What is and What is Not Islamic Education

It makes sense to understand “Islamic Education” as an ever evolving phenomena not belonging exclusively to any period in time or moment of enlightenment. Much of what we now know Islamic Education to be began with the divine command ‘to read’. Now one can apply a range of epistemologies when deconstructing what that command may have meant or indeed means. We have the knowledge of the giver of the revelation, Allah (SWT) Himself and what was indeed intended by the command to His servant to read. There is also the receiver of the Revelation itself, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and his understanding both at the point of first contact and at a later stage as to what that command may have meant; and at the same time not ignoring his pre-revelation state. That is, if we do value the notion that Allah is involved in the shaping of our lives before scriptural guidance. Then there are we, the timeless reader and the perspectives we acquire through received knowledge and personal understanding over time as to the meaning, purpose and significance of that command – to read. Now all of these perceptions combined: the inaction of necessarily knowing or act acquiring knowledge and or evolving understanding all encompasses the meaning of education itself. Won’t you agree?

I often wondered what Prophet Muhammad did think, knowing that he was illiterate at the point of being urged on by the Angel Gabriel, ‘to read.’ Did he think that he was being asked the impossible – to read – or did he assume that the reading of a text was involved? Did Gabriel appear with scrolls in hand that led him to believe that he had to read them? Or was he simply being asked to recite that which Gabriel was about to read to him? But why according to hadith reports was so much strain and tension placed upon the Prophet ‘to read’ when it could have been much easier for Gabriel to state what he wanted him to recite and then command him to follow in recitation? This begs another question: what was the point of the command itself? What I did conclude from the many questions which were raised in attempting to understand the meaning and essence of education from within the bounds of the first utterances of revelation itself was much simpler; that the Prophet was being commanded to read the narrative of his life, past, the present and future from within a new discourse and way of viewing the world, one which was based upon Tawheed.

“Read in the name of your Lord who created. Created mankind from a clot of congealed blood. Read, for your Lord is most Generous. He is the one, who taught the use of the pen. Taught humans that which they knew not.” 1-5:96

This, in the broadest of senses underpins what was meant to be ‘Islamic’ about Education and what set into motion the evolution of Islamic Education as distinct from other forms of Education, ways of knowing and imagining the world and beyond. The correct understanding of this command enshrines the purpose and legacy of Islamic Education, which remains constant throughout the annuls of time, the linking of humans with their Creator. Islamic Education therefore espouses a unique approach towards reading the narrative of life on earth. In the forthcoming issues we will explore what has become of this unique characteristic of Islamic Education and ask whether Islamic Education is in need of reform or rediscovery.