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

Published by

Malick Elias

The vision of 'Vivaislam' is to provide a space for Muslim and non-Muslim activists to air their voices on how best to organise and manage their world. The aim is to focus upon recommending solutions to issues of social injustices, freedoms and citizenship facing predominantly Muslim and non-Muslim societies, rather than offering descriptions of problems. It is our hope that these voices will reach the echelons of power and influence.

2 thoughts on “Seeking the Islamic in Islamic Education”

  1. I enjoyed your article. It is a useful overseer of Panjwani’s article. I have read Panjwani’s article (that you’ve attached here), which is certainly interesting. His point about shifting the emphasis from ‘Islamic’ education from meaning ‘an education of Islam’ to ‘an education of Muslim understandings of Islam’ leads me to two points.

    First, it is reminiscent of Mohammad Arkoun’s project (amongst others) of wanting to deconstruct the whole Muslim tradition in the light of reason. He believes, following Ibn Rusd’s line of thought, that the truth that reason posits and the truth that Islam was attempting to posit lead in the same direction. The ‘light of reason’ that Arkoun outlines is, however, shaped by the Critical School of Postmodernist thought (the Deconstructionists et al of the Continental philosophers) – because Arkoun’s own concepts have been shaped by his context where this line of thinking was/is in vogue. The overall effort should not be entirely rubbished, however, as it may yield some interesting findings – but it should be seen for what it is. Any reader of Arkoun must also read Parvez Manzoor’s online article, ‘Responding to Mohammad Arkoun’ (see ).

    Secondly, using Douglass and Shaikh’s (2004) terminology – from the article featured in another of your posts, it seems to fit better in their ‘type 3’ category, “Education about Islam, which is usually an outsider’s view of what others perceive Islam to be.” (please refer to your post, ‘What is and What is Not Islamic Education?’:at .) The irony that one might want to ponder on, given this definition, is that though Arkoun is an ‘insider’ does his writing constitute that his analyses be placed ‘outside’ the tradition?

    1. Peace my brother, Peace,
      Thank you Arif for visiting the site and bothering to leave a comment. I can always rely upon you to give positive feedback or criticism. You have obviously spent a lot of time pontificating some of my articles on both sites. If you are not looking after a blog of your own why don’t you periodically write for this one? When you are ready just tell me and I will add you as an administrator. Your analysis of Arkoun I do agree with. I found Douglas and Shaikh’s work much more constructive than ‘the insider’ as you coined him. Panjwani’s article on the other hand emerges from a different intellectual tradition than that of Arkoun. That is my thinking. He, the former does make some useful points though, which is we sometimes may need to deconstruct the Islams contained in a range of Muslim traditions. Even though, to me, this is ideological mischief making. I am a Unitarian.
      Many thanks again and I await your reply to my offer.
      Assalamu ‘Alaikum to you and your family

Comments are closed.