There are three kinds of education that are being handed out to Muslims today. One created for the elite involving foreign-language, often English or French. This system is based on a Western education model. The education lacks any real substance in Islam, but instead replaces this with a history, philosophy and social science that propagate a world-view centered on the ascendancy of Western civilization. Evolution is taught as fact. And the conspicuous absence of Allah imprints His implicit denial. The education provides a secular view of the world and the subservience and abject inferiority of our own civilization.
From being dressed in Western attire in a young age, our children are/have been brainwashed into accepting an alien culture and serve to be transformed into an elite that neither understands nor respects its culture and roots and instead is in awe of the Western civilization. These elite then serve as the agents of the foreign power in keeping control over the country, a new and sophisticated form of vassalage, yet vassalage to the same or greater degree than ever before.
The second form of education is the diametric opposite – madrasah education given to the lower classes where the Quran is recited and memorized but without comprehension, reflection and analysis. People still are devoted to the Quran, but their love of the book is not one of reflection and understanding, but of formalistic and ritualistic reading, learning by heart and a complicated science of pronunciation. What is produced are people who can recite, memorize and obey commands, but neither understand Islam, their active role in Islam, or their position in the greater scheme of things.
The third form of education is government sourced and involves a blend of rote learning similar to the madrasahs, but just enough practical curriculum to be able to function in various jobs and roles that any state and economy inevitably needs. These typically serve the middle classes.
Our education system is broken and astoundingly there is no Muslim government that is willing to fix it. How can we create an improved state of affairs when the fundamental building block of the system - the Muslim Individual - is not educated, aware and enlightened but brainwashed to believe their inferiority? As with any system: garbage in, garbage out.
The Great Mistake
Our present education crisis did not start now. It started a long time ago and perhaps coincides with our decline. Brother Mahathir Muhamad points out in his blog CheDet that in the 15th century we decided to separate worldly knowledge from religious knowledge and focus on the latter. It was this that he attributes as a key element to our downfall.
Perhaps the issue started even earlier when the Asharite school started using reason and logic only defensively and Imam Ghazali debated those influenced by Greek philosophers. However, the victory seemed one not only against the philosophers but against the use of reason and logic itself. Thus, the doors of ijtehad were closed and Muslims moved increasingly to mysticism and fatalism to relate to the world around them.
How else did this great blunder come about? Malek Bennabi in his book The Question of Ideas in the Muslim World points out that Muslim society reacted to an increasingly materialist order within itself by an increasing indulgence in the rejection of the material. The subordination of reason and logic and the mysticism that thus established a foothold has had cascading consequences upon our society. One of this has been the separation of knowledge that Mahathir Muhamad spoke of, where we separated “religious knowledge” from “secular knowledge” long before the bayonets of the British showed up to tell us the same.
Muslim society has been trapped between the two poles of materialism and mysticism ever since. On the other hand, the materialism of the West has led to the increasing destruction of the moral fabric of society leading to a world were objects have overwhelmed humanity. This world is the anti-thesis of the push to mysticism. One pole attracts the other, polarizing the Ummah. Yet, Islam is the Middle Way!
Worldviews and Education
Our education has to be based on our worldview. Bennabi explains that our core beliefs are fundamentally different from the West’s in the following illustrations:
1. Man either looks at his feet or at the stars
2. Objects and forms, techniques and aesthetics, versus truth and virtue
3. Industrial time versus extemporized time
4. Positivism and dialectic materialism versus morality and revealed knowledge
The question that comes to mind is, given the completely different core viewpoints of the two worlds, can we attempt to Islamize Western knowledge in the manner we are attempting at present? As an example, consider the subject of Economics where the dominance of Economic theory in the West aligns with the dominance of the material; The very term “Econom(y)ics” resides in the material. Simply attaching “Islamic” to form a “new” “Islamic Economics” seems dishonest to our true principles, to our very different core principles.
It seems that the very aspect of Islamizing knowledge today does not reach out and spring forth from our core, but attempts to fit our principles into a Western worldview.
A respected author at an Islamic university wrote a book using such complex terms that the students (at least those for whom reading it is compulsory) are dumbfounded at what it means. A choice of wonderfully complex terms are put together in such a vague manner that you are left wondering what the author is saying, but give the benefit of the doubt that it must be truly profound. On the other hand, perhaps Bennabi’s words were apt for this:
Islamic thought sinks to mysticism, to vagueness and fuzziness, into imprecision and into mimesis and craze vis-à-vis the Western “thing”!
We must ask ourselves what we are trying to achieve, or who we are trying to impress with this approach to writing. And in the sixth chapter of his same book, Bennabi describes the issue of a lack of ideas or dead ideas leaving empty brains, helpless tongues and infantilism. He quotes Nicholas Boileau, a French literary critic from the 17th century thus:
That which is properly thought out is said clearly,
And the words to express it come forth easily.
Taking the concept of Islamization of knowledge as illustrated by “Islamic Economics”, the very idea is perhaps fundamentally flawed in creating an Islamic revival. The learned scholars react by stating that we cannot go back and start from scratch. But such scholars miss the point that there is a big area between the dressing up of Western sciences to meet the Islamic hijab code on the one hand, and “starting from scratch” on the other.
A Muslim Worldview of Acquiring Knowledge
But, what is the nature of knowledge and why is it important to us? Even before we can touch upon the question of Islamic Economics and Islamizing knowledge, we have to first identify the nature of the relationship between Islam, Muslims and knowledge because it appears as if we understand knowledge in a vacuum. It seems as if it was something merely necessary for the survival of the material world. Our universities churn out degree holders to feed our economies in the hope of competing with the West. We then Islamize our text to make them more palatable and to claim an Islamic revival.
Yet, this reaches out to a mimic of the West seeking its core in the material. Our focus on the reason, purpose and relationship of knowledge to us has to be fundamentally different. It has to reach out to our core – our religious and spiritual innards.
There may be many different means by which we can develop this connection. It is up to our intellectual endeavour to take up this challenge. This challenge has been taken up by the IIIT and the Islamization of Knowledge (IOK) movement. Thus far however, the IOK movement has failed with the Faruqi and Attas paradigms and only now appears to be headed in the right direction with Taha Jabir Al-Alwani’s work. However, by now the Faruqi and Attas paradigms are well-entrenched and unlikely to be superseded easily.
The IOK movement has also failed to discover Allama Iqbal’s relevance, neither have they fully realized the weight of Malek Bennabi’s work.
Returning to the question of rebuilding a meaningful connection between seeking knowledge and Islam, the connection is expressed in the following section based on this author’s understanding. It is noted that these are but merely two ways of many to think about the issue. The first paradigm outlined below is similar to that given in Allama Iqbals Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.
A First Paradigm:
The story begins (and Allah knows best) when Adam was created and Allah (swt) taught him the “names of things” or “nature of things”. And Adam was asked to tell the angels their “names” or “natures”. And this was seen as the triumph of man and convinced all but Satan. All were told to bow to man – what an ultimate honour to be bowed to by Allah’s creation!
At first glance it seems confusing. What is this term “names of things” or “nature of things” and why was it so special? For many people this would just be something they will not understand or contemplate over. Was it that the angels did not understand and simply start bowing to anyone that can take their name or show their nature? Moreover, what is the point being made by the Quran? Perhaps there is some real meaning in this.
However, it may be that for a student of psychology this bit of information may prove to be of interest. Consider the fact that studies of the human mind have shown that the mind has an amazing ability that other beings known to man do not have – the ability to classify things – both material and non-material (i.e. ideas). This ability to classify and organizing information is not shared with other creatures. If one reads about the philosophy and epistemology of science, we find that this quality of classifying and organizing data and thereby investigating their natures is perhaps the key factor to what science essentially is. In fact, it is what science is built upon; it’s very fundamental building structure.
The reason a university has so many departments each focusing on a specific set of subjects, and within them sections focused on even more specific, and within them sub-sections and professors who specialize in even smaller focuses is because the information has been classified into these various branches, sub-branches, sub-sub-branches and so forth. This makes the investigation of the nature of things possible at a level unforeseen otherwise. So, what this author is crawling towards is that the event when Adam was created and thereafter was taught the names of things, was not a meaningless event, but a very meaningful one and one that guides us as human beings to who we are, what we are, and our purpose. And Allah knows best.
To clarify, our purpose is to worship Allah (swt) as we all know. But does worship mean going to the masjid and banging our head to the floor a couple of times while thinking about our daily activities and then being on our way? As always, when in doubt, investigate the Quran. The Quran constantly, and repeatedly talks about reflecting, thinking, contemplating about the world Allah (swt) has created around us. One random example of many:
And all things We have created by pairs, that haply ye may reflect. (51:49, Al-Quran, Pickthall)
The second thing you notice is that the Quran talks about the natural world (botany, zoology, evolution, etc), about the stars, planets, the beginning of the universe (Astronomy, Astrophysics), the mountains (Geology and Geography), and more. Again, it simultaneously (and repeatedly) tells us to think, reflect, and contemplate. Islam goes so far as to challenge man to find a fault or prove the Quran wrong.
Allah knows best, but the purpose of this can perhaps be best understood in the following manner:
Imagine that I make an acquaintance. I can say hello, ask his name and meet the individual repeatedly. But after a million hellos, I may not truly know him any better than the first day I met him. If I really want to know the individual in question, I could perhaps take another approach. If the acquaintance was a painter, I could go down to look at his painting and attempt to understand him through his works. My mind may wonder: what does my friend paint about – women, cars, landscapes or science fiction? What choice of colours does he use? Is he a cubist? What size are his paintings? What’s so great about his work? What’s not that great?
On the other hand, if the acquaintance was an engineer and had built a bridge, I could go down take a look at the bridge, see what it’s like – is it mechanically efficient? Aesthetic?Both? Is it sporting a postmodern looking? Or does it look like it’s out of the 18th century? What choice of materials did my friend use? By noting the works of my acquaintance, I could get to know him in a more meaningful way than having spent years saying hello and goodbye. Perhaps even more than if I chatted with him about the weather, the news, politics, religion, philosophy and had tea with him every weekend.
In a similar vein, if we wish to know our Creator, one critical method could be to contemplate, reflect, and think about His amazing creation (and Allah knows best). But to effectively do so, we need to understand the nature of the things around us. We need to have some idea of art to understand a painter and some idea of the engineering of bridges to appreciate our engineer friend who built one.
This brings us back to the parable of Adam. To really understand the nature (or names) of things, we need to be able to classify them and study them in depth; to be investigators, scientists, thinkers, theorists. We note that only humans have this ability to classify and organize data, that is to name them, and this is closely connected to understanding their natures. Because once you can classify data, you can begin to investigate the relationships between multiple classifications. This mental process may seem natural to us, but in fact is unique to humanity.
So a Muslim, who actually reads the Quran with understanding and contemplation, not mindless babbling while rocking left, right, forward and backwards, will inevitably become an investigator, a researcher, a thinker, a philosopher, a scientist. What is more, this is closely linked with tauheed and tasawuf.
Tauheed is often described as the understanding of the Oneness of Allah and knowing his attributes. Only by being an investigator, scientist, thinker, can we get a deeper understanding of the Oneness of Allah, which is constantly expressed in the creation. Otherwise, repeating the Names of Allah will neither yield a deeper understanding of those Names nor will it be sufficient in itself to attempt to understand our Creator with the full force of the resources and capabilities available at our disposal. Thus, our scientific endeavour is central to the goal of reaching a more meaningful and deeper understanding of tauheed.
However, charting the destination is different from walking the destination. When we begin our investigations, we quickly find that our mind gets involved with the specific and forgets the whole. If we take the example of the bridge used earlier, we start admiring the bridge, the materials, and the architecture and forget about the engineer who was the original purpose of our investigation, and who we had hoped to better appreciate. This is where the role of tasawuf begins; the constant remembrance of Allah; in our case, specifically during our investigation. Without this, we lose the purpose of our investigations and are lost again into the world of objects and people.
Thus, tauheed, scientific inquiry and tasawuf (or dhikr) are inextricably linked. None can exist in their essence in isolation but are joined like a jugular vein to the other. In the great contemporary battle between the Wahabis / Salafis who nominally uphold tauheed and Sufis who nominally uphold tasawuf, both sides have missed the essential symbiosis of the three concepts. If anything, all sides consider the investigation of “secular” knowledge as beyond their realms and subject matter.
A Second Paradigm:
Another possible paradigm on how Muslims can relate themselves to knowledge is from the perspective of jihad. It is imperative for the Muslim world to overcome the external threat in order to revive and defend ourselves. Acquiring the necessary knowledge, technology and industrial capacity thus becomes a part of jihad.
Using this knowledge of the world, we can overcome our enemies or at least defend more effectively against them. It is this approach that allowed Pakistani scientists to overcome sanctions and a lack of a technological and industrial base, and build a highly competent nuclear industry at break-neck speed.
Moving Our Children to the World of Ideas
Bennabi describes the great crisis of civilization as the cultivation of humanity moving from the world of people and objects to the world of ideas. He describes the critical age when our children begin to enter this world of ideas as starting from seven to eight years, as supported by cognitive development theorists such as Piaget and Case. We are doing the greatest harm to our children when we are forcing them to block out the development of the thinking process and instead make them memorize endless texts, whether in our religious schools or our secular ones. We may be producing zombies.
It may be that we are forcing our children into boxes out of which they cannot grow. In China, it was once believed that women having small feet are highly desirable. As a result, they began to put their children into shoes that they were forced to wear, and their small tender feet were forced to stay small within. As a result the feet would stay small but would become hideously deformed, painful and ultimately impair the children. Our situation may be worse for we cannot observe by sight the damage that we are doing to our children.
An Islamic education must be built, an education on the basis of which we can construct sound citizens. Such an education can be seen in the various Islamic school systems established throughout the world including by Yusuf Islam, whose highly successful chain of Islamic schools in the United Kingdom has been a model of excellence. We have men like him and others such as Hamza Yusuf, Nouman Ali Khan, and innumerable others waiting in the wings for an opportunity. An opportunity that is only possible if an Islamic state is established.
An Islamic state would need to bring Muslim educators world over together and let them build what they have successfully built without the resources of a state and in a hostile environment. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, this task before us, although of the greatest importance, is not beyond the capabilities already present today.
Whether or not we can change the worldview of our adult populations, we need to ensure that the Chinese foot binding equivalent of brain damage on our children does not continue. We need to ensure that children at the age of 7-8 are given proper schooling where they are encouraged to think, reason and understand the Quran and not blindly memorized in a language they do not understand. Thus, the Quran has to be taught and read in a proper manner starting from this age group, enabling future generations to not only understand and appreciate the Quran, but in a stroke, Islamize their worldview and paradigm including how they think about their future educational endeavors.
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