The Significance of Education in Islam

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The Significance of Education in Islam


The Importance of Education in Islam

Muslims have always placed a high value on learning and have given honor to scholars. The aim of education for a Muslim was intellectual and spiritual excellence.

One of the earliest handbooks for teachers at Islamic primary schools lays out a curriculum based on prophetic traditions that include obligatory subjects such as precise articulation and memorization of the Koran, along with arithmetic.

History of Islamic Education

Unlike Western education, where the focus of learning is primarily on acquiring knowledge and skills, Islamic educational system was always geared towards the preservation and transmission of culture. The study of authentic works was compulsory and the development of right thinking, humility and intellectual eminence were its goals.

In traditional Muslim educational system, teachers were considered to be a central part of the teaching process and were given a great deal of independence and authority. Students were expected to learn in a cooperative and respectful atmosphere.

Moreover, the teacher was viewed as a master of scholarship and lectures were meticulously recorded in notebooks. In fact, it was not uncommon for students to travel long distances just to attend the circle of a renowned ulama. The scholarly traditions of this age also included the use of Arabic, which was seen as the language of revelation and the primary means for communicating the knowledge of scripture.

Characteristics of Islamic Education

Islam emphasized that the acquisition of knowledge was not merely for intellectual purposes; it should also stimulate spiritual and moral consciousness. As such, education was designed to produce people who adhered to Islamic principles.

Early schools of “primary” instruction, called kuttabs, focused on religious teaching. They taught a curriculum that included the precise articulation of the Koran, prayers, fasting, and charitable acts.

Higher educational institutions developed, including mosque colleges (masjid ayn) from about the eighth century onward, law colleges, and madrasas. These were usually financed by a pious endowment and located close to a large mosque, offering boarding and lodging as well as tuition.

They stressed the importance of a close relationship between teacher and student, in which the former imparted the intellectual discipline to the latter. Teachers were usually experts in a particular subject and were highly respected. The curriculum was mainly religious, with some secular studies, particularly logic and literature. Moreover, students were required to dress in a manner that was consistent with Islamic values and practices.

Goals of Islamic Education

Unlike modern secularized education that treats students as consumers, traditional Islamic educational systems aimed at stimulating the Muslim community to take an interest in higher intellectual issues. These included learning how to read and write, Islamic law (shari’a), philosophy, jurisprudence, theology, the Koran and Koranic exegesis, and Arabic language and literature.

Islam teaches that people should be encouraged to develop their fullest potential in all areas of life, including the mental and spiritual. This requires training in the principles of faith that entails training Man’s spirit, intellect, rational self and feelings, such that faith is infused into the whole of his personality.

Besides promoting a culture of learning, Islamic education seeks to inculcate the spirit of brotherhood among Muslims and encourages tolerance in a pluralistic society. It also aims at developing in students a sense of responsibility and the ability to make sacrifices for their faith. This is evident in the history of several prominent mosque-based colleges and universities in the Islamic world, such as al-Azhar at Cairo.

Methods of Islamic Education

Islam has a long history of educational activities. Historically, education was a natural outgrowth of the society and responded to its needs and aspirations. This is in contrast to modern schools which are often transplanted western institutions and do not reflect the spiritual and moral training which Muslims feel is the most important part of their education.

The earliest Muslim educational institutions were mosques which became centres for religious learning. The caliphs encouraged the spread of knowledge by founding libraries and encouraging scholars to teach. The ahl al-‘ilm were an especially important group of students which included jurists, theologians, philosophers and litterateurs.

In Islamic thought the goal of education is to produce pious human beings. This requires developing one’s physical, intellectual and spiritual potential. This is achieved by teaching them to follow the examples of the prophets and other pious people. It is also achieved by teaching them to use reason properly. The sages advise parents to educate their children with reading, writing and arithmetic.

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