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Education in Islam

When one mentions Education today, very few people actually think of Islam. Most in fact make clear distinctions between “secular” and “religious” education. Yet we only need to remind ourselves that it was on the night of the 27th Ramadhan, in the year 611AD that the first verse to be revealed to the Messenger of Allah, (sallalaho alaihi wasallam) clearly recognizes the sacredness of knowledge.

"Read: In the name of thy Lord who created man from a clot. Read: And thy Lord is the Most Generous Who taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not."  (Quran, 96:1-5)

The Quran urges the faithful to, think, ponder, reflect and acquire knowledge that would bring them closer to God and to His creation. The Quran uses repetition in order to imbed certain key concepts in the consciousness of its listeners. Allah (God) and Rab (the Sustainer) are repeated 2,800 and 950 times respectively in the Quran; Ilm (knowledge) comes third with 750 mentions.

The pursuit of knowledge and the use of reason, has been made obligatory on every Muslim, man and woman. The following traditions of the Prophet (sallalaho alaihi wasallam) supplement the foregoing teachings of the Qur'an in the following way: Seek knowledge "even though it be in China." "The acquisition of knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim, whether male or female." "The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr." "Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave." "God has revealed to me, 'Whoever walks in the pursuit of knowledge I facilitate for him the way to heaven.' "The best form of worship is the pursuit of knowledge."

"Worship, without knowledge, has no goodness in it and knowledge without understanding has no goodness in it. And the recitation of the Qur'an, which is not thoughtful has no goodness in it."

We come back to the earlier question, what then is education? Secular or religious? The answer lies in the understanding of the question. Islam is a complete way of life, a comprehensive guide and therefore when one studies Islam, one expands ones own horizon of learning.

The emphasis on learning in Islam is materially conveyed in the central symbol of the Book, i.e. the Qur'an, as the revealed source of both divine and human wisdom. In this way, secular learning can be seen as inseparable from religious practise.

"Acquire knowledge: it enables its possessor to distinguish right from the wrong, it lights the way to heaven; it is Our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless- it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an Ornament among friends and an armor against enemies." The Islamic Empire for more than 1,000 years remained the most advanced and civilized nation in the world. This is because Islam stresses the importance and respect of learning, forbids destruction, develops in Muslims the respect for authority, discipline, and tolerance for other religions. The teachings of Qur'an and Sunnah drove many Muslims to their accomplishments in science and medicine.

For example Islamic medicine is one of the most famous and best-known facets of Islamic civilization, and in which the Muslims most excelled. The Muslims were the great torchbearers of international scientific research. Some of the best and most eloquent praises of science ever written came from the pens of Muslim scientists who considered their work to be acts of worship. The same motives led to the establishment of Al-Azhar (800 AD) the first university in the world. They hit the "source ball of knowledge" over the fence to Europe. In the words of Campbell, "The European medical system is Arabian not only in origin but also in its structure. The Arabs are the intellectual forbearers of the Europeans."

Islam and knowledge went together, closely, and from the very early stages. Other than the urge of the Quran and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad (sallalaho alaihi wasallam) which prompted people to learn, the concrete symbol of Islam, the Mosque, was the centre of learning.

The mosque played a great part in the spread of education in Islam. The association of the mosque with education remains one of its main characteristics throughout history. From the start, the mosque was the center of the Islamic community, a place for prayer, meditation, religious instruction, political discussion, and a school. And anywhere Islam took hold, mosques were established, and basic instruction began. Once established, such mosques could develop into well known places of learning, often with hundreds, sometimes with thousands of students, and frequently contained important libraries. Notable examples are the Mosques in Madina, Cairo (Al-Ahzar) and Damascas.

One of the secrets of success in any profession is to be the most learned or the best-informed person in his/her own profession. Let us as Muslims endeavor to study Islam, and all that is Islamic so that we can become empowered and better Muslims. It is crucial that we understand there is no distinction between secular and religious, but that there is a clear distinction between one who has knowledge and one who does not. Let us therefore seek knowledge. And true knowledge lies in the true divine guidance, the Holy Quran. Therein lies the path to our success.

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