'Islamic Education: A Part of the Problem or the Solution?' - Live Dialogue

Developing Just Leadership

Yusuf Progler

Dhu al-Qa'dah 17, 1426 2005-12-19

by Yusuf Progler

Session Details

Guest Name

Professor Yusuf Progler


Academician, historian & political ecologist, writer


Islamic Education: A Part of the Problem or the Solution?


Monday,Dec 19 ,2005


From... 08:45...To... 15:00
From... 05:45...To...12:00


Muna - United Arab Emirates




As salamu `alaykum,

Does Islamic education give the Western students a clear idea about what is Islam and what it means to be Muslim? And how does the curriculums in Islamic schools differ to the curriculi in other western schools.


The first part of your question assumes that what you are calling Western students will be attending Islamic schools. While this might happen from time to time, I am not sure how wide spread it is.

There is also a problem between dichotomizing between Islamic and Western, since many Muslims, for all intents and purposes, are following the modern Western lifestyle, including in their expections of what purpose schools should serve. So, is it the job of an Islamic school to teach Islamic to non-Muslims?

I'm not sure about that, and there is a fair amount of discussion on the role of Islamic schools in the West on the issue of da'wah and their relationship to other communities. You can find some interesting articles on this page: http://www.islamfortoday.com/schools.htm

As for your second question, I think it is difficult to lump together all Western and Islamic curricula into distinct categories, since there is a lot of overlap. Some Islamic schools basically teach the official curriculum of their locale, but do so in an environment more informed by Islamic cultural values. Other schools have tried to create curricula based on an Islamic worldview. One of the factors in effectively answering this question is the expectations of parents and communities. Since most Islamic schools in the West are privately funded, and based on tuition, the expectations of parents and communities are crucial in determining the features of the school, and on this question there one can find a variety of answers. Some communities want their children to be "protected" from the surrounding cultural climate, while for others the prime concern is getting into a good university or a good job, and still others expect the students to be trained in the norms of Islamic belief and practice.


shabana - Denmark




What is the difference between karamat and moujazah(mirical)?


That seems out of the bounds of this dialog, which is on Islamic Education in the West. I will be happy to answer off topic questions, but I will give priority to on-topic questions, of which there are many waiting. Do you have a question on the topic at hand?


Worker -



Do working mums harm their children's education?


Some women have no choice but to work, so it would be unfair to lay blame in the way you are suggesting. Besides, what do you mean by "harm"? I have argued in other dialogs, for example, that compulsory schooling is harmful to children. Many people agree and are walking out of school and into life.


Sayed - Egypt



Alot of thanks to Professor Yusuf. H just want to know what do you mean by The Westernization of Islamic Education?


Thanks for the question, Sayed, and actually I have just contributed a long article on this topic to the Family section of this Website ( see - The Westernization of Islamic Education ).

In short, what I argue in that article is that while there are many pressures on Muslims today to "reform" their schools and curricula, presently under the dictates of the Americans and their proxies abroad, this actually quite superficial and the deeper Westernization of Islamic education occured during the 19th century, under European colonization.

This period saw the birth of what we call "modern schooling," which includes the modern university, and it is Western in terms of the cosmology, epistemology and methodology it teaches. So any discussions of reform today are just tweaking an already thoroughly colonized system of education. Anyway, I would refer you to the article for details, and welcome the opportunity to further discuss this crucial issue.


Sami Nour - Australia



Do I enroll my son 6-years-old in an Islamic school, where most of the children are from one background, or do I enroll him in a multicultural public school?

I ask this question because, in general, our Muslim students are not brought up to respect other races; indeed, by the time they are teenagers, they tend to have a hatred for other races. I guess this is mainly because of their upbringing at home.

Our Muslim youth tend to think that everyone in the community hates them.

The other general statement is that Muslim students do not want to learn; but it is the environment that always affects the child. On the other hand, should I enroll him in a school with different races and different religions and where children have respect for themselves and others?


Salam Sami.

I guess the first question you need to think about is, what do you want your six year old son to get out of school?

I would say anyone, irrespective of their locale or the available options, needs to ask this question. As you suggest above, schools are as much places of socialization as they are of learning. So, you can ask yourself, besides the academic subjects I want my son to learn (which can be learned in a variety of ways, including at home), what kind of socialization do I want him to experience? If the Muslim community where you live has issues with racism, and you don't want your son to be a racist, then I would say you should either take this issue up with the school authorities, or send your son somewhere else. On the other hand, a multicultural school can mean many things, so I would advise you to look more careful at what they are teaching and what kind of socialization children are getting there, too. I would also advise considering a third option, that aside from learning the usual school subjects of reading, writing and arithmatic (which don't really take that much time to learn) that you consider other learning environments outside school or even instead school, which can involve, by, for example securing various types of community service or work experiences, such as with formal or informal internships.


Hassan - Somalia


Software Programmer


It seems that we are living in a world where we ran out of all moral standards. The definition given by most dictionaries about the meaning of “democracy” is government by the people, exercised either directly or through representatives elected by the people, and this is what the western governments try to convince the rest of the world that they advocate for to this day. What we know today is that from the annulment of the Algerian elections in 1992 by the military government with the help of the West, it has been coming to light that the type of democracy supported by the Western powers has never been consistent with definition of the term.

Now, Palestinians who have been an icon of suffering since the British government helped the establishment of the Jewish State in their homeland in 1948 have now been told in no secrecy to either elect who the Western powers want them to or to face more suffering by losing the little aid they (the Palestinians) have been getting from them. No one who is still left with some kind of morality can dare to say this is right! Can you then please explain to me the democracy the West advocates for? Is it a new way of colonization or intellectual slavery?


Salam Hassan, and welcome to the dialog.

Your question is a little off topic, but let me venture making a connection. You are asking about morality and democracy, and are questioning the motives of those who promote democracy and whether or not they have any moral grounding, giving the two-faced way in which many issues are discussed, such as the question of Palestine. I think democracy is in many ways a manifold concept, and as you suggest there are several forms of democracy, ranging from direct to representative. Direct democracy is thought to be impractical in large scale settings, like the modern nation state, so most democratic systems today are of the representative model. There are connections between democracy and morality, but they are tenuous, since any democratic system, if it is functioning properly, will represent the particular sense of morality in any given society. Morality, therefore, is also relative, and it is difficult for people to agree on a common defintion of both democracy and morality, in my view.

Now, the relationship to education is looking at things from a different perspective, not from the high offices of the state, but from the level of communities. What do communities, and the families that populate them, need? What is the best way to utilize the still-available state funds for education to meet those needs? Governments and businesses still have, for the most, the 19th century ideas in mind I noted above, that schools should produce citizens and workers. But citizenship is complicated by globalization and the constant flows of people and ideas, while the economic goal of schooling is under question for the simple reason that many of those who play by the rules still cannot find jobs. They system has no answer but to blame what I believe are the victims of schooling.

Democracy is not intellectual slavery, any more than religion can be, or socialism, or any other ideology or lifestyle or politial system. I think intellectual slavery is in many ways fostered by schooling, as presently conceived, so perhaps the answer to your question, at least for the purposes of this dialog, is that we need to rethink the goals and purposes of schooling and education, and dare to imagine different ways of learning.


Dianne - United Kingdom




I would appreciate your comment on the following viewpoint which I happen to have some identification with.

Looking back on this year, one could almost believe that there has been some kind of juxtopositioning that can easily lead one to believe that what has been happening to Muslims has been carefully planned allowing for certain elements to fall into place. One of these elements has been the 7/7 London bombings, until which the only question over Islamic education came from the U.S in a report on Pakistani madrasah's.

Can I have your comment on this Sir and looking at recent events around Europe would you say that this has great implications not just for Islamic education but other religious education, especially Christianity?


Salam and welcome to today's dialog. I am looking forward to discussing Islamic education with everyone and will try my best, `in sha'allah, to answer all your questions as best I can, but I also encourage participants to make this a true dialog by responding to my answers. I, for one, find that helpful.


Thanks for your question, Dianne. For sure, as you suggest, events dating back to 9/11 have raised questions about Islamic education. The general tone of public discourse has been to question religious education as promoting extremism and leading to terrorism. I am not quite sure if this is actually the case, but I am certain that we ought to be careful about making any blanket statements as to the effect of any educational system. I think the issue is larger than that.

Schools and univesities, in my observation, are in crisis, and they have been for some time. The founding of most public school systems, dating back to the 19th century, was wrapped up with two core goals:

  1. to promote patriotic citizens of emerging nation states, and
  2. to produce obedient workers for the industrial economy. Both of those projects, for the most part, are failing. Nation states are under increasing pressure from within and from without, due to increasing migration and globalization, to open borders, both conceptually and physically. In other words, states are not the same sorts of "containers" of people that they were a century ago. At the same time, schools no longer lead to jobs, as many are realizing.

Now, the question for me is this: Are these still valid goals for public education? One could just as easily discuss the recent rioting in France, for example, as a function of class dynamics, and that it has little to do with religious education as such. It does, however, relate to my point about schools failing on their initial goal, to produce workers, since there are no jobs at the end of the line. So, I would caution us to rush to judgment of any sort of religious education and lay blame for all sorts of complex current events on the doorstep of religion. Perhaps an unintended success of the factory schooling model adopted worldwide over the last century has been to limit our minds as to the purposes of education, and schooling has more or less made it difficult to imagine a life without schools, or living with schooling of a different sort. To me, those are the most productive questions, about what kind of education people really want and need. Most decisions on this matter are made by distant government bureaucrats and profit-minded corporate executives.

Rarely are families and teachers consulted. Perhaps that has to change, to involve the recipients of schooling more in the decision making process, and to have some open discussions on all fronts on what we expect from schools.


S.A. - United Kingdom



As-Salamu `alaykum. Do you think that teenage Muslim girls should be sent to schools and colleges that are just for girls and not co-educational? This may protect them to an extent from any harm that they could inflict upon themselves due to free mixing of the sexes at schools.

Satan should not be given such opportunities that he finds it easy to spoil innocent minds. What is your opinion, respected scholar? Thank you.


Salam, and thanks for the question, but I think this question needs to be addressed to families, in a community context.

There are different reasons for integrating or separating girls and boys. In fact, even in the secular societies, some research has suggested that single- sexed education promotes better learning.

What concerns me is our views of human nature. For example, does Satan only tempt girls? And beyond issues of sexuality, what else should schools do? I think focusing our attention only on the question of sexual integration misses a key opportunity to step back and ask more searching questions about we really expect from education, and why do we expect those things?

Too often, schooling decisions are made by those who are distant from the system, in the name of abstractions like national identity or economy. Schools conceived only along those lines are failing, and I think the moment is right to start asking bigger questions of schooling, what it can and cannot do.


Adnan - India


Website Designer


Muslims have schools here in India but they only use books which are not good for our children's faith.

Is there any curriculum which fulfills both the needs (Islamic and academic) for today's child?


Salam Adnan, and thanks for the question. In my view, seeing education only in terms of curriculum, or books for that matter, is perhaps quite limiting. Curriculum implies a graded, progressive structure through which children move, step by step. The whole idea comes about with the notion of factory schooling, which both resembled factories and were intended in part to produce factory workers. That type of schooling has largely failed, and I think the failure is due in part to seeing education only in terms of curriculum. Most decisions for schooling are made by government bureaucrats and business executives, and they are obsessed with control. Is that still the best impetus for school?

You imply in your question that academic and islamic needs are somehow different. I am not sure I understand what you mean by that. Perhaps you could clarify that in a response, but I think we can think about education not in terms of it being academic or islamic, but in terms of what sort of cosmovision it embodies. The notion of cosmovision, which is something like world view, can help us to ask deeper questions about the meaning and purpose of schooling. All education, in my view, embodies some sort of cosmovision, including secular education. So when you say some books are not good for children's faith, what are you referring to? Faith in what? In God? The state? The economy? Faith in individuals, families, orcommunities? I think all schooling has some impact on faith in all those areas. Perhaps that's a good question to reflect upon, what do we have faith in? And how does that faith inform lifestyle. By using the term cosmovision, we can have a common discussion on this question, since cosmovision does not imply one or another set of religious or seculare beliefs, and is more encompassing.

If it sounds like I am avoiding the question of what curriculum is best, I guess you could say that, but I do that only because I think curriculum and books should be the last things we decide upon in any educational system, and only after the deeper meaningful questions have been addressed first.


Samy - France



As salamu `alaykum,

Living in France, I realize how biased the education system is towards religion and especially Islam. France is the most secular country in the world, and I can't think of having my future children receive free condoms & learn that man came from apes at school.

I have read some of your material. It is interesting but too theoretical. It is very difficult for simple people like me to derive a concrete educational programme from your research, especially when we are not Islamic scholars.

Please Please Please, could you come up with a standard Islamic education program which we could take and adapt to our needs?


Salam Samy, and I appreciate your question. However, I think any system that I could imagine would be just as theoretical as what you think I have been researching.

In other words, schooling is about life and it seems to me that those decisions are best made by families and communities. Another curriculum is not going to solve the bigger problem that schools have lost their sense of meaning and purpose, and that we expect them to do too much. It is not simple minded to ask fundamental question about the meaning and purpose of schooling, if only because we are relegating our children to a dozen or more years within their walls and spending countless hours studying things for which we don't really know the purpose, not to mention all the money spent on this endeavor.

But if pressed for an answer, I would say that we need less time in schools and more time with life.

What is the benefit of spending the prime of one's youth within four walls, studying abstract knowledge that is rarely related to the daily concerns of families and communities. One outcome of all the schooling we have gotten, perhaps, is that we have become addicted to school, and cannot imagine it in a different form.

In my travels around the world over the past four or five years, I have seen for myself that alternatives are possible, but that the best alternatives are those in which families and communities take a leading role in deciding what is best for their children. I have seen workable models that decrease the amount of time spent in school, replacing it with internships and apprenticeships, for example. But this takes community commitment and partnerships between schools and communities and local businesses and other places where learning can occur.

My own view, for what is worth, is that there can be no standard education program for anyone, anywhere, and that education can respond to our questions. Rather than being passive, and waiting for the next bureaucrat or businessman (or scholar for that matter!) to provide solutions, I think we have to look into ourselves. The bureaucrats, businessmen and scholars have failed, so what do we really have to lose?


Fatma -



First, how can we define “Islamic education”?

Second, how can we apply this type of education in secular societies if it is what we need?


Salam and thanks for your questions, Fatma.

You ask how "we" can define Islamic education, and in that question is already your answer.

Who are we?

Once we know that, we can better understand what education can and cannot do for us.


are we looking to others to tell us who we are? And by "we" here, I don't mean Muslims only, since this question applies to everyone. We are the ones who are addicted to schooling, and until we face our addiction, we will never really know what we need.

As to the relevance of Islamic education in a secular society, I am not sure if that is the best way to go about this problem. What is a secular society?

  • Is not secularism an outlook that one can find in every society, even in Muslim societies?

Society, in other words, is an abstraction, although it does refer to a particular type of collectivity. The problem is, society most often is equated with the state.

  • But is the modern nation state really the best way to understand society?
  • Are not people's allegiances and interests spreading above and beyond the modern nation state?

I think you could shrink the "we" down a little, and begin to ask this question in your own community, what do you expect from education, and why those things, and what is the best way to get them in your locale.

I have spent time with communities that have answered this question by saying that schools offer nothing to them, secular or religious or what have you, and that they are more concerned with modern lifestyle, or survival of cultural traditions, or relationship of humans to nature, and myriad questions.

So, what specific questions does your community ask?


shadi - India




Thanks to the Professor Yusef for this interesting dialogue.

The topic is quite interesting. It implies that there is a "problem" and we should see if Islamic education is part of "the problem" or its solution. I think if we interprete Islamic Education as those Islamic schools usual in the West, it will be part of the problem, but in a wider meaning, I hope it can be a solution. Do you agree? And can you help us for a better understanding in this regard?


Thanks, Shadi, for the thoughtful question.

You are pointing to a sort of barbarism in the way this dialog has been framed, in that it speaks of problems and solutions as if they are the same thing.

First, I would say, what are the specific problems one is having, and I would ask this on a community level.

Second, I would encourage people to get together, also on the community level, to reflect on these problems and then seek some sort of workable solution.

Academics, journalists, bureaucrats and businessmen speak in generalities because they are for the most part detached from the communities.

We, on the other hand, who have children in schools for a dozen or more years, are the passive recipients of their detached abstractions. Is that really the best way to handle the question of schooling?

As I have said often in my writings and dialogs, I think schooling is in crisis, it can no longer do what it was designed to do, and so the detached abstractions get piled up higher and higher, and we sit in our communities waiting for the next directive to come down from on high.

How about another approach? How about taking education into our own hands? If school doesn't give you what your community needs, then change it or find another school. I have even met communities that are walking out of school altogether, but it would be irresponsible of me to advocate that for everyone, because the logical next question is, what then? In the communities where people are walking out of school, they have found things to walk into, by way of community cooperation, such as apprenticeships and internships, or other learning opportunities.

I have also visited places where schools are being restructured along the questions of what types of knowledge is necessary and meaningful in particular community contexts.

So, in the end, I agree that school itself is the biggest problem, since many of us really don't know what we want it to do. Academics, bureaucrats and businessmen are full of abstract answers, to suit their own needs and interests, but are those the needs and interests of communities?


Noha - United Kingdom




As salamu `alaykum Sir.

It seems to me that we are not very focused here or concerned about wwhat we as Muslim parents of the future stand to loose, or that we have anything to lose.
Do we are we just being paranoid as usual?


Salam Noha, and thanks for participating.

I am happy you are asking this sort of question, because it speaks to the needs of families and communities. As future parents, young people today will be saddled with the problems create and maintained by the previous generation. If, as I believe, schools are not responding to communities, then we have a problem.

Do we continue to march through their halls and pass the buck to the next generation, or do we take the time to reflect on what seems to be a quite important question? I think in a forum such as this, with random questions and answers, we cannot really be focused any more than it has been so far. I think that is because we are all sitting in different locals in front of our PCs, while the real questions, to me, are in our communities, and those questions will differ, by definition, according to the needs and interests of each community.

In some communities, there are concerns about whether state schools, for example, can provide meaningful experiences for children in rural areas, that they foist a city sort of knowledge upon rural communities. In other communites, language and culture and primary concerns: state schools teaching a cosmo-vision and language that does not emanate from the experiences of those communities. In still other communities, jobs and economic opportunity are the key questions, and they are wondering if schools can really provide jobs for their children.

I would suggest to you, as a future parent, that you find some sort of focus and those who you can share this focus with, and work to build communities that know what they want from schooling and education.

Let me venture a few parting comments, after saying thanks very much to everyone for their questions. I hope something that I may have said can be in some way generative of questions that you can share in your own community setting. In general, as I have stressed here, the problem with schooling is schooling itself. We expect it to do everything, while in reality it is not really doing anything. Should that continue? What should schools do? I don't think the answer to these questions will come from any academics or bureaucrats or businessmen, unless they are integrated into communities themselves.

I would also stress the point of cosmo-vision, every educational system has built into it a cosmovision, a sense of what it means to be human and how humans ought to relate to each other, to their environment and to what might be called the spiritual entities of the universe (to use as an inclusive a term as possible). Cosmo-vision and community, the ethereal and the real, any meaningful discussion of what we should do about schooling and education needs to begin, in my view, with these two points. Hope this helps.


shereen - Egypt





I have only one question for Islamic education: I completely beleieve that Isalimc education is the best way to raise our community to a higher level of improvement, but whenever I hear any scholar or intellect talking about this issue, they simply talk in a very abstract way, so is it feasible to have something like a plan or so, in other words something more practical rather than abstract?

Jazakum Allah Khayran


Salam Shereen, point taken. But that's all scholars and intellectuals can do, especially in a global forum such as this.

In the past hour, I have tried to answer questions from all over Europe, Africa and Asia. For me to be more specific, I would need to know more about what is going on in your locale.

When I visit communities to talk about education and schooling, I usually listen to what they have to say, and then encourage them to find their own answers that are meaningful in their own cultural and economic context. Unless we think all people are the same all over, in terms of culture and ecology, I don't think it is feasible, or even honest, to propose a blanket solution for everyone, except that in the end questions of education and schooling, in my view, are best worked out on a case by case, community by community basis. So, what is your community talking about and what are its concerns about education? For example, what you mean by "higher level of improvement" may be radically different than what some one else says. If the questions I get are vague and open like, all I can do is reflect on the question, which is what I am trying to do here, and to encourage you, and everyone to talk about these questions in your own locale, with citizens groups, parent groups, whatever.

Certainly those who have made the decisions for us in the past, including scholars, have not done a very good job in responding to community needs. Perhaps that is not their job. You can make it your job. Of course, I would be happy to listen to your specific circumstances, or any one else's, and offer my opinion, but at the end of the day you have to live in a particular community and in my experience questions are schooling and education are community questions.


Ghada - Egypt




Are you saying that we should not even think about the British government for example, wanting to take control of our Islamic schools?

Is it okay to argue that schools don't work anyway? Seeing as most parents depend on them to educate their children and do not have the time or ability to educate their own children are we not then heading for a disaster?


Another question, thanks Ghada, and I recall you from previous dialogs. I think all governments anywhere can do is focus on control, that is all they can really do. And businesses focus on making money. Since governments and businesses seem to be making all the decisions for us, without talking to communities and families, I would say that could constitute a sort of disaster for some people. But you raise a crucial point here, that parents don't have the time or ability to educate their own children. That is precisely why I am emphasizing communities, that communities take responsibility for education. No one family can do it alone, much less an individual.

Barring any sort of community involvement in education, we are sadly left with whatever government officials and business executives think is best for us. I have seen communities that have offered viable programs of education to their respective governments and in some cases the governments were happy to have some involvement, though in other cases they are given the cold shoulder. Governments have their own narrow sets of concerns, as do business leaders, and to the extent that these concerns are unnacceptable to communities, we do indeed have a problem. I am not suggesting that we don't think about the impact of government decisions on schooling, but I would urge everyone to step back and ask, what do we expect from schools. If our expectations are not met, and if governments and business are not willing to even listen to those expectations, then it seems to me there are few choices. One choice, which I have seen explored in some communities, is to walk out, and this is often the case where governments are not responsive to community needs. But walking out is only half the equation, since once one walks out one would need to walk on, or walk into something else. What that might be can only be decided by communities. Are there no resources in our communities that can provide learning opportunities for children and teens? Are we left with nothing more than what distant technocrats can provide? Perhaps a mass exodus from schools and political systems is the only way to respond to our needs not being met. One or two people dissenting, in the end won't work, unless they have community support. A mass exodus might be the one tool we all have left. I hope not, but what other options are there. I hope to listen, here, or in other contexts, to what people think they need from schools and education.


We would like to say thank-you to our guest, Professor Yusuf Progler and to our questioners.

We invite all of you to qrite in your concerns with the aim of establishing an e-community/group whereby we can find and share our findings and solutions to what seems to require of us more than we think we are ready to give.

Please send your comments to: society_iol@hotmail.com with subject matter entitled: 'Education Today'

Jazaka Allahu Khayrun

Courtesy: www.islamonline.net

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