December 15, 2005
Islamic Education: A New Approach
The Early Years
One of the biggest challenges we
face today as Muslims in general, and Muslims living in the West in specific,
is the challenge of providing Islamic education to the younger generation. Education
we receive through the early stages of our lives shapes our way of thinking
and is therefore of primary importance.
Most education that young Muslims
receive today is secular. This is perhaps the main reason for the lack of scholarship
in the Ummah in the recent decades. The minds of our youth today are
shaped by the secular education system where religion either plays no part,
or plays a very marginal role. Even the so called Islamic schools of today have
been unable to provide a proper alternative to the secular education system.
When the Muslims coming out of colonial
influence or the Muslims living in the West realized the need for Islamic education
for their young, their solution was to add on Islamic studies subjects to an
otherwise secular curriculum and call it an Islamic school. Most schools today
continue to follow the same methodology where Islamic education is taught separately
from the secular education. This separation of ‘this-worldly’ and
‘that-worldly’ is the very essence of secularism itself.
In Islam the distinction between
the sciences of the world and the sciences of the religion is non-existent.
For a Muslim, one’s whole life is an act of worship to Allah. The separation
of Islamic studies from the worldly studies, however, reinforces in the young
minds the idea of separation between the matters of the world and the matters
of the religion. The Muslim minds in their formative years are getting trained
to view religion as a private and separate matter from the affairs of the world.
The Islamic schools of today are
no different from the non-Islamic schools except that they hire some individuals
to teach Islam while the rest of the curriculum remains the same. Making the
matters worse, the methods employed by most schools to impart the Islamic knowledge
are either imported from centuries ago or are ineffective imitations of the
western education systems. This lackluster imposition of the western, secular
education system on the Islamic sciences leads to stagnation of Islamic studies,
further alienating the young minds from Islam.
In public schools, the situation
is even more worrying. In most Western countries today, the schools teach a
dogma of multiculturalism and tolerance – and there is nothing wrong with
the concepts of multiculturalism and tolerance itself – that is secular
at heart. This dogma shapes the young minds to view their religion as a private
matter between them and their God without ever influencing their public life.
These children grow up seeing the limited Islamic education at home and at Sunday
schools as a way to connect to their background, nothing more.
The leaders of the Muslims in general,
and in the West in specific, need to devise a new strategy and a new curriculum
for Islamic schools. It is high time that Islamic knowledge is communicated
to the young minds in a comprehensive and creative manner. Unless we are able
to do so, we will slowly lose our younger generations to the secular and godless
world. We need to instill in our youth Islamic values and the Islamic way of
thinking from a very early age. This cannot be done without a fully thought-out,
new and dynamic approach to education. It is not sufficient to hire a few bearded
teachers to convey Islam to the young Muslims. What we need are new teachers–teachers
able to link their subject matter to Islam. It is not sufficient for someone
to be an expert in his or her subject of instruction. We need to have people
who are educated in Islam, and believe in it wholeheartedly. As heirs of the
Prophets, all teachers should illustrate the ideals of Islamic character in
Until this new education strategy
is formed, however, the responsibility lies with the activists and Imams within
the Muslim community to train the young Muslim minds along the lines of Islam.
This can be done mainly through classes and study circles. The young minds should
be familiarized with at least the following by the time they reach middle-teenage
1. Correct Understanding of the Aqeedah: The aqeedah
is the basis of all that we believe in and it is imperative that this is taught
correctly. However, at this age it is not necessary to go into much detail.
Using the method employed by Allah in revealing the Qur’an, the simple
truths about the universe should be taught first. These simple facts taught
in a fun and enjoyable manner will form the crux of the beliefs of these young
2. Arabic Language: The Arabic language is instrumental in
understanding the Qur’an and the Islam itself. Young Muslims should have
basic Arabic knowledge, sufficient to be able to read the Qur’an and understand
some of it.
3. Essence of Worship:
Most young Muslims are taught to go through the rituals of Islam without ever
understanding the essence of these rituals. The task here is to employ creative
methods to ensure that young Muslims understand the importance of ritual worship
and what role it plays in Islam. By understanding this, the young people will
be better able to recognize and fulfill the rights of Allah, at least at a very
4. Rights of Humans: After the rights of the Creator are the rights
of the created in Islam, and among those the rights of the parents are at the
top of the list. Due to the importance of the rights of the parents in Islam,
these need to be taught at a very early age. Again, care should be taken to
ensure that these are not taught as theory; rather they should be taught in
an interactive and fun manner.
5. Islamic Character: The
young minds should be familiarized with the high Islamic character and morals
from the stories of the Prophet, his companions, and other Qur’anic personalities.
Again, taught in a fun and enjoyable fashion, this will result in making clear
to the youth what high Islamic ideals should they be aspiring towards.
6. Islamic History: The
life of the Prophet and his companions needs to be taught to the young Muslims
from an early age in a manner that helps them relate it to their lives. Loving
the Prophet is one of the essentials of the Islamic faith and it is impossible
to love a stranger. It is not necessary at this point to teach this history
in much detail. Rather, a brief but comprehensive overview highlighting the
main points of the Prophet’s life should be the focus.
The young Muslims by this age should be able to recite the Qur’an properly
and without hindrance. There is no need to delve deep into the explanation of
the Qur’an. The approach here should be to read the Qur’an properly,
read the translation of the Qur’an, memorize the last ten to fifteen chapters,
and to study some selected verses in detail. For the study of the verses, we
can use the twelve-topic syllabus suggested by Khurram Murad at the end of his
book “The Way to the Quran.”
The above will inshaAllah adequately
shape the minds in the right way as these young Muslims embark upon to the world
of higher education. As they step into the most difficult years of their youth,
they will be well prepared to tackle the challenges that come their way in an
Islamic manner, in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
A Life Long Journey
Today, the Islamic education for
young Muslims is in crisis. Be it secular schools or the Islamic ones, the vision
of Islam that is being imparted to the young Muslim minds is one that promotes
religion as a private matter, contrary to Islamic teachings. The need is to
revamp the education system so that Islam can be taught in a comprehensive manner.
Until that is done, however, the responsibility lies with Muslim activists and
Imams in the community to take the initiative. The young minds should be trained
to think Islamically–to appreciate their Muslim identity. For that, fundamental
Islamic training is necessary at a very young age. By the time a young Muslim
reaches teen ages, he or she should have the correct understanding of the basic
Islamic aqeedah. The young Muslims should also be able to read the
Arabic language with some understanding, know the essence of worship in Islam,
appreciate rights of human beings and be familiar with the high Islamic character.
Lastly, the young Muslims should also be acquainted to the lives of the Prophet
Muhammad and his companions and be able to recite the Qur’an without hindrance.
Nevertheless, the Islamic education
should not end at this point. As the minds mature, they will be ready for more
in depth study of Islam. We should remember that it is not necessary for every
person to be an expert in Usul al-Fiqh and Usul al-Hadith.
Nor is it necessary for everyone to study the Islamic history in great detail.
The requirement of Islamic education is different for people in different spheres
of life. Here we will distinguish between the necessary ingredients of the Islamic
education for college and university-going students at three levels: at the
first level are the ordinary Muslims; second are the activist leaders; and the
third are those who will be looked upon by the community for their scholarship.
For the third level, organized Islamic education is necessary at a University
level and it is therefore not a focus of our attention. We will concern ourselves
here with only the first two levels.
At the first level, our focus should
be to impart the following to every Muslim man and woman. The following are
logical extensions of the seven points mentioned above:
1. Aqeedah: Building on the basics of aqeedah in the first
phase, a further and more detailed understanding of the correct aqeedah needs
to be built. This involves understanding Tawheed and Shirk
as well as the concepts of hakimiyyah (sovereignty), wala’a
(protection and support) and khilafah (vicegerency).
2. Arabic: Advancing
the understanding of the Arabic language is needed for the better understanding
of the Qur’an. In learning the Arabic language it is important to keep
in mind that the aim is to learn the language of the Arabs and not only the
language of the Qur’an. There are two important reasons for this. First,
understanding the Arabic language will allow these Muslims to benefit from the
countless works of Islamic literature that have not been translated, while also
understanding the word of Allah in the words Allah revealed it. Second, a common
language is a necessity for unity of the Muslims; for us to unite the Arabic
language must be taught and learned as the language of conversation among Muslims.
We should focus on the study of the whole Qur’an with limited explanation,
without going into much scholarly debates and side issues. The approach here
should be to study the Qur’an individually and then come together in small
groups to discuss important issues under a teacher or a more knowledgeable individual.
Through this approach, one can easily study the whole Qur’an in two to
three years. While this is continuing, a selection of verses should be taken
to study in much more detail. For this we can use the forty-topic syllabus picked
by Khurram Murad at the end of his book “Way to the Quran.”
4. Islamic History:
Every Muslim should be able to understand the basic differences between
the Righteous Caliphate and the Caliphate that followed. Moreover, a top-level
understanding of the major conflicts in the early Muslim history is required
to comprehend the divisions and sects in the Ummah. Additionally, the
factors that led to the rise and fall of the Muslim Ummah should be
taught in an objective manner. Understanding the divisions in the Ummah
and the causes for the decline is necessary in shaping the thought process of
5. Other Islamic Teachings:
We should educate the young Muslims in comprehensive teachings of Islam as they
relate to worship, everyday fiqh, limits set by Allah, importance of
collective work and responsibilities of Muslims to the community. These are
the minimum requirements to shape the thinking of young Muslims towards proactive
Islamic work. With this understanding we can be assured that even if the person
does not become a lifelong activist in the cause of Allah, he or she will have
sufficient understanding of Islam to conduct his or her affairs in accordance
with the Qur’an and the Sunnah if he or she wishes to do so.
At the second level are activist
leaders. These are community leaders charged with the responsibility of leading
and motivating the community into action. It is necessary for them to be more
knowledgeable than the masses. Therefore, it is necessary to identify young
Muslims who are serious, judicious, mature, and have some leadership mantle
as well. There should be separate classes and study circles for this more rigorous
Islamic education. To call towards Islam, one must first be familiar with the
Islamic culture – the system of beliefs and practices that he or she calls
to. Islamic culture is simply a broader term for the aqeedah –
in other words, it is the Islam’s aqeedah put into practice.
The understanding of Islam imparted to the young Muslims here must be free of
extremism and false folklores. We must adopt a balanced approach, sticking to
the consensus of the majority of the scholars wherever possible. This understanding
of the Islamic culture is gained from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The following
are some important facets of Islam that should be covered at this second level.
For a person entrusted with leading the Muslim community, connection with the
Qur’an is mandatory. The Book of Allah is our source of guidance and inspiration
and we need to turn to it as the first generation of Muslims–the Qur’anic
generation–turned to it. For this, we should focus on in-depth tafseer of the
Qur’an for these young Muslims. Some things to keep in mind for this are:
- We should focus
on developing the correct understanding of the language of the Qur’an
as well as the way of its presentation.
- We should teach
the young Muslims to view Qur’an as eternal, where every single verse
has a meaning and an implication for us, today, individually and collectively.
- We should study
the Qur’anic stories for valuable lessons and inspiration for our times.
Stories of Adam, Noah, Ibrahim, Yousuf, Moses, Dhulqarnain, Talut, Suleiman,
People of the Cave and many others all highlight important lessons that the
Muslims today can benefit from greatly.
- We should study
the personalities of the Qur’an. These are detailed throughout the Qur’an
either as individuals dealing with specific problems (like a young man, Yousuf,
dealing with the temptation of an evil woman) or as qualities that Allah wants
in His servants (like the characteristics detailed in the first verses of
chapter 23, Al-Mu’minoon) or as qualities Allah dislikes in
- We should exercise
using arguments from the Qur’an whenever possible. In the Qur’an
we see arguments made for every excuse that the unbelievers came up with against
the message, and the arguments made by Allah are stronger than any argument
we can make as human beings. This will be a valuable asset in doing Da’wah.
However, we must ensure that these leaders of tomorrow clearly understand
that the Qur’an must not be taken out of context to support arguments
it does not make. We cannot impose our own ideas on the Qur’an–rather,
we must shape our ideas through the Qur’an.
- In teaching and
studying the Qur’an, we must stay away from the Israelite narrations.
It is necessary to draw our knowledge only from the authentic sources, and
the Israelite sources are not among them. However, in matters of no religious
bearing, like number of men in an army, we can take from the Israelite narrations—but
only with extreme caution.
of the sciences of the Qur’an–Usul al-Qur’an–is
also necessary for the advanced understanding of the Qur’an. However,
one need not delve too deep into the Usul as it is neither necessary
nor recommended at this level.
2. Sunnah: The Sunnah
of the Prophet is the explanation of the Qur’an itself. One cannot understand
the culture of Islam without comprehending the Sunnah of the Prophet. This Sunnah
of the Prophet includes his sayings, his acts, and his whole Seerah in general.
The Prophet should be the ultimate ideal that the Muslims look up to and in
his life we find lessons for every sphere of life. The students should study
the Sunnah in this regard through a collection of Sahih Hadith (recommended
are Bukhari, Muslim and Riyad as-Saleheen) and through authentic
books on the Seerah. We should focus on imparting the understanding of the basic
terminology of Hadith as well as a very basic understanding of the sciences
of the Hadith–Usul al-Hadith. Once again, the students should
be taught to understand the Hadith properly. This is extremely important because
every heretic sect, which has ever been known to Muslims, misused Hadith out
of context to justify their existence.
The leaders of tomorrow should have a decent understanding of the fiqh
of Islam to understand the true culture of Islam. Unless a true understanding
of fiqh is present, these young Muslims will not be adequately able
to correct the social and religious ills they see around them. Additionally,
in calling towards Islam, a lot of time is spent on teaching people the worship
of Allah in its correct manner. To be able to do so, we should teach the basic
and most common everyday fiqh issues in detail. Most importantly, however,
a basic understanding of disagreements between the fiqhi schools should
be taught. At this basic level, these young Muslims should be able to appreciate
the differences of opinion in everyday fiqh matters. This can be done
without actually knowing the various opinions.
4. Usul al-Fiqh:
Though a detailed understanding of the sciences of the Fiqh is not
needed, an introduction to them is necessary. The students should briefly study
the various sources of fiqh, and differences between various degrees
of permissibility in fiqh.
Tasawwuf represents the spiritual and inner aspects of the Islamic
culture. However, tasawwuf in Islam has become to represent a dogma
that has been corrupted by Christian and Buddhist mysticism. We need to focus
on the pure aspect of tasawwuf, which has been called as tazkiyyah
as well. This refers to development of character, high morals and consciousness
of Allah. We need to ensure that young Muslims being prepared for leadership
roles not only understand the true tasawwuf, they practice it to develop
the spiritual aspects of it themselves.
6. Contemporary Islam:
Lastly, it is imperative that these individuals understand the Islamic Way of
Life–deen–and how it differs from other ways of life in
the modern era. The need is to be able to see Islam as a complete system of
life that provides guidance in every sphere. To be able to outline the guidance
of Islam in every aspect is not necessary–what is needed is the top-level understanding
of what Islam’s stance is on various issues of importance to our present
times. These include personal issues like family life, women rights, equality
of sexes and inheritance laws as well as various public issues.
With the above, these young Muslims
will inshaAllah have sufficient knowledge of Islam to lead their communities
objectively in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
For one to be able to go through
all of the above seems rather ambitious. After careful analysis, however, we
can be confident that for someone studying at the level one only, the material
can be taught in a very light manner in four years. However, for those who are
considered for leadership of the community, the task is somewhat more burdensome.
A dedicated person can cover the above material in four to six years of disciplined
An important consideration here is
that Muslims, especially those entrusted with leadership, should be dedicated
to lifelong learning. One cannot go through four or six years of Islamic education
and consider it done. Our understanding of Islam develops as we mature through
the experiences of life and it is crucial for us to maintain our connection
with the study of the Qur’an and other teachings of Islam.
Moreover, we need to approach imparting
of Islamic knowledge in a judicious manner. Knowledge does not necessarily translate
into action and we cannot expect every person who attends our study circles
and classes to come out a changed human being. Our job is to dispense the knowledge
we have, and it is Allah’s Will only to give or not to give guidance.
This becomes doubly important when we are inviting people for leadership preparation.
It is our hope that the rigorous nature of the second phase outlined above will
weed out the immature and the non-serious individuals, but we need to be careful
not to make it an elitist society of Muslims. Our study circles and classes
should be open to all, leaving the process of selection to the nature.
With all this, we hope to prepare
a generation of Muslims who can lead the Muslims out of stagnation.
i- The points in this section are
inspired by Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s book “Tha-qafah ad-Da’iyah,”
(Culture of the Caller to Islam) which is translated into Urdu by Sultan Ahmed
Islahi as “Fikri Tarbiyyat kay Aham Taqazay.”