Silence in the Classroom!

The scene is familiar to anyone who has spent time in a classroom: students are given time to work in groups after the teacher reminds them that group work is only possible if everyone speaks in low-to-moderate voices. Everything starts out fine: students quietly organize themselves, and disparate discussions meld into a collective class hum. But the hum slowly breaks into a murmur and, as individuals in one group unknowingly raise their voice to compete with the rising voices of their neighbours, the room suddenly sounds more like a cafeteria than a classroom. The teacher, who has been occupied helping one particularly needy group, turns to the class and, in his superior court judge voice, proclaims, “SILENCE!”

Student conversations stop dead mid-sentence and everyone looks up cautiously at the teacher. His hands are on his hips and he’s slightly but noticeably irritated.

“It’s far too loud,” he says, now even-toned. “Let’s remember to keep it down. I hope I don’t have to remind the class again.”

Most teachers embrace silence as a necessary component of their practice. Before beginning a lesson, we customarily stand before the class, waiting for our students’ collective attention as indicated by their collective silence. Recreational reading is usually done in silence – some of us even call it ‘silent reading.’ And exams, tests and quizzes are times of total, almost uncomfortable silence.

But silence can be much more than a means for classroom management.

In a world that is becoming increasingly noisy – constant internet access, smartphones that incessantly beep as we pray (it’s that new prayer-reminder app), music played ubiquitously as background noise, and then those humans and animals who make noise too – moments of silence and stillness become ever-important. It’s interesting that however present silence is in our classrooms, it is hardly considered for its value in and of itself. “Things are known by their opposites” (tuʿraf ul-ashyā’ bi ḍiddihā) reads a famous Arabic proverb. In pre-Islamic Arabia, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, would retreat for meditation, seeking respite from the preoccupations of Meccan society. We should consider facilitating moments of respite for our students: purposeful, focused, and guided silence becoming part of regular classroom practice will aid students increased sensory awareness and attention spans. More importantly, however, it will allow them to engage themselves, connect with their intentions, and help them learn to focus for silent devotional practices, such as prayer.

Silence might be quarantined to discussions about classroom-management, and learning to navigate the fast-paced, sense-exhilarating world may not be highlighted in most state or province-mandated curricula. Nevertheless, this year, as I plan for fun-filled activities that I hope will captivate, motivate, and enthrall, and as I preview the edu-tainment industry’s latest release, I’ll consider the number of opportunities I’ve facilitated for my students to engage in meaningful silence.

I need it just as much as my students.

Farooq Maseehuddin

About Farooq Maseehuddin

Farooq Maseehuddin is a teacher and resource developer for Sakinah Circle, an Edmonton Public School Board alternative program delivered from the Qur'anic worldview. He is an MEd. candidate at the University of Alberta with a research focus on alternative education and classical Islamic pedagogy.
Click here to read more posts by Farooq.

  1. I agree. Considering silence, and making time for such silence in our lives is important. Learning to manage and embrace such silence is a topic that would be very useful to explore within the school context. I am curious to see how it would be incorporated. What is the target of this silence? What makes it Islamically meaningful? Does it need to be managed by the teacher? How much scaffolding would we provide to make the use of such silence effective? How would teachers be able to judge effectiveness of the use of such strategies within the school curriculum? I would like to hear more. Jazaakallah khair for your post.

    • mashaAllah what an interesting topic – thanks to Farooq for raising it; and i love the questions you pose in response, Khadija! Farooq, you brought up the silence of retreat – and respite.
      I think this is a really really important larger concept that answers the question of what is the purpose of silence, what is “meaningful” silence. Retreating, reflecting, and remembering God are absolute necesseties of a spiritual life but we do not actually teach this in most Islamic schools. Silence is an attribute of the space we create for prayer – both the physical space and the mental space. This article picks up on this idea very succinctly and beautifully:
      There is a beautiful curriculum avaialble in the Arabic language, called “Tafakkur” (Contemplation) which is for kindergarten up to grade3 (with new years being added as they are developed. mashaAllah). One of the really neat activities in this program is having students create a prayer niche (mihrab) in the classroom – almost like a “centre” if we were to think about the classroom which has several different centres (corners, areas) – reading, math, etc. This is a place where students can go for individual quiet prayer time, and also where group dhikr and dua can be done – just like reading aloud as a class, one can definitely do worship together in the classroom and i have heard amazing stories about the incredible participation and beautiful results when teachers actually have done this with normally very rowdy classes.
      A final idea related to the concept of silence is the Hadith in which Sayyidna Muhammad sal Allahu alayhi wasalam said: As-samtu hikmah {Silence is wisdom}.
      We are always rewarding students for speaking up. We also should show that we value silence. Silence is absorbing what others are saying, and not jumping to be the centre of attention.
      This Hadith also can apply to communication skills. Silence is the key when trying to really control how one responds – and being able to be silent instead of replying instantly allows the response we do eventually give to be one of wisdom as opposed to one of reaction or reactiveness.
      We can apply this in lots of ways…and it can lead to a lot of great learning opportunities.

  2. Assalamoalikum! I remember one hadeeth which is relevant (mafhoom)., In Islamic sense, speaking something nicer is better than being quite and silence is better than saying something bad. I belive the solution is when to speak and when to be silent? But how to manage this in a classroom? or even outside classroom? We will solve so many challenges if we meditate on the above saying ……..

  3. Just heard a Ted lecture about “sound education”; a program focused improving the sounds around us in order to learn better. Classrooms can actually be traumatically loud for teachers and students. Interested in hearing more about this from you.

  4. this is a beautiful reminder and you are so right. in answer to your question: it is something we could teach students from the very first – the way that we normally teach classroom rules. but teach it of course in a loving manner. Children take much faster to such principles than adults do in fact, because they don’t have such habits as wanting to speak for the sake of speaking that have become hardened with years of being practiced. they are still young and fresh and receptive to such wisdom and teaching – this is what i have found when teaching them some very high principles from the Sunnah.

  5. Thank you all for your wonderful comments and questions.

    The literature and research on the value of incorporating silence into the classroom is growing; if people are interested, I’d be happy to share some of the literature I’ve found especially helpful. But in the meantime, I thought I’d provide an update on what’s happened in my class since I penned this post:

    Earlier this month, our class began spending the first few minutes after lunch in silence. We close eyes and seek a moment to decompress after a normally exhilarating (eating, running, playing, talking, laughing, etc) lunch time. Towards the end of the silence, I quietly ask students to engage with their thoughts and to connect with their intentions.

    Some students have been more receptive than others, but in the few weeks since we began the practice, I’ve noticed a different, more calm tone in the lessons that follow. I’m still learning how to lead the class through extended periods of silence, so I imagine it’s a little awkward for some of my students – they’ll be alright, though, insha’Allah, and I’ll (hopefully) get better at it.

  6. that is amazing mashaAllah. thank you for sharing this. how did you teach them about intentions and intention-making? i am trying to figure out the best way to do this with some students I am working with. Please share your experience and tips!

  7. That’s a great question, sk. I’ve borrowed parts of a dua and saying of Imam al-Haddad’s ( – the class has read and discussed much of the dua, but after lunch each day, at the end of our silence, we quietly read an adopted version:

    “I intend to teach and to learn/remind and be reminded/give and receive benefit/to calling to guidance/and guide to goodness.”

    It’s a verbal exercise that I’m hope resonates within each of my students.

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