Some of our readers have asked my opinion about the The Children’s Ghazali Project. I do own the Al-Ghazali book illustrated by Demi but I had not seen the Al Ghazali Book of Knowledge for Children or Al Ghazali Book of Knowledge for Children Workbook until this week. A friend visiting from the UK brought both books with her on a recent visit and I was finally able to have a look.
I read through the first two lessons and I am pleased to see that they introduced a wali figure to teach and mentor the children as a way to introduce the concepts. This is exactly what I am doing with a young adults version of the lives on the Prophets that will be posted here in a few months. Encouraging children to search out the wise people in their community instead of others who are poorly informed is an excellent example. The type is large and easy for children to read. It is nice that the children in the story are so sweet and are seeking knowledge but children are not always little angels and so I do wonder if their characters ought to be a little more flawed but perhaps they are further along in the curricula.
The workbook has a list of suggestions for discussion and critical thinking about the concepts introduced each chapter. I would not recommend using all of the suggestions unless you are on a role and the kids are very engaged because the family that brought the books to me said that the kids found it a little boring. This may have more to do with the implementation though because the boys said that the lady leading their study group was using a Power Point presentation and that did not really connect with them.
I would also recommend some sort of sequence or advent calendar format for each chapter like we did for the life of Prophet Musa (a) because I find that children need a gimmick of some sort with a large project to conceptualize where they have been, where they are, and where they are going with a long narrative. The idea is to have an image or something you add each time you complete a unit so the children can visualize their progress. If I come up with something for the Ghazali curricula I will post it on the website.
The thing that I would have done differently with the text of Imam Al-Ghazali: The Book of Knowledge for Children is to use sufi teaching stories or other stories from Islamic literature to convey the lesson. This would be easy to do if the wise person the children were speaking to told the story and used that story for the lesson. For instance in chapter 25 when the Grandmother figure is speaking about the dot on the heart a short story from the sira of the Prophet Muhammad (s) could be used to speak about how the angel washed the heart of the Prophet (s). Later in the chapter they speak about the concept of spying or looking for the fault of others and this would be a good point to tell the story of how Iblis did not bow to Adam (a) and instead looked around to see if anyone was not making sajda to Adam (a). This nesting story style is common in Islamic literature like the Arabian Nights and The Conference of the Birds. I feel that style would work better because teaching stories are very valuable tools with children.
The artwork for Imam Al-Ghazali: The Book of Knowledge for Children is good quality and hand drawn or photographs made to look like watercolour painting. However, I would have prefered if the artwork was in the Persian miniature style that Demi used for Al-Ghazali. This is because I believe that whenever possible the Islamic art style should be used for Muslim children.
This is why I have attempted to draw from Islamic art with most of our projects on the website even though I am not an artist and struggle to do so. The reason I do this is because the art that people make is related to the concepts their culture values. The aesthetic of Muslim art ranges from Medieval illuminated manuscripts to abstract and geometrical patterns and calligraphy bent into representational images. The images in Imam Al-Ghazali: The Book of Knowledge for Children are not from this aesthetic and if they were going to depart from Islamic art for this project I would have prefered Waldorf style pastels which can give a nice mysterious and mystical feel.
I am not sure that I will use this curricula soon because I am still working through some very long projects with my children like The Illuminated Quran and I am not sure I can expect my 6 year old to sit through a lesson without a story at this time. I do think this could work well for older children who have more patience and can read the chapters on their own. Later if I use this series I think that I may read the book to my children and add notes where I will tell useful stories with the lesson and ask contemplative questions. I may not use the workbook formally but look over the lesson plan for the contemplative questions. The Great Books program is an excellent way to teach by using contemplative questions and I think that the Ghazali Project for Children is a step in this direction.
I applaud this curricula for emphasizing contemplation because this is something often missing from Islamic teaching for children that emphasizes memorization over comprehension.
I hope to see more Islamic curricula in the future in this style and it is my sincere hope that contemplative lessons become the standard of education for Muslim children and that the Ghazali Project for Children is part of that educational program.
Please share your experiences with the Ghazali Project for Children and any other curricula that challenges Muslim children to think as well as memorize.