Throughout the month of Ramadan, which begins Friday, the Cattaneo children won’t have to worry about explaining to teachers and friends why they’re fasting every day.
That’s because they’re home-schooled, part of a growing trend among Muslim families.
“We wanted a more religious-based influence on our kids’ lives,” said Ismail Cattaneo, their father. “It’s the same reason the Christians have.”
Home-schooling is big in Virginia, especially in Loudoun County where the Home School Legal Defense Association is based at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville. And Patrick Henry — where I was a temporary adjunct journalism professor in 2001 — is a magnet for home-schooled kids.
I had been to a state home-schooling conference in Richmond in the late 1990s, but I hadn’t picked up much on which religions — other than Christianity — were getting into the act.
A lot of Muslims are fine with sending their kids to public schools, Mr. Cattaneo told me, but what encouraged him and his wife, Jean, to keep their children at home was the success Christian families were having.
“You hear of these Christians winning spelling bees and going to Harvard,” he said.
It’s not like they live in a Muslim bubble, said the couple when I visited their town house in Sterling last week. Their English tutor is Jewish; the family participates in Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Little League, and the kids play with Christian home-schoolers two doors down.
There are limits, however. The oldest son, Yusuf, 14, wanted to play on a local Christian home-schooling baseball team but he was asked to sign a statement affirming that Jesus is Lord, “which we can’t do,” the father explained.
Part of his passion for keeping the children nearby was his experiences growing up Muslim and attending public schools in Great Neck, N.Y.
“The majority of my friends were Jewish,” he says. “It was difficult to maintain your perspective.”
So yes, the family does break for midday prayers and there is a verse from the Koran over the living room mantel. The girls and their mom wear long pants and long sleeves even in broiling August weather in keeping with Islamic modesty requirements. Other than that, they share the same concerns other home-schoolers have, such as trying to find the right curricula for their family.
Possibly the best-known Islamic home-schooling materials come from the San Ramon, Calif.-based Kinza Academy, which embraces the classical approach to education popularized in medieval Europe. The Cattaneo family uses a secular curriculum supplemented by Koran lessons at a local private school.
Priscilla Martinez, a fellow Muslim who home-schools her six children in western Loudoun County, says the number of Muslim home-schoolers is “exploding” for several reasons, including more in-depth study and better academics than what’s available in full-time Islamic schools. She wrote a lengthy article in the January issue of Islamic Horizons magazine extolling the practice.
The Cattaneos estimate there are 10 Muslim home-schooling families in the Sterling-Ashburn-Herndon area.
The family reads the Koran together every day and Yusuf is already doing 11th-grade work, two years ahead of where he would be in public school. When I quizzed the children, they indicated they liked staying at home.
“I ask them if they want to go to [public] school, and they say no, we’re having a good time,” their father says.
• Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column is published Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.