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Educational Reform-Balancing Values and Skills

Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA




Education---like democracy, free markets, freedom of the press, and "universal human rights"--- is one of those subjects whose virtue is considered self-evident. In Industrially advanced countries, education has become an extension of the capitalist system; in other words, the purpose of education is to provide for the economic prosperity of a country. Similarly on a personal level today the purpose of education is to be able to earn a respectable living. While earning halal living and providing for the economic well being of a country are certainly important Islamic goals as well, the linking of education to financial goals is extremely unfortunate. Now-a-days many internal problems-corruption, injustice, oppression, crippling poverty--are rampant everywhere in the Muslim world. Those who perpetuate these problems are educated people, in some cases "highly" educated people. Why are Muslim communities in the grip of so much materialism today? Why have we effectively relegated Islam to a small inconsequential quarter in our public life? Some advocate that is precisely where our secular education system has put it. Our imported education system is devoid of all moral training. Why our societies are sick? Because our education system is sick. Our schools and colleges have been the main agency for secularization of Islamic societies. They have been effectively teaching that Islam is irrelevant to understanding this world or to solving its problems. But even when they are strong practicing Muslims, they have not been trained and educated to detect and challenge secular dogmas that have been integrated into their curriculums. This is the real crisis of education. Moral training, Tarbiya, was always an inalienable part of it. The teacher (ustad), was not just a teacher or mere professional, but a mentor and moral guide. In Tirmidhi we read " No father has given a greater gift to his children than good moral training." This must be the main criterion of our education, not a ceremonial cover. All plans for improving our education will be totally futile unless they are based on a full understanding of this key reality. This requires revamping our curricula, rewriting our textbooks, retraining our teachers, and realizing that we do all these things ourselves.  


Belief and righteous conduct are the principles on which the Islamic society is founded. This connection between values and practice lies at the very heart of the Islamic way of life. A Muslim is known by his or her faith that is reflected in one’s practice and daily moral conduct with other people. Muslims are fortunate to have the beautiful teachings of the Holy Qur’an and Prophetic Sunnah. Muslims have institutions such as mosques, Islamic schools and organizations. Inspite such resources many Muslims today do not live in accordance with the principles and values of their faith. What is wrong?1 

Prosperous is he who purifies it, and failed has he who seduces it. (91:7-10) 

It is a miraculous quality of Islam and the Quran that in spite of being the ultimate religion it is also ever alive and fresh, capable of not only moving in step with the movement and growth of human societies and the development of culture and civilization, but also infused with the capacity to induce dynamism and movement. It is so resourceful that it can always cater to the needs of changing times and newly arising problems. 

The Quran and Islam can best be compared to Nature itself; like nature, the more it is studied, newer dimensions are revealed, and fresher secrets are discovered with new research. Neither this inquiry and investigation come to an end, nor the discoveries and findings are ever exhausted. No matter how much progress and advancement man may make in the field of science he is still confronted with new enigmas posed by nature, which he has to understand and solve. 

Knowledge has no limits. The profound book of nature is so rich in content and meaning that if the history of human thought continues forever, this book is not likely to be read to its end. The Quran, too, is like the rich and profound book of nature, with the difference that the Quran is articulate and eloquent while nature is silent. But its content and resources are equally inexhaustible, and will ever remain as fresh and novel. Every day it conveys a new message to the humanity. That Islam had stirred various intellectual legal, educational, and cultural movements in human history, and is ever dynamic and alive and that, we, too, are called upon to actively participate in this movement and play our own role in this mission. 

Aim of education is to teach the students the contents of the books and to provide them with a diploma at the conclusion of their academic terms, a document that served as a permit to enter some new lucrative trade. In this way, from the first day all that the parents cared about was what his or her child would become after twelve or sixteen or eighteen years of school and college education, what office he would hold and what sort of income he would secure for himself. 

Knowledge was not relevant. The diploma and the certificate served as a bridge to cross over to higher salary. Therefore, all that mattered was the diploma. There were, of course, certain hidden objectives also behind this organization of the educational system. The pagan system of the past wanted it that way that education should be no more than a kind of distraction for the people, ultimately ensuring cultural poverty, bankruptcy, dependence, absurdity and sterility. That system of education was designed to breed generations of indifferent, irresponsible and hollow individuals who cannot rely upon themselves. 

Sterility was in built in all sections of life through the system of education, which produced persons without any ideals, indifferent and neutral regarding their aims and goals. The result was that they were totally devoid of the goals of self-sufficiency, specialization, and expertise and consequently dependent upon others regarding their industry and agriculture. The weak level of indigenous specialization and expertise necessitated supervision and domination of a Muslim country by foreign political, military, technical, and even educational advisers and administrators 2.  

There was hardly any construction company, corporation, ministry, factory, research centre or any other establishment in an oil rich Muslim country that was not run by foreign experts and advisers. In almost every industrial contract that was made, there were scores of various aspects of dependence on foreigners. In one atomic energy project alone, and other such projects, there were approximately two hundred military contracts that made us dependent upon two hundred different international power centres. We were happy in our heart of hearts that we had brought such and such a thing to our country, while in reality, with the establishment of such a project we had made our economy dependent upon the two hundred centres of exploitation and domination servile to the desires of bloodthirsty colonialists, who were responsible for exporting consumerist thinking and culture to our country. If they established some colleges in certain specialized fields which, for example, produced good doctors, we were so weak with regard to our goals and ideals vis-a-vis our own people that our doctors were absorbed by American and European hospitals to treat others, as if they deserved their services more than ourselves! If we established one or two specialized faculties in our country and succeeded in producing some experts, they were of benefit only for others. It was a strange thing that some of the prescribed courses of specialization in the medical colleges were about diseases that occurred in America and were not found in any Muslim country! 

It is because our entire system of education was geared to the foreign interests. Dependence does not mean translation of foreign texts of physics and chemistry, for instance, into our language. Learning from others is in no way opposed to the ideals of self-reliance. The Muslims were responsible for developing the sciences of physics and chemistry. It was Muslims who first taught these sciences to others and later on other people made expansions in these fields. We should learn from others, complying with the words of the Prophet (S): 

    Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. 


    Seek knowledge even [if it is to be found in a place as distant as] China. 

The question of acquisition of knowledge from others is not a matter of dependence. Man should acquire good ideas, thoughts, knowledge, and skills, from all corners of the world. That is a different thing. The real problem with an educational system not geared to the objective of self-sufficiency is that the people are trained in such a way that instead of fulfilling the needs of their nation and establishing a sympathetic relationship with the deprived masses, instead of the service of the people and the care and treatment of the sick of our motherland, instead of making roads for our deprived villages, all efforts are directed in such a way that every effort undertaken is either for the sake of one's pocket, or in the interests of the pagan oppressors, or for launching such projects as multiply our dependence on foreign powers. The real problem is the culture of dependence, adoption of hollow and empty cultural and intellectual ideals, values, aims and principles, which are devoid of meaning and are bankrupt 2 . 

High school graduates want university education so that they can count upon their chances of getting good employment, after college education and elevation of their place and position in society. If they are told that the high school diploma bears the same value in the employment market, then the majority of them would not care for the university education. If one visits any Eastern or Western country, one will find that only eleven to fourteen per cent of high school graduates find way into the university. The majority, unable to find their way into the university, is absorbed in other jobs and fulfils other needs of the society. 

What is the reason that our students while deciding upon the choice of their field of study are always after the subjects which offer better chances of entrance into the university or which are more paying. They do not give their mind as to which of the subjects is more congruous to their taste, their capabilities, or is appropriate to the needs of their society. It does not matter to them as to which of the subjects can be more useful for improving the lot of the deprived and the downtrodden, or which is more effective in assisting their societies in achieving self-sufficiency. The only thing that they consider is the market value of any field, or subject with better chances of admission to the university, regardless of whether the subjects opted by them for study are in conformity with their interests or not, whether they are in accordance with the demands of their society. That is absolutely of no concern to them. All this exhibits deterioration of our values, degeneration of ideals, and absence of any sense of responsibility. 

What purpose schools serve? 

For the primary education perhaps it may be said that it serves the purpose of teaching the children to read, write and to do arithmetical sums, so that they may learn to sign their names and do not remain illiterate. But what is the purpose of secondary education then? Why do our children have to go through the high school? 

Perhaps most of you will say that the purpose is to learn and to make headway in life, to be able to find a good job with good pay, or something of this kind. 

Moreover, the aims and purposes should be definite. Is it necessary for the children to study all the lessons prescribed in their texts? Are those lessons useful for the child and the future of his society? If they are not useful, we are obliged to announce that such and such a chapter in such and such a book is useless and unnecessary, or such and such a topic or even a subject is struck off from the syllabus. But if any of them are useful, they should not only be retained, but also studied, and learnt well. Sometimes I contemplate about this problem as to why eighty or ninety per cent of the children put aside their books and completely abandon them as soon as their examinations are over. What does this attitude imply? Does it not show that the book was not read or studied for the sake of its subjects, and there did not exist any bond between the student and the book? In other words, the book was studied merely for the sake of marks on the progress report. Once the report reflected the numbers, the whole affair comes to an end. The book becomes irrelevant for the student. We have to see first whether these lessons are essential for the society or not. If they are essential, what is the explanation for this behaviour? 2 

If we really want to march forward in the direction of achieving self-sufficiency, if we do not wish to import any experts and specialists from foreign countries, if we do not wish to rely upon foreign experts and specialists for every small matter, we should firstly make our universities and schools independent of alien elements. We do not lack talent, as our youngsters are full of capacities. By God, Europe and America are not specially favoured regarding their intellectual and natural talents. That intelligence, intellect and potentiality exist in ample amount in every Muslim country. Then why should we need to bring from other lands any experts or managers for setting up and managing our factories or advisers for training our armed forces? Why should we need to import spare parts from foreign countries? Why should we depend upon others for all kinds of ordinary industrial products? 2 

Muslim children have initiative, creativity, capacity for working hard and productivity. When they become soldiers they can make certain important parts of tanks and guns, but also they could manufacture certain parts of Phantom planes. They can repair one of the biggest warships, the same ship that if they had wanted to repair three years back, it would have had to be in British waters waiting eleven months for its turn, and which would have cost us an expense of several million dollars also. Our own workers repaired it. Muslim children have immense capabilities, why shouldn't they be utilized? Why shouldn't they be allowed to blossom? Why in lieu of this we should be so much dependent on others?2 

Why should a student have to spend precious twelve years of his life and give nine months of every year, and twenty to twenty-five days of each month, working four to five hours a day, in order to obtain a certificate and run after jobs without possessing any skill, any experience or capability whatsoever? Why should all these resources be wasted? Is it inevitable that this waste and this loss should occur?  

Student who takes his high school diploma in literature does not have the skills of writing, does not know the art of public speaking, cannot do any kind of artistic work, has no idea of research and cannot even write a simple political analysis. 

The one with a technical diploma does not know even very simple technological skills and crafts. The one, who has completed the commerce and management course, knows nothing about clerical work or keeping of accounts. All of them, what they were after was to get a piece of paper. With this piece of paper in their hands, they go from place to place saying, "Give me some job, wherever you can. Don't consider what I have studied, management or literature. I just want some job, no matter what. Give me one, and give me money." 

Even now the system of education is static, lifeless, sluggish, despondent, and decadent.

Let us see how one of the so-called advanced countries of the world is doing in education. If one visits Tokyo, Japan there one can enquire about their school vacations. They will tell you that they have just a forty-day summer vacation, and two other vacations of ten days each, which altogether make two months in the whole year. 

Incidentally, that day when we went to visit the schools was their last working day after which their forty-day holidays were to commence. Despite the fact that it was their last working day, in whichever class we went we saw that the class was at work. The teacher was busy teaching lessons while pupils attentively listened to him and answered his questions. On the last working day, and even in the last moments the classes were functioning normally. But in a Muslim country, as soon as we smell vacations even from a distance, we give up everything to do with teaching or learning.2 

Schools should raise the standards of education and attend to the needs of the children. Muslim scholars should invigorate and animate the schools in order to attain the goal of self-sufficiency. Schools should try to raise the general standard of scientific knowledge, specialization, and expertise. The students should realize their duties with earnestness and awaken to the sense of responsibility. At the same time grade and designation should not be discarded. But as some used to say about the pulpit (minbar) that if other things have drawn you to the pulpit, at least think of God when you step upon the pulpit. In the same way, if salary and grade or something else is required to draw you to the classroom, at least as soon as you step into the class, enter for the sake of God, and teach the children with devotion and dedication. The working hours should be increased in order to assist the children properly. The idea of sitting idle for three long months during vacation time should not be accepted. Instead the teachers should organize camps, coaching classes, and classes for giving training in first aid, social work, art work, and volunteer work. Teachers should organize refresher courses, discussion classes and other study programmes. Programmes are charted out for participation in the activities of the societies and social work. The thought that we are idle today, or that we shall be idle this week should be distressing to us. We should keep ourselves busy in one or some other constructive activity. 

Some of the schools that are sufficiently equipped with respect to the physical training equipment and have ample space shall be kept open to children. They may come for half a day or twice a week and participate in the programmed activities. In a short period of time a group of high school girl students can be trained in first aid, nursing care of the sick Boy students may be given a short term technical training so that they may become useful for their society. Islamic classes for strengthening their thinking may also be organized. 

Programmes for learning political analysis, research and collection of political material from newspapers, writing, and art techniques can also be arranged. For students who have failed in certain courses special classes for coaching and for others classes for teaching of languages like Arabic, English, etc. may also be conducted. 

The thought that the children's energy is wasted in playing monotonous games in their homes and in the lanes removed from any education and training, is of course a painful one. Why shouldn't we, teachers organize some programmes? Why shouldn't we have such programmes for ourselves too? We may hold certain sessions of group discussions for discussing Islamic and ideological problems. But from where can we bring such a large number of teachers who are more qualified and extraordinary? What is wrong if ten or twenty persons sit together and hold a meeting among themselves. But in any case, in my view, everything should effervesce from within. 2 

The zeal and ardor for constructive work and guidance should also come from within. It is important that we advance our work through discussions, debates, studies, and through proper distribution of work among ourselves. By coordination and distribution of work among themselves, they may be able to raise the general standards, and hence their efficiency and effectiveness. 

Education Department should really be interested in educating people, in fashioning them and in making them useful individuals. The teachers' attitude should change from one of having to carry an uninteresting burden and the students' atmosphere should be one of real interest in acquiring knowledge and learning various subjects. The aim of education should be simultaneously to create both an independent as well as an Islamic culture in character. Independence and richness of content are indeed among the characteristics of the Islamic culture. We hope to create a new generation of human beings, a new generation with new values quite different from those of the previous generation. For example, ten years back, when someone had asked a twelve-year-old boy as to his aspirations, or as to how he wished his country to be, or what he would like to become in the future, his answers would have been quite different from the answers of a youngster of today. If today we go to a school and ask the same questions, the children will answer in a completely different tone, as today new meanings have significance for them, new concepts, new values have become relevant for them. They want to work for the benefit of the deprived and the oppressed. They want their country to march ahead in dignity and honour, that it may be a free and independent nation. They wish that this enthusiasm, this ardor, this dynamism, and this search should pervade every corner of our society. They aspire to be truthful and sincere. They are averse to corruption and bribery. They dislike being merely in the service of their pockets, but desire to serve humanity in general. They want to live in such a manner that the East or the West may not dazzle their eyes. They do not want to lose their identity when confronted with foreign cultures. They want to bargain their dignity and honour. They want to preserve their personal identity, and retain their sense of dignity. They want to be at the sending end not the receiving end of the message. They want to be exporters of thought and cultural values and not importers. 

During the past ten years, if a little girl was asked as to what good life meant to her, and what she desired her future to be like, most probably she would have said that good life meant for her plenty of cosmetics, variety of dresses, colorful curtains, more luxury and more fun and recreation in life and above all a higher income. But today, when the same question is put, it is definitely answered in a completely different way. Today she says that she wants to serve, to struggle and to endeavour, to be more humane, to preserve her identity and independence, to be more self-reliant, effective, sincere and truthful. 

Self-sacrifice and generosity, love of freedom, the resolve for resistance and headstrong perseverance-all these are the new values of the new generation. Ten years ago such values were completely dead or non-existent in a Muslim country, but today they have been revived again and are a matter of pride and honour for our people, contrary to the decadence of the past years, when dainty dresses, dandyism, knowing a few foreign phrases, familiarity with films and film stars were regarded as an accomplishment as a thing which conferred 'personality' on one. Such was the kind of things our youth were after. Today the same youth think in the terms of self-sacrifice, service, effort, struggle, movement, resistance, etc. 

These are the new values, which are to be established firmly in our Muslim Youth. But whose job is it to nurture them and bring to fruition, and where? Are the schools exempted from the responsibility of this work? 

If the schools remain indifferent to this responsibility, where are these human beings to be molded? And where are these values and virtues to grow and flourish? Where are these children of ours to learn about Islam? 

Accordingly, our teachers are the apostles of today, encharged with a cultural and intellectual mission and responsibility. Therefore, permit us to strongly resist all deviate and corrupt intrigues in our schools, and not to let our children fall prey to the foreign plots, to be corrupted by the venom of poisonous ideas and values. We shall have to catch up with those unholy, treacherous hands, which corrupt our children in the schools, and cast them away. And at the same time, it is essential that we warmly clasp those hands that are sincere in serving Islam. I do not say that we must be loyal to some individual, or to a certain group; but I certainly emphasize the necessity of loyalty to Islam. But first we have to stop intrigues and corrupt and treacherous practices and then strive to provide opportunities for the development of all our sincere colleagues.2 

Society is like a pyramid, and not everyone is at the apex of the pyramid, be it from the viewpoint of commitment, faith, self-sacrifice, power, qualifications or any other factor. However, there are persons who are more resistant, more self-sacrificing, men of greater faith, greater sincerity, more aware and more conscientious than others. The nearer we approach the apex, the narrower it is. As a rule the pyramid is wider at the base, and there have to be people in the lower parts of the pyramid also. However, what is more important is that we should be a part of this pyramid, a part of the main stream of the ummah. 

The doors of the school should always be kept open for the sake of Islam, for the sake of the Muslim Ummah, so that the Islamic cultural and intellectual activities may be accelerated and enhanced. 

These schools are the centres for modeling human beings. Human beings are not modeled in the electricity department or some other department. They are of course to be fashioned in the schools. Why shouldn't we then educate and train others and ourselves? Why shouldn't we speed up the movement of Islamic, ideological, intellectual, and educational training? In this way, we can contribute our share and fulfil our duty by making the schools, more fruitful. It is hoped that our work, our behaviour, morality, and our mutual relations and dealings shall conform to the Islamic standards. 

The teachers and schools should advance on the above-mentioned guidelines, raising the general standards of education and enhancing the levels of the Islamic commitment, and social activity. Those who have recently joined this profession of teaching, and those who are going to join it in the future, will continue their work in an atmosphere of cooperation, harmony, devotion, ardor, and sincerity.  

Education in Muslim countries, in the recent centuries, has been taught primarily as a body of information, rather than as a body of experiences. For many Muslim children today-whether living in the Western societies or in Islamic countries- Islam does not inspire, and seems meaningless and irrelevant to their personal lives and experiences. This is not a problem facing the Muslim ummah alone. Other religious communities face these problems, as well. Hence we need to reevaluate the Islamic values, Islamic education and its curriculum. The need here is to focus on personality and character development of the children. Hence close attention should be given to the real needs and concerns of students. Therefore it is indispensable to prepare the students with the western values of critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed to survive and function successfully in any society including the Muslims in society. In order to succeed in our goal to raise our children Islamically, it is imperative that Muslim educators and parents must develop a better understanding of how children grow and learn. This is based on our understanding the processes of moral development and the methods of effective teaching and learning. Our children will not become moral individuals simply because we wish them to or want them to or tell them to do so. In order to make them become moral individuals it is necessary that they should cultivate their minds and hearts, and we need to give them opportunities to actually see and apply Islamic values in practice.  

According to Coles’ theory on Moral Intelligence 3, children learn some of the most important lessons of life by observing and mimicking the behaviours of those around them – specifically parents & teachers. His theory goes beyond the teaching of moral lessons such as "you shouldn’t steal, or lie" and reaches a deeper level of consciousness. He also provides practical solutions for parents and teachers on handling moral issues. 

The Tarbiyah 

Tarbiyah Based on Iman is the Foundation 4 

  • Tarbiyah (education and training) is the basic and necessary approach for any Islamic movement that seeks to change the state of affairs by changing people themselves.

  • The point of focus in the field of tarbiyah should be the preparation of the Muslim vanguard who will aid the cause of Islam and who will represent in our age the role of the Prophet's Companions.

  • The foremost quality that members of this vanguard must have is Iman (faith), by which is meant the iman of the Quran and Sunnah; the iman that has over seventy branches of values and morals; the iman on which volumes have been written. Iman does not come about by wish or by pretence, it is what settles in the heart and is proved by acts.

  • So, what is meant here is not just the intellectual knowledge whose effect does not extend to the heart so that it may light it, or to the will, so that it may move it. Neither is it just filling the memory with words and terms such as Allah, Rabb, Deen, Ibadah, the different branches of Tawheed, taghut, Jahaliyyah, and then feeling proud that one possesses what makes a true believer and what constitutes Yaqeen (perfect and absolute belief) and dragging others to arguments and verbal battles over these words and terms.

  • Neither argument nor verbal battles would yield a belief like that of Pharaoh's magicians when they believed in the Lord of Musa and Harun, or like that of the Prophet's Companions when they believed in the Messenger.

  • The required Iman is the one of the first generation as prescribed in the Quran and Sunnah. Only one verse from a surah in the Quran needs to be quoted here. It is the verse with which Allah answers the desert Arabs who said, 'we believe' while belief had not entered their hearts: "Only those are Believers who have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and have never since doubted, but have striven with their wealth and their lives in the Cause of Allah. Such are the truthful ones." [Surah Al Hujurat: 15].

  • It is also narrated in the hadith that the Prophet said, "Whosoever possess the following three qualities will find the sweetness of Iman: the one to whom Allah and His Messenger are dearer than anything else; the one who loves a person only for the sake of Allah; and the one who hates to revert to kufr (disbelief) after Allah saved him from it as much as hating being thrown into Hellfire." [Bukhari, Muslim]

  • It may be enough for the common people who follow the leaders to have a half or even a quarter of iman, but the leading vanguard must have true Iman and should not be composed of 'half-believers' or 'quarter believers'.

  • Imam Hassan al Banna used to say to his students, "Give me twelve thousand believers, and I will conquer with them the mountains, cross the seas and invade the land."

  • But is this number enough to bring about the great hopes and realize the ambitious aspirations of the Islamic Ummah? I say yes, 12000 of true believers is enough! But I will also say that we will not do with 24000 half-believers or 48000 quarter-believers, or any of the 'fractions' of believers whom one stumbles upon as a result of their stupendous numbers but who can do nothing of use in times of need.

  • We want believers like the Ansar (Helpers) of Madinah, who were described as 'increasing in number at the time of war and decreasing at the time of distribution of the war booty'.

  • As for those who are many in numbers but of little use in reality and are no better than - as the Prophet stated - 'the scum of the torrent', they will never be fit to be in the leading vanguard, even if they are millions in number.

  • Tarbiyah based on Iman and Rabbaniyyah (godliness) is the first precondition for bringing up a generation that will defend the cause of Islam, as described in the Quran: "Believers, whoever from among you turns back from his religion (Islam), Allah will bring a people whom He will love and who will love Him humble towards the believers, stern towards the disbelievers, fighting in the Way of Allah and never afraid of the blame of such as find fault. That is the Grace of Allah, which He bestows on whom He wills. And Allah is All-Sufficient, All-Knower." [Surah Al Ma'ida: 54]

[From "Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase" by Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi] 

The ubiquitous influence of secular materialism and its value system prevailing both in Western societies as well as many Muslim countries seriously challenges religious -minded Muslims as well as their communities. To a large extent, the future will depend on how well we educate our children today and to what extent we are successful in transferring to them the Islamic values and Islamic way of life. What is at stake is nothing less than the moral and spiritual survival of our children and our communities as Muslims. Without a proper understanding of the Islamic value system, there is little hope that the true goals, or maqasid, of Islamic education can be achieved. Islamic schools have a crucial role to play in providing concrete solutions and programs that will foster this understanding among students and in promoting the role and responsibility of the family in the process of Islamic tarbiyah. Auspiciously, a sense of new start is prevailing in the minds of enlightened Muslims today. These learned Muslims are eager to find real solutions to the problems and challenges facing the Muslim ummah, including re-examination of both how and what we teach our children about Islam. The basic proposition of this paper is that Muslim educators must restructure the Islamic Studies schedule, both what is taught and how it is taught, so that our children can develop the spiritual survival skills that are required to survive as Muslims in the twenty-first century. This paper outlines a new vision of Islamic education which is capable of producing Muslim youth with a level of understanding, commitment and social responsibility that will both inspire and implement them to serve Islam and humanity effectively, Insha'Allah. Islamic education must be able to produce Muslim youth that are able to identify, understand and then work cooperatively to solve the problems that face their community and the world in which they live and for which they are responsible. This is believed to be the most effective form of Islamic da’wah.1 

This sight, in fact, is not really a “new vision,” but rather a “reinvigorated vision” of Islamic education. It is a summons for the return to the classical—though not traditional or customary—vision of Islamic education. In the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and give him peace) Islamic education was both practical and relevant. The Prophetic model of Islamic education drew its material from the everyday experiences and day-to-day problems of the early Muslim community. Although Islamic education will undoubtedly draw much of its content from the foundational disciplines of Islamic Studies (such as Aqidah, Tafseer, Fiqh, etc.), it must be done in a way that links this content to the natural concerns of students as well as the larger issues facing the world in which they live. This is the challenge of modern-day Islamic education.1 

The Vision 

The vision of Islamic education presented here makes a fundamental distinction between teaching about “Islam” and teaching about “being Muslim.” As mentioned earlier, Muslim educators, for the most part, have been content to teach “facts about Islam,” since this is an easier and less demanding approach. We have not met the challenge of developing a systematic program to teach our children about “being Muslim”—which requires a more subtle and profound understanding of both the nature of children and Islam itself. The goal of Islamic education is not to fill our children’s minds with information about Islam, but rather to teach them about being Muslim 1. Several assumptions about the nature and scope of Islamic education under-gird the vision of Islamic education presented here. The first and foremost objective of Islamic education must focus on teaching values and emphasize issues of identity and self-esteem. Secondly it must address the real concerns of students, and it must emphasize and provide for training in leadership. Finally, in order to achieve the goals of Islamic education it is essential to gain the active involvement of parents. In developing our approach, we should not hesitate to benefit from recent educational research. This research suggests that several factors are essential for effective teaching and learning to occur. These factors are summarized in the statement that teaching and learning are effective when they are meaningful, integrative, value-based, challenging and active. These factors are discussed in detail in Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. Washington, DC. National Council for the Social Studies, 1996. These factors apply to Islamic education as well and Muslim educators must become better aware of the important role these factors play in effective learning. It is suggested that future programs in Islamic education must be evaluated in light of these basic factors and assumptions. These factors are briefly discussed below.1 

Effective Islamic teaching and learning must be meaningful. Students should feel that the content of their curriculum is worth learning, because it is meaningful and relevant to their lives. When learning is meaningful and relevant, students are intrinsically motivated to learn. Furthermore, students must be led to discover the larger connections between the knowledge and skills they are learning—rather than memorizing isolated bits of information. Especially as Muslims, our children must be trained always to keep their eye on the whole picture, or macro-view, whenever studying. This, in part, is the meaning of tawhid. Islamic teaching and learning must therefore focus on examining major themes and important topics, rather than superficial coverage of many different topics. This approach advocates that the Islamic Studies curriculum be structured coherently around the concept of powerful ideas. Effective Islamic teaching and learning must also be integrated. It must encompass and engage the whole child, spiritually, emotionally, socially, intellectually and physically. In addition, Islamic teaching and learning should be integrative across a broad range of topics and in its treatment of these topics. It should be integrative across time and place as well as integrative across the curriculum. It must integrate knowledge, beliefs, and values with action and application. These integrative aspects have the far-reaching potential of enhancing the power of Islamic studies teaching and learning. Most important of all, effective Islamic teaching and learning must be value-based. By focusing on values and by considering the ethical dimensions of topics, Islamic education becomes a powerful vehicle for character and moral development, thus achieving its real purpose. Educators must realize that every aspect of the teaching-learning experience conveys values to students and provides opportunities for them to learn about values. From the selection of content, materials and activities, to the arrangement of the classroom, to class rules and management style, students are exposed to and learn values. Teachers must therefore develop a better awareness of their own values and how those values influence their behavior as role-models and what students ultimately learn from these experiences about themselves, about others and about Islam. Effective Islamic teaching and learning must also be challenging. Students must be challenged to thoughtfully examine the topics they are studying, to participate assertively in-group discussions, to work productively in cooperative learning activities, and to come to grips with controversial issues. 

Such activities and experiences will help foster the skills needed to produce competent Muslims who are capable of presenting and defending their beliefs and principles effectively. Finally, effective Islamic teaching and learning must be active. Islamic studies should demand a great deal from both the teacher and students. The teacher must be actively and genuinely engaged in the teaching process—making plans, choices and curriculum adjustments as needed. The effective teacher of Islamic education must be prepared to continuously update his or her knowledge base, adjust goals and content to students’ needs, take advantage of unfolding events and teachable moments, and to develop examples that relate directly to students. Moreover, learning must be active by emphasizing hands-on and minds-on activities that call for students to react to what they are learning and to use it in their lives in some meaningful way. These are the key factors for effective Islamic teaching and learning. The vision of effective Islamic teaching and learning set forth here is based on a dynamic, rather than static, view of Islam and Islamic education. This view is rooted in the belief that the mission of Islam is to positively affect and transform the world, and that the purpose of Islamic education is to prepare young men and women who are capable of carrying out this mission—emotionally, morally, and intellectually. 


1. Tauhidi, Dawud and Edited by Anas Coburn "A Vision of Effective Islamic Education." (Dawud Tauhidi is Principal of the Crescent Academy International in Canton; MI. Anas Coburn is Executive Director of Dar al Islam.). “A Vision of Effective Islamic Education” was edited from the document “The Tarbiyah Project: Toward a Program in Islamic Values Education”. The Tarbiyah Project began in 1995 and is sponsored by Dar Al Islam. The concept has been piloted in five schools across the United States; three schools have vigorously implemented it. 

2. Bahonar, Muhammad Jawad, The Goals of Islamic Education, Translated from Persian by Mahliqa Qara'I (M.J. Bahonar was former Education Minister and Prime Minister of Iran) 

3. Coles, Robert. The Moral Intelligence of Children: How to Raise a Moral Child. Plume, 1998. 

4. Al-Qaradawi, Shaykh Yusuf, "Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase"  


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