Dylan Chown and Professor Mohamad Abdalla
The Islamic Teacher Education Program fills a vital gap in offering comprehensive teacher training for educators in Islamic schools, madrassahs, maktabs and home-schooling families.
As a corollary to this initiative and others like it are the efforts to expand and build upon the contemporary intellectual, religious and spiritual rigor driving Islamic schooling. In a world that rapidly gets smaller, enhanced communication, ease of travel and technology are no doubt proving most valuable in the growth of our Global Learning Community.
We see the success and the benefit of such efforts in the form of the annual East and West Coast ISNA Education Forums in the US, the Zaytuna College Conference in California, the AMS conference in the UK, the ICIE and ICIIES conference in Malaysia, and many others around the world.
Recently and for the first time in Australia, the inaugural Australian Islamic Education Conference  was organised to start a national and international conversation in relation to the challenges, issues and opportunities facing Islamic schooling, particularly within Western contexts. The conference was aptly themed,
Continuity and Change: Envisioning the way forward for Islamic Schooling in the West.
Over 200 delegates from around Australia, the UK, Canada, the USA, and New Zealand attended the conference. Leading international scholars, academics and practitioners in the field of Islamic schools in the West included Dr Nadeem Memon, Dr Abdullah Trevathan, Dr Freda Shamma, Omaira Alam along with local counterparts, conference convener Professor Mohamad Abdalla, and conference commitee members; Dylan Chown and Shaykh Muhammad Abdullah.
The Islamic Teacher Education Program was extremely well represented, not only by Dr Nadeem (Director of Education), Omaira Alam (Program Director), Dylan Chown (course facilitator) and Dr Freda (guest instructor), but also by over 15 program alumni and current participations who were in attendance from across Australia and New Zealand.
Undoubtedly, the conference raised more questions than providing answers. As intended this was a start of a conversation and the healthy questions raised offer great opportunity to unpack through collaborative efforts to devise positive strategies for our Islamic schools to further progress and prosper.
Context of Islamic Schools in Australia
Islamic schools were established in Australia some 33 years ago and have grown rapidly, now numbering an estimated 55 schools   . This increase in the formation of Islamic schools in Australia reflects a similar increase in other Western countries .
Lessons from the conference
Don Wakely (Executive Director of the Australian Institute for School Governance) who has led both a Jewish and Christian school and consulted in an Islamic school provided an outstanding conference summary. We borrow heavily from his summary in order to share lessons with our global learning community.
Upon arrival at the conference, each of us brought particular views about Islamic schooling to the table. These views were framed by guiding questions of the conference to assist in the search for relevance, identity and authenticity.
Conference take-away points
As is the purpose of such conferences, attendees were challenged….pushed …and thinking was disturbed. From the array of differing perspectives there were clear take-away points. Some of these included the importance of hudur: being present as educators and as people; of respecting diverse perspectives; of knowing and owning the vision (of Islamic education; of your school, of your classroom). Deep concern was raised in relation to teaching of Arabic. Powerful words such as mercy and justice were discussed and we were challenged, to what extent do these principles inform approaches in Islamic schools? Finally, the importance of the delivery of curriculum was emphasised.
Post conference steps
After two intensive days of unpacking key themes in Islamic schooling, several themes arose that demand both broader and deeper consideration.
Exploring spirituality within Islamic Schools
- Defining our approach/es to pedagogy
- Clarifying mission, vision and strategy
- Attaining the Islam in Islamic schools
- Determining the principles that underpin teaching in an Islamic School
Guiding questions after the conference:
- How do we, and others, know that we are an Islamic school?
- What might a quality Islamic curriculum model look like?
- How do we currently measure effectiveness?
- How does the world look through an Islamic lens?
- What do we need to do to further train and support our teachers in Islamic Schools?
Be a part of the narrative; maintain the momentum; continue the conversation through
- engaging governors, managers, teachers, parents and students (it takes a village to raise a child)
- producing publications
- organising regional (State) syndicate gatherings
- convening onsite school discussions: finding ‘talk time’
- next conference: include more success stories – work more from a strengths based model rather than a deficit based model
- consider an Islamic Schooling Project . . .
Australian Islamic Schooling Project . . . an initial agenda
- Formalise a collaborative project partnership of Islamic schools
- Determine the attributes of a quality Islamic School, Islamic Studies Teacher, Islamic School Graduate
- Shape a definitive statement on Islamic Schooling that enhances identity
In conclusion, conference delegate, educator, researcher and Gamileroi Aboriginal man, Troy (Umar) Meston shared a profound quote which sums up the lessons learned and the path forward. He shared with us:
“When we dream together, we dream reality”!
This echoes the wise words of Aunty (Dr) Freda Shamma, commenting on the curriculum challenges in Islamic schooling, which could equally apply to the larger trajectory of Islamic schooling. And that is…. it’s time for educators of Muslim children in Islamic schools to ‘reach beyond their own immediate needs, and their own immediate communities, to join together’ to continue the progress made in the field of Islamic education in Western contexts.
Continuity and Change: Envisioning the way forward for Islamic Schooling in the West
Australia – February 2016
 Organised by the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies (NCEIS) and sponsored Al Siraat College, the Council of Arab Australia Affairs (CAAR), the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies (University of Melbourne), and Islamic Schools Association of Australia (ISAA).
 25 of these schools are more commonly referred to as Turkish schools as they do not identify explicitly as Islamic schools. An estimated 16 of these 25 are Gulen-inspired schools.
 Jones, P. (2012) ‘Islamic Schools in Australia’ The La Trobe Journal (Special Issue: ‘Isolation, Integration and Identity: the Muslim Experience in Australia) 89.
 Polat, C. (Date Unknown) ‘Gulen-Inspired Schools in Australia: Educational Vision and Funding’, http://www.acu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/223087/Gulen-Inspired_Schools_In_Australia_Educational_Vision_And_Funding_Conference_paper.pdf: accessed 30th March, 2016.
 Abdullah, M. Abdalla, M. and Jorgensen, R. (2015) ‘Towards the Formulation of a Pedagogical Framework for Islamic Schools in Australia 6(4) Islam and Civilisational Renewal 509, pgs. 510-11.