Islamic School Pioneers: Dr. Freda Shamma
Dr. Freda Shamma, one of the early pioneers in Islamic education in North America, chatted with Shaza Khan and me about her work in the production of an Islamic curriculum for schools in the Western world.
Fawzia: Is your main focus literature? I loved your Treasury of Muslim Literature.
Freda: I really didn’t know anything about Muslim literature when I embarked on that project. I had only read the 1,001 Nights! It took 15 years of research and work, but alhamdulillah, that project has now been published.
Shaza: How did you start on the Islamic curriculum project?
Freda: Well, many years ago, in a chat with Dr. Tasneema Ghazi (IQRA co-founder), when she and her husband were working on their Mercy to Mankind books, I asked her why she was working only on the one period a day Islamic Studies lesson plans. She answered that Islamic schools were opening everywhere and they needed something right now. So I said, well, I will work on the one that will take a lifetime to complete.
Shaza: I admire your desire to do the hard work involved in an integrated curriculum. What other projects are you working on at this time?
Freda: A course on Islamic history. A homeschooling mother and her daughter asked me whether I could develop such an online course for them. There was none around. My philosophy has always been if something needs to be done, and no one else is doing it, then I’ll try. This was about three years ago. I just hope that the 5th grade boy I was writing this for will be able to take this course before he finishes high school!
Shaza: Can you tell us more about yourself? Where did you grow up? How did you get into the field of education?
Freda: I come from a family of teachers and principals. It’s no surprise then that since 1st Grade, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I was a good student, so by 4th Grade I would finish school work early and go down help out the kindergarten teacher.I grew up in a small town in Northern California, which was as racially insensitive as everywhere else in the country. I went to a Methodist church my whole life, and had no problem being Christian, except that I could not understand the Trinity. No one could ever explain it to me. In that sense, I was Muslim by the time I was ten.
I never met any Muslims till I went to graduate school. Until then the few I had a very negative opinion of Muslims based on the few I’d met. I took a few courses on monotheistic religions. Muslims were described as worshipping Mohammed.
At UC Berkeley, I met a lot of Muslims and started talking to them, just so I could convert them. They were surprised at my misinformation and suggested I read the Qur’an. I thought it was a good idea, especially since they said the Qur’an was the word of God. I read it and found nothing that I could use to disprove it. Then, I met my Egyptian husband and married him. Two years later, I realized I was Muslim.
In the meantime, I earned my MA in Educational Leadership and my Ed.D. in Curriculum Development. It was after becoming Muslim that I switched from thinking about education in general to thinking about education for Muslim children.
Fawzia: Tell us about your Foundation, ‘FADEL’.
Freda: It was in 1998 that I established FADEL (Foundation for the Advancement and Development of Education and Learning), in order to facilitate my work on the Islamic curriculum.
Shaza: You have had a strong relationship with ISLA for a very long time. How did it start?
Freda: In 1999, I went to an education conference hosted by MSA, which had been organized I think by Abdallah Idris in Kansas City. It was specific to Muslim educators. I don’t know if every school was invited to bring their principals, or how they did it. Few people were there. One lady got up and said, “We need to stop reinventing the wheel. Muslim educators need to share what we have learned. I want to start this group called the Islamic Schools League and have all the schools join in and share the information we have.” That lady was Karen Keyworth.