This is a series of articles for the understanding of the history of centuries old Madrasah and Islamic Education System in South Asian perspective published in Muslims Weekly, New York, USA, in 18 articles of the weekly column “Personal Notes.”
First Published: Muslims Weekly, Issue No. 216, April 23, 2004
IF You think about Greece, your first thoughts are of its highly reputable philosophers. However, during the hey-day of these great thinkers, they were regarded as anything but philosophers. These philosophers had not received any respect from their own countrymen. The non-respect was also mutual: philosophers were dead-set against the excessive materialist culture that drove Greek culture. Greeks indulged in materialism, luxury, and pleasure. The philosophers were against such indulgences, and they criticized them in their works and discourses. The great thinkers sought to divert the society’s attention more towards realism and wisdom. Socrates initiated this movement. In the beginning, Socrates acted in the same manner as his fellow citizens. Suddenly he became enlightened and realized that humans are superior to materials; therefore, our main issue of concern should be with humans, not material wealth. After that, he coined the famous statement and idea, “Know Thyself.” This concept became the gist of his thoughts. It was a revolutionary slogan of the time that affected the life and thoughts of generations after generations. Based on his thoughts, the priorities of knowledge were established as following:
1. Knowledge of wisdom (metaphysics, morality, and education).
2. Knowledge of society (law, politics, and medicine).
3. Knowledge of material (science).
4. Knowledge of Industry, skills, arts, and crafts.
These priorities became implemented all over the world, including China, India, Arabia, and Iran.
When Islam came to Arabia, it revolutionized the entire education system. However, its sequence and priorities remained almost the same. This arrangement continued for almost 2,000 years after Socrates, until the sixteenth century, European Renaissance. During the Renaissance, the intellectual class changed the whole sequence. They had a different mindset and were not ready to accept anything that came from the Church. And it was supposed that everything rooted in the Church, was nonscientific, illogical, and systemically oppressive. Therefore, these methods and priorities of education of Socrates were changed only because the Church had the same system.
Frederick Herbert (1776-1834) claimed that there are only two types of knowledge: the knowledge of the human and the knowledge of nature, or of society and science. A French scholar Auguste Comte (1795-1857) went further and concluded that there was only one knowledge: the knowledge of observation and experimentation (materialism). These thoughts changed the Western trends that granted science priority number one in the modern system of education. The social science became inferior and religion and morality found no place in their system. This was the beginning of the decline in society.
When Western powers conquered Muslim lands through deception and conspiracy, they implemented the same materialistic education system there through further distortion and amendment, because they were in need of obedient soldiers, head-down clerks, thoughtless intellectuals, and conformist politicians. This education system is still protected, guarded, and implemented by the loyal and slavish rulers of the Muslim world.
Now, if the policy makers of Islamic education will do the same thing, and will establish the same priority, and will make the same mistakes and follow the same rules, then such a system is even more deplorable. Muslim resources, time, and money must not be wasted to establish the existing education system just in the name of education.
The division and priority of education is the most important issue in the Islamic education system.
1. Humans live in the material world and culture; everyone has to face and confront this environment. We must be resourceful and utilize all that is offered because Allah has given us the ability to do so. Our God-given intellect is to conduct research, inquiry, and observation. Mistakes in these fields have been corrected by most recent studies and information. After centuries of efforts, now we have enough available information to utilize it to benefit the humanity.
2. Another area is the human world itself. This is the world of internal human relationship. This is knowledge of human beings, the anthropology, the knowledge of social sciences. This is the field of intellect and mind. In comparison to lifeless atoms, the study of the human mind and behaviour is very complex. To study, research and have a definite and reliable conclusion of all the time-changing behavior of mind is extremely difficult. There are a series of actions and reactions, results and after results. Until now, in the field of social sciences, from all the collective knowledge of history, there are some facts, some visualization, and most are mere hypotheses.
3. The third area is the universe. There are several questions we face every day. What is the purpose of life? What is the function of the universe? What is the purpose of creations? What is life and death? Is there life after death? What is right and what is wrong? What is the truth and what is falsehood? What is the criterion of real success? These questions affect everyone; we all seek the answers. The rise and fall, success and failure of an individual, community, and the nation depend heavily on finding the answers to these questions. Human minds limited in space and time have failed to find the correct answers to all these questions.
With the mercy of the creator, Allah has given us intellect and enough wisdom to perceive reality in the first sphere. However, for the second and third sphere, He (ST) sent the prophets to guide the whole mankind. From Adam (AS) to Prophet Muhammad (SAW), there are two hundred twenty-four thousand prophets (according to a Hadith) that came to this earth. They brought the manuals (the books of guidance) to operate a very complex machinery of human beings and society.
Therefore, the Islamic education system should be very open for the first part of knowledge that is called acquired knowledge; i.e., “Maqoolat” (the terminology was used in Madrasahs). The information and knowledge acquired by any individual to make this life easy, fast, and comfortable are the property of all (“Every word of wisdom is the lost treasure of Muslims” -Hadith). The Islamic education system was very accommodative in this part of knowledge. However, in the second and third type of knowledge, Islamic education system was rigid and must be rigid like rock. The reason is that this is the knowledge given by the Creator through His messenger, and it must be protected in its letter and spirit. Muslims follow the last divine book, the Qur’an, because others are not available in its original form and were not protected. The Qur’an is the latest edition in the field of guidance and divinity. In every discipline of education, older editions become obsolete when they are replaced by a new edition based on latest information and research. However Muslims believe in all the prophets and have the belief they brought the same message as Muhammad (saw).
Based on these necessities and requirements, Islam established its own priorities of education under its different headings.
1. Farde Ain (mandatory for everybody). To know the purpose of life and faith are compulsory like the five daily prayers, fasting in the month of Ramadan, Zakat, and Haj (pilgrimage), etc. The portion of the guidance of knowledge is mandatory on everybody. Even a person who can’t read and write has to know this part by any means. Without this knowledge, a person can’t be fully human. For this education we have two books: the book of Allah and the book of the Prophet [Ahadith (sayings and practices of Prophet Muhammad) (SAW)].
This is the education of faith, prayers, behaviors with others, social etiquettes, and the cleaning of the heart and soul. This is the root knowledge. No tree can stand up without its root, and the deeper the root, the stronger will be the tree. Not acquiring this type of education is close to sin. Therefore, the Muslim society should focus and make it easy for all to acquire the education.
2. Farde Kifayaa (mandatory for most). This is the type of education for which most people in the Muslim society should always be available. It is the discipline of knowledge that helps to get the deeper knowledge of the guidance. The recitation, memorization of the Qur’an, the in-depth knowledge of Qur’an, Ahadith (sayings and deeds of the Prophet), Fiqah (Islamic laws), Arabic language, etc. come in this category.
Islam also makes that knowledge mandatory for some or most that helps to fulfill the responsibility of the khilafa (the state) because Islam doesn’t promote a monastery lifestyle. All knowledge that benefits the society --like business, industry, agriculture, medicine, science and technology-- will also come in this category.
3. Mustahsab (necessity). All the knowledge that helps to acquire knowledge of Fard-e-Ain and Fard-e-Kifayah, for example; language, grammar, mathematics, and computer, etc is Mustahsab
4. Mubah (not mandatory; not necessary). Harmless education is a Mubah. Examples are literature and light entertainment. However, whenever it is proven that any knowledge in this category weakens the first two parts of the education, this part will not be a Mubah but it will become a Makrooh.
5. Makrooh (not likable). This is the type of knowledge that is unfruitful and a waste of time. In Islam, wasting time is frowned upon. The devotion in this type of knowledge is harmful for the society; for example, the knowledge of “Nujoom,” astrology, palm reading, etc.
6. Haram (prohibited). Any knowledge is prohibited if it weakens the purpose of life, belief and good deeds, disorients from the goal, the unity of thought and action, pollutes the mind, and invites the fall of character.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) prayed, “ O Allah! I find protection of You from the knowledge that does not give any benefit.”