The Arabic language has three terms for education, representing the various dimensions of the educational process as perceived by Islam. The most widely used word for education in a formal sense is ta’līm, from the root ‘alima (to know, to be aware, to perceive, to learn), which is used to denote knowledge being sought or imparted through instruction and teaching. Tarbiyah, from the root raba (to increase, to grow, to rear), implies a state of spiritual and ethical nurturing in accordance with the will of God. Ta’dīb, from the root aduba (to be cultured, refined, well-mannered), suggests a person’s development of sound social behavior. What is meant by sound requires a deeper understanding of the Islamic conception of the human being.
1) Importance of Education Education in the context of Islam is regarded as a process that involves the complete person, including the rational, spiritual, and social dimensions. As noted by Syed Muhammad al-Naquib al-Attas in 1979, the comprehensive and integrated approach to education in Islam is directed toward the “balanced growth of the total personality…through training Man’s spirit, intellect, rational self, feelings and bodily senses…such that faith is infused into the whole of his personality” (p. 158).
Educational theory in Islam: In Islam educational theory knowledge is gained in order to actualize and perfect all dimensions of the human being. From an Islamic perspective the highest and most useful model of perfection is the prophet Muhammad, and the goal of Islamic education is that people be able to live as he lived. Syed Hussein Nasr wrote in 1984 that while education does prepare humankind for happiness in this life, “its ultimate goal is the abode of permanence and all education points to the permanent world of eternity” (p. 7). To ascertain truth by reason alone is restrictive, according to Islam, because spiritual and temporal reality are two sides of the same sphere. Many Muslim educationists argue that favoring reason at the expense of spirituality interferes with balanced growth. Exclusive training of the intellect, for example, is inadequate in developing and refining elements of love, kindness, compassion, and selflessness, which have an altogether spiritual ambiance and can be engaged only by processes of spiritual training.
Education in Islam is twofold: 1. Acquiring intellectual knowledge (through the application of reason and logic) 2. Developing spiritual knowledge (derived from divine revelation and spiritual experience) According to the worldview of Islam, provision in education must be made equally for both. Acquiring knowledge in Islam is not intended as an end but as a means to stimulate a more elevated moral and spiritual consciousness, leading to faith and righteous action.
1. Emphasis on Acquiring Education in Qura’an: In a society where religion and knowledge in general and science in particular do not go hand in hand, it seems necessary to briefly describe the position of Islam vis-à-vis knowledge, Islam, in theory as well as in practice, has always promoted knowledge. Distinctive mark of human beings over the angels is knowledge: “And Allah taught Adam all the names…” (2:31)
The first verses of the Quran began with the word: “Read. Read in the name of thy Lord who created; [He] created the human being from blood clot. Read in the name of thy Lord who taught by the pen: [He] taught the human being what he did not know.” (96: 1-5). The Qur’an says.
“Are those who have knowledge equal to those who do not have knowledge?!”(39:9).
2. Emphasis on Acquiring Education in Hadith: The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his progeny) has also emphasized the importance of seeking knowledge in different ways:
(a) Time: “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.” (b) Place: “Seek knowledge even if it is far as China.” (c) Gender: “Seeking of knowledge is a duty of every Muslim” (d) Source: “Wisdom is the lost property of the believer, he should take it even if finds it in the mouth of a mushrik.”
The Prophet did not only preach about importance of knowledge, he also gave examples of promoting knowledge. In the very first battle between the Muslims and unbelievers or Mecca, known as the war of Badr, the Muslims gain victory and caught seventy kuffars as prisoners of war. One of the criteria of releasing the prisoners devised by the Prophet was that those who were literate among the prisoners could go free if they teach ten Muslim children how to read and write.
2) Aims and Objectives of Education in Islam The aim of education in Islam is to produce a good man. What is meant by good in our concept of “good man”? The fundamental element inherent in the concept of education in Islam is the inculcation of adab (ta‘dib), for it is adab in the all-inclusive sense I mean, as encompassing the spiritual and material life of a man that instills the quality of goodness that is sought after. Education is what the Prophet, Peace be upon him, meant by adab when he said: “My Lord, educate (addaba) me and make my education (ta`dib) most excellent.”
There is a general tendency among Muslims who are aware of the dilemma that is now pressing upon the Community to see its causes as external, as coming from the outside, originating from influences exerted by Western culture and civilization. That its causes are attributed to external elements is of course based upon correct observation, but it is also only partly true.
It is true that the Muslim mind is now undergoing profound infiltration of cultural and intellectual elements alien to Islam; but to say that the causes are derived from external sources is only partly true. How has it been possible in the first place for Muslims to succumb to such infiltration to the extent that their predicament has now assumed the proportions of a dilemma? We will at once realize that the external causes referred to are not the only ones responsible for throwing us into a state of general crisis, and we must see that the full truth of our answer to the question lies undeniably in the prevalence of a certain anomaly within our Community; an anomaly that has with increasing persistence plagued our world and our intellectual history, and that has been left uncorrected and unchecked, now to spread like a raging contagion in our midst.
Only by our consciousness and recognition and acknowledgement that serious internal causes have infact contributed considerably to our general disarray will we be able to discern the full truth that lies at the core of the dilemma we suffer today. The secular scholars and intellectuals among the Muslims derive their inspiration mainly from the West. Ideologically they belong to the same line of descent as the modernist ‘reformers’ and their followers; and some of them cleave to the views of the traditionalist ‘reformers’ and their followers.
The majority of them do not possess the intellectual, spiritual, and linguistic prerequisites of Islamic knowledge and epistemology so that they are severed from the cognitive and methodological approaches to the original sources of Islam and Islamic learning. In this way their knowledge of Islam is at the barest minimal level. Because they occupy a strategic position in the midst of the community and unless they drastically change their ways of thinking and believing, they pose a grave danger to the Islamic welfare of the Community.
They have no adab, for they do not recognize and acknowledge the legitimate authorities in the true hierarchical order, and they demonstrate by example and teach and advocate confusion and error. This is in fact the main reason why, as demonstrated in the course of Western intellectual history throughout the ages and the rise of secular philosophy and science in Western civilization, the Western conception of knowledge based upon its experience and consciousness must invariably lead to secularization.
There can be no doubt, therefore, that if the secular Muslim scholars and intellectuals allow themselves, or are allowed to confuse the Muslim youth in knowledge, the delslamization of the Muslim mind will continue to take effect with greater persistence and intensity, and will follow the same kind of secularizing course in future generations.
Large numbers among them do not fully understand the nature of Western culture and civilization whence they draw their inspiration and before which they stand agape in reverential awe and servile humility portraying the attitude of the inferior. They do not even completely grasp the contents and implications of the teachings of their alien masters, being content only to repeat them in vulgarized versions and so cheat the Muslim audience of their true worth.