Claire entered the fold of Islam several years ago and is now a happily married mother of three young children. She began as a languages teacher and now trains teachers on various PGCE courses. She is keen to develop a more creative method of educating Muslim children about their way of life, Islam.
Dr Sangeeta Dhami: Do you think it is fair to conclude that we, as a community, are failing adequately to develop the creative and artistic potential of our children?
Claire Ali: I think the point is more this: the quality of teaching that Muslims are exposed to from Monday to Friday in mainstream school can be very highly refined, from a methodology point of view. Teacher training is well developed and there are constant opportunities for teachers to improve their technique via INSET (In service training) sessions and external courses.
In comparison it has to be said that madrasahs and Islamic schools do not, for whatever reason, benefit from the same quality of teacher training and INSET. There is little opportunity for these teachers to refresh their teaching techniques. As a result many state educated Muslim children find themselves exposed to far more stimulating, engaging and effective secular teaching than they do Islamic.
Allah (swt) likes us to seek excellence, but I feel that as a community we are neglecting to seek this within the field of pedagogy. Embracing modern and research-based teaching methodology would bring far more efficient results for our young people, Insh'Allah.
I know that you were very involved in setting up a Muslim 'mother and toddler group' in West Ealing, London and this has subsequently resulted in you writing nursery rhymes for Muslim children. What prompted you to focus your attention on developing children's songs?
The idea of writing Islamic Nursery Rhymes was originally conceived to enable me to teach my children about Islam at their level and in a way in which they would have fun. I knew that Nursery Rhymes were infectious; after all, I could recall all the traditional English Nursery Rhymes which I had been taught as a child, even though many of them were apparently 'nonsense'!
I felt that if the words were changed then this would be a highly efficient method of teaching babies and children about Islam, such that it would become second nature to them and part of their identity. The repetition of rhyme and sounds together with the use of actions would have children instinctively internalizing 'information' about the deen in a way that we could never attempt to achieve using other methods. The rhymes soon took off with my own children and in Muslim Mother and Toddler Groups.
Approximately how many songs have you written so far and where would you envisage them being used?
Alhamdulillah over 100 simple, catchy Rhymes. I have scoured both my memory as well as many children's anthologies and believe there to be very few Nursery Rhymes, skipping, clapping, action and counting songs left unturned!! As the number of 'rhymes' has increased, so has their area of usage. They have been used in state schools for delivering lively assemblies about Islam and in state nurseries, as well as in madrasahs.
Do you have any plans to publish your rhymes and songs?
Yes, absolutely! Insh'Allah the book will be accompanied by a cassette so that Muslim mothers who do not know the traditional Nursery Rhymes can, nonetheless, learn to teach their children about Islam through song. Similarly, teachers in schools without the knowledge of Islam would find a cassette easier to use than text alone. None of the rhymes contains any musical accompaniment.
I've heard that you have had children from a local primary school auditioning to sing for your forthcoming publication. How did this come about?
These are Muslim children from a local state primary. Thanks to the help of the school and the hard work of the children, we should soon be ready to record, Insh'Allah. I am delighted that this project is based locally within the community.
What plans do you have for the future?
For this particular project, it may be that, due to a dearth of up-to-date Islamic videos for children, once published, these songs could form the basis of an exciting new video project, Insh'Allah. Other than this, I would like to try to influence two things for the sake of our Muslim youth and, therefore, for the future of the Ummah: Firstly, an improvement in the quality of teacher training available in Muslim Institutions and secondly, an improvement in the quality of information about Islam and Muslims in state schools. I pray that Allah will guide my efforts, Insh'Allah.