The Case for an Islamic School Counselor

“The Deen is sincere advice” – Prophet Muhammad ﷺ

When I was first hired on as the counselor at the Islamic School of San Diego (ISSD), I was excited to begin a career within the Muslim community. The fact that I was the first of my kind to come through the school was a slight issue, however, because it meant building a program from the ground up.

Based on the conversations I’ve had with numerous Islamic school staff and administrators, many teachers are also expected to serve as unofficial counselors for some of their time. It seems by doing so their already hefty list of duties has doubled with this added responsibility.

This is why I will attempt to make a case for my position in Islamic schools.

My background is a Masters of Social Work (MSW) with an emphasis in School Social Work, a field that is more psycho-therapeutically based than academic counseling. Often I am involved in working with students on an individual level, in small groups, or in classroom workshops on building social skills. In addition, I work closely with school administration as well as with teachers to promote appropriate behavioral expectations and to address discipline.

Together, we attempt to focus on instilling and encouraging positive behaviors, both on an individual and school wide level, rather than concentrate on punishment or consequences for negative behaviors. Viewing my job as preventatively and proactively geared has helped in this respect. (See for more information on positive behavioral supports and interventions)

Over the course of my time at the Islamic school I have also learned to develop and incorporate academic counseling to my assignments. This aspect includes assisting students to reach academic goals in order to maintain good academic standing and successful promotion to the next grade.

What is significantly extraordinary about my job, however, is the ability to instill the deep and beautiful message of Islam through examples from the Quran and Sunnah. I consider this a great opportunity as well as a great responsibility.

One component of this responsibility is that in order for my students buy in to excelling as Muslims and rising above the typical young person in terms of maintaining a positive Islamic identity, it is essential that I represent myself according to Islam and approach them with good regard and mercy.

Another component is ensuring that I fasten myself with the appropriate Islamic knowledge so that any time I may impart a related ayah from the Quran or a Hadith into a crisis counseling session or class workshop, I can do so with the intention of helping my students.

Insha’Allah, they will be able to come to the realization that our faith has instilled these values so many years ago and continues to hold us up to these values for our own benefit.

Our school is not perfect; we still address disciplinary issues on a regular basis. However, there is a great case to be made for a position that can serve as a support for directing Islamic schools in a positive direction.

Providing academic and social support and instilling essential religious values needed for a constructive Islamic identity in our students on a full-time basis are a few ways I’ve had the opportunity of doing so.

Ala Shehadeh

About Ala Shehadeh

Ala Shehadeh was the former counselor at the Islamic School of San Diego for four years, where she developed behavioral programs to aid students achieve success as young Muslims, both socially and academically. She is nearing the process of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and is also currently serving the local Muslim community in San Diego as a therapist intern and youth group coordinator.
Click here to read more posts by Ala.

  1. What a beautiful blogpost. I think you said it like it is. We do need support services in our schools. Also, the pbis has a good foundation and could also like the points you made be connected to Islam, if anyone is thinking of giving it a try. I am happy you shared this, it is refreshing. I just picked up my new ASCD journal from the mail and it is all about students who challenge us. There are many great articles there. With Islam, we have a foundation to lay that can last a lifetime, inshallah.

  2. That exactly what Islamic school needs, we have to make a link between Islam and the way we live, we have to teach student’s through counseling and character education how to deal with them selves and with other people and to achieve success,… etc all that is the spirit of Islam…

    I am very interested in these issues, because first I missed that part in my Islamic school when I was a student.,
    and second because I work now in an Islamic Character Education Company and that what it is about…

    • I’m interested in learning more about the Islamic Character Ed company you work for, it would be great to collaborate!

  3. Assalamoalikum!Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us. The Islamic part is most essential indeed. I think one of the biggest challenges for us is that we ourselves are not willing to present oursleves as “true models” as you also mentioned. Deen spreaded by the morals of our forefathers more than the swords. I would also like to add that we are also advised by our Prophet (SAWW) to make “istikahra” and “mashwara”. What does this mean? I thin this simply means that any muslim is a counselor by default, then the professionals need some fine tuning by tossing themselves to the schools. I belive we have a great package with us in terms of our deen. We just need to explore the right things and instill them and encourage oursleves and our sorrounding towards positive energy and enthusiasim. JazakALLAH for bringing this up. I think your job is all “hasanah” even though it is challenging at times. duas wassalmaoalikum

  4. As Salaamu Alaikum,
    When we really stop to reflect about the central goal of Islamic schools, what you do as a counselor is right there in the center. The reason we establish Islamic schools is so that students can develop a strong positive Islamic identity as they are educated. May your work be blessed.

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