‘What is Islamic Education?’ - Live Dialogue

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Yusuf Progler

Rabi' al-Thani 15, 1426 2005-05-23

by Yusuf Progler

Session Details

Guest Name

Professor Yusuf Progler, educator, writer, cultural historian and political ecologist

Subject

‘What is Islamic Education?’

Date

Monday,May 23 ,2005

Time

Makkah
From... 09:00...To... 11:30
GMT
From... 06:00...To...08:30

Name

Host -

Profession

Answer

Salam and thanks for hosting our dialog today. I'd like to welcome everyone and also encourage today's participants to not only seek answers from me but to also offer their own answers to "What is Islamic education?"

Name

Karla -

Profession

Question

What kind of Islamic education should a 4-year old know at that age? What kind of Islam should I teach my 4-year old concerning Allah and His Creation and Hadith that can help her to understand things? I would really appreciate your answer.

Answer

Salam Karla, and thanks for the question.

Most 4-year olds are quite inquisitive, and so instead of focusing on what you can teach them, it might be useful to listen to what they want to learn, the questions they ask, and then frame your answers according to your beliefs and what you think is important for them to know intellectually. But that is only one aspect of learning.

At that age, much learning is implicit and out of awareness, it is also important to pay attention to environmental factors, including the behavior modelled by parents, siblings and other adults, which is a form of teaching that is often neglected in favor of the intellectual method. Children will often learn more from what they see and experience than what they are told. This experiential learning also comes from outside the home, in various ways and depending on the society in which one lives, and can include things like TV and shopping.

I also think children can benefit immensely from experiencing nature, as the creation of Allah, not by looking at pictures or talking about nature but by directly experiencing nature in whatever possible ways where you live. Such learning will have a far deeper impact at that age than anything we might teach children about doctrine.

Name

Salwa -

Profession

Question

You are focusing on education and especially Islamic education, but why is Islamic education so important?

Answer

Education is about a process of becoming, and so the education one seeks is a crucial factor in what one will become. However, it is also important to broaden the definition of education beyond formal schooling, to include all the informal ways we learn.

In this context, Islamic education is the process of becoming a Muslim, which can include learning a vocation or various forms of abstract knowledge, but first and foremost it is becoming a Muslim. In fact, all education is about becoming something, and when we consciously seek an education, most often through schooling, we are in a sense seeking to become some one else, and this becoming often depends on the values embodied in the system from which we seek an education.

On a more subtle level, we are educated daily by the media and first and secondary experiences, so Islamic education is also a function of living in an Islamic community or society. On a more practical level, it seems from my experience, that such questions are important to many Muslims, so that is another reason why we discuss them.

Name

Abdul Jaleel Othalur - India

Profession

Question

As salamu `alaykum

Is it now relevent Islamisation of knowledge? What are the ways for it?

Answer

The Islamization of knowledge, in my experience, has more often than not meant accepting the norms of modern secular knowledge systems and then trying to "Islamize" or even at times justify them by relating them to selected verses of the Quran and sayings of Hadith. In other words, at least in its dominant form, this way proceeds from an existing knowledge system and attempts to reconcile or alter that knowledge system with Islam. While it may be relevant to some extent, especially living in a world that is increasingly dominated by the formal and informal knowledges emanating from the West and other poles of modernity, I think that the approach has limitations in that it does not really look outside the dominant norms. So, without examining the power and the politics of knowledge, the Islamization of knowledge agenda may end up serving colonialism.

Having said that, it is of course possible to take some selected aspects of modern knoweldge and Islamize them, but in general, if we are thoroughly inculcated to the norms of modernity, we may never see beyond the alteration of the dominant modern knowledge. This may cause us to overlook the real work of generating new knowledge or rediscovering lost knowedge that is grounded in Islam, or, for that matter, any other non-Western or pre-modern way of life, and which may be unintelligible to the modern system. Such a view, of course, is only possible if one sees knowledge as a practical social system, not just as an abstract intellectual system. Knowledge in Islam, and in most other non-Western or pre-modern systems, is bound up with both thought and action.

Name

Mahmood - Iran

Profession

Physician

Question

Is there any place in the world that a model of Islamic education is running and please deliniate the main characteristics of this kind of education.

Answer

It depends on what we see as a model of Islamic education. I have seen some institutions, if that is what we are referring to, which operate in a way that is closer to how education was practiced in the pre-modern world (e.g. some examples of the madrasa or Howzeh system). However, if we look at the notion of a model from a different perspective, then we can also say that Muslim individuals, communities and societies are also, in a way, models of Islamic education, for better or worse. This approach allows us to ask realistic questions about the meaning and purpose of education, and not just fixate on ideas, although ideals are of course important.

So, is the purpose of education to find a job and make money? Or is it to feel patriotic and adulate the state? Or is it some other purpose? It is my feeling that at this juncture, rather than seeking a single model system to emulate, which in my opinion may never move beyond the theoretical stage, we can in the mean time develop multiple ways of learning, to expand the idea of what it means to be educated, which has to include, at least for Muslims, a discussion of what it means to be a Muslim and embody the life of Islam. I have addressed some of these issues in Challenges Facing Islamic Education paired with this dialog, drawing upon some of the wisdom of the Prophet and 4th caliph/Islamic scholar Imam `Ali, so rather than repeating that discussion here, let me move on to some other questions and then if time come back to this one.

Name

Ghada -

Profession

Educationalist

Question

As-salamu `alaykum Professor Progler. I have been following your 3 sessions including the current one and I must say that you have placed many questions in my mind that have revived my own questions which I have stopped questioning.

Yet still, I am faced with a fait a compli. Most students and teachers around me are only interested in opening the tops of their heads like a cooking pot and pouring as much in formation as possible, then creating a stew which come exmaination day will be ready for serving onto the examination paper. What on earth can anyone do about that?

Answer

This is what Paolo Freire referred to as the "banking system" of education, which is a formal process of schooling that "deposits" knowledge in the student that can be later "spent" on exams. It is a purely utilitarian system, in many ways, and is more wrapped up with status than anything else. I agree with you, that this system is dominant, and even where people are concerned about Islamic education or diversifying learning or any number of other programs, the imperative for education to be a marker of social status remains.

I think this indicates, in some way, the priorities of communities, that many expect schooling to provide status and wealth more than anything else. Both of these goals of education are carry overs form the colonial systems imposed on the Third World. It might seem that such a system is in some ways only about status, but there is a more subtle dimension as well.

The type of schooling that you describe has a hidden curriculum as well, which is never tested on the exams, the outcomes of which are:

  • Competition
  • Individualism
  • Intellectual dependency
  • Confusion and a host of other unexpected points that are made by John Taylor Gatto in his in interested article The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher (available in many places online). I think to escape this system we have to rethink why we are going to school at all, and the best way to rethink this question is to walk out of school, at least temporarilty, to take stock of what it means and what we expect to get out of it, either for ourselves or our children.

The dominant banking system is only powerful over us if we give it power, but in reality we have most of the power if we use it by walking out. On a more practical level, there have been many community based ways to escape or replace the banking system. One, proposed by Freire, was to use the lived experiences of people as a basis for their education. Others may proceed from different cosmological or epistemogical systems, or even create multiple learning opportunities depending on what people want to do in life, what they think is important to learn and how they wish to achieve it.

Name

kareem - United States

Profession

student

Question

Praise be to Allah the Lord, Cherisher, Sustainer of all things, and peace and blessing of Allah be upon his Messenger Muhammad. Salam brother!

When I think of Islamic education, I think of giving meaning to our studies. "Read, in the name of your lord who created, created man from a clot of congealed blood" This miracle revealed from God, glorified and praised is He, draws our attention to read, to read from his book, which is creation. When you read something you do not just look at it, but you ponder and you absorb meaning. This verse informs us to read into things and absorb meaning.

I think it is sad to say,but materialism and disbelief have entered the education at least here in the west. You may learn something, for example about the laws of physics and perfection in all which the Almighty created, but not read into these facts and tie them into faith and think about God's favors he granted us and how truly All Wise he is in calculating and creating everything in such a perfect manner. Here they teach facts, but they do not really teach. Just like hearing something but not listening. When you hear something you only acknowledge there is sound, but when you listen you try to derive meaning by putting the words together to understand the big picture.

I think it is important for every Muslim to apply religion to their education as a means of gaining religious knowledge to enhance our faith and to read into the meaning of things. The beauty of Islam is that it is not like other religions. There is no separation between church and state, or education, etc. Islam should be applied at home, at school, at work, at gatherings, in speech, in writing, when you wake up, when you go to bed,etc.. How perfectly did The Perfector make our religion, so that we may always remember Him in all that we do. And truly ONLY in remembrence of God to hearts find rest! He has surely made religion easy and anything outside of religion is just that. There is no inbetween.

I think that education, no matter what the area of study, should be tought in an Islamic manner with reference to the Sunnah of our beloved prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, and to the Noble Qur`an. And if we are not able to in the west, we Muslims should always keep God in our minds and think about the connection between what we are studying and its relation to our beautiful religion. I think that, God willing, this may lead not only to an enhancement of religious knowledge by deriving meaning from many diverse fields, but also an interest among youths and a will and way of making education not boring, but fun and adventurous.

I wonder, are there Islamic schools that use this approach in teaching ? May the peace and blessings of our Lord be upon you brother.

Answer

Salam Kareem, and thanks for sharing your views. It seems to me that most Islamic schools, at least to some extent, attempt to do what you have suggested. I don't think the problem is in conceptualizing the general points that you mention. The problem is in recognizing two things:

  1. How modern knowledge has radically altered our ability to understand religion, and
  2. how most religious views are radically at odds with the modern system.

So, while we may desire in our hearts to relate everything to Islam, in the way you suggested, what often ends up happening is either a feeling of despair that it is not possible to do so or a reconciliation of Islam with whatever happens to be the dominant system of thought and action in any given time and place. In seeing the problem this way, we can make distinction not only on the basis of ascribed identities (e.g. Muslims vs the West) but on the basis of belief and the behavior engendered by belief. So, in other words, it might be possible to find kindred spirits from other religions, or to learn from people who are walking out of or developing alternatives to the dominant system of knowledge.

Of course, as you say, Islam gives meaning to our studies, but one can also say that about any cultural system. They all provide meaning, which is the purpose of culture, to give meaning. So the question is what kind of meaning does Islam give to the modern world in which we live, and how do we proceed based on that meaning?

Name

Zainab - United Kingdom

Profession

Question

As salamu `alaykum. I came to the U.K. for my studies and al hamdu Lillah I got married. My husband works here in the U.K. Fortunately for us we grew up back home where we had to go to Islamic Schools in the afternoon, five days a week and people around us were Muslims.

I am expecting our first child soon and I am really confused on how to bring my baby up with what I had. This country is so different from ours. How can I show my baby the teachings of Islam? I am not a scholar and neither is my husband. I feel so sorry for my baby because he or she will miss that sense of Islam that I had as a child which i grew up with. I am willing to send my baby back home to where he or she grows up to learn the values and teachings of Islam, but my husband isn't too keen on that. What should I do? How do I go about it with this society? Thank you very much.

Answer

On some level, Zainab, this question will have to be worked out between you and your husband, as you evidently have different views. So, rather than advising you personally, let me reflect on the general issue you raise. You have identified an important but often neglected aspect of any discussion on education, that education is largely a social function. What we see as useful or useless knowledge is determined by the society in which we choose to live, and our behavior is informed by those around us. Now, we should be wary of assuming that sending children back home will necessarily be better, since that depends on where is back home, but in general, even in the most astray of Islamic societies, one can find certain elements of daily life that are missing in the modern West, and which may never be possible there. True, many Muslims flee their homelands for economic or political reasons, but beyond the issues of politics and economics, there are qualities of societies and the people who live there, and these qualities have a far greater impact on the raising of children than any economic or political issues. I find it somewhat distressing that those who leave the Muslim world seeking refuge in the West will often take a self-righteous attitude and position themselves as superior to those who stay "back home." This is not constructive at all, and will only lead to obsessions with status that are anaethema to Islam.

I think raising children today is subject to a variety of factors, including school, society, media, nature and family, and all of these can be healthy or sick depending on where one lives. I guess in the end it matters what kind of life you want to live and pass on to your children, and what sorts of trade offs may need to be made in adopting that lifestyle.

Name

Hwaa-matu -

Profession

Question

As-salamau `alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh Professor Progler.

In your last session entitled: 'Islamic Schools and Education in the West' we named 3 absic features that define Islamic education as:

  • Cosmology (What is reality?)
  • Epistemology (What is knowledge?) and
  • Methodology (How do we learn?)

Could you expand upon these features in this session?

Answer

Salam Hwaa, and thanks for reminding of us points raised in the last session. When we look at the three questions of reality, knowledge and learning, it is a way of evaluating an educational system.

  • What is its view of reality?
  • What is its definition of knowledge?
  • What is its preferred methodology?

The way one answers these questions can indicate the basic assumptions that one holds true, and these assumptions can be writ large by way of formal institutions such as the state and universities. Another way to discuss this question is to think about it as what might be called the "structure of knowledge." We all live within structures of knowledge, without which we would not be able to make sense of the world.

Structures of knowledge provide the assumptions and habits of thought and action, at every level of life, that enable us to function efficiently. If we had to search for the meaning or purpose of every single word we utter, every single gesture we make, every single phenomenon we encounter, we would be paralyzed. Now, mind you, I think the modern world is moving too fast, that a little more time to ponder over words, gestures and phenomena is necessary, but the point I am making here is that we all need a structure through which to understand that world and our experiences. This structure is sometimes called "culture," where the structure of knowledge is somewhat liquid, but it must also include institutions, which tend to solidify the structure of knowlege. So, with this explanation, one can and should ponder for themselves the three interlinked question you pose: What is reality? What is knowledge? What is the best way to do things? All education has its own answer to these questions, though it sometimes takes some work to find those answers, since the structure of knowledge proceeds from assumptions that are largely not examined, but which allow us to move forward.

So, rather than solidifying these questions with whatever answer I might be able to muster in this short session, I think it would be much more fruitful for all of us to take stock of ourselves and think about how the educations we seek define reality, how they include or exclude certain forms of knowledge, and how they say we should do things. And one can also go into the Islamic tradition, which has some very specific points about all of these questions, and then ask, "In what kind of world do I wish to live?"

Name

Mashitoh -

Profession

student of IIUM

Question

As salamu `alaykum,

Recently, I was doing my assignment on the topic of 'Hadrat-ul Islamiyyah and the concept of Islamic hadari that was produce by the state of Malaysia.

What are the meaning and concepts of these two and is there any difference between them?

Answer

Salam and thanks for the question.

I guess if you did research on that topic, then you might perhaps be able to enlighten us yourself. But since you asked me, let me venture a little.

First of all, we have to consider what is meant in this context by "hadarah" which is often rendered in English as "civilization," but which I think is not fully captured by that term. What is usually called "civilization" is equally bound up with "tamaddun," which can mean "urbanization."Hadarah, on the other hand, is more wrapped up with values and beliefs and the lifestyle the emerges from those values and beliefs. A related term is "umran," which is also sometimes rendered as "civilization," but which in the original has connotations of settled community and shared heritage. So, what we have is one word in English and three words in Arabic, which presents us with a problem of translation and understanding. In addition to that problem, which can be partly solved by taking care of the words one uses and examining their underlying assumptions, what this difference means is that we have a way of talking about "civilization" in Islam that is more nuanced and qualitative than denoted by that single English word. So, for example, we could speak of societies that have have advanced and complicated forms of"tamaddun", but which are retarded or backwards in terms of "hadharah," or we could evaluate civilizations that valorize "umran" at the expense of "hadarah" or "tamaddun." As for the specific way that any modern state, such as your example of Malaysia, may understand or put into practice these concepts, that would be best taken on a case by case basis, and so perhaps you could share the results of your research.

For Islamic education, which is our topic here, I would add that how we understand the intersection of hadarah, tamaddun and umran and how these three together create what might be called a "civilization," seems to have useful implications for the way we understand and evaluate the discipline of history. But discussion on specific academic disciplines will perhaps have to wait for another day, as our time here has ended, so let me thank everyone for their participation.

From the Moderator:

I would like to thank the visitors, readers, participants and most of all the guest, professor Yusuf Progler for this insightful session and we would like to invite visitors to continue with us onto the next debate: Education for Change' June 21st. 2005.

Read also:
◊ Decolonizing Contemporary Education
◊ The Westernization of Islamic Education
◊ Challenges Facing Islamic Education
◊ The Failures and Limitations of Modern Schooling
Join the discussion forum ◊ Education for What?

Courtesy: www.islamonline.net

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