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Islamic Concept of Education

By: Prof. Maqsood Jafri



The Principal of Iman School New York Mr. Raza Naqvi asked me to address the students on the subject Islamic Concept of Education. This school is being run under the administration of AL-Khoei Benevolent Foundation headed by prominent religious scholar Sheikh Fadhl Sehlani. On December 19, 2003 I lectured the students on the given subject. I maintained that The Quran believes in the respect and equality of all human kind but it announces the superiority of the class of educated people. The Quran says:

“ Are the educated and uneducated equal?” In Sura The Heifer the Quran declares the superiority of Adam in these words: “ And He taught Adam, the names of all things; then He placed them before the angels and said: “ Tell me the names of these if you are right”.

They said: “ Glory to Thee: of knowledge we have none save Thou hast taught us, in truth it is Thou who art perfect in knowledge and wisdom”. (2:30-32). The angels and Satan failed in the test of knowledge. Hence the vicegerency was assigned to Adam. Knowledge made him superior to all creatures. The first word of the revelation deals with the importance of knowledge. In Sura Al-Alaq it is said: “ Read in the name of thy Lord who created”. There is another verse of the Holy Quran asking the Prophet (P.B.U.H) to pray: “ Lord increase my knowledge”. The importance of knowledge is manifest at different places in the Quran. The Quran says that we send the Prophets to teach people wisdom. It further says that only the people of knowledge fear God. In Sura Heifer the Quran says: “ But the best of provisions is right conduct so fear me, O ye that are wise”. (2:197).


            The Arabic word “ Olilalbab” (The men of mind), has been used in the Quran maintaining that the verses of the Quran are for the men who cogitate. The animals share humans in sex and stomach. They do not share the humans in intellect. The humans are superior to the animals because of the mind. If we negate the element of rationality from human they are nothing more than cattle and chattel. The Quran time and again says:       “ Why don’t you meditate”. Hence we see that the Quran is a Book of wisdom and exhorts to pick up the glistening pearls of wisdom. Besides the Quranic emphasis on education we find many sayings of the Holy Prophet on this subject. A drop of sweat of the brow of a thinker is better than the thousand blood drops of the martyr, is a famous Hadith of the Holy Prophet. The Prophet further said: “ Attain knowledge from the cradle to the grave”. Then the Prophet said: “ Acquire knowledge even if you have to travel to China”. In another Hadith the Prophet said: “ Acquiring of knowledge is obligatory to every Muslim male and female”. The Holy Prophet once issued the orders of release of those prisoners of war who could teach the Muslim children. Hazrat Ali, in his book entitled “ Nehjul Balaga” emphatically stressed on the significance of knowledge saying that the one who cognizes his Self, cognizes his Lord. In a poem Hazrat Ali has beautifully portrayed the significance of knowledge saying:




“ The beautiful dress does not reflect beauty.

               The beauty is the beauty of knowledge and morals.

               The one whose father dies is not an orphan,

               The real orphan is he who brings bad name to his tribe.”                       


            Islam believes in the mastery of matter and mind. In Surah Al-Jathiya in verse # 13 the Quran says: “ For you (God) subjected all that is in the heavens and on the earth, all from Him. Behold! In that are signs for people who reflect”. The message of God makes us to ponder over the natural objects. It is a scientific enquiry and research, which are made obligatory. The Greek philosophers gave importance to abstractions. Their method of inquiry was deductive. The Muslims introduced the Inductive method, which is analytical and scientific. Dr. Maurice Bucaille in a book entitled, “The Bible, The Quran and Science” proves that Islam is a scientific religion emphasizing on the need of scientific inquiry.


            There are four gates of knowledge, Perception, Intellect, Intuition and Revelation. Perception deals with five senses and enhances material research. It provides us information on the matter and the properties of matter. Scientists use this method. Philosophers, Logicians and Jurists use intellect to solve the problems. The mystics and poets are endowed with the boon of intuition. The Prophets have been given the special and chosen duty of reformation through the gift of revelation. Islam ordains to use all these methods for the benefit of humankind. The antonym of “ Ilm” (knowledge) is “ Jehl” (ignorance). The Quran at a place says that turn your back to the ignorant. It means that we should not strike our head with the stony walls of illiteracy and ignorance rather we should educate the uneducated lot. An eminent Muslim political thinker Al-Mauwardi in his book entitled “ The leadership and Politics” writes that four characteristics are essential for a Muslim ruler or leader, Knowledge, Piety, Justice and Administration. Eminent British philosopher Bertrand Russell in his book entitled “ Education and Social Order” writes that tolerance is the first step towards learning. The real knowledge makes us tolerant, civilized and rational. In Islamic jurisprudence no one can become Faqih (Jurist) without sound intellectual background. Whether some one is a scientist, a ruler, a leader or a jurist, knowledge is the basic requirement for these positions. Islamic conception of education teaches us to be the master of matter and mind to serve the human kind.




(The writer is an eminent speaker and scholar and can be reached at                    

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