POINT|COUNTERPOINT: Global Islamic Guidelines for Education

In education, Islam, Quran on April 27, 2010 at 7:00 pm

This post is a result of a challenge given by Umer Toor over at his blog.

THE POINT: The Association for Childhood Education International, in collaboration with the World Organization for Early Childhood,  developed five premises in order to guide the structuring of the education delivery systems across the world. They are fueled by similar to initiatives by other world organizations, such as the UNESCO’s Education for All, are based around the idea of ensuring sensitive and intelligent education of children keeping with all that is rightfully due to them. (In order to read out the five premises, kindly proceed to Umer Toor’s.)

The Challenge: Umer Toor aspires towards “an educational model which be the Mercy for whole humanity“. He has given his readers a challenge to come up with 5-6 premises for education based on our religion. He prospectively calls these premises the Global Islamic Guidelines for Education. What I understand from all the givens of this challenge is:

  1. that the guidelines should be universally applicable, even in non-religious settings (hence global)
  2. and, that the guidelines must be firmly rooted in the holy traditions emanating from Allah’s Word and the Prophet’s Life.

(Right, Umer…?) Here is my meek attempt to meet the challenge. I have consulted only one source: The Qur’an. It is my belief that Al-Qur’an is COMPLETE in its base of knowledge (as, indeed, is certified by the Qur’an itself!*). All the world’s knowledges can be derived from it and return ultimately towards it when studied with true lack of  bias. I have kept to five premises and I try to present them in a meaningful order. May Allah accept my meek effort and enable all of us to institute the true Islamic vision in our homes and societies. Ameen.


Premise #1:

ذٰلِكَ الكِتٰبُ لا رَيبَ ۛ فيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِلمُتَّقينَ

I have already laid down the first premise in the above paragraph! The Truest source of knowledge is Qur’an. All knowledges derive from it and return to it.

هُوَ الَّذى أَنزَلَ عَلَيكَ الكِتٰبَ مِنهُ ءايٰتٌ مُحكَمٰتٌ

He it is who has bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, containing messages that are clear in and by themselves. [Aal-i-Imran, 7]

In contrast, the traditional worldly knowledges (sciences and humanities) are based on probabilities and uncertainties. I do not think I need to write much on this topic here;  any resource on the theory of science will reveal the essential ‘tentative’ property of the logic on which the castle of Science is raised. However, I once reflected on this topic by reference to quotes from Robert’s Pirsig’s book. The validities of all ideas and theories in science are only as long as the next contradicting research. Even the many conclusions which are firmly believed in at the public level, are based on research methods which provide ‘circumstantial’ evidence at best. [To elucidate this point I will have to describe in detail the distinctions between experimental and correlational evidences; but that is obviously beyond the scope of this post]. On the other hand, Allah’s call to believe in Him, His Prophets and His system of life and universe is tightly logical. His call rests on the means of observations (to support and verify His logic) that He points out amply throughout His Book. Indeed, this is what constitutes the next premise. Any other approach to education will lead to wayward,  contrary, and ‘apparent’ (skin-deep) progress in human lives rather than a true enlightenment of character.

Premise #2:

وَفِى الأَرضِ ءايٰتٌ لِلموقِنينَ﴿٢٠﴾ وَفى أَنفُسِكُم ۚ أَفَلا تُبصِرونَ

And for those with sure belief, there are signs the earth (20). And also in yourselves; Can you not see? (21) [Al-Dhaariyaat]

The whole Creation of Allah serves as the means of observation. The universe is like a web; you begin with any thread, any lead, and it leads you towards the Centre: God. Many specific ‘Signs of God’ are mentioned throughout the Qur’an. Examples can be traced to myriads of the popular academic fields of study such as astronomy, botany, embryology, psychology, geology and physics. Listing all the examples is clearly beyond the scope of the current post. Thus God’s call to the pondering mind encompasses all domains of knowledge that one may be inclined towards. This is in sharp contradiction to some very narrow-minded people who stereotype Islam as backwards and incapacious. Also, the premise indirectly emphasizes the richness, diversity and vastness in the scope of the learned person’s mind – a feature often missing in our worldly ‘specializers’. Now the question is, how and who can these diverse means serve best? The answer leads us to the next premise:

Premise #3: A devote mind, an open heart, and a readiness to acknowledge the truth are the prerequisites to benefit from the means of observation. This premise has been literally lifted from the following verse, though many elaborations of these ‘learner characteristics’ are distributed liberally throughout the Qur’an:

إِنَّ فى ذٰلِكَ لَذِكرىٰ لِمَن كانَ لَهُ قَلبٌ أَو أَلقَى السَّمعَ وَهُوَ شَهيدٌ

Authentic translation: Most surely there is a reminder in this (book) for him who has a heart or he gives ear and is a witness. [Sura Qaf, 37]

That learning cannot take place without proper attention and concentration is a very basic premise and a well-established research finding in psychology. The inclusion of ‘heart’ in the equation might emphasis the ‘with body and soul’ kind of earnest involvement of the learner. In a cliche, you can’t learn unless you really want to learn. In Islam, you can’t learn and benefit unless you really want to learn. The nexus of control here is clearly with the learner unlike the current traditions in educational psychology. The process of learning is not expected to be one-way, driven solely by teacher skills and talent. In fact, nearly a century of research on achievement spectacularly fails to consistently find any additional benefit of teach skillfulness beyond a basic influence**.

Placing emphasis on learner’s attitude also involves reinforcing values for proper and responsible behavior – a feature SO absent in the education systems around the world. The next premise is a further elaboration of this last para:

Premise #4:

Learning cannot take place unless the learner really values and (hence) respects the penultimate source of knowledge (the Creator) as well as the dispenser of learning: the teacher.

Apart from the multiple references through hadith, a direct Qur’anic reference to this premise may be traced to Sura Hujraat:

يٰأَيُّهَا الَّذينَ ءامَنوا لا تُقَدِّموا بَينَ يَدَىِ اللَّهِ وَرَسولِهِ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَميعٌ عَليمٌ ﴿١﴾ (1)

O you who believe! be not forward in the presence of Allah and His Apostle, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

يٰأَيُّهَا الَّذينَ ءامَنوا لا تَرفَعوا أَصوٰتَكُم فَوقَ صَوتِ النَّبِىِّ وَلا تَجهَروا لَهُ بِالقَولِ كَجَهرِ بَعضِكُم لِبَعضٍ أَن تَحبَطَ أَعمٰلُكُم وَأَنتُم لا تَشعُرونَ ﴿٢﴾ (2)

O you who believe! do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, and do not speak loud to him as you speak loud to one another, lest your deeds became null while you do not perceive.

These rulings directly override the presumptive arrogance of many present-day Students.

How can you expect to gain anything from someone you don’t deem worthy of deference and esteem? With respect come trust and confidence. Many ‘modern’ students lack these two qualities. They don’t trust their teacher (showing patience) when its they, out of their huge lack of exposure and experience in the world, are unable to make out something in the lesson. They become easily judgmental of teacher’s evaluation of their performance because they don’t respect enough to place confidence in the teacher’s discretions.

On the other hand, a truly lasting change in one’s repertoire of skills and attitudes (the true definition of learning on which psychologists also agree) cannot come about unless you first accept and honor the authority of the teacher.

In fact, the premise can be extended towards the means of observation as well. (Indeed, appropriate authentic references may be found in hadith.)  Trees, animals, earth, water, and all the other objects and resources in this world deserve the same treatment with dignity. It’s contradictory to learn your lessons about an object, or use it for other self-centered purposes while also wasting it, or abusing it in any manner otherwise.

The emphasis on this premise highlights that a truly Islamic system of education must have a single criterion to gauge its success: behavioral outcomes.

Premise #5:

إِنَّما يَخشَى اللَّهَ مِن عِبادِهِ العُلَمٰؤُا۟

Those of His servants only who are possessed of knowledge fear Allah [Fatir, 28]

يٰأَيُّهَا الَّذينَ ءامَنوا لِمَ تَقولونَ ما لا تَفعَلونَ

O you who believe! why do you say that which you do not do? [As-Saf, 2]

I feel that these two verses effectively summarize the essence of the fifth premise:

Learning is not meant to be theoretical. It must translate into a stable system of beliefs and behaviors in order to pass quality standards.

The purpose of sending the Qur’an and the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa aalihi wa sallam) was to reconstruct society, not to entertain or to philosophize.

The outcomes of  education are not meant to be seminars, conferences, and research-for-the-sake-of-research. Education serves a purpose and is useless without the purpose achieved. The specific outcomes expected of the true Student of Islam at the personal, interpersonal, spiritual (means in relation to God), societal, national (means the level of ummah), and international levels are manifold and, again, beyond the scope of this post. Summary In summary, a minimum of five premises, grounded in the authentic tradition of Islam, with universal applicability, might be:

  1. True knowledge cannot be based on changeable assumptions and tentative methodologies. It can only come from the Penultimate source of all things: The Almighty.
  2. Everything that is created by the Source can serve as an effective means of observation and vehicles for deriving knowledge.
  3. Learner’s role in the above exercise (point 2) is essential. Full and honest involvement of the learner’s psyche is needed for true learning to be gained.
  4. In the process, the dispenser of knowledge, i.e. the teacher, cannot be ignored. The learner cannot bypass or mistreat the teacher in the quest for knowledge. Otherwise, the outcome will merely be failure.
  5. Education is nothing without its purpose which is a noble character to which only humans (out of all creatures) can aspire. If knowledge does not result in firm and visible changes, the learner has failed to engage properly (or the teacher has failed in their duties).



* ما فَرَّطنا فِى الكِتٰبِ مِن شَيءٍ (We have not neglected anything in the book) [Al-An’am, 38]

** I’m lazy here. Search out the internet for any reviews on the topic by Hanushek. You will need a basic knowledge of the pertinent subjects, though. ____________________________________________________________

وَما تَوفيقى إِلّا بِاللَّهِ

  1. JazakAllah.

    Yes, you’re right. Please allow me time to reflect and share any comments. But, after a bird’s-eye-view, the only point missing is PROPHET who was sent as a vehicle for revelation to be revealed, as a teacher who taught book and wisdom and purified souls. But that’s just a preliminary remark.

    Apart from that I feel it is going to be very useful. JazakAllah.

  2. You will find the Prophet’s (SAW) mention in the fourth premise. You are right, I have not been explicit about the necessary obligation to follow the Prophet that can be easily derived from the Quran. However, the reference verse mentioned in that premise leads to the same conclusion.

  3. I am sorry I totally missed it. I yet have to read fully your awesome post Masha Allah.

    I love all premises, especially one about about the relationship or identity of useful knowledge that leads to fear of Allah. That would form basis of the curriculum.

  4. These premises are not meant to be comprehensive/exhaustive; neither am I capable of that, not being a scholar. Whichever way, the praise is Allah who has made His Word complete in every fashion. The beauty of these Qur’an derived premises is that they provide such objective means of assessing the success of the learning process. I strongly feel that we should come up with an organized list of the character traits listed in the Qur
    an that Allah expects from all of us. I feel similarly about all the Signs (ayahs) mentioned in the Quran to which people of all ages and eons can look for benefit.

  5. Really helpful! JazakAllah for sharing this!

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