The Fruits of Unschooling: Better a Misunderstood Misfit, Than a Cultural Conformist

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

What does being a niqabi, an unschooling parent, living in culturally-rigid Pakistan, not being able to people-please and sweet-talk my way into and out of superficial, culturally-enforced social conversations, and being a work-from-home, freelancing housewife make a woman?

Answer: a Majorly Misunderstood Misfit.

But, in order to answer this question in further detail, let me first describe how I bid adieu to some of the most time-wasting activities and pastimes that most local women my age usually embrace as lifestyle habits in order to while away their time and pass it a little less boringly than usual, in order to become more focused, more productive, more committed, and less ignorant than I could have become, had I followed the “normal” route in life.

However, for starters, you might want to try to imagine — for even a few seconds — what it must feel like to be in my shoes.

I am a misfit even among the local (and growing) homeschooling community in Karachi, because I unschool my 3 children, which is a rarer and more radical form of homeschooling.

Choosing this homeschooling model means that I am raising my children extremely unconventionally, and that we — as a family — have broken perhaps every norm in the book regarding the common methods that people around us use to raise and parent children.

But first, let me describe just why and how I feel like a total misfit among the local ladies’ social circles.

The Housewives

You can first start by trying to imagine me sitting among local “aunties” at a social gathering. Ladies who are stay-at-home housewives (and I still consider myself one) do not really understand me anymore, because I do not spend my time, raise my children, or manage my home the way they do.

I mean, our residence is more akin to a massive studio-cum-office workspace and ‘youth center’ of sorts, with the children’s ongoing and work-in-progress activities and projects scattered around everywhere. We do not have a “drawing room” (family room, or ‘parlor’ as it was known in the past) setup anymore, because I do not entertain guests (as I’ve already blogged). My own room is half a home-office, as my desk with my Mac is there, in addition to my journals and other writer’s paraphernalia.

Furthermore, we are quite an unorthodox Pakistani family in other ways, e.g. we do not bond by watching TV dramas or cricket matches together, the way local families almost ‘religiously’ do. We do not feel “connected” in joint-family setups; in fact, mixed gatherings where lame jokes, cricket matches (again!), the latest terrorist attacks, and Pakistani-politician-bashing are the major topics of conversation, make us feel downright awkward and uncomfortable.

Then, we have an unorthodox money mindset. E.g. we do not shop in bulk for groceries (with cooking oil and packets of flour topping the list, and tipping the shopping cart). We buy pret (I do not have a tailor). We use air conditioners at home during the sweltering summer months, the way offices do for their employed professionals, and malls do for their customers, as we believe that the use of these machines increases our productivity at home, maintains our mental and physical health, improves our quality of life, and makes us less irritable and easier to get along with. I cook only when I want to, as we love eating out as a family (and that is no secret, is it? In fact, my Instagram feed is actually my exclusive online ‘foodie’ photo diary); we regard picking a new eatery as part of a fun family excursion that we usually combine with our almost daily errand run. And we do some of our shopping online as well, through apps and other websites.

In addition, living as a nuclear family means we have many errands to run, so our children come along with us, as we do not rely on relatives or full-time domestic help for babysitting. It is a win-win for us and them, as they get to have an interesting outing, and learn practical life skills at the same time, while we get our chores done, and enjoy new types of food. Almost uncannily, the more we eat out, the more clean and upscale eateries (run by educated people) are cropping up everywhere nearby, and the more varieties of affordable, hygienically-prepared and delicious food is now available, almost like a Divine sign from above. Who knows?! 🙂

Such as Khowsuey, one of  my faves! Ah!

So, just imagine how well I must gel in with other housewives, whether those who are my age, or older aunties. Unlike them, I do not rant about my latest conflict with my maid (I have a part-time maid, though, who comes just to clean, a few times a week. She’s in and out in a jiffy), the latest recipe I tried (and believe me, I do try a lot), or my children’s school-related issues (thankfully, for us, — no school means, no worries).

I do not go on about which fabric I just bought and from where, and which outfit I just got tailored (even though, like I said, I buy local pret a lot, because I need clothes to wear(!), but getting my clothes tailored by interacting with a non-mahrum man drenched in sweat and clad in a smelly vest, just makes me downright uncomfortable).

Plus, I do not watch the over-the-top Pakistani dramas that many housewives are glued to, although I have tried to watch a couple of the famous ones online, just to see what the hype was about, and got really turned off by their bizarre and pathetically misogynistic story-lines and plots.

Add to that my penchant for upfront honesty, my utter lack of two-facedness and hypocrisy, and my inability to lie, sport a fake smile, or put on a poker face, and you can well imagine how ‘comfortable’ I must be when sitting among young and old local ‘aunties’ as they go on about recipes, maids, TV dramas, weddings, and their children’s schools.

The only thing I have done well, in the eyes of older housewives, is to get married and pop out three children. They have given me full marks in that exam, especially since one of these children is the obligatory aulad-e-nareena (male child): my supposed burhapay ka sahara (support in old age), i.e. in their eyes.

But the problem starts as soon as they meet my children, and then ask me, “So, which school do they go to?”, expecting to hear ‘Reflections’, ‘Intellect’, or ‘Generations’ in reply.

The conversation takes a major downhill nosedive from that point onward. I am so used to getting stares of accusatory disbelief once I answer their question, that it’s not even funny any more.

At that point, I just become quiet, or get up and leave their company, because I know from past experience (ever since I started homeschooling, 6 years ago) that, trying to make local ‘aunties’ grasp any alternative concept related to parenting and schooling, or to actually read something even remotely related to scholarly analyses and research, is like asking them to not make new clothes every month, or to not suspect their maid of stealing as soon as something goes amiss in their house:

Yup, that’s right. Downright impossible.

The Swanky Career Ladies a.k.a Working Women

Again, let me start by saying that, I am a work-from-home woman, too, myself. And, at this point in my life, I do also have a rewarding career, alhamdulillah. I work from home round-the-clock, but my time is managed intricately in order to achieve an optimum balance between work and family, all by the grace and guidance of Allah.

However, any working women that I come even close to interacting with socially, take one look at 3 things that they first notice or find out about me, and run the other way before I can even say, “Assalam…..” to them.

And these 3 things are: my attire in public (viz. the niqab and burka), my 3 children, and the fact that I am homeschooling them i.e. I have three young ones at home with me all day.

They do not stay long enough to even greet me beyond their first observation of these 3 things, before taking a full 180 degree about-turn and whizzing off at the speed of light.

You see, most of them are either happily single (i.e. not married, out of choice), or they are married and working at full-time careers, meaning, they willingly and habitually leave their children (if any) in the care of in-laws and maids while they go to work (and this category includes the religiously practicing working women as well).

The households of married working ladies run like clockwork on the oil provided by domestic or familial help, without which they would not be able to pursue their careers i.e. the help of relatives or hired employees (or a combination of both), who take care of their domestic chores and maternal duties in their absence.

Be they married or single, these working ladies judge me perhaps even more quickly and harshly than I judge them. And yes, let’s admit that we all tend to judge others’ choices, at least inwardly.

They assume that I would not know the first thing about employment, office work, entrepreneurship, freelancing, meeting deadlines, running a business, managing projects, delegating tasks to subordinates, professional networking, corporate culture, online business literature such as Forbes/BusinessInsider/Entrepreneur, or anything else related to professional careers i.e. anything outside the realms of marriage, parenting, and homemaking.

The single working ladies have other tell-tale lifestyle habits that they pursue in their spare time, which they again assume I would not know the least bit about: they usually love to “gym” (used as a verb here) — whilst investing in the requisite branded attire and diet regimens that come along with the “gymming” lifestyle; they eat carefully calibrated gourmet food to maintain their “gymmed” figures (and therefore, have a network of professional trainers, bakers, and chefs in their social circle), and consequently, they eat out only at expensive gourmet cafes; they shop for high-end brands at international stores (well, they can afford them), and they travel abroad often with their colleagues or friends, at least a few times a year, in order to burn off the accumulated stress of their office lives.

One look at my attire, my 3 children, and the word “homeschooling”, and they assume that I would not know the least thing about any of their occupations or interests. So they avoid even making eye contact with me, much less a half-hearted attempt at any kind of tepid conversation.

So, scratch these ladies off my social circle as well. 🙂 They roll their eyes at how obsessed I am with focusing on raising my children, that I have chosen to take a route that no one even even understands, much less accepts.

Get over it, Ma’am. Even cows rear their calves. It’s not a big deal!”, their eyes seem to say to me. If there is ever any accidental eye contact at all, that is.

As for the religious workaholics, they say that “Allah” is raising their children in their daily absence from home. And I have personally seen how “Allah” has (allegedly) raised the children of some of them over the past 14 years, as these children went from age 6 to age 20 right in front of my eyes.

And let’s just say: no further comment. It’s just that we all should try not to say things about Allah that we should not be saying.

But wait, no judgments — remember?

The Family

As for my extended family, well, let’s just say that currently, it is complicated.

For now, I have – rather, controversially and very ‘offensively’ – scratched off any cultural or social activity from my calendar that is not obligatory upon me in the light of Islam. I have had a couple of advice-seeking conversations with qualified mufti’s of the local Darul Uloom about this particular issue.

You can perhaps imagine how that one must have gone down! I live in Pakistan, after all.

You see, in Pakistani culture, any man occupying a socially honorable post, — such as a judge, senior government employee, or a busy doctor — can miss any and every social activity in the extended family (including dinners, weddings, or even funerals), because — well — he or she is a judge/governor/doctor, after all. Their professional work hours, commitments, and their exciting conferences, are absolutely obligatory for them to attend, right?

But, a homeschooling housewife who stays at home all day? Why can’t she attend a wedding or a boring dinner, just to make small talk, answer aunties’ invasive questions, and discuss mundane things (likes clothes and recipes)?

What’s the big deal?

Who does she think she is? A working woman?

Wait — does she work from home? If so, what job does she have? And more importantly, how much does it pay? 🙂 LOL.

A More Productive Lifestyle Due to Unschooling

I have so much to say that I do not know where to begin.

Just the following points:

☞ My children are growing up faster than I planned. Unschooling throws wonderful surprises at you that you did not even expect. I have been absolutely amazed at how things have turned out.

I feel somewhat like that fictional scientist in a lab, who tried out an experimental formula that he believed would work, only to see it succeed at a greater level, and to show more powerful and overwhelming results than he had expected. Consequently, that scientist is now scrambling and flurrying about in an attempt to manage and handle the overblown results of their successful experiment, all the while feeling a little dazed with shock and flabbergasted.

☞ My children do not like me discussing their progress, strengths, or weaknesses with others. Rightfully so. They do sometimes want me to show off their projects, however, but I do not do that yet. And here is why:

☞ Currently  I want my children’s skills and talents to still remain hidden from public view. I do not want the fitnah (temptation) of fame to come near them in an age where narcissism through social media has tempted, affected, misled, and harmed even the most righteous and Allah-fearing ones among us.

I want them to grow older without being fully aware of just how talented and unique they are. I will protect them like this for as long as I can, insha’Allah, so do not try to challenge me.

Yes, that is a threat, coming from a protective mother’s sincere heart and tongue.

☞ Consequently, we are extremely selective of who gets to enjoy our children’s company. Extremely selective. See? I used the word “extreme” myself, so go ahead, call me an “extremist”. As if I care any more what label gets attached to me. Did I mention that I am already a majorly misunderstood misfit?

Our children are at an age now, in which company of others has a profound effect. As does the mentorship of an older person.

Hence, the requisite boundaries have been set in place.

☞ If you desire to gain any (or more) access to my children’s company, you will have to observe some basic rules. Here is a list:

– First, prove your truthfulness and your sincerity, to them and to me (their mother), since I am their primary guardian right now. If, in the past, you have said something negative about me to them (or to my husband, in my absence), then you are not regarded by me as sincere, unless proven otherwise.

– Do not try to pry private information about our home life out of them as soon as my back is turned. Please do not use them as information agents. #SoLame

– Do not try to gauge or test their academic skills. Primarily: reading, writing, and the over-rated math. Academics is not a priority for us at the moment, in case that was not already clear?

All the more power to you and your kids for being able to write essays, fiction stories, and poetry, though (and for solving complex mathematics problems on paper). Might as well enjoy it while it lasts, because in adult life, hardly anyone besides creative writers and teachers do that. And the former do it because they love to, not because their teacher or tutor has ordered them to, or because they want those elusive good grades.

Real life professions are all about drafting emails, articles and reports. Curating original content. Creating and building something of value. Providing unique services that fulfill the changing/new needs of people.

Besides, we all have calculators in our phones now. 🙂 Machines are taking over and doing more work for us than ever before, saving us time and energy to do what makes humans superior to them: innovate, generate new ideas, invent, troubleshoot, build, create, and solve problems.

But, go ahead, you can ignore what I just said, and let your child do complex mathematical problems for hours, sometimes maybe in tears of frustration.

What would I know about professional best practices and ethics, anyway?

Am I a professional?

– Do not force my children to eat or drink something they do not want to, or are not allowed to.

– Do not judge them for their attire, either in a good way (Oh wow! You are wearing ______ [brand label]!”), or in a bad way (“Why do you wear hijab when its not even obligatory upon you yet?” “Why don’t you wear this and not that?”)

My kids might return the favor and in return, question you why you allow your (or your child’s) unseemly behind to show its wiggly and jiggly shape in those tight trousers and short shirts, as you’re a Muslim and that’s not modest – according to their Islamic standards.

So, dish out what you can take.

– Do not compare them to other children their age.

– Do not invite them to watch television, or videos & photos on your phone/device, unless it is something you know I would approve of.

– Do not try to photograph or videotape them.

– When you give them gifts or money directly, we let them avail them in a way that we deem suitable. Nevertheless, we hold the authority vested from above, to remove any item from their possession. Please keep that in mind.

– My younger daughter’s name is “Amatullah”. You can practice pronouncing her name by listening to the audio of it here, and really, it is not that difficult to pronounce.

Her name is not “Amat”, or “Amtul”, and she does not have a nickname. If you still insist on calling her by some meaningless word other than her true name, it could be that — in time, when she is older, — she might not respond to you.

If people around the world can pronounce the name Anastasia (you probably know what load-of-trash novel I am referring to, the one that made her character famous), and if native English speakers around the world today can successfully pronounce the Arabic name “Shakira“, I think that maybe you can also pronounce this female name that is most pleasing to Allah.

But for that, you will have to convince your unrelenting mind first, that her name is indeed credibly worthy as a female name, as it is of being pronounced properly. Try forcing yourself to adjust to her name, instead of distorting its original form and meaning to adapt it to the Pakistani language/dialect.

The name “Amatullah” has the best meaning: “female slave of Allah”. It is better than being named after a flower (Yasmine/Warda/Dalia/Zahra), an animal (Shaheena/Reem/Ghazala), or a physical object (Sadaf/Mashal/Kaukab/Najma/Sundus/Marjaan/Tasneem).

Please show her some respect.

If you will give me a sincere guarantee that the above rules will be followed, you may be given more access to our children’s company.

If not, then a salaam greeting and a brief meeting is all you will get.

☞ Here is another reason for my growing protectiveness of my children:

In the last couple of years, we as a family, have noticed a growing phenomenon whenever we are out and about in public.

Whenever we go some place, and get seated or comfortable, after a while (around 15 to 20 minutes) the eyes and ears of those around us slowly begin to turn towards us. People point at our children discreetly, stare, and discuss them with each other in hushed voices. The gazes are fixated and admiring.

Our children definitely seem to cast a celebrity-type effect on random people (strangers). Henceforth, all people around them who observe them for more than a half hour or so, such as attendants, waiters, or salespeople, begin to shower extra respectful affection, attention and servitude towards them, sometimes even following them around.

This has happened so often and so much now, that it is getting difficult to ignore. It has happened in and around the two haramain (holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah), at malls, stores, supermarkets, airports, hospitals, and busy bazaars.

It has begun to really dawn upon me that there is something radically different about our children that people (strangers) notice immediately and admire.

I wish I knew what it is, exactly. I say this because, since our children are with me at home day in and day out (alhamdulillah), I do not know how or what it is that is so different about them that makes random people take so much notice of them in public.

All I know is, that they are different. In a good way.

And that is it.

Hence, the need (for me) to protect them even more.

☞ My time is flying. I literally do not know where my time goes. How and where the week just whizzes by.

In the past, I had heard of busy, on-call doctors taking catnaps here and there between their shifts. Like dozing off in a chair or sofa. Now, I am practically experiencing these naps myself. I try to be fast asleep by 11 p.m. at night, but even during the day, I need some extra, short snoozes.

My children’s unbridled creativity, energy, and intelligence comes with its demands, toll, and its price, not just its perks. My brain is taxed more as they grow older, ask me more in-depth questions, have longer conversations with me, and discuss issues in more detail.

It is fun. It is exhausting. It is rewarding. It is draining. It is uplifting. 🙂 And the cycle goes on.

My household now needs round-the-clock micromanagement, and this keeps me on my toes, because, like I said, we are unorthodox, and we do not delegate duties related to our home or children to any babysitters, relatives, or employees.

Besides everything else, entertainment and relaxation are also on our priority list. And these are also acquired through usually unorthodox ways.

Going for a ride on hand-crafted buggies on the sand at Sea View beach, for example.

It was a thrill to be driven by my son for the first time in my life, as my firstborn drove her father in another buggy. We had a lovely, squeal-filled race!

Such a milestone moment. Sigh.

The drop-tower at The Place was another such thrilling experience (it’s not for the faint-hearted! Don’t do it on a full stomach).

One day, I hope to camp out under the stars in the emerald-green Kashmir valley with my children, insha’Allah.

Life’s too short!

Better Alone, Fulfilled & Productive, Than a Superficial Socialite With an Average Life

You might have gotten the message by now that I am done with apologizing, explaining and justifying my decisions to a social system that is quick to condemn and slow to accept anyone who challenges the status quo.

I have too much to do, and life is passing by too fast.

I am different, so be it. Please accept it.

Unschooling my children turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened, but as much if not more so for me, than for them.

I have learned so much as a parent, and as a Muslim, since I started out on this journey.

With the Qur’an and sunnah as my guide, I realized that most of the pressures that not just children, but also we — as adults — face in society nowadays, are not obligations. That there are so many alternative routes to living productively and happily; to attaining fruition and success; to scaling new heights of growth as an individual.

And I realized that, though it is alright for the majority to seek out their roles in life and to achieve their personal definition of success through the customary and socially acceptable routes of formal schooling, degree education, stalemate marriages, and corporate jobs,– that it is also perfectly acceptable for an individual, especially a Muslim, to choose to do that particular kind of work/occupation in life which fulfills them the most, and to do it their way, as long as they are not doing anything to displease their Creator whilst pursuing their dreams.

For old-school, archaic-type parents who stick rigidly to outdated ideas and follow the advice of foolish and insincere people when making major decisions regarding their children’s future, instead of critically thinking about things in the light of the Qur’an, I have a few words of advice:

☞ Eventually, your child will live in a world, as an adult, where learning to acquire new skills and knowledge will be a vital component of success. If they won’t be able to quickly learn new things, they will probably find it tough to succeed.

I mean, if you are 45 years old right now, you probably remember the typewriter, and the shorthand (written language) that all secretaries had to learn as a vital job skill back in the 60’s-70’s, right? In those days, typewriting and shorthand were considered two essentials for any office job. This was even before computers, photo-copiers, and printers entered the scene.

And now? What exactly are the skills needed by a professional today, once they enter the globally-amalgamated, incessantly virtually-interconnected workplace?

With office walls crumbling away in face of digitization, can you even begin to imagine the kind of technology, devices, and skills that someone who is a 10-year-old boy/girl today, will probably need to have as a professional, once he or she is 35-45 years old?

With camera-ridden glasses and drones already a thing, we can only let our imaginations run wild when we envision the kind of dynamic future that awaits our children, 2-3 decades down the road, insha’Allah.

☞ Stick to your old-school thoughts and procedures all you want, but remember that the only thing that will be able to save your child from loss — both in this world and the Hereafter, — is the inextinguishable light and guidance of the Qur’an.

Having their core belief set (aqeedah) correct and firmly in place, entrenched imperishably in their psyche, heart, and moral conscience, and unaffected by trials and calamities (such as the Dajjal, for example) is more important for a child today, than whether they are writing English in cursive yet, or if their Urdu writing is still illegible at age 10.

If your child is already 10 years old, and the deep, reflective study of and daily close contact with the Qur’an — based on a pace and dosage that your child is comfortable with — is not part of your vision for their education yet, know that you are missing the very basic ingredient of the foundation of a Muslim’s success.

And just between you and me, I think that Urdu script (text) writing is a dying skill, and so is cursive handwriting — both are skills fast becoming redundant.

Doctor's prescription
A doctor’s prescription – courtesy

Debatable and sad, yes, but true? Probably.

Even the waiters at some local chai dhaba style restaurants are now taking orders on tablet devices!

You can ask your father or grandfather what he last wrote with his own hand in Urdu, and you’ll get the picture.

Even our Urdu-medium-educated elders have probably not written Urdu in a very long time, unless they teach the language, or have Urdu-medium students.

Lastly, if a neurosurgeon can write a prescription for his patient in a handwriting that makes a stranger wonder if the words were written by a child, then so can my 9-year-old!

☞ As an adult, your child will have access to multiple tools and technologies that will enable him or her to learn new things at a very fast pace, almost instantly (including handwriting — no kidding!). So, do not worry if your child has not yet mastered a skill that can be easily and quickly acquired later on, in their adult lives, through technological devices.

Worry a lot, however, if your child is using these devices right now (with your approval) — at a very young age — for engaging in time-wasting, useless, and futile pastimes, such as videos, games, and films.

Woe to all those parents who allow a device to become their child’s babysitter, even for 10 minutes!

☞ Stop using your children for social leverage and prestige! This really gets on my nerves. No wonder everyone thinks I am nuts for actually hiding my children’s achievements and accolades from others.

When you shower more love and approval on your child for doing something that saves your social face and gives you a boost of prestige in front of your relatives, neighbors, and colleagues, what message are you giving your child?

That your love and support is selfish & conditional, based on how good your child makes you look? That you will be nice and loving to them as long as they do things that will get you praise and recognition in society?

Is this how shallow a parent’s love and support is supposed to be?

What about when, by a certain age, your child (especially a daughter) has not been married, or another (especially a son) has not been gainfully employed at an impressive job designation, — and “people” (oh, the all-important people) are beginning to ask you questions about these supposedly “delayed” milestones, that are making you feel embarrassed and uncomfortable? What do you do then?

You get emotionally cold and aloof, don’t you, and start to put pressure on your child, right?

Shaadi karo!” (“Get married already!”)
Job dhoondo!” (“Find a job!”)
Promotion hui?” (“Did you get promoted yet?”)
“(Aik aur) Bacha paida karo!” (“Have a(nother) baby!”)
First position lao, taakay hum mithai baantain!” (“Get first position in class, so that we can distribute sweets to others!”)
Khud ko kuch banao. Humain sub kay saamnay zaleel mut karo!” (“Establish yourself as something! Don’t humiliate us in front of others.”)
Apni ye choti si gaari to change karo, hamari naak mut katwao!” (“At least change this small car of yours! Stop embarrassing us.”)
Apnay ghar ka kuch karo.” (“Do something about moving into a bigger home.”)

This is the taunting, disapproving, and pressurizing way to get our children to boost our own personal social prestige, isn’t it?

And we do this by questioning the decree of Allah, which might be taking its sweet time in coming, and by not being satisfied with the rate at which our progeny is making us shine in front of the already fickle world?

This is what we should do, right, instead of working humbly together with our children to grow and succeed together, — with sincere love and compassion?

This is why I am glad that we — as a family — have chosen a parenting model that abolishes the “social prestige” factor of culturally acceptable parenting, right from the start.

The one that pressurizes parents to have the right number of children, who have the right looks, the right educational degrees, the right marriages, the right jobs, the right homes, and the right cars, so that they can have the right kind of ego-boosting, bragging conversations with their peers over cups of tea and oily chicken biryani’s.

Learn to be polite but tight-lipped and firm with people when they ask you too many questions about your child’s progress and achievements, and do not give in to social pressure, because this will make your children grow up to also become people-pleasing slaves of the societal wave, going where ever the wind takes them.

And while you’re at it, stop bragging about your children’s achievements to make yourself look good. Analyze your intentions and keep them in check. Your job is to do your best to raise them well in order to please Allah, Who gave you these children in the first place; not to attain old age benefits/insurance, social leverage/prestige, or brownie points worth bragging about to give yourself an ego-boost.

☞ I am not available to give a full explanation of what my chosen homeschooling model is all about, at any impromptu time of the day, or in the midst of other situations.

At this point, after years of studying online literature and trial-and-error practical experience, I have read scores of articles online, and reflected upon many real-life situations (past and present) in the light of the Qur’an, in order to be able to unschool my children the way I am today. And I am still learning, growing, changing, adapting my style.

Many sincere and hopeful sisters think that it will take just one email or in-person meeting for me to explain to them what unschooling is all about. That just cannot happen. It is a very deep subject, requiring sincere study. Besides, the greatest hidden gem about unschooling is that it brings results according to each set of parents’ unique skills and talents.

So, really, you cannot even hope to bring about exactly the same results in your children, which another unschooling family has been able to do, in theirs.

This is an exclusive path that is largely uncertain, illuminating itself as you traverse it, and although the uncertainty does make a parent intermittently go through “Oh my God! What am I doing?” moments of self-doubt and apprehension, the unexpected and exponential rewards are more than enough to compensate.

This post will go on and on, if I do not stop now. I have still got a lot more to say (can you believe it?) but I will leave it here. I’ve ranted enough.

Time for one of those catnap snoozes that I mentioned above.

I need it!

25 thoughts on “The Fruits of Unschooling: Better a Misunderstood Misfit, Than a Cultural Conformist

  1. Assalamualykum dear sister. What a lovely article, Ma sha Allah! I pray to Allah that you are able to bring up your children in the best possible way pleasing to Him, and in the footsteps of Rasool Allah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam)! Ameen.

    And you are doing this for Allah, so He will guide you and reward you and I’m sure the children will go on to achieve great things, both in dunya and akhirah. Keep it up, you inspire me. Sometimes I wonder if I actually knew you, we’d really GET each other. 🙂

    1. عليكم السلام ورحمة الله محمودة
      Ameen to your gracious dua’s and jazakillah khairan. I pray the same for you.
      If you’re ever in Karachi, we could try meeting up. 🙂

  2. Loved reading this post! Much of it is what you told me in our conversation few days back. Masha Allah. I feel so happy for you – you are grounded. Oh so confident in your views. And achieving so much mash a Allah. And so much more that I feel right now but can’t quite put in words. Write a book isA on what you do. Your unschooling. Maybe people like me will be able to learn and adapt something from it.

    May Allah increase you. In everything. And I mean this ‘increase’ in the unending way that Allah uses it in that verse, ‘… If you are grateful, i will increase you…’. Ameen

    May Allah guide me too… For I feel so lost and aimless. May Allah guide me so I will not be of those who fail in the Hereafter in any way at all. Ameen 😥

    1. Your dua brought tears to my eyes- sigh – what a unique and beautiful dua to give to someone! Only when someone is sincere can they pray like this for another.

      I pray that Allah grants you all of His best blessings in both worlds. Ameen. Remember, in His book (decree), there is a time (اجل) for everything.

      Love you for the sake of Allah. 💕

  3. Jazakumullah khairan kaseera! Once again, you have written a wonderfully detailed and satisfyingly long post that is as encouraging as it is realistic. I want to take this opportunity to thank Allah and appreciate you for this blog and your books. (I have been following this blog’s updates via email and going through the archives at intervals for a number of years now. As for your books I have only read “Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage” and that too because I got to order it via Dawah Books and am waiting for an opportunity to get the ebooks. When I got the email notification for this post, I immediately cheered up and started looking forward to reading it.)
    It I were to describe the impact of your writing on me in a nutshell, I would say that it encouraged me greatly in the sense that I am not “abnormal” because of my preferences, choices and decisions, then the next level was major myth-busting and realization of basic truths, such as, just because auntie culture is the common option that women fall into upon entering practical life, doesn’t mean that I will inevitably turn into an auntie myself. (I am using the word “auntie” and “auntie culture” to refer to the tailors- and laces-obsessed, prejudiced and socially brutal women who don’t forgive you or accept you if you do not assimilate and become one of them.) And this post encourages me that I can choose and aim to be a “productive Muslim” and still keep my emotional and mental energy for meaningful things that I want to and must do, instead of using it all in defending and explaining myself against the auntie culture.
    We all have different battles that we allocate our energies to fight on a daily basis. Some people have the support and acceptance of immediate family in following the basics as in Salah on time (even when outside the house or travelling or having to interrupt an interesting discussion in a social gathering to do so), full hijab (without being challenged by immediate family that one lives with on a daily basis that “where is the word ‘burqa’ in Quran” [I don’t even wear a burqa, lol–it’s an abaya]), and so on and so forth. Sometimes when one is locked into a lifestyle that is full of exhausting battles, it appears as if it will remain this way always and it will never change. But reading your posts is like getting a warm smile and wise advice from the elder sister I never had. It certainly helps when someone who is a few stages/steps ahead of you in the progression of life advises you in a realistic and practical way.
    May Allah bless you, your children and your family with the best of this world and the hereafter, grant you the best of meetings with Himself and His Prophet s.a.w, and admit you to Jannat ul Firdaus.
    Alhamdulillah for Sadaf’s Space.
    P.S.: I looked up my name in the name pronunciation site and apparently it is classified under “English names”–I thought that was funny. And hearing how “Amatullah” is pronounced is very helpful. I have read the name online (usually given to characters in stories) but I used to wonder whether to draw out the beginning “A” or the following “m”. Now I know.

  4. Jazakillah khair, Iqra. 🙂 Ameen, and I pray the same for you.

    Your name is very much Arabic (the first word of Allah’s revelation (wahyee), and the title of a surah in the Qur’an, after all!). The pronunciation of my own name was not correct on the website, although Amatullah’s was.

    May this blog continue to be of benefit to you and others, by the will of Allah. 🙂 Ameen.

  5. MashaAllah dear sister,

    Baarakallah feeki for sharing your profound thoughts with so much confidence. I’m here smiling, laughing and loving your use of the term ”Majorly Misunderstood Misfit”. Glad tidings to the misfit insha Allah. Its good to be different, especially in today’s world of ‘copy and paste’!

    Praying Allah blesses all that you do and grant you children that will be among the most honourable of this Ummah, beyond what you imagine.

  6. Assalamoalaikum Sadaf,your article seems the voice of my heart,as I am also unschooling my five children.Alhamdolillah ,very happy and peaceful in every aspect.Your articles are the guidance for me.May Allah give you the best rewards for sharing your experience and success.

  7. Assalamoalaikum

    what a beautifull piece of writing masha Allah. reading it felt as if i am looking into a mirror 🙂 i guess everyone in todays world who wants to live their life according to Allah’s way faces the same kind of attitude from society, unfortunately.

    but it was nice to know that there are others around us whom we can relate to. my 11 year old daughter who was reading your article with me last night also thoroughly enjoyed it. especially where you described why you sew your own clothes 🙂

    keep up the good work, and i hope we will be able to meet one day and bond over being misunderstood misfits, insha Allah.


    1. عليكم السلام ورحمة الله
      I’m glad that you (and your daughter) enjoyed the post! 🙂

      To clarify, I do not sew my own clothes; rather, we purchase “pret” — readymade ladies’ garments sold by local stores (that have been becoming more affordable since some years, all praises to Allah).

      I’ve met some amazing new sisters through my writing/blog, and hope to continue to do so, insha’Allah.

      بارك الله فيكم

  8. Assalamoalaikum!
    Your article is beautiful. I am speechless as to your decision of not schooling you children but rather teaching them and raising them to be a great practicing Muslims Insha’Allah. I want and try to bring my son according to Qur’an and sunnah but get lost and clueless as to how I can do that. If you can help it will b very nice.

  9. Assalamu alaikum sister, may Allah bless all that you do.

    I had one question I wanted to clarify; you mention “I do not entertain guests” and then share a link with ahadith to honor one’s guest, with the disclaimers that the host should also be allowed to refuse when inconvenient. I didn’t read anywhere in that piece though, that you don’t entertain guests at your house. Could you please speak to that a bit more? Isn’t it a big part of our sunnah to be hospitable and invite and entertain guests?

    1. عليكم السلام ورحمة الله
      Indeed it is true that being hospitable and kind to guests is a great deed in Islam. We are obligated to honour our guests.

      That being said, we have to ensure that when guests come over or stay at our homes, none of the obligatory rules and restrictions of Islam are violated. When cultural traditions of the subcontinent of India/Pakistan undermine the edicts of Islam while entertaining guests, it could be that the host’s entertainment of guests could be adding to their sins instead of their good deeds.

      I will only say this much, that the repeated inappropriate behavior of guests at our home (despite sincere advice), and their deliberate undermining of the boundaries of Islam, made us take this step. As a consequence, during this (current) phase of my life, I’ve become a much more private and guarded person than I used to be.

      Please take a look at this past blog post of mine, for more insight into this topic.

      And Allah knows best.

  10. Assalamualikum Sadaf,
    Hope you are well. I just read some of your incisive articles on this blog as well as came across some of your latest books. I work with the Da’wah Books team, here in Karachi, and we only carry your first book on Marriage – Traversing the Highs and Lows. I would like to contact you privately for getting access to your other books. Please email us your details at
    Jazakallah Khair. I hope to hear from you soon.
    Hina S.

  11. Assalam u Alaikum.
    There are so many questions in my head right now that I’m unable to string words together. Is there any way I could have a conversation with you via email/in-person or whatever. There are so many things I would want to learn from a woman like you in today’s world MashaAllah.
    May Allah put barakah in whatever you are doing. Awestruck.

  12. Assalamoalaikum saying I have been for long wouldn’t really be right as I have been coming to your blog here and there. But now as an unschooling parent myself I can relate to your content more thn ever especially when I myself feel such left out your writing provides me strength.

    1. Wa alaikum ussalam, sister. I am glad my writings provide you support. Insha’Allah, after the life-changing year of 2020, unschoolers will receive more acceptance and understanding from those who have always followed the predictable, structured, and rigidly regimented traditional educational systems around the world.

  13. Assalamu’alaykum Sister Sadaf,
    That was an excellent post. I am a big fan of the unschooling culture as well and being an educationist I know that it is rather the best way to support child development and growth. As a parent, unfortunately, I have failed miserably in unschooling my own kids because – let’s just say – the Pakistani culture and lack of support from key family figures caused a lot of issues when I first pulled my kids out of school and defined the path that I wanted to take. I can see that you had written this post way back in 2016. I am wondering if you are still unschooling your kids and how that’s going? Is there any way to contact you and speak to you personally maybe via email?
    Sara Tariq

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