What Is Islamic Education?

In Muslim societies, education has traditionally been a central aspect of Muslims’ religious commitment. Often this includes learning the Quran, memorization of it, Hadith, and Sira; Islamic law; and other scholarly disciplines.

Historically, the first educational institutions were informal, such as sitting in gatherings with scholars at mosques to listen to lectures and learn about Islam. This tradition continues today in some forms.

The Origins of Islamic Education

In Islamic society, educational aims were never divorced from religious instruction. To the Muslim, learning was a process of becoming more pious and righteous in accordance with Allah’s law. This involved the study of Islam’s fundamental principles, including belief in God and His angels, His revealed books, His prophets, and His Last Day of Judgment.

These were learned in the mosque and at the home of a scholar who could instruct in their details. Students would attend scholarly sessions, called majlis or halqas, and memorize the lessons.

When the Muslim world came into contact with Western ideas, a separation of educational aims began to emerge. Secular scholars urged a curriculum dominated by European studies, and madrasas became less prominent in Muslim society. This trend was accelerated by the encroachment of Western powers into Muslim lands throughout the nineteenth century.

The Maktab

The Maktab is a primary school for Muslims which teaches basic Arabic reading and writing, arithmetic and Islamic law. It is also a place where children are watered with the seeds of Imaan.

The goal of this type of education is not to produce scholars but to create well-mannered, moral individuals who are conscious of their Allah and whose character reflects Islam. This is the best possible way to counter a society that is filled with the negative effects of Westernization.

The educational philosophy of the kuttab is to develop the complete human being by training the spirit, intellect, rational self and emotions in such a manner that faith is infused in all dimensions. It is this approach to education that should be implemented in our societies today.

The Madrasa

After the seventh century, Muslims who sought religious education joined study circles in mosques to receive instruction. These early centers of Islamic learning were augmented by the madrasa, an independent center of learning with permanent buildings and students who received room and board and free education.

During the medieval period, the madrasa evolved from a maktab into a higher form of educational institution that focused on Islamic studies such as jurisprudence (fiqh), Quranic sciences and hadith, and philosophy. Later on, madrasas began to teach secular sciences like mathematics, logic, geography, and astronomy. These subjects became important to the ulema as they sought to counterbalance the influence of Western education, which often removed religion from the curriculum. This also helped to prevent the spread of heresy.

The Kuttab

In Islamic society a kuttab or maktab (Arabic for school) was the primary place where Muslims were educated in their youth. Often attached to mosques, these schools taught the young basic literacy skills, the Quran, and Islamic laws and customs.

Western scholars have criticized the kuttab system for two areas of its pedagogy: its limited range of subjects taught, and its exclusive reliance on memorization as the main method of learning.

The broader perspective of Islamic education is that one’s actions must always reflect the values of Islam. This translates to a commitment to nurture the entire person, not just their religious beliefs. To be a true Muslim is to be a good human being. This requires more than just memorizing the knowledge of the Quran, but also reflecting on it critically and thoughtfully.

Women in Islamic Education

Educated women have a crucial role in molding future generations. They are able to shape the values and beliefs of their children, teaching them about Islam. They can also become change agents, challenging oppressive practices and dismantling harmful societal norms.

Throughout Islamic history, it has been a common practice to educate women. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) often praised the virtue of seeking knowledge and encouraged females to pursue their education, even in difficult times.

In fact, there are many examples of female scholars throughout Islamic history who have made significant contributions to their societies. There is also no evidence of any religious text or hadith that forbids the education of women. The stipulation that girls must be escorted by a male relative when going to school, in Sunni and Shia Islam, is unfounded.

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