Naureen Aqueel

Recovering the lost property

Posted on: January 19, 2008

An edited version of this was published in The News, EducationZine, January 19, 2008.

In today’s global competitive environment, education is the vehicle for progress. A strong education system is the prerequisite for any developed society. Sadly, Pakistan’s educational system is plagued by many problems and inefficiencies. To add to the predicament, different sets of educational systems run side by side, imparting very different types of education.

For purposes of space, we will consider only the two major categories: mainstream education imparted by private and public schools, and religious education imparted by Madrassahs or religious seminaries. There is a vast difference in the curricula of both these systems, with the former emphasizing mainly on ‘secular’ education, and the latter on ‘religious’ education. Of late, we see a new type emerging that claims to provide a balance between both religious and secular education and as such, provides a breath of fresh air.

Madrassahs have been around for quite a long time. They have existed since the times of the pre-partitioned subcontinent and have acted to fill a major gap in the education system, especially for those children that come from financially weaker backgrounds. They play an important socio-economic role by providing lodging and education to many who would otherwise have not been able to afford it.

Recently, Madrassahs have come under much pressure to include secular subjects in their curricula. This is justified by bringing to the light the argument that to be equipped with modern education is the need of the present knowledge driven world; and that having modern education will help expand the Madrassah students’ career opportunities, broaden their outlook, bring them into mainstream education and dispel extremist tendencies.

Such arguments indeed hold much weight. By incorporating modern education into their syllabi, Madrassahs will be brought into the mainstream of education thus allowing students to benefit not only from Islamic knowledge but also the modern sciences.

While some Madrassahs have included modern education into their curricula, others have resisted. Their resistance is based primarily on the way they view modern education as ‘secular’ and ‘of the faithless West’.

There is thus a need to change the mindset of those who attend and run these Madrassahs, and of the Muslims in general. We must realise that Islam has never opposed the acquisition of knowledge of science or the humanities. Evidence for this is present in Islamic sources and in the way Muslims of the past utilised the literature of the Greek and other civilizations, which later helped drive the golden age of Islam that saw prominent Muslim scientists, physicists, mathematicians and philosophers like Ibn Sina, Al-Razi, Al-Zahrawi etc whose works are used to this day.

It was these works which later on fueled the Renaissance which was the rebirth of learning in the West. So, while the West took a giant leap ahead in modern education by benefiting from our scholarship, we Muslims fell back by considering these sciences as opposed to Islam, ignoring the fact that the Quran and Sunnah exhort us to ‘read’ and ‘reflect on Allah’s creations’. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once said:

“Wisdom is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it, he should recover it.” (Ibn Majah, Tirmidhi)

Knowledge in itself is not ‘secular’. It is the angle of vision which can make it thus. So, if Madrassahs incorporate modern education into their curricula, they do not necessarily have to teach it with a ‘secular’ vision. In fact, in addition to just benefiting their worldly life, it can help students broaden their knowledge even of religion, by deeply understanding God’s creation etc.

Including modern education in the Madrassah curriculum can also help train competent scholars who will be able to bridge the difference in the understanding of classical Islamic sources and that of the secular world. Such scholars will be able to defend Islam against intellectual attacks from the West. They will be able to reach out to the educated masses and create a better understanding of Islam.

Just like the West benefited from Muslim knowledge during the Renaissance, Muslims can now benefit from Western knowledge to lead to an Islamic Renaissance. And for that, it is necessary that Madrassahs and Muslims in general, recover that lost property wherever they find it.

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