suitable texts from the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the inner lives of significant people highlighted in the book, as these people set the examples as role models for the students in their lives. The textbooks must also appeal to the interests of the age group the textbook targets. Islamic textbooks should be coherent, concise and take children on an educational journey that is thematically sound. This can be achieved by using diagrams, concept maps or charts.

A good textbook that is well written is one that elaborates on the historical, ethical, cultural and scriptural aspects of issues to enhance the development of the children’s psychology in this regard. The level of language used and the information arrangement is engaging to the minds of the children to use their logical thinking. A good textbook will also give students an opportunity to access steps in the current process of development in terms of spiritual scholarship by use of various methodologies in the textbook, as part of the published information.

Another quality of a good textbook is that it is cognisant of the diversity factor. It acknowledges that children are from different backgrounds and thus their levels of religious commitment vary from unbelief to belief while others remain in between these states. The book thus acknowledges different religious cultures present within the Australian schools. This implies the textbook does not delve into making generalisations regarding the student, nor does it use of language that is presumptive in nature, assuming all children have common beliefs and share their faith practice. The language, style and chapters used must not alienate children who may not understand Allah from the onset of their educational journey. This implies a good textbook provides information that is excellent and respects the religious freedom of the students to interact with the information provided in a way they can personally understand. In as much as it creates this sense of freedom for the children, at the same time it provokes their intuition and levels of creativity at reflective levels. It gives children the opportunity to reflect on their personal belief through the various activities, discussions held and examples of prayers to be mastered.

6.5         Key recommendations from the research

The following recommendations emanate from the findings of the research:

  • Having established that textbooks are the most effective teaching materials of the Islamic religion in Islamic schools, it is highly recommended the key stakeholders in the education sector ensure that sufficient books are available to facilitate this goal and objective.
  • The regulatory authorities should raise their standards to ensure textbooks meet the expected quality standards of being holistic in nature to promote the development of children in bodily, moral, mental, social and intellectual dimensions. The children must be guided by the content of textbooks to act morally in line with the Islamic faith and uphold the virtues taught. Socially, they must be empowered to relate with others in the society, as a majority of the population belong to the Christian faith, with Catholics being more in number. Children need to develop comprehension skills in the modern world that is quickly evolving due to globalisation and technological advancement. It is thus a recommendation that textbooks be designed in a manner that can help them clearly comprehend these affairs.
  • Educating children about Allah is a broader role that stretches beyond the classroom boundaries. It is thus recommended that parents increase their efforts of helping to operationalise what the children have been taught in schools to real practice while at home or out of the school environment. They could train the children on how to pray and read the Qur’an.
  • The changing dynamics in the learning environments also calls for aligning the Islamic textbook contents with the modern needs of children in society. This study thus recommends the official regulatory authority of the Muslim Council conduct occasional reviews of the published textbooks to be used in schools to ensure they are in line with the current Islamic faith.

A good number of teachers offering Islamic lessons are non-Muslims. Even though this is a sign of non-religious discrimination, the effectiveness of learning is likely to be increased if the teacher has internalised the concepts of faith being transferred to children. It is recommended that more guidebooks be published to empower non-Muslim teachers on a step by step basis of teaching religion to the children.

The individuals who educate about religions and convictions might also have a pledge to religious flexibility that helps a school environment and practices that encourage insurance of the privileges of others in a soul of shared admiration and comprehension around parts of the school group. Instructing about religions and convictions are a significant authority of schools, and the way in which this education is conducted should not undermine or overlook the part of families and religious or conviction organisations in transmitting values to progressive eras.

Endeavours ought to be made to secure counselling figures at distinctive levels that take a comprehensive approach to including diverse stakeholders in the readiness and execution of curricula and in the preparation of educators. Where a mandatory programme including educating about religions and convictions is not sufficiently objective, endeavours ought to be made to change it to make it more equalised and unbiased. Where this is not conceivable, or cannot be achieved promptly, distinguishing quit rights may be a palatable answer for parents and students, given that the withdrawal plans are organised in a sensitive and the non-prejudicial way. The individuals who instruct about religions and convictions ought to be satisfactorily well versed to do so. Such educators need to have the learning, state of mind and aptitudes to instruct about religions and convictions in a reasonable and adjusted way. Teachers require topic capability as well as pedagogical aptitudes so they can interface with people and assist scholars to cooperate with one another in sensitive and deferential ways.

Educating about religions and convictions must be given in ways that are reasonable, correct and dependent upon a sound foundation. Scholars might also look into religions and convictions in an environment deferential of human rights, principal opportunities and municipal qualities. The individuals who educate about religions and convictions might also have a pledge to religious flexibility that helps a school environment and practices that encourage insurance of the privileges of others in a soul of shared admiration and comprehension around parts of the school group. Instructing about religions and convictions is a significant authority of schools, the way in which this educating happens should not undermine or overlook the part of families and religious or conviction organisations in transmitting values to progressive eras. Endeavours ought to be made to secure counselling figures at distinctive levels that take a comprehensive approach to including diverse stakeholders in the readiness and execution of curricula and in the preparation of educators.

Designing of curricula, course books and instructive materials about religions and convictions might also consider religious and non-religious matters in a manner that is comprehensive, reasonable and deferential. Forethought should be taken to evade incorrect or biased material, especially when this fortifies negative stereotypes. Curricula ought to be created as per distinguished proficient gauges to guarantee an equalised approach to study about religions and convictions. Advancement and execution of curricula might likewise incorporate open and reasonable strategies that give all invested individuals proper chances to offer remarks and counsel. Quality curricula in the process of educating about religions and convictions can help successfully to the instructive points if educators are professionally prepared to use the curricula and appropriate progressing preparing to further improve their learning and abilities in regards to this topic.

Any fundamental teacher planning ought to be confined and advanced as per popularity based and human rights standards and incorporate knowledge into social and religious assorted qualities commonly. Curricula should focus on instructing about religions and convictions may also offer regard for key authentic and contemporary improvements relating to religion and conviction, and reflect worldwide and nearby issues. They ought to be delicate to diverse neighbourhood signs of religious and mainstream majority discovered in schools and the groups they serve. Such sensitivities will help address the concerns of people, parents and different stakeholders in education. There is a developing agreement around teachers that learning of religions and convictions is an essential part of a quality education and that it can cultivate just citizenship, shared admiration, upgrade and uphold religious opportunity, and advertise a comprehension of societal differing qualities. While choices about matters of confidence must be ensured as individual decisions, no instructive framework can afford to disregard the part of religions and convictions in history and society. Lack of awareness about this issue might fuel bigotry and separation and can expedite the formation of negative stereotypes. More regrettable still, it can accelerate expanding hostility, conflict and roughness that have the possibility to debilitate security and a state of stability.

6.6         Study limitations and significance of the study

Studies involving children and their religion are very sensitive due to the ethical implications involved. One limitation was the complications encountered in getting the children to respond to questions of this study. This was mostly overcome by notifying teachers and parents in advance and seeking their consent for the children to participate in the study.

There were also limited textbooks for analysis; thus, the researcher maximised the available ones to ensure that all the angles of the study were effectively analysed. Time was also a limitation in the process of data collection and analysis. This was addressed by analysing the data simultaneously with data collection.

The study was also limited to children’s understanding of Allah through religious textbooks in primary schools. It did not analyse those in secondary schools and focused on children aged between nine and 12 at only one faith-based primary school.

The significance is that the data gathered and findings established will help in the policy making process by stakeholders in the educational sector in the future. It will also contribute to the already existing body of knowledge and encourage further research in the area of religious studies teaching.

This study may also assist parents in their understanding of what their children believe and need to know about Allah.

6.7         Suggested areas for further research

Textbooks are only a single aspect towards the teaching of Allah among children in schools. A key aspect that this study partially established is that some of the teachers are non-Muslims; thus, further research should seek to compare the effectiveness of Islamic and non-Islamic teachers educating children about Allah. It could also propose the best measures and strategies of helping teachers to effectively teach Islamic faith.

This research was limited to looking at children’s beliefs and their questions about Allah. Another area of research could be related to other aspects of the Islamic faith, such as Judgement Day. Further, more research can be made into children’s questions and their responses about faith.

More research can be done on Islamic textbooks and their effectiveness. This research focused on textbooks relating to Allah and further research can look into other aspects of Islam. Comparisons can also be made of primary and secondary school textbooks.

For this study, only one faith-based school was used. Further study can use multiple schools that are public and faith-based, Islamic and non-Islamic, and make comparisons in relation to religious studies.

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