Culture, Gender & Identity, Life

What being forced into going to Sunday school taught me

Don't talk to boys too much. It's okay to be friends but you shouldn't hang out with them alone.

For eleven years of my life, my Sunday mornings looked like this: wake up (usually an hour late), rush to get ready, drive fifteen minutes to our local mosque, and spend three hours sitting in a “classroom” learning about Islam.

Don’t get me wrong, I love coming to the mosque. The peace and serenity you feel while praying overpowers everything. I especially loved coming to Sunday school to hang out with my friends, which made learning fun. At least it did – up until four years ago when they all started to drop out.

But how many years does it take to master the history of the family of Muhammad? Just about ten, it turns out.

I used to adore coming to Sunday school. When I was five years old, nothing was more exciting than spending a couple of hours at the mosque with all my friends. I’d come home every Sunday with a new Surah to memorize and a lesson to do in my “Learning Islam” coloring book. I had perfect attendance and never missed a homework assignment, landing me on the honor roll for a solid nine out of eleven years.

But as I got older, the meaning of coming to Sunday school had shifted. Suddenly, everyone around me dreaded coming because it was a “waste of their time” or they had “more important stuff to do.” But did they really?

One by one, all my friends dropped out of Sunday school.

I felt so compelled to drop out, too. I mean, it didn’t count for anything and I could’ve been spending my time studying, right? But everyone in my community had been missing the fact that we were privileged to be able to come to a school like this, with teachers willing to teach us for fun.

I found that fact out the moment I decided to spend the last year of high school volunteering my weekends at the school.

It was amazing to see the institution from the other side. Turns out the teachers weren’t all that bad – their heart was in the right place, after all, and most of them were volunteers, too. Still, I can’t help but laugh when I remember some of the “advice” they tried to give us as they watched us grow up.

“Try to avoid listening to rap music,” they would tell us. “You’ll get too into the song and you’ll start dancing and singing along to the bad words.”

Or when they would try to get us to talk to them about boys or any other “problems” we were going through.

“Don’t talk to boys too much. It’s okay to be friends but you shouldn’t hang out with them alone,” they advised us. “And if a boy ever asks you out, tell him you’re a Muslim and that it’s not allowed in your religion/culture/life/existence.”

Or when they slightly hinted at sex during lectures and everyone acted like they had no idea what the teacher was talking about. My favorite line?

“Never ever let a boy touch you, it’s haram,” they said urgently. “Remember that. It can lead to death and other bad things.”

Okay, Sunday school. You got me there.