Seven Islamic Principles of Education
In my view, there are seven principles of Islam’s approach to education.
First and foremost, Islam values Knowledge.
1. Knowledge as an objective universal truth, Haqq. It is not bound to a culture, a religion, a particular time. It exists out there and it is there to be discovered. And discovering knowledge is a way of entering faith. Alhaqq is one of God’s names. Alhaqq means absolute truth. Actually it means more…it means a certainty, an honesty and a right. So there is an objective truth that is independent of faith. The Quran states that those who come to ‘know’ the measure of God are the ‘knowledgeable’. Those who have knowledge.
2. How do we find this Knowledge? Through rational empirical investigation. We have to be active seekers/learners. Again and again God in the Quran talks about his signs. The evidence in the natural world, in our bodies, in the concepts of space and time. We are instructed us to seek truth through a Spirit of Inquiry & Discovery: Wonder, Plan, Investigate, Discover, Reflect, Share, Act. The above seven attributes are characteristics of an active learner consistently looking for knowledge and information. The way to find that truth is not through the holy book. The Holy Books are from god and to be read, learned, and lived that is true. And they do contain a truth, but not one we may readily understand. Holy books are here to support the seeking of that truth and guide to it, if we can understand the guidance.
3. Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every individual. Ignorance is not an excuse. Muslims are encouraged to ‘seek knowledge all the way to China’ – very contemporary! And that seeking of knowledge is already outlined. It’s through systematic enquiry that we enquire that knowledge. And the mention of china is to show that knowledge is not ethnocentric. It is not ‘our’ knowledge; it is universal knowledge that can be accessed by all regardless of time and place.
4. An ethical base, a unity of knowledge. Just like words which are symbols denoting the meaning of things, the objects of the natural world are symbols denoting a meaning. To study the word as word, regarding it as if it had an independent reality of its own, is to miss the real point of studying it; for regarded as such it is no longer a sign or a symbol, as it is being made to point to itself, which is not what it really is. So in like manner is the study of nature, of any thing, any object of knowledge in Creation, pursued in order to attain knowledge of it; if the expression ‘as it really is’ is taken to mean its alleged independent reality, essentially and existentially, as if it were something ultimate and subsistent—then such study is devoid of real purpose, and the pursuit of knowledge becomes a deviation from the truth, which necessarily puts into question the validity of such knowledge, treating the things of the empirical world as ‘words’, as signs and symbols operating in a network of conceptual relations that altogether describe an organic unity
5. The value of the written word and the importance of the book. The first word revealed is Islam was the command ‘Read!’. The Quran is central to every Muslim’s life and as the first of the books, but not the only one, reading is central to the faith. Knowledge is to be found in the scholarly works across nations and ages.
6. Transmission and the centrality of the teacher. Islam states that ‘The best of you are those who learn (a) knowledge and then teach it’. Scholars and Teachers hold a very important social position in Islam. ‘The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.’
7. Action. Knowledge has to be acknowledged by recognising the true nature and relationship of people and things. This means recognition of the truth in both domains, the ontological and the theological, necessitates in the human being conduct that conforms to that truth. Thus Haqq also signifies ‘duty’ or ‘obligation’ that binds in accordance with the requirements of reality and truth. When in Islam we speak of human being as possessing ‘right(s)’ in the sense of just claim or what he is entitled to, we mean by that his duty or obligation as described above. Thus ‘recognition and acknowledgement’ as an element in the Islamic concept of education means ‘affirmation and actualisation’ in one’s self of what is recognised. Wisdom, Justice, Harmony that comes from the pursuit of knowledge should lead to the emancipation of the human.
An Islamic education would focus on knowledge, the need to enquire and experiment. It would make the seeking of objective knowledge a moral obligation on every individual and provide an ethical unity to that knowledge. It would venerate learning from books and the teacher. Finally, it would necessitate in every individual action to ensure human progress.
Of course, Islamic scholars emphasise that the ethical unity is contained in the faith, but this theological perspective does not impact upon the curriculum. An Islamic education that reflects the principles from the Golden Age of Islamic thought would be a triumph over the contemporary instrumentalist social engineering that passes for education. What parent wouldn’t want to send their child to a school organised around the seven pillars of Islamic education?
Rania Hafez, Director of the professional network Muslim Women in Education and was the Chair of the East Midlands Salon Battle Satellite ‘A new age of liberty?’