How we got started
Many of us began the homeschooling adventure on our own, transforming our living rooms and dens into classrooms as we taught academics to our little ones, and additionally attending a weekly playdate with our fellow Muslim homeschoolers at a local park. Beginning to feel the effects of burn-out and realizing our growing need for community support, eight families decided to help one another by choosing to specialize in our fields of strength. We came together in 2003 to teach each other’s children Math, Language Arts, and History in one family’s home in Lafayette, California. Pooling resources, we hired outside instructors for Science, Quran, Arabic, P.E., Art, Carpentry, Sewing, and Hand-Drumming.
Over the years, our children flourished, beginning to view their teachers as ‘aunties’ and their friends as extended family. We saw each other through many ups and downs, bringing food and comfort to those of us who were ill, gifts and meals to those who had been recently blessed with a new baby, and prayers and support for those who found themselves in the midst of an unexpected crisis. We couldn’t imagine raising our children — or educating them — any other way.
Over time, more and more families began to show interest in our model, asking for a coveted spot in what was then known as ‘the Lafayette Co-op’. As it was, the group of 24 children in one home was already testing the limits of boundless generosity, so request after request had to be regretfully denied. In the spring of 2007, the group of original eight families decided to invite the greater community to a planning meeting in order to assess if there was enough interest in forming a new home-schooling co-operative on an independent piece of property devoted to the sole purpose of educating our children collectively. It was time to share this educational experience with others!
The response was heartening. Eighteen families participated in forming the first year of what became known as ILM (Inspired Learning for Muslims) Tree. We rented a gorgeous home on a private gated road, nestled back deep within the woods on a four acre property in Castro Valley. Children swung from large magnolia trees, caught crawdads in the creek, and ate their lunches on wooden decks while looking out at a dark, leafy forest. We taught our subjects in classrooms where deer were regularly spotted strolling outside the windows and sunlight streamed in through skylights and large picture windows.
Within a year, one of ILM Tree’s founders were in negotiations to purchase the 22-acre Deer Hill Ranch (now known as Sienna Ranch) in Lafayette, California, offering us a long term lease in this highly desirable neighborhood. The former ranchers’ home was spacious with many bedrooms and offices — perfect for us to educate our children in. It was in the Lamorinda area where there was an unfortunate dearth of Islamic schools, mosques, or community centers — perfect for us to introduce the welcoming locals to our beautiful religion. It was nestled among rolling hills and was home to a host of animals (a peacock, chicken, rooster, homing pigeons, bunnies, sheep, goats, horses, and a darling pony named Sugar) — perfect for our children to be a daily witness to the beauty of God’s creation in the world around them. With plenty of parking and easy access to two major freeways, it proved to be a gift from Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) for which we are forever grateful. Alhamdulillah. (All praises belong to God.) May He shower it with His mercy, protection, and pleasure. Ameen. (Amen.)