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Date of publication : 11/12/2014 4:47:36 PM
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Islamic Education; A journey of self-discovery

 by Amir De Martino

The teachings of Prophet Muhammad(s) and the history of Islamic civilisation remind us of the importance of education for Muslims, and the need to be learned, trained, educated and ready to take on not only religious responsibilities, but social, cultural and professional ones as well. The aim of Islamic education is to form individuals capable of growing culturally, socially, and above all, spiritually. Under the umbrella of Islamic teachings, a human being sets him/herself on a journey of self-discovery that would ultimately help him/her to recognise God in every action and moment of one’s existence. Educational and religious organisations, or family nucleuses, can educate people Islamically if their transmission of knowledge has a religious perspective and orientation based on the teachings of the Qur’an and the prophetic traditions - not only from a literal point of view, but also, particularly, from an inner and spiritual one. The Qur’an reminds us that: ‘Indeed, in the Messenger of God a good example has been set’ … (33:21). Any claimant of following Prophet Muhammad’s(s) way will ultimately have to live up to such a beautiful and all-encompassing example. To educate oneself Islamically does not end with teaching oneself – or others - some basic rules of Islamic practices or how to read Qur’an. It is not about trying to ‘Islamise knowledge’, but rather about ensuring that every subject taught, such as history, geography, mathematics, language, physics, chemistry, etc., are taught in such a way that the student learns about the world, and the rest of humanity, through an Islamic worldview. The religion of Islam is not a subject of study but a system and method of acquiring knowledge from which Muslim scholars throughout the centuries have derived well-defined sciences of teaching and learning, essential for the intellectual and cultural development of every Muslim. In the cover story of this issue, I have briefly traced the map and history of the Islamic centres of intellectual learning across the Islamic world, focusing on the Shi’a Muslim seminaries known as the Hawzaat Ilmiyya, underlining the breadth and depth of their intellectual tradition. It is from these seminaries that great scholars were produced to serve the community of believers throughout Islamic history. With the growing Islamic presence in Western countries, there is a necessity to ensure that we continue to produce worthy scholars that are familiar with the new realities of an Islam which is now visibly present in the West. It is now possible to study Islam at the highest level in Western universities, and, while desirable, one has to remember that in such institutions Islam is learned as a subject from a non-denominational or secular outlook. There is an inherent danger typical of our ‘modern’ age to negate any metaphysical reality that is not understood by the modern discursive rationale. While this may be useful in an academic context, the Muslim community still needs individuals who have been trained according to an intellectual Islamic vision of reality. There is a clear distinction between knowledge of Islam and an Islamic orientation towards knowledge. Indeed, one has to make distinction here between Islam as a subject of study and Islam as a practiced faith. The devotional aspect of any faith can only be perceived, understood and known by someone who is involved in it. And since a good percentage of Islamic knowledge is acquired through acts of worship, an understanding of Islam that does not include this element is limited. Yet at the same time, to be an expert on Islam does not require one to be a Muslim and indeed some non- Muslims could be said to have a better understanding of Islam acquired via a process of ‘objective’ study (observation, analysis, etc). On the other hand, for one to have an Islamic orientation towards knowledge he/she should have first internalised an Islamic worldview that sees this universe as an interconnected whole that manifests the existence of a Creator. Islam has kept a Unitarian vision of the sacredness of life in which there are no divisions between the spiritual sphere and the social one. Unfortunately for some this is considered a dangerous element. The Islam of Prophet Muhammad(s) has nothing to do with the peculiar faith held by some groups which have recently claimed statehood in the name of ''religion''. These groups are born from the most barren intellectual desert and are disconnected from long-standing Islamic centres of learning that have produced level-headed scholars among Sunnis and Shi`as. In its true essence, Islamic centres of intellectual learning are open spaces where knowledge is transparent, where we learn about ourselves at the same time we learn about the ‘others’ with whom we relate and dialogue in appreciation of our differences, be it historical, cultural or ethnical. This is even more so in the Western context. Today more than ever before there is a need for reputable centres of Islamic learning in both the Sunni and the Shi’a world to work together in order to curtail individuals or groups that promote a narrow and exclusivist understanding of the Islamic faith and arrogantly impose it on others.


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