The Theory of Islamic Education
Islamic education comprises a set of concepts and tenets pertaining to human nature, creed, intellect, and attitude, along with spiritual and physical values, all entwined in unified perceptual framework and relying, entirely, in its fundamentals and morals on the Holy Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah. Through Islamic education, individuals are educated and cultured following an all-encompassing method that involves all aspects mentioned, without compromising any, or giving primacy of one over the other.
Identifying the Meaning of Islamic Education
The concept and meaning of Islamic Education were described by Muslim educationists in various ways which include:
1. Cultivating all intellectual, emotional, physical and social aspects of the personality; based on Islamic teachings and values, with the aim of achieving the optimum goals of leading a dignified life entangled with a religious flavor.
2. Providing Muslim individuals with an all-encompassing preparation process that involves all aspects of his/ her personality which continues throughout his growing phases to be able to handle this worldly life and the other, in light of the teachings and values of Islam, and in accordance with an educational methodology defined by educational specialists.
3. Once applied, these correlated concepts which are intertwined in one rational framework outlines a number of procedural methods and practical techniques which prove great efficiency in refining and cultivating human behavior that meets and reflects the spirit of the Islamic faith.
4. Individual and social activity that seeks to cultivate individuals intellectually, doctrinally, spiritually, socially, physically, ascetically, and ethically, thereby empowering them with the knowledge, approaches, ethics and proficiencies needed for sound growth that can best serve both their practical and spiritual life.
5. Purposeful process that is guided by Islamic Shariah and seeks to cultivate all aspects of human personality in a way that achieves total submission and worship to Almighty Allah. It is a process in which a person of special talents directs the learning process of other individuals, using specific educational materials and appropriate development techniques.
All these definitions assert that the Islamic education essentially derives its schemes, principles and uppermost aims from the Islamic Shariah; a fact which deems the calls for developing an Islamic education without adapting the spirit of the Islamic teachings as null and void.
Islamic education in this regard is the kind of purposeful education that seeks to develop and shape the Muslim individual, society and the entire Muslim Ummah that has been assigned the mission of Allah’s vicegerency on earth. This is achieved through education in learning institutions such as schools and universities, or at home and through media channels.
Generally, the Islamic Education, like any other type of education, seeks to cultivate the Muslim individual. And it operates in all fields of educational research, including teaching philosophies, history, science, schemes, and techniques, besides preparing the teacher… etc. All this is bound to the Islamic viewpoint and the application of which helps the Muslim adopt the kind of behavior that corresponds with the Islamic faith.
Development of Islamic Education
Phase I- The Advent of Islam:
This phase started with the rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century AD, and continued up till the end of the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. It laid the foundation for the political, religious, social and ethical life of people, which impacted the Islamic life for long centuries that followed, and till date.
The revelation of the Quran and the advent of Islam both came as a milestone in the history of Arabs and their intellectual development, one that asserted the importance of seeking learning and gaining knowledge along with urging individuals to work their minds to analyze present realities, enhance human life, and contemplate the surrounding creation and natural phenomenon. It was a turning point that outlined a new Islamic intellectual scheme which was formed and aided by Arab sciences, experiences, characteristics and merits such as courage, generosity, loyalty, modesty and dignity.
And there can be no better proof for that than the noble verses of the Quran that carried outright command to “read” and a clear appreciation for knowledge. “Recite in the name of your Lord who created -Created man from a clinging substance. Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous -Who taught by the pen - Taught man that which he knew not.” – (Quran 96:1-5)
The establishment of the primary political and social foundation for the state is credited to this phase of Arab history, in which scattered and warring tribes were brought together for the first time, under the guardianship of one leader who paved the way for unity and solidarity by adopting a unified set of fundamentals and calling for the worship of one god, after tribes used to worship several gods.
The noble Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, represented both; the religious and political leadership basing all laws regulating authority and the relation between people on the Holy Quran. And ever since, the state developed its religious coat, and eventually grew into a community of believers bound by a unified set of morals, values, traditions, trends, brotherly feelings and one language, that is the Arabic language of the Quran. This phase set the milestone for social doctrines that had a long-term impact on the development of traditions and Islamic religious systems. The most important of these principles was the principle of brotherhood, equality and mercy amongst the Believers, regardless of their race or color. As stated in the Quran:“The believers are but brothers… ”(Quran 49:10)
Also as the Prophet, peace be upon him, stated in one Hadith: “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab … except by piety." Such doctrines helped fostering spiritual unity and strengthened brotherhood and harmony between Muslims throughout all Islamic states, same way they impacted the Arab cultural movement and the education and learning progression among Arabs.
With the expansion of Muslim conquests during this phase of the Islamic history and the spread of Islam over larger areas, Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab gave orders to send convoys of teachers and judges to teach and educate new Muslim converts, as well as Muslim children, as a means of spreading knowledge and education all over Muslim lands. He also sent Quran teachers and preachers to all lands that were new to Islam. Such religious missions sent by the Caliph had a significant impact on the spread of knowledge and teachings of the Quran, as well as Jurisprudence, among other Islamic sciences. The ultimate aim of these educational missions was to develop a sound Muslim personality, sound society, a prosperous civilization and a well-organized Muslim state.
Phase II- Islamic Conquests and the Development of the Muslim State:
This stage covers the period stretching between the end of the rule of the Rightly Guided Caliphs till the end of the Umayyad State, during which the Arab Muslim Empire grew significantly, with its boundaries extending from India Eastward, to the Atlantic Westward, and from the Caspian Sea Northward, till Sudan Southward, including spots of lands that are most rich in resources, and belong to famous civilizations, such as the Persian, Greek and Coptic Civilizations. During this phase, Arabs were exposed to historic civilizations, which paved the way for intermingling of nations and civilizations. Besides being influenced by their Political and Social systems, Arabs maintained Greek schools in Syria, same way the University of Alexandria remained through the Ummayads Rule for a long period, where medicine, astrology, philosophy, among other Greek sciences were taught. It was imperative for Arabs to absorb all that and grasp their impact. The positive impact of such cultural mingling manifests in the kind of education Prince Kahled ibn Yazid received, one that combined language, poetry, chemistry, medicine, and astrology, and used translations of Greek and Coptic books on Chemistry, medicine and astrology. This phase witnessed significant development in the field of education, a kind of development that sought to:
1-Preserve the Arab identity of the state, and thus scholars set the teaching curriculums, giving special care for history of other nations.
2-Assert the Islamic identity of the state and teaching Quran and Hadith sciences.
3-Adapting to the overall development and rising needs of the nation, thus organizing the state administrative and economic institutions. Thus administrations were Arabized and the influence of Romans and Persians was eradicated.
Phase III- Creativity:
This phase stretches from the 2nd century AH/ 8th century AD till mid 5th century AH/ 11th century AD, and reflects the special care which rulers gave to the affairs of their nations following a fluctuation in Islamic conquests. Hence the intellectual and scientific integration of different nations and civilizations eventually led to genuine intellectual prosperity.
Having the Arabic language as the main language for cultural representation, science, and communication, was another helping factor, besides religion, that led to cultural integration and unity. The great advancement in the cultural movement and translations of foreign books, especially Greek, Persian and Indian, into Arabic gave rise to a set of new disciplines such as philosophy, Logic, Geometry, Astrology, Music, Medicine, Chemistry and Geography.
Arabs and Muslims back then used Greeks as a reference in sciences of Philosophy, Logic, Medicine, Mathematics, Astrology and Sociology, and Indians in heeling and knowing characteristics of drugs and medication, as well as principles of Mathematics, Geometry, Music, Astrology and other branches of Math. As for Persians, Arabs relied on them in Fiction, Axioms and wise-sayings. But the impact of those civilizations was not limited to just copying in translation or even writing critiques and reviews. For Arabs were keen on having their own input on the sciences of other nations they adopted, whether Mathematics, Astronomy, Medicine, Philosophy, Music or others. They left a significant impact that took the form of major inventions, researches and countless discoveries and breakthroughs.
The rise of many schools of thought carrying their own unique intellectual principles was one of the key features characterizing the development of education during the time. Among such schools:
1. The School of al-Fuqahaa and Muhadithin (Scholars of Islamic Jurisprudence and Hadith): This school went through two main phases. The First involved agreement amongst Scholars of Jurisprudence and Hadith during the 3rd century AH on the undisputable authenticity and legislative nature of the texts of the Quran and the sound narrations of the Sunnah of the Prophet. The Second involved variation of Schools of Thought and legal schools of jurisprudence as well as differences in the contents of learning curriculums and researches. Among the most famous Scholars of Hadith and Jurisprudence who authored books on education were Muhammed ibn Sahnoun (d. 256 AD), Muhammed ibn al-Hussain al-Ajery (d. 360 AH), and Aly Muhammed al-Kabesy (d. 342 AH).
2. The Sufis School:
This school appeared toward the end of the 2nd and lived through the 3rd century AH, during which the conflict between those who insistently abide by the literal text (the Quran and the Sunnah), and those who penetrated deeply to develop mystical interpretation of the text reached its peak. The followers of the Sufi school, gave careful attention to the techniques of spiritual training and developing the soul in its perennial quest to return back to its divine origin. Amongst the most notable writers who authored books tackling such subject matters were al-Harith al-Mohasaby (d. 243 AH), and Abu Abdul Rahman al-Salmy (d. 248 AH).
3. School of Philosophers:
This school soon earned unique stature following its emergence, having familiarity with the philosophical trend of thought of other cultures people were exposed to. Yet it had its own input and applied its own amendments that would befit and better suit the Arab and Islamic spirit. It balanced between philosophy and religion. Among the most notable scholars who wrote about this field were: al-Faraby (260- 339 AH), Ikhwan al-Safa (4th century AH), ibn Sina (370-428 AH) and Abu 'Ali Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Ya'qub Ibn Miskawayh (320-421 AH/932-1030 AD)
4. School of al-Ash’ari Theologians:
It was founded by Abu al-Hassan al-Ash’ari (d. 330 AH) who though did not have much impact on the development of education yet he is credited for paving the way for the emergence of iconic teachers who succeeded him. Al-Ash’ari promoted interaction with contemporary trends and schools of thought, as long as it does not contradict the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Among the most notable scholars of this school who cared much for education; Ali ibn Mohamed al-Mawardy (364- 450 AH), and al-Khatib al-Bughdady (392- 463 AH).
The mosque remained the center of education and learning during this phase, before the spread of individual mosques and the rise of learning institutions such as Bait al Hikma (House of Wisdom) in Baghdad during the reign of Caliph al-Maa’moun (d. 218 AH), and a similar one in Cairo, besides the emergence of public libraries such as that of al-Mu’taded (d. 289 AH) in Baghdad, the Treasury of ibn Abi al-Kassim Jaafar ibn Mohamed al-Faqih al-Shafii (d. 323 AH) and the Treasury of al-Qadi ibn Hiban (d. 354 AH) in Nissapur. The emergence of schools marked key point of development characterizing this phase, especially the school of ibn Hiban al-Tamimi Abi Hatem (d. 354 AH), school of al- Asfarayini (d. 418 AH), and that of al- Basti (d. 429 AH), among others.
Such schools were the locus for teaching and were equipped with the needed tools for research and education. They also included especial lodgings to accommodate foreign teachers and students, and rose as remarkable learning centers that provided open teaching and cultural points availed to all people from all over the Muslim world.
Phase III- Decline:
This phase covers the period between the 5th century AH/ 11th century AD, till the 12th century AH/ 18th century AD. It reflected a general state of deterioration of the Arab and Islamic State and witnessed the decline of the cultural and intellectual movement as a result of the Crusade and the Mogul wars, besides the continuous fights between local rulers. All this shattered the political, social and economic stability of the state and led to the diminishing of learning centers and institutions. Then the state came under the occupation of the Turks who gained control over Baghdad (920 AH- 1514 AD), following the Battle of Chaldiran, and then Syria in the Battle of Marg Dabeq (922 AH- 1516 AD). Eventually other areas also came under occupation, except The Maghreb. Those states were cut off from other parts of the globe. Thus intellectuality faded and the education movements declined largely to become almost absent in rural areas and scarce in urban cities. Ignorance prevailed and Illiteracy became rampant, which gave rise to apathy and lethargy.
Phase IV- Vigilance:
It is the final phase in the development of the Arab Islamic education, and is referred to as the stage of vigilance and modern educational reform. It was a phase of cultural isolation in which inherited educational institutions did not develop the least bit. However it was a phase of intellectual revival that witnessed the emergence of a number of Islamic movements, such as the Salafist, the Reformist, besides some National and Public movements.
Mohamed Aly Pasha established a number of contemporary schools throughout Egypt, availed education for all without tutor fees, and instituted a teaching academy that worked on preparing and educating teachers. He furthermore used to assign a selection of educated people to be sent to Europe to receive advanced education. His son, Ibrahim, later followed suit and established many schools in Syria.
Since the 18th century onward, reform movements spread throughout the Arab and Muslim nations, asserting the importance of education and its significance to the process of Islamic renaissance and revival of intellectual heritage and its comprehension. Such movements also laid special emphasis on the importance of the Arabic language as a strong hold tying nations and gave special care and worked on its renovation. Also this period witnessed the establishment of contemporary schools and promoting the preservation of the Islamic identity across nations, thereby reckoning the significant role played by Arabs and Muslims through the history of human development.
Objectives of Islamic Education:
1- Religious Objective:
It refers to the Quran as the primary source of knowledge, as well as the Sunnah of the Prophet, and aims at developing the Muslim personality that believes in Allah, his prophets, angels, revealed books, day of judgment and destiny along with reviving the Islamic rites, sticking to its instructions and spreading its teachings amongst future generations.
2- Worldly Objective:
It is not less important than the religious objective as the noble verses of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet have repetitively stressed on the importance of acquiring knowledge and seeking after it for every Muslim individual. The Quran and the Sunnah have furthermore emphasized on the vitality of benefiting from Allah’s blessings in the Universe, urging Muslims to seek after their well-being and secure a good livelihood by earning money through legal means; such as trade, manufacturing or agriculture … etc.
Islamic education has sought to intermediate between those two objectives and work on striking harmony and balance between them, thereby fulfilling the famous statement of Imam Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, “Work for your temporal world as if you will live forever; and work for the Hereafter as if you will die tomorrow.”
3- ‘Knowledge for the Sake of Knowledge' Objective:
This objective reflects the spiritual pleasure of acquiring knowledge, and it is the motivation that sets human individuals on the quest for truth, to seek after knowledge and embark on a journey of learning and research, just for the pleasure of learning.
Concepts and Principles that Arab and Islamic Education Promoted
1- Education is a duty and right for every human being:
Among the foremost impacts brought along the advent of Islam was the manifest appreciation of knowledge and scholars. Islam promoted knowledge and education, which helped give rise to the scientific movements and the rise of new fields of knowledge that varied to include secular studies and fine arts.
2- Caring for childhood:
The Islamic education paid special attention to childhood and educating children. This attention stems from the Arabs’ keenness on ties of blood and lineage and their purity. Arabs used to view the child as a means of extending families and a source of pride. Similarly, Muslims showed much care for the issue of education and raising children, giving them the required care and attention. Furthermore Muslim scholars promoted the child’s need for leisure and entertainment after learning hours. Relatedly, Ibn Khaldoun disparaged the use of force and toughness in educating and raising children.
3- Raising knowledge and scholars to an elevated stature:
Islamic education regarded knowledge as the most preeminent thing in the world, basing such viewpoint on the fact that scholars are considered the heirs of the Prophets, and they are he only ones eligible to uphold such divine mission after purifying their souls from evils and imbibing within themselves virtues and fine morals.
Revering Knowledge and scholars have proved instrumental for boosting idealism within every individual, that tendency which, once imbibed in one’s self, fills it with the light of faith, piety and devotion, and urges him to continue seeking after knowledge even if he has to travel far and wide- to fulfill the noble Hadith of the Prophet, wherein he says: “Whoever treads a path seeking knowledge, Allah will make easy for him the path to Jannah (Paradise).” In another Hadith, the Prophet, peace be upon him, says: “He who goes out in search of knowledge is in God's path till he returns.”
4- Mind sets thought free:
Islamic Creed has granted human beings freedom of thought and the use of scientific research. Likewise, Islam obliterated restrictions that block the functionality of the mind and prevent it from thinking freely. Islam asserted human freedom of the mind from enslavement of specific notions that entails clinging to the footsteps of previous generations, blindly following the suit of people of authority and demeaning fear of their might and power.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, used to hold the human mind in high esteem and regarded it as the core of religion and its foundation, for there is no religion for he who got no mind and perception. The Prophet has also commanded people to communicate and interact using their intellect and resorting to it as a safe haven.
5- Equality and equal right to education:
Applying the notion of democracy on education came as a remarkable point of transformation in the history of educational development and progression of general urban systems. The Islamic scheme itself was purely affected by such spirit. Such democratic spirit availed equal chances to education for those who are well-off and the poor alike. Likewise, women, including maids, received considerable share of education and culture. Jews and Christians also earned equal benefits.
6- Inclusivity, Integration and Balance:
The Arab Islamic education managed to shape the human personality in an all-inclusive physical and spiritual frame, not just to grasp and comprehend the living realm surrounding him, but also to take part in developing the essence of the human existence in way that best serves the well-being of humanity and achieves its happiness.
7- Education is not restricted to time or place:
This principle is considered one of the chief fundamentals of Islamic education, for Islamic creed is based primarily on human perception and mind, and regards thinking and human intellect as the foundation of faith, revering knowledge and scholars and encouraging the pursuit of knowledge and science.
-Levels, Content and Techniques of Education
Education according to the Arab Islamic Civilization was divided into a number of levels that are somewhat similar to those of our modern age. However, what determines those levels is not just the place of education but the level of teachers and curriculums;
For examples, Primary school used to take place in al-Kuttab in a consistent manner. In al-Kuttab, pupils are acquainted with general fields of knowledge that can benefit them in the general aspects of life and religion. Thus reading and writing, as well as Mathematics, Quran, and basics of religion were the primary subjects of education at this stage. And sometimes other sciences, such as those relating to Arabic languages, History of Arabs and their lineage, were taught to students at this level of education. Such schools (kuttab) were initially sections of the mosques, or annexes linked to them, before they become standalone schools in separate buildings.
As for Secondary Education, it was provided in schools and mosques, however some educational roles are similar to those provided in universities in our modern age. Yet this depended largely on the level of education of the teachers and the students.
Sometimes learning circles held at mosques offered more quality type of education than that provided at secondary schools, and this with regards to the material and technique used. Some of the most prominent scholars used to teach at those learning circles to transmit their share of knowledge and convey their guiding thoughts to their students. Among them was ibn Khaldoun who taught at al-Azhar mosque when he moved from Tunisia to Cairo.
Such was the case in schools wherein the level of education varied according to the standards of teachers who taught there. Thus some were on equal footing with secondary schools, whereas some, such as Al-Nizamiyyah and Al-Mustansiriyah schools, were more of universities offering advanced education. Even though education at the Nizamiyyah schools was in essence religious, religious sciences required teaching other disciplines such as history, Mathematics, Language and Logic. Then there was the last level of education, which resembles to a great extent the Post-Graduate Studies in our modern age. Among institutions that provided such level of education were Dar al ‘Ilm in Cairo which was founded during the reign of al-Hakim bi Amr Allah in 339 AH, Bait al Hikma that was established by Caliph al-Ma’moun, and Bait Bani Shaker, among others. There were also centers for translation, literature, and scientific research.
As for education techniques, they varied from one age to another and according to the level, place of education and the effort exerted by teachers. Those teaching techniques depended largely on repetition and learning by heart, especially in primary schools- as they formed the pillars of the foundation of education, essential for understanding, spreading knowledge and work.
Dictation was another technique used in other levels of education, wherein a teacher would read portions of his book, then explain and paraphrase it. This required each student to have a copy of the same book used by the teacher; which was manually copied to be able to follow up with the teacher’s explanation.
Educational techniques used in the high school or upper-mediate levels of education were generally characterized by conducting question and answer sessions, in which disagreement between students and the teacher seemed like normal occurrence. Debates and arguments were perhaps the most advanced technique used. They emerged and gained prominence as a result of the rise of many Madh’habs and schools of Islamic thought and jurisprudence that reflected the varying viewpoints of their followers. Debates were aimed at reaching the truth and not one side winning over the other and beating his argument. Renowned thinkers of the time understood the importance of this technique for boosting the scholarly personality of teachers. Ibn Khaldoun went as far as to say that negligence of debates and arguments as a technique of education was the reason behind the decline of thought, a phenomenon that prevailed throughout The Maghreb states during the 14th century.
Reading was another teaching technique in which a student would read onto his professor or teacher that which he seeks to learn, and the teacher would explain and paraphrase the texts read. This technique emerged in the early 2nd century AH.
The Most Notable Educational and Cultural Institutions that Contributed to
-the Islamic Civilization
Houses of Knowledge and Wisdom (Door al Ilm and Beyout al-Hikma):
Caliphs and princes established houses of Knowledge and Wisdom, and equipped them with the best books ever, opening them for scholars to benefit from and gain prominence through them. Ya’qoot has mentioned in his ‘Ershad’ or ‘Guidance’ that Abi al-Kassim al-Faqih al-Mawsely established in his homeland a house of knowledge and provided it with a storeroom for books that included many volumes representing many disciplines, availing it to students who sought after knowledge. Al-Hassan ibn Amaar, Judge of the Fatimids in Tripoli, established a house of knowledge that resembled that founded by al-Hakim bi Amr Allah in Egypt. And soon it became a divine site of knowledge and its people. However, Bait al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) in Baghdad and Dar al Ilm (House of Knowledge) in Egypt stood out as the most notable of all such institutions.
- The House of Wisdom:The establishment of the House of Wisdom is accredited to Caliph al-Ma’moun, but historical reports, such as ibn al-Nadeem, show that it existed during the reign of al-Rashid, explaining that al-Rashid, following his successful conquests and triumphant battles, managed to get the Greek manuscripts to Baghdad and assigned its translation to Yvonne ibn Masoeyah. Ibn Masoeyah was considered the chief of translators of his age. He also assigned the translation of some Persian manuscripts to al-Fadl ibn Nubikht who was originally from Persia. When Caliph al-Ma’moun claimed the throne, he started sending precious gifts to Roman princes and asked them to provide him with whatever books of Roman philosophers in their possession, and so they sent him all they have of books written by Ptolemy, Aristotle, Epocrates, Galenus, Ekledious, Batlaymous, and immediately he, Caliph al-Ma’moun, gave orders to have them translated, urging people to study and learn them.
- The House of Knowledge: As for the House of Knowledge in Cairo, it was established during the reign of al-Hakim bi Amr Allah in 395 AH and aimed at spreading the Fatimid theological discourse through education, persuasion, research and discussion. It was equipped with many valuable books. Much investment was allocated to serve and develop it, and the best scholars and preachers were invited to teach in it. The library was divided into several sections: Section for jurisprudence, another for Quran recitation, one for those interested in languages and its different sciences, and other sections were allocated for Physicians. The institution furthermore included classrooms, and chambers for debates and discussions, reckoning their importance to the spread of their discourse.
- The Bimaristan: Bimaristan is originally a complex Persian word that comprises of two sections; ‘Bimar’ which means a patient, and ‘Stan’ which means house or place. Thus it came to mean a place for patients and sick people; in other words, a hospital. Al- Waleed Abdul Malik established the first Bimaristan in the history of Islam, which dates back to 88 AH- 706 AD, and assigned to it a number of Physicians, allocating a bed for each patient and a guide for every blind person. It was not long before the Bimaristan spread throughout the states and gained popularity, to the extent that every state had at least one Bimaristan or hospital. Those hospitals were also Universities for Physicians, in which lectures were held, tackling theoretical lessons besides practical ones. Thus it helped the overall development of the specialty of medicine, organizing and laying the milestone for the scientific principles of such field of expertise.
- Schools:The spread of schools and the reputation they earned has always been affiliated with the name of Minister Nizam al-Mulk, the Seljuk, who established a school in Baghdad in 459 AH- 1067 AD.
The Nizameyyah School in Baghdad was not the first school in the history of Islam, for many other schools were reported to have been established long before the Nizameyya, some existed in Khurasan some 165 years before the Nizameyya and taught Islamic Jurisprudence and Hadith. The objective of establishing those “Nizameyya” Schools was primarily religious.
Such schools played significant role in preparing judges, workers, writers, teachers and employees belonging to various social standards. They also proved instrumental in cultivating people and enriching their intellectual abilities. They also helped revive Jihad movements to ward off the Crusade threat; eastward and westward. Perhaps this is the reason why Nurul Din Al-Zinky and Salahul Din al-Ayouby cared that much for establishing schools.
Al Mustansereyya School is considered the first university in the Muslim World. It was established in 625 AH- 1227 by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir Bellah. It survived through the invasion of Timurlank in the 8th century AH/ 14th century AD, and remained till 1048 AH/ 1638 AD. However its activities started to dwindle. Al-Mustansir Bellah assigned to his school the best teachers and lecturers, and allocated salaries and houses for them and provided for all their needs. He cared much for teachers’ lodges as much as he cared for their nutrition and their education, reforming their moral standards and availing all needed equipment for the school.
He gave orders to his aids to look after them and work hard to serve them and provide them with comfort. Al Mustansereyyah cared for all fields of knowledge. The school comprised of five main departments; The School of Fiqh or Jurisprudence, which included four sections, each was assigned to a specific school of the four main schools of Islamic Jurisprudence. Another department was assigned to the teaching of the Quran, a third for Hadith and its sciences, and a fourth department for medicine, besides a huge library that abounded with many books that reached over 80,000 volumes. However the emergence of schools of well-organized and defined administrative, financial and educational system was somewhat prolonged in The Maghreb and Andalusia compared to the East. There, the mosque, kuttab, and teachers’ houses continued to be the learning spots up till mid 6th century AH, in other words till the emergence of the State of Muwahedeen or the Believers.
- Mosques: The School mosque was obviously the most notable educational institution throughout the modern history of the Arab Islamic Civilization. Some left rich impact on human civilization, one that goes beyond the religious influence, for mosques back then formed genuine cultural centers, and represented advanced educational institutions occupied by renowned scholars and students from all over the world.
The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus is considered one of the oldest educational institutions in the history of Arab Islamic Civilization and perhaps the most notable of all. It contained scholars and students seeking after knowledge, and invested richly in them. The poor used to receive aid money whereas the well-off abstained. As for the educated orphans, they had special lodges; massive and separate charity buildings, wherein the mentor pays for their sustainability, including their education, nutrition and clothing.
As for Cairo, Egypt, al-Azhar mosque is one of the major mosques whose educational mission surpassed other duties normally commissioned to mosques. It was a genuine Islamic university that occupied a cultural, intellectual and religious leadership throughout the ages. Azharian scholars enjoyed considerable political authority, sometimes impacting rulers of states and having their own say in state politics.
Al-Azhar mosque was established in 361 AH and maintained its prominence and pioneering position up till the end of the 6th century AH, when Salahul Din al- Ayouby and those who followed established many notable schools that employed renowned teachers and rewarded them generously. Among key mosques that contributed richly to the development of education in The Maghreb and specifically during the 7th century, was the Zaytouna Mosque. It was during that time when masses of scholars migrated from Andalusia to Tunisia to acquire knowledge. For them, the Zaytouna Mosque was the starting point from where they kicked off their intellectual activity, and a place where they studied secular sciences, such as medicine, Mathematics, Language, besides religious sciences.
Cordoba Mosques was perhaps one of the most remarkable and picturesque architectural masterpieces ever known to the Arab history. Cordoba Mosque was established through several phases that stretched over the period of 2.5 centuries. Besides being an impressive architecture masterpiece, it represents a value for the history of Arab Islamic sciences.
The mosque maintained its position as a cultural center radiating the light of civilization in Europe for long centuries, even though the state did not closely supervise the process of education within it such as the case in al-Azhar mosque- but scholars and teachers there set sharp and clear principles of education and thus did a great job maintaining and preserving its reputation and fine standards that earned it an elevated stature.
The Foundational Sources of the Islamic Theory of Education
1. The Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet, from which the Islamic concept of education expounds a number of guiding principles, which are not mere assumptions verified through a process of trial and error, and thus are not to be rejected.
2. Educational and Historical studying of viewpoints of Islamic Scholars.
3. Learning about Islamic figures that enriched the development of education such as Ibn Khaldoun, Imam al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyah, Ibn al-Qayyim, among others.
4. The conclusions of sound scientific research that shed light on the nature of human individuals, besides human experiences that do not contradict the Islamic creed.
- Each Creed Comprises of Three Main Elements:
2- Techniques and Methodologies
3- Objectives and Aims
Followers of every theory may differ, disagree with or attempt to reform and change some of its three main elements, starting with the resources, the techniques, ending with the objectives and aims. As for the Islamic perception of education, its resources are fixed same way its objectives are. The only variable element is the technique, methodologies and approaches of education, which change and improve with the development and improvement of human understanding of the basics. This is the chief element differentiating the Islamic Observation of Educational Trends from one generation to the other, from one age to the other, and from one place to the other.
General and Educational Human Psychology are parallels stemming from one main source that is the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Yet they have one striking element differentiating them that is the element of time with regards to the Western Science of Human Psychology. This is basically due to their reliance on the development of human thought concerning a variety of resources and contradictory theories.
The Islamic General and Educational Psychology stems from one all-inclusive science encompassing all aspects of human psychology ever since the beginning of creation and till the end of time. In other words, and as explained by Mohamed Rashad Khalil, Educational Psychology is the application of theories founded by psychological analysts, behaviorists and Gestaltists, among others who believe in the natural theory regardless of their variations. These schools however do not comprehend the human individual as a Created Being, but rather as a natural being of no soul.
Education Philosophy and the Theory of Education:
Most if not all education systems, except for the Islamic ones, depend primarily on educational theories that categorically depend on general philosophies.
But what is philosophy? What is a theory? Also what’s the relation between the two?
Does the Islamic education system require a philosophy or a theory? These questions are what we shall attempt to answer in the following lines.
- The Notion of Philosophy:
Philosophy is originally a Greek term comprising of two divisions, “Philo” which means love and “Sophia” which means wisdom, thus the full term means love of wisdom. Nevertheless its seemingly attractive and interesting connotation, scholars and thinkers have differed greatly regarding what love of wisdom come to mean? Such controversy persists till date, with some suggesting that Philosophy entails studying essence of matters and working to achieve what is best, whereas others think it is an all-inclusive science encompassing the universe in its entirety including objects, animals and plants. And there is a third party of thinkers who believe that love of wisdom entails the study of the unseen and what is beyond the physical realm. Yet the commonly agreed upon interpretation is that philosophy entails perceiving the universe, man, life and nature, and comprehending the relation between all elements.
Henceforth, the notion of Philosophy maintained its uniqueness, and its schools remained mere viewpoints representing their followers till date. Yet, each Philosophy carries its own perception of the Universe, man and life.
As for the philosophy of Western Education, it entails the practical aspect of general philosophy in the field of education. Such viewpoint makes the philosopher’s task; applying the principles of ideal, realistic, or pragmatic philosophy onto education.
Whoever looks into the names of those schools of Educational Philosophy would recognize that they represent the very same schools of thought, which philosophers mentioned. There is the General Idealist Philosophy, the Educational Idealist Philosophy, the General Pragmatic Philosophy, and the Educational Pragmatic Philosophy… etc.
-The notion of educational theory:
The Theory in its general essence that prevails in the West entails interpreting some matters in the past, present, or the future according to fixed or variable belief. As for the Scientific Theory, according to its accurate definition, it means attempting to interpret a number of assumptions or physical laws by placing them within a general intellectual framework.
The Educational Theory is a number of correlated principles that guide the process of education and control the teaching practices. If the Scientific Theory is descriptive and explanatory in its essence, then the mission of the Educational Theory, according to Paul Herst, is personification and heeling. And if the Scientific Theory blocks the description and explanation of what is existing, then the Educational Theory describes and determines how to deal with students, thereby guiding and directing the educational practices.
-Education according to Muslims
Education is more of a mirror reflecting nations’ systems regardless of their political, economic, or creedal differences. The Arab Islamic education, on its part, reflects the fine teachings of Islam and its noble doctrines. For Islam, besides propagating its basic creedal issues relating to faith and belief, also promotes good moral values and virtues, which it considers fundamental for a sound and pious religious life.
There are a number of basic principles credited for impacting the development of the Educational Theory, such as the Principle of Equality- Equality between fresh Muslim converts without regard to their race or colors. Such covenant of equality was endorsed by Almighty Allah in the noble verse “Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.”- (Quran 49:13) In another instance in the same verse, Allah, says: “The believers are but brothers.”- (Quran 49:10) Accordingly, the general advancement of Islamic Education manifests in its idealistic tendency; giving primacy to knowledge, encouraging its pursuit, and caring for the moral virtues. All that besides its flexible learning techniques and the democratic spirit that eliminated differences between human nations, races and standards whether in the field of learning or religion, thereby granting individuals equal chances to learning.
Objectives of Islamic Education:
- Religious Objectives:
Since the descent of revelation it became the prime reference for Muslims in all matters pertaining to worship, legislation, and social life with all its varying features. It was the revelation of the Quran that helped spread literacy among people, and the establishment of schools as well as the emergence of different disciplines that sought to explain and clarify meanings of the Quran. However, the overall tendency amongst Muslims was neither purely religious nor purely worldly, but rather a balanced combination of the two. Education back then sought to coach the rising generations on ways to best live their worldly life and prepare for the hereafter, thereby fulfilling the purpose of the noble verse, wherein Allah says:“But seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and [yet], do not forget your share of the world.”- (Quran 28:77)
- Social Objectives:
Besides the religious objectives and morals, education has sought after other social values that reflected in traditional and wise sayings: Addressing his son, Mus’ab ibn al-Zubayr was once quoted as saying “Acquire knowledge, for even if you are not in possession of wealth, it would be beauty to you, and if you are not in possession of beauty it would be wealth to you.” We realize that with the growing number of scholars, all specialized in a specific expertise according to the development of the scientific movement and its prosperity, there emerged a new social standard that represented the scholars, and earned superior stature especially in the sight of rulers and princes, which encouraged people to pursue education and learning so as to earn similar prestige and social standing. This, furthermore, led to the rise of creative competitiveness among citizens, let alone the spread and prosperity of culture.
- The Objectives of Interest:
The rise of religiousness caused embarrassment to scholars and those working in the field of Islamic education to receive payment for their teaching, such as teaching Quran and the like. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, used to free captives in return of having them teach Muslim children basics of reading and writing, which shows that the concept itself is valid. Hence, Judiciary posts and those relating to education, were pursued by people who were keen on preparing themselves for such career. People’s eagerness to memorize the Holy Quran and acquiring in-depth understanding of Islam had a great influence on creating the need for schools, as mosques formed the primary school to which people sent their children to get educated in the learning circles held there and which dealt primarily with Quran and Hadith.
Mosques in most Islamic states represented the learning centers where education was not restricted to only religious sciences, but also included disciplines such language and poetry. Also cultural sessions were held in the houses of cultured and educated elites and were known as “Literature Assemblies”. Besides the Kuttab, there were old houses and stores that were turned into schools to teach young boys, upholding the same task assigned to kuttab schools and mosques. High schools, such as the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, provided a kind of education that is similar to that provided in our modern age universities. The House of Wisdom (Bait al-Hikmah) was considered the most notable learning institution in the history of Islam, as it housed translation centers, scientific complex as well as a public library and astrology lab; serving students learning Astrology.
The first real Scientific Complex in the Islamic history was Al-Nizamiyyah school, which was established by Nizam al-Mulk and cared greatly for the physical wellness of students. It set a good example that was later followed by advanced learning institutions. As for schools, they first appeared during the Abbasid Dynasty and spread throughout the Muslim world, varying from one place to the other. Besides students, Islamic education gave equal care for the teacher who will be assigned the critical task of transmitting knowledge to others, and was firm with regards to what a teacher needs in order to fulfill such mission. Paying strict attention to the ethics and high moral values was the main characteristic of teachers. According to Ibn Sina, “the coacher educating young pupils has to be himself wise, of sound religion, knowledgeable about aspects of ethics, keen on educating youngsters, respectable, somber, nice, intelligent, merciful, clean and trustworthy.”
Outlining the fundamental aspects characterizing the teachers, many scholars have defined the psychological dimensions of the personality tasked the mission of teaching, and provided thorough analysis of such characteristics and the duties required from teachers and educators in order to best achieve their goals. A teacher had to primarily read and research a lot.
The second and perhaps the most important element in the learning process is the Student.
Scholars and education experts have given special care for the student and what helps him through the learning process. Imam al-Ghazali for instance saw that among the important features of a student that would help him acquire knowledge is breaking free from the distraction of worldly matters, for relations are distractive and can be largely overwhelming. Proving such viewpoint of Imam al-Ghazali, I recall a wise saying that reads, “Knowledge does not give you some of it, unless you give your whole to it.” Furthermore, clerics have given much care to argument and debates that help the student sharpen his ability to express his own self, better organize his thoughts and re-energize in a spontaneous manner.
Other helping factors that facilitate the learning process are choosing the right environment and place for learning and appropriate hours of reading. As for the appropriate place for learning and memorization, rooms are the most suitable places, as well as any settings away from any possible sources of distraction. Also a student should not limit his learning objectives, he must always be ready to learn more, and never suffice with any level of knowledge he reaches, neither become too proud of what he has learned nor feel superior to his mentor or teacher, for without modesty and attentiveness, he will be able to learn nothing. Moreover, Muslim clerics have long advised students to never feel embarrassed or shy to ask about whatever that confuses them, for this would cause them to miss out on what may maximize and enrich their benefit. They have as well encouraged students to understand well what they listen to and the knowledge they receive, for nobody should write a thing he does not fully understand, as this drives away intelligence and wastes one’s time. And if a student got used to failing to understand whatever knowledge he receives and if he was lazy trying to do so, he will grow accustomed to that and eventually will cease to understand even the easy and typical conversations.
As for teaching techniques or arranging the learning time for students, norms followed during the 4th century AH stipulated that a student would go to the Kuttab School early in the morning to start memorizing the Holy Quran. By noon, he returns home to have lunch and then goes back to the Kuttab in the afternoon and remains there till the evening. The weekly holiday for students started from Thursday noon till Friday evening. Then they would resume studying at the Kuttab Saturday morning. A student’s experience with public libraries would start at a very young age, as young as 7 years. He would give three or perhaps four years of his life to complete the memorization of the Holy Quran and learn basics of Islamic Jurisprudence, as well as language and poetry. Afterwards, he would start joining schools to acquire more knowledge.
The following level of education would include studying Quran, Exegesis, Fiqh, Arabic Grammar, Literature, Poetry, Mathematics, Geometry and Hadith.
As for the Third level of education, it included a variety of disciplines, such as Medicine, Chemistry, Mathematics, Astrology, Physics, Monotheism, Logic, Music, Zoology, and Botany. Teaching at this phase depended on a number of primary techniques: Lecturing, Dictation and Discussion, besides learning and debates. Clerics could realize that proper pronunciation and clear speech were essential for understanding, given the child’s limited experience and restricted perception. Thus the teacher has to help him connect things together in order to be able to understand what he does not know through what he already knows. A teacher would never get his students develop strong interest in a particular subject unless he himself was interested in it and excited about it. Only the knowledgeable is capable of providing others with knowledge. According to Kahled Rousha, the education process shall remain restricted, incapable of producing any fruits as long as the Islamic movement persistently fails to ready and prepare skilled educators and tutors capable of practical application of theoretical and systematic aspects of Islamic endeavor.
The process of educating a skilled tutor is quite complicated, with social, psychological and humanitarian issues interrelated. This makes the process more than a mere scientific and analogical process in the sense stipulated by the scientific experimental system.
Human elements are quite many, such as the extent of influence of creed, values and legal principles, and the extent of psychological stability of the tutor and how close he is to the ideal and sound human persona- Also how much influenced and attentive the tutor is to the personality and model of Prophet Muhammad, and how far is he ready to give of himself to serve those doctrines and beliefs.
Such matters cannot be subject to experiment in order to evaluate or verify them. One cannot fix some elements of influence in an experiment whereas other elements remain variable and changeable. For example; accepting the application of equations such as those chemical equations of fixed conclusions and physical expositions of fixed experimentations onto human education process.
If we considered that a successful education process as “founded on a number of consecutive, interrelated and harmonious processes involving its practitioner (that is the tutor) and the recipient (that is the student), to be done within an accepted theoretical scheme that is based on a variety of techniques that befit the circumstances of application,” then we do recognize the importance of the axis leading this process, i.e. the tutor or the teacher.
- Educationalists’ Theories: A Comparative Study
Educationalists’ theories varied and differed over primary and secondary elements that are essential for a successful process of preparing a sound and skilled tutor. Such differences gave rise to varying views of educationalists, with some propagating the need to turn the entire Muslim society into educationalists, and that any Muslim individual regardless of his personal makeup, can be prepared to be a tutor guiding the Muslim Ummah.
There is no doubt that such approach, which is the most common amongst fields of Islamic activism in our modern time, does not differentiate between essentially varying roles represented by individuals, each on his own, or, on a deeper level, the characteristics required for every role, while it is essential to differentiate between the role played by a Muslim preacher, that upheld by other Muslim individuals such as administrators, leaders, socialist, and that of a tutor. A preacher is a bit too general description that combines all other roles. As for that of social and administrative leadership, it requires specific characteristics such as being experienced, firm, risk taker, daring, courageous, proactive, wise, and intelligent, among other qualities that characterized notable leaders and fighters from amongst the companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, those who were known for their courage and might in battles and conquests they fought.
- Different approaches of selection:
So the character of a leader is the one capable of achieving and fulfilling the goals set for it, and that by delegating other individuals related to it. Thus, it is the kind of personality whose role ends with the fulfillment of the task assigned to it or realizing the specific goal appointed to it. As for the character of a tutor or a coacher it is the kind of personality that is capable of guiding and shaping other personalities, thereby preparing it on the educational, religious, and behavioral levels.
Generally, there are two primary approaches in selecting the personality of a tutor;
The first entails strictness and exaggerated accuracy in determining the characteristics of the coacher. This approach is generally idealistic in its expectations of the personality of the tutor, in the sense that, when trying to map such expectations to reality, they render a purely theoretical concept that cannot be implemented in anyway. As for the second approach it entails some flexibility in selecting the qualities of a coacher to include a larger number of characteristics. This approach is driven by primacy the need of Islamic Discourse and its exposure or possible increase in the number of recipients of the message.
But experience proved the two approaches a complete failure. For the First approach hinders the educational work, as it ties it to a super model that is hard if not impossible to achieve, thereby impeding efforts seeking to develop and reform it. Thus it invites all those who are unable to meet such idealistic image to retreat and abandon educational work altogether.
As for the Second approach it avails the chance to all, even those who are not the least skilled or eligible to carry out the mission, and this is destructive to them, let alone a waste of time and effort. This highlights the need for outlining a model for those supervising the educational process to guide them, help avoid the negative consequences of the two approaches, and over and above, to be easy to apply in reality. Regarding the fundamental elements needed for preparing skilled coachers, grasping the practical and scientific inputs have yielded the conclusion that there are a number of factors which, if combined, can lead to a successful process of preparing coachers. Such factors include: (depth of faith, sound and healthy personality, practical knowledge, suitable environment for education, special skills, and reform). We shall attempt to shed light on the most important characteristics of each of these factors:
- First:The Depth of Faith:
It is the first element required in the personality suggested to uphold the mission of a tutor, without which the tutor would fail to achieve the objectives of the educational process. It would not be exaggeration to say that the entire process of education can shatter without this specific element. But some practices in reality may seem quite shocking, with some figures assigned the mission of education simply because they are social activists, without paying any regard to the element of depth of faith that happens to be the first and primary condition for a sound educational personality, and the basis on which many factors largely depend, such as:
1. Sincerity: If the speech of a coacher or a tutor falls short of being sincere and truthful, it becomes more of smoke in the air, in other words it benefits nobody. Sincerity gives speech a good scent that draws listeners close, and captures the attention of those afar to listen, attentively. It is reported that al-Hassan, may Allah be pleased with him, once heard a preacher addressing people, so he approached him, saying: “It is either your heart harbors evil or mine does. For your speech does not touch my heart the slightest bit! Allah aids a sincere tutor in his choice of words, picking the right words for the right situation, and the most impacting of phrases. A sincere speech is the most convincing of speeches of long-lasting effect on the heart of the listener.” One of the students of Shaikh al-Ka’naby, the mentor of Shaikh Bukhari, narrates: “Our Shaikh used to address us while his beard was soaked with tears.”
2. Patience: Patience is motivated and inspired by deep faith which we have just tackled. And when faith weakens, so does patience as it is a primary factor in the tutor personality to have patience in dealing with students and individuals being coached as well as communities a tutor may be addressing. Thus, patience requires the tutor to hold fast to this intrinsic value besides other principles and fundamentals he believes in. It is narrated that Abdullah, son of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, once asked his father: “When does one taste comfort?” the father answered; “With the first foot set in Jannah (Paradise)”.
3. Asceticism: Asceticism is one essential factor in the personal makeup of a tutor and it entails refraining from adornments of worldly life and hoping for the reward in the Hereafter and Paradise. Nothing is worse than a tutor who is attached to worldly pleasures and inclinations. Similarly nothing can be more of worse impact on students than that of a tutor who seeks relentlessly after money, one who is overwhelmingly attached to beautifying himself, obsessed with worldly possessions of houses and the like. No matter how much people differ over the proper definition of Asceticism, there will always remain the model of the Prophet, peace be upon him, his Companions, their successors and the renowned scholars as the best example and the ones most deserving to be followed. We have known them all as detached from worldly pleasures and beauties, hoping only for the comfort of the Hereafter.
But unfortunately, looking around, one finds those assigned the crucial mission of education to be immersed in worldly indulgence, luxury and extravagancy. How are those possibly expected to produce a sound educated generation? Al-Dhahabi narrated that Imam Ahmed, when he travelled to Abdul Razzaq, he ran out of money, so he had to work as a helper, earning half a Dirham each day, which was sufficient to only buy him his daily share of food. Abdul Razzaq saw him carrying luggage on his back, and thus awaited him secretly behind the door of his house before he comes for the class and told him: “O Ahmed, usually I do not have much money, but I have collected this sum for you, so take it and spend it as you wish.” Ahmed replied: “If I was ever in need of money I would have taken aid from nobody but you, but I have enough money to sustain myself and even more till I return back home.”
The stance of the Islamic theory of education Vs the Western theory
Educational Theory- Exposition and Presentation: Western theories of education share a number of common factors, such as: 1- Absolute reliance on mind logic with all that entails of activities attempting to visualize the universe, man, and life. Also worth considering is the fact that every educational theory is in origin a reflection of a specific philosophical school. This is a general rule applicable to any educational pattern. Similarly, all differences between theories are simply expressive of changes that crept into Western communities throughout history, with all political, social, and economic and scientific dimensions involved.
2- Western educational theories are of single viewpoint, whereas the ideal educational theory reflects the Polemic Philosophy. According to Ptolemy, there are two worlds; a Sensed World, which comprises of physical bodies and objects, and a Perceived World which comprises of abstract beings. This theory stems primarily from (the absolute prominence of the soul over physical objects), and it tends to encourage a contemplative approach that largely ignores existing reality and the human’s earthly nature, caring principally for the perfection of the soul and its salvation. This demonstrates the theoretical propensity of teaching within the idealist educational theory, with the goal of education seeking primarily (the human mind’s acceptance of intellectual and logical heritage scored by previous generation)- As a matter of fact such heritage acquired a divine position and became literary applied. Furthermore, subject matters of studies were tied to the heritage essentials rather than present time essentials, and thus its link to the past became an obstacle obstructing its link to the present and the future.
Contrary to the Idealistic School, the Naturalistic School, focuses on the physical body and all emotions, desires and inclinations it involves, giving it absolute importance on the expense of the mind. However it is a well-known fact that this school has surpassed the psychological trend of education that relies in its principles on the founder of the school itself, that is Jean Jacques Rousseau, who saw that “resorting to human psychology is the only way to provide a real criterion for evaluating Pedagogy.”
Another drawback of such theory is limiting the scope of education to be restrictive to the child. Modern education has realized such limitation and shortcoming, and thus went on to expand the scope to include teenagers, adolescents, adults, and old men. This is what the Modern International Union for Education emphasized.
As for the Pragmatic school, it turns the focus of attention away from the primary subjects as well as principles, laws, and acc