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.

Secularism in the Muslim World

by R. Hinkson and Malick Elias

(Originally written and published in 1999 for the Homeland Journal)

Can the organisation of the State and the integration of religious morals into public life be separated in the Muslim World? What are the prospects for a truly secular society in the Middle East and elsewhere and why will this question be a resounding issue, even for future generations?

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Accepting Western Education Development Aid: Weighing up the Pros and Cons

 Malick Elias
There has been much talk recently of education reforms in the people’s house of the new Egyptian parliament and of whether the government should continue to accept the conditional education aid of donor nations, such as the United States. The main trust of the argument was that the meagre subsidisation of US funding, which was conditional upon increasing the teaching of English was seen as intervention into the running of the affairs of the state. I do not see the objection as unhealthy, quite to the contrary, because this is the type of pull and tug that is needed to enable donor-receiving countries, especially Islamic nations to establish their identity in a world of nations. But, in an interdependent world is it always the case that the giving of aid is motivated by attempts to exert influence upon the donor receiving nations? Continue reading Accepting Western Education Development Aid: Weighing up the Pros and Cons

I heard the Call to Prayer Today

I live in between two mosques, but today was the first time I actually heard the adhaan or call to prayer as I sat lazily at the television watching the closing scenes of the children’s movie, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia.’ What I actually heard was:

Allah is of greater importance that what you are currently doing

Allah is of greater importance that what you are doing.

I testify that there is One God, who is Allah – the Mu’adhdhin cried in the first person and I too became conscious that I was testifying myself.

When he cried: Come to prayer, Come to Success, I felt that I was being invited to pray and by the time he recited the words : Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar again, I did not wait for him to say: There is no God, but Allah, for I was already engaged in the act of purification. I pray that I hear it this way tommorow.

Celebrate Reason within the Boundaries of Revelation

Abdullah Al-saber

How much do you know about the mechanics involved in our acquisition of thoughts and ideas? An insignificant question some may say, nevertheless, you the readers, are intensely engaged in this very process right now. This does not mean that most of us are cognizant of these processes and are able to define the rules within them, but what it does mean for certain, is that what you are reading makes sense to you because of them. Without these rules existing as constants in the cosmos, none of us could ever obtain knowledge of anything.

The Qur’an informs us: I have only created Jinns and men, that they may worship Me. (Dhariyat: 51:56) In this context, the word worship infers the process of reason, since through reasoning we can attain a conscious awareness of God; is it possible to worship that which you have no knowledge of?

There are some Muslims, however, that are convinced that reason has no place in their worldview. My reply is this, how then can you explain the following statement, there’s no god except God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God, especially to non-Muslims without using reason? It is as a consequence of the ability to reason that Mankind has been able to discover some of these invariables and because of them, they have been able to achieve things previously deemed impossible; such as the ability to leave the Earth’s atmosphere and enter into the mysterious realm of space.

Today, there are those who are deeply engrossed in subjective experience rather than objective truth. This has resulted in experiential feelings and notions of the individual. The existentialists believe that the ‘ego’ alone should define what reality is, in a relative way no doubt, ignoring the very laws that they have used to defend their own subjectivity.

Unfortunately, the Muslim world does not produce Muslim philosophers anymore as philosophy as opposed to theology, has been reduced to mimicry, by certain religious groups. Philosophy, derived from the old French word filosofie, the Latin philosophia, the Greek philosophia “love of knowledge, wisdom,” from philo “loving” philo+sophia “knowledge, wisdom,” from sophis “wise, learned,” has been ridiculed by some Muslims as a subject that should not be meddled with, if one is faithful to pure Islamic beliefs or Aqaa’id. To the contrary there is nothing to be apprehensive about the subject once one understands that Philosophy did provide many great Muslims thinkers of the past, such as Ibn Miskawayh, Ibn al-Haytham, Ibn Sina, the famous Imam al-Ghazali and Ibn Rushd with a set of analytical tools by which questions about the nature of God and the meaning of life could be asked and explored. Of course, history informs us of the pantheistic nature of ‘Greek Philosophy’, however, this does not mean that one should condemn the subject of  ‘Philosophy,’ because of its origin or its ability to shed light on the nature of a monotheistic deity. Knowledge is the possession of no one but Allah. Its application therefore, depends on the context and the questions asked, hence these issues are arguably reducible to question of semantics.

When people think of philosophers they usually think of Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato engrossed in speculative thinking, however, mere speculation is not what is meant here when God says in the Qur’an: “This is a communication to be transmitted to mankind so that they can be warned by it and so that they will know that He is One God and so that people of intelligence will pay heed”. (Ibrahim:14:52) Isn’t it true to say that every Muslim, for example, who preaches Islam is a kind of theologian/philosopher, or least should be? Albeit, many may be substandard practitioners and afraid to think outside ‘the box’, they are nevertheless, minor philosophers in their own right.
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