by Zafar Bangash (Book Review, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 6, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1442)
Dr. Hamza Aziz (edited): Imam Khomeini’s views on Academic Institutions and Academicians, Published by Jerrmein AbuShaba, Tehran, Iran. 2021. pp. 351.
Imam Khomeini is best known—and rightly so—as the leader who brought about the Islamic revolution that led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran. This alone is enough to secure him an honoured place in history. No Muslim leader in contemporary history has succeeded in establishing a successful model of Islamic governance except the late Imam. Yet, his was a multidimensional personality. It included his immense spirituality (irfan), his love of poetry as well as his profound understanding of what kind of transformation education ought to bring about in students.
In this book, Imam Khomeini’s views on Academic Institutions and Academicians, Dr. Hamza Aziz has compiled the Imam’s speeches spanning several decades. These relate to education, the role of teachers, professors and students and how the Howzeh (Islamic seminaries) and universities should be integrated to serve the people and society.
Dr. Hamza Aziz has rendered a valuable service to Muslims and Islam by compiling the Imam’s speeches into this book. Divided into eight sections, the author has highlighted the Imam’s speeches from the early 1960s when the US-backed Shah was in power to the years after the victory of the Islamic revolution.
What emerges from the Imam’s speeches is his profound understanding of the role of teachers, professors, and the true function of universities. The Imam had great respect for teachers, comparing their role to that of prophets.
In order to fully appreciate the Imam’s understanding of education, let us first recall that in all Muslim societies, education has been bifurcated. Religious education runs on a separate track from that of university education.
Further, religious education is confined to the study of largely traditional Islamic sciences while university education is entirely secular and based on the Western model. In fact, university education in most Muslim countries was imposed by the colonial powers for a specific purpose: to create brown replicas of the white man but instilling in them a deep sense of inferiority complex. The colonialists may have physically departed Muslim lands, but the system they imposed continues to produce cheap replicas of the West.
Western education has other peculiarities. It first undermines a student’s self-confidence and then forces him/her to become an automaton to serve as a cog in the huge wheel of capitalism. The role of education does not appear to be to develop enlightened minds to serve the broader interests of society, especially the masses, but to serve the interests of the capitalists. In the Muslim world, Western education also detaches students from their traditional societal values of honesty, decency and integrity. Universities, therefore, serve as breeding grounds for promoting Western ideas in traditional Muslim societies.
Prior to the Islamic revolution, Iran’s universities were hotbeds of intrigue and purveyors of Western values. Professors were so indoctrinated that they saw everything Western as representing progress and enlightenment and anything that was not Western was seen as regressive and backward. University graduates also looked down upon ordinary people with contempt and considered them inferior. This is still the case in most Muslim countries where the poor, less educated people are mistreated.
The Imam spoke about the poor quality of university education even before the Islamic revolution. In one of his speeches addressing Howzeh students in 1962, he asked what use were the universities if they could not produce doctors or engineers to carry out simple medical procedures or build roads and dams in the country? Foreigners had to be hired paying them exorbitant salaries to do such work. Soon after the Islamic revolution, the Imam ordered all universities shut down.
Experts in education were called upon to design new curriculum for universities. He instructed the academicians that they should integrate the Howzeh and university educational systems so that they work in harmony rather than as disjointed entities. The result has been an educational system that produces talent motivated to serve the country and the people.
Under the Shah’s Western-imposed educational system, Iran’s literacy rate was barely 50%. Since the Islamic revolution, the literacy rate has risen to 96%. Female literacy has also risen dramatically from 28% before the revolution to 90% in 2020. In some university faculties such as education and medicine, female students outnumber male students. Iran also has some of the most outstanding universities reserved exclusively for females.
In an address to female teachers from Dezful on June 11, 1979, the Imam told them: “The profession of teaching is similar to the mission of the Prophets. By virtue of being teachers, you have been entrusted with another noble task, the responsibility of which is as great as its nobleness. Your occupation deals with molding human beings. A teacher produces human beings just as the prophets did.” (p.3).
Islam lays great emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge. The very first words revealed to the noble Messenger (pbuh) were: “Read in the name of your Sustainer, who has created…” (96:01). Acquisition of knowledge, however, must be preceded by purification. The Imam’s advice was based on the noble Qur’an which tells us that Allah raised a Messenger to convey His messages and to purify the people and to teach them the Book [Qur’an] and wisdom (3:164, 62:02).
In his many speeches, the Imam also emphasized that all sciences should be moored to divine sciences that lead to tawhid (Oneness of God). “What Islam wants and aims for is that all the sciences, whether the natural sciences or the other ones, be moored to the divine sciences and to move on to tawhid. It wants every field of science to possess the aspect of divinity. That is to say that when we observe nature, when we observe the physical world and all the things that exist, we should perceive God in them.” (p.3).
The Imam addressed all segments of society pertaining to their role in society. From university professors, scientists, teachers (male and female) as well as students both at home and abroad, he had advice for them. He advised students and the young to respect the ulama that were the true inheritors of the Prophets (p.295). The Imam emphasized that it was the West that had polluted the minds of people against the ulama when in fact, they were the bulwark against alien ideas.
It was such sincere guidance that led to the creation of a bond of mutual respect between the Howzeh and the universities. Further, since the Islamic revolution, Iran has taken huge strides in the fields of science, medicine, technology and aerospace engineering. It is the synthesis of the two that has led to this most remarkable development.
This book based on the Imam’s speeches, offers unique guidance about how to bring about transformation in education that would produce sincere human beings to serve the best interests of their societies. Muslims everywhere will benefit immensely from this book.