Seeking the Islamic in Islamic Education

Education Theory Review

The attached article: “The Islamic in Islamic Education, Evaluating the Discourse” by Farid Panjwani is both thought provoking in parts, while at the same time a critique of the writer’s failure to transcend Contextualism and unwittingly subjugating himself to Existentialism. 

Panjwani began by critiquing perceived approaches of the illusive adjectival coinage: ‘Islamic Education.’ He challenged Muslim intellectuals who saw ‘Islamic Education,’ a divinely ordained system, as a replacement to man-made Western Education, which was perceived as degenerated and without values. He argued that those who held this approach, plausible in parts, based their critique exclusively upon Western sources which showed that the concerns about the decline in educational standards are the concerns of all, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and with reference to all societies not just in the West.
He also identified an apologist approach towards Islamic Education, by some writers who idealised the glorious age of Islam. They, he argued reflected backwardly to project forward along with Western achievements in science and technology the achievements of Muslims from the history of Islam.
He suggests a way forward. Firstly, an approach that compliments Islam as an ideal in the role of human agency in interpreting these ideals. ‘In other words there was a need to shift from ‘Islamic’ history to the history of Muslims’ – though, he admits that that approach can only be an ‘initial’ step and ‘not be sufficient for a thorough revision of the discourse.’ (p.6)
This suggestion is thought provoking because it can represent a dynamic paradigm shift in research methodology, which focuses upon how Islamic concepts, ideals and even institutions are interpreted and contextualised by Muslims rather than a search for the metaphysical or theoretical in ‘Islamic’ in Education. As he puts it: ‘If the question posed is, ‘What is the Islamic concept of knowledge?’ it can easily push one to seek a unified, unhistorical concept of knowledge in a unified, unhistorical notion of Islam.’ Further adding: ‘If the question is, How have Muslims understood knowledge?’ then we are likely to search for context-based answers that would show that since their earliest history, Muslims have had a healthy diversity of views with regard to this important epistemological issue.’ (p.8)
Now, although these arguments are compelling, I feel that the author is making a case for unrepresented voices, cultures and sects which are not heard within mainstream Islam. These statements might be seen as harsh and I may be accused of reading too much into the University ‘The Aga Khan University’ to which he belongs. However, it would be wrong to judge anyone on the basis of their intellectual inclinations. Yes, we know that the ‘Islamic’ in Education is a particular narrative or discourse on the world. We also know that the concept of ‘Tawheed’ (The Unity of God) superimposes itself upon Islamic thought and thinking. To me that means the highest ideals of ‘Justice’ to others it may mean something else. This is an epistemological deduction, which a century of Islamic scholarship have deduced from the Holy Quran – the Quran is the primary source of knowledge in Islam. How that is understood and made manifest by a host of Muslim cultures and peoples are valid questions and so I can agree that there can exist a range of  Islamic (or Muslim) conceptions of Education. The definitive question is, however, to what purpose is Islamic Education? To me the answer is clear: Restoring the balance between God in connection to human agency. That is manifested through social imagination of Believers in Islam of the meaning of Justice, Tawheed, and not anthropology. To what extent do Muslims behave justly, I guess that’s Panjwani point.

Click link to read copy of original article:

Malick Elias