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 Holistic Islamic Education...

This series will take an in depth look into a very unique homeschool setting for Muslim children greatly in need of an Islamic educational environment. Over the next few months Abdul-Lateef Abdullah (Steven Krauss) will be our guide...don't miss this great opportunity to look into the workings of the Taqwa Gayong Academy.

Check it out below:

Check back in the near future for...

  • History, Mission and Overview of Gayong Academy
  • The Gayong Academy Curriculum
  • Students thriving in an intensive program
  • Lessons Learned from Gayong Academy for Muslim Educators in the U.S.


My Journey to Islam and to Gayong Academy

My name is Abdul-Lateef Abdullah (Steven Krauss). I reverted to Islam in 1999 at the age of 27. I came into Islam through the martial arts, specifically, through the teaching and influence of a Malaysian named Cikgu (teacher) Sulaiman Sharif.

Back in 1998, as a student in New York City, I began studying the Malay martial art of Silat with Cikgu Sulaiman. At the time, I was still a Protestant Christian, as I had been my whole life up to that point, and was not very religious. I had explored some new age "spirituality" stuff in college and after, but nothing remotely resembling organized religion for quite some time. I had a serious bias - or so I thought - against organized religion. Like so many westerners, the idea of someone, or some institution, telling me how to live my life had no appeal to me. After all, who knew better than I did what was best for me?

Slowly, as I was learning more and more about the martial art of Silat, I began learning about Islam. Cikgu Sulaiman is not only a martial arts teacher, but as I was quickly learning, a very gifted da'ee as well, who is very knowledgeable about Islam. Furthermore, his ability to communicate Islamic concepts and his worldly knowledge and experience created a rare combination that I never before experienced and still have not until today.

Like any true teacher, his style of teaching required us to go to his home and see how he lived. Every weekend, the other Silat students and I went to Cikgu Sulaiman's house for Silat class. In our time there, we experienced the Islamic way of life first-hand. For some of us, it was our first real exposure to the religion. Cikgu Sulaiman did not thrust his way of life upon us in any way, however, in fact, he did not even talk about Islam often, except when people would ask him questions about it. It was simply his way of life and being there with him, we were able to appreciate it as something different and intriguing.

His method of teaching is primarily by example, and being with him at his home proved to be a powerful learning experience for me. Watching him and the other Muslim students pray, listening to them talk about Allah, hearing them read Qur'an, seeing their humility and mildness, all made an impression on me because I was searching. When you are searching for something, you are always aware of those things that resonate with you, in the hope that one of them will turn out to be "the answer" to all your questions. Through Islam I saw a simple spirituality and a kind of genuine orderliness that seemed to bring peace to my teacher's life and household, a type of peace that I was hoping to find in my own life.

Once I began studying Islam on my own, in addition to my visits with my teacher, I quickly began gaining a fondness for Islam. I became very attracted to it, but didn't actually consider adopting it as my religion for quite some time. Then, slowly, some very powerful urges began to develop within me. I found the desire to pray regularly. First three times a day, then five times a day. I fasted. I read everything I could about Islam, in addition to my Christian books in a desperate search for truth. Then, finally, a year and a half after I had first met Cikgu Sulaiman, in July of 1999, I could not resist anymore. I had to become Muslim. I so badly wanted to dedicate my life to Allah through Islam that I had to take my shahadda and delve into the deen wholeheartedly. On July 30, 1999, I became Muslim.

Being Muslim for me has been one long blessing. Everyday of my life I am thankful and appreciative to Allah for guiding me to Islam. It has filled a major void in my life that I had had for quite some time. I always had an inkling for the spiritual but never imagined it would be answered by an organized religion that up until three years ago I knew absolutely nothing about.

Now, a year and a half after becoming Muslim, I still spend my weekends up at Cikgu Sulaiman's school, Gayong Academy, in Paulsboro, NJ. I am an Assistant Instructor of Silat Gayong and teach the young children at the school on weekends. Although technically Gayong Academy is a home school, the Academy boards close to 15 youth full-time. Cikgu Sulaiman and his wife, Nurliza run the school during the week completely on their own, with only limited help from myself and one other instructor on weekends.

Gayong Academy is doing great things for some very fortunate young people. For me it is a sort of Islamic oasis. When I have had a tough week or am feeling down about anything, I go to Gayong Academy and after two days, I become reinvigorated. It is a place where Islam is taught and lived, and where young people are molded into strong Muslims. In contrast to the everyday world we live in, Gayong Academy is simply one of the purest things going -- no politics, no bickering, no backbiting, no cheating, lying or stealing, and no fitna. It is a place that I proudly call home, and one of Allah's greatest blessings to me and to the children who attend it. The Muslim world has much to learn about living Islam from Gayong Academy.

Gayong Academy: A Realistic Alternative to Today's Education Dilemma

The Ritalin Reality

There is an education crisis going on in America today. Our recent presidential election attests to this fact, as both Al Gore and George W. Bush made educational reform one of their top priorities throughout the year. The statistics on America's public education system are alarming. In some cities in America, high schools are graduating less than 50% of their students (The Heritage Foundation Website, 1990).

Even more noteworthy is what is happening to children diagnosed with ADHD -- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Because of their diagnoses, many of these children receive behavior-altering drugs such as Ritalin. This drug has become so common that many in the medical and education professions not only feel it is being over-prescribed, but that it is reaching alarming rates. In the past five years alone, the number of prescriptions for Ritalin in the United States has jumped to 11.4 million from 4.5 million, according to IMS America, a health care information company. Furthermore, since 1990,
the rate of Ritalin use has jumped 150% (The Detroit News Website, 2001). This country now uses five times as much Ritalin as the rest of the world.

Dr. Peter Breggin, a Maryland psychiatrist and critic of psychiatric medications such as Prozac, describes the Ritalin phenomenon as "an incredible commentary on our society. Instead of addressing the basic needs of kids, we drug them," Breggin said. "Better family life, educational facilities, spiritual direction, a safer environment, better television and videos - forget about it. Just drug 'em."

The Ritalin phenomenon is evidence that America is raising a nation of drug addicts. Some children, like Ben Evola, 13, of Lake Orion, Michigan, who has been using Ritalin since he was 7, have been on Ritalin for as long as they can remember, and will probably continue to take it for the rest of their
lives. In response to the very real behavioral needs of our children, America is opting to embrace a quick pharmacological fix for its ailments, rather than turning to God-given responses that have been in existence for centuries.


One Alternative

Not everyone believes that drugs are the answer to our country's educational dilemmas. Taqwa Gayong Academy in Paulsboro, NJ is a full-boarding home school for Muslim youth that focuses on orphans and young people from troubled backgrounds. Gayong Academy specializes in the type of young people frequently diagnosed with ADHD, mental retardation, and other behavioral problems. In public school settings, these youth are often placed in special education and/or subscribed medications such as Ritalin to calm them down and make them easier to control.

Taqwa Gayong Academy provides youth with an alternative to a public education system that is turning many low-income, minority children into mere statistics. The Academy provides its students with a deen-intensive, comprehensive educational environment without the influence of drugs or special education to keep them "in line." This unique Islamic education program includes a comprehensive daily schedule from fajr prayer in the morning to isha' prayer at night. Moreover, with only 12 - 15 students at the Academy at any time, children receive the type of individual attention that they do not get in public schools.

Gayong Academy welcomes the forgotten children - orphans, "troublemakers" and those with behavioral problems, including many inner-city youth. The co-Directors of Gayong Academy, Sulaiman Sharif and his wife Nurliza Khalid, run the school on their own, and strive to provide a family-like atmosphere that includes a nurturing, yet highly-disciplined environment.

Gayong Academy "works" for these children because of the balanced, Islamically focused lifestyle that they live, which includes the physically demanding martial art of Silat Gayong from Malaysia. Silat provides the physical aspect of a highly balanced curriculum that also includes academics such as math, science and reading, as well as the religious disciplines of Islam.

When Gayong students first arrive at the Academy, they become quickly indoctrinated into their new way of life. Many come from west Philadelphia's unbridled inner-city environment, and are not accustomed to the structure and discipline that Cikgu (teacher) Sulaiman provides. At first, it is a
difficult adjustment for some, but after a few weeks changes in the children begin to appear which can often be dramatic. For example, one nine year-old boy named Jamil who came into the academy grossly overweight, lost 35 pounds in his first three months. Another, named Kamar, classified by his former public school as "mentally retarded," became one of the top students in the school within a span of a few months. In addition, he is no longer in need of the Ritalin prescribed to him by his former school. This is also true of the other students who were once on medication for behavioral diagnoses such as ADHD.

The Gayong Academy Formula

So what is it about Gayong Academy that leads to such dramatic results? Being a full boarding home school, Cikgu Sulaiman and Nurliza have a great deal of freedom in how they work. They are able to dedicate all their attention to the children, and do not have to deal with outside interference (except for concerned parents). Being a full boarding school also allows for continuity in learning, so that a positive environment, as opposed to the often-negative surroundings of their homes in the inner cities constantly
surrounds the students. At Gayong Academy, the students do not have to deal with the pressures and lures of the streets and the dangers that come with them, instead, they are protected by Islam and two dedicated teachers who care about them.

As a home school, Cikgu Sulaiman and Nurliza are able to run the Academy as they would a home with a large family. Living and teaching the children the Islamic deen is the central focus of the Academy, and because the students live there, they get to see it applied throughout the day in different situations. This experience gives the children practical learning, so they see how a jamaat should function.

Discipline is a major theme within Gayong Academy. Many of the young people who attend the school come from families where the father is either absent or living outside of the home. For young black children living in precarious inner-city environments, not having the structure and discipline that a
Muslim father brings can have negative consequences for his development. One example of this is that in the state of Colorado, for example, 85% of prison inmates come from broken homes (Independence Institute Website, 1999). Thus, having a caring male adult in a child's life is critical to his or her
successful development. For many of the children at Gayong Academy, Cikgu Sulaiman represents a strong male figure, and his reliance on discipline reinforces the proper conduct that is expected of Muslim men.

The impact that Gayong Academy has on students is clear from the changes that the current group of students has undergone. One boy, Isaiah, was not Muslim when he entered Gayong Academy in September of last year. However, because his mother feared for his future in west Philadelphia, she did not mind him attending a Muslim school. She just did not want him "to become another statistic." With this blessing, Isaiah has become Muslim (as all children are according to Islam), and his mother and other family members have commented that "they don't even recognize him" when he goes home to
visit, because he is so well behaved. In addition, after only a few months, Isaiah is receiving straight A's in his Qur'anic vocabulary classes.

Gayong Academy is a realistic alternative to today's education dilemma because it enforces the Islamic lifestyle 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Its students are in no need of drugs and behavior-altering medications because at the Academy, Allah provides them with all that they need to become strong
and successful Muslims. Even those who have been diagnosed with so-called "behavioral problems" such as ADHD, no longer require complex interventions like those prescribed for them in their previous educational situations. Gayong Academy, relying on Allah alone, provides its students with the
attention, discipline and support they need to overcome their negative behaviors. In this way, Gayong Academy is a present-day example of why Islamic education has been so successful for centuries, and why we must return to it as the only realistic alternative for our children.

by Abdul-Lateef Abdullah Krauss, MSW

Gayong Academy: The Daily Program

Islamic Studies Curriculum

1. Tawhid (levels of Iman)

2. Fard'ain

3. Qur'anic Qa'idah

4. Qur'an (recital/memorization)

5. Qur'anic vocabulary

6. Tafsir Qur'an (Ibn Kathir)

7. 40 Hadith and Hadith Qudsi

8. Seerah Rasulullah (SAW)

9. Fiqh (adab/hukm)

10. Akhlaq (mahmudah/mazmumah)

Deen Intensive

Fulfilling the rukun Islam daily, the murids at Gayong Academy begin their day by waking up a half hour before Solat-ul-Fajr, with each one taking his turn in calling the Azan for the day. After completing the solat in jemaah, the awrad or muamalat is performed, again in jemaah, for the next hour by doing zikr, selawat nabi, tartil Qur'an and doa. Upon completing this, all the murids go to their respective stations for learning Qur'anic vocabulary andtesting on their daily lesson.

Next, they enter into the world of community living and exercise their Fard Kifayah by performing communal Taharah on their living quarters and the Madrasah before breakfast, which is served at 8 am.
From 9am to 4pm the murids receive academic Tutoring per their grade level with a half hour break for lunch, while again fulfilling their Fard 'Ain by performing the solat-ul-Zuhr and 'Asr in jemaah on time.
At 4pm, they receive lessons in Tawhid, Fiqh, Seerah Rasulullah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and Hadith with Tafsir Qur'an taught immediately after solat-ul-Maghrib up until Solat-ul-'Isha. All assignments of the day are completed after dinner before ending the day
at 10pm.

Academic Tutoring

Due to the constant bombardment of pop culture from advertising and entertainment, children are living in a state of confusion more than ever before. At Gayong Academy, we believe that the cause of failure in the field of academics is not due to a child's intellectual inability to understand what is taught, but their inability to understand the language used in the delivery of the lessons.

Vocabulary learning in all subjects is not just necessary but mandatory in order for the student to comprehend the written language. At the Academy, students learn new vocabulary daily from reading aloud and defining the new words. In addition, they are given exercises to construct sentences, and
then challenged orally to use the new words in their daily conversations.The enforcement of new learnings is made successful through consistent monitoring of the language used by each and every student, without any interruptions or outside influences. It is this constant re-enforcement of
learning that has made Taqwa Gayong Academy successful, even though it is still in its early years of operation.

Positive changes in students' academic ability are usually detected within the first three months of their stay at the Academy. Though the majority of the Academy's students are labeled with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), we have found that this is usually due to them being under-challenged by a slow-moving and overburdened public education system. At the Academy, all forms of interruption in a growing child's academic life are eliminated, providing a conducive learning environment to his positive and healthy development.

Finally, students receive their physical discipline through the Malay Warrior Art of Silat 12 hours a week, rounding out the unique and comprehensive education program that the Taqwa Gayong Academy provides.

by Sulaiman Sharif

Taqwa Gayong Academy is located at 1315 N. Delaware Street, Paulsboro, NJ 08066. Phone 856-423-5101. Email:

Paulsboro is located about 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia. Please call for more information or to make a donation to a child and devoted school in great need. Making your charity work in your neighborhood!

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