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Newsletter for June 2008
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MORAL EDUCATION: AN ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT OF ISLAMIC LEARNING By Imam Dr. Zijad Delic In recent years, Muslims have become a new and growing community in the pluralistic society of the West, one with the potential to make positive contributions in resolving many challenges and problems our society faces. Although Muslims are culturally diverse, they share common roots in a holistic approach to the faith of Islam, their literal source of reference for all things in life. In fact, Islam is at the heart and soul of the Muslim community's educational priorities, guiding the total process of learning and its impact on social change. Early in the history of Islam, both the Qur'an and Sunnah became core texts of its distinctive education system - they formed the manual or handbook for healthy mental, spiritual and societal living. From the starting point of Qur'anic revelation, Muslims have cherished the cultivation of moral character as a focal point in human life and, consequently, education. For Muslim philosophers and educators, moral upbringing is the central theme and identity of our being in this world. Al Attas (1979) writes simply, but profoundly, that "the aim of education is to produce a good human being." Moral education is thus seen as being at the very core of the Islamic educational process. Moral self-discernment fosters an environment in which students can ponder their relationship with this world and its Creator and come to evaluate the effect of human actions on the basis of established moral standards. Both Basheer (1982) and Al Attas (1979) believe that even in today's post- modern, technologically advanced world, Muslims can live in harmony with contemporary society while still maintaining an educational paradigm based on the centuries-old (but timeless) aspiration of nurturing a "whole person." This means striving to cultivate individuals and communities who are sound in body, mind, and soul; who are respectful of honest work; who have a deep sense of social responsibility; and who are imbued with the independent spirit needed to contribute and engage meaningfully in the global village that our world has become. Moral education, according to Islamic philosophy, is not only the responsibility of home and school, but is also shared with the local community and society at large. It is imperative, especially in our ethically uncertain day and age that the Muslim community and all its institutions operate according to moral codes outlined in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Thus what is given through moral examples set at home, and what is taught in school, is supported and continued by that which goes on in society as a whole. Basheer (1982) explains the notion of holistic shared morality in the following words: "In Muslim [communities or] society, there is a unity which sets a lasting harmony between the home, the school and the society at large. The outcome of this harmony is that the moral values of the individual are to be the same as those of the society. To educate the individual in the values of Islam without educating the society in the same values makes it very difficult, almost impossible, for the individual to adhere to the values in which s/he is educated." Moral education in Islam is both centralized and comprehensive. The Qur'an and Sunnah provide a very clear framework embracing all standards of morality, yet allow individuals to deal with novel situations. The best example of alternatives given within Islam's own laws and precepts is found in an apt analogy used by Basheer (1982) who says: "If we could imagine Shari'ah (Islamic law) to be a stretch of a river, then although this river is set for Muslims and they have no other alternative or choice, they are urged to deepen the river as far as they can, provided they are still within the framework of the river." Islamic law (Shari'ah) provides broad principles for Islam that can be interpreted flexibly to suit our present time without losing their force, or becoming weakened by individual decisions or social and economic trends. Shari'ah provides broad and flexible rules that serve two purposes. First, they guide society toward a definite goal. Secondly, they save us the time and the trouble of dealing with controversy over changing issues. Yet neither purpose is achieved at the expense of our freedom and rationality; nor are Shari'ah objectives served without considering logical changes that must be made so that these laws can be practiced according to their spirit (rather than their letter) in different contexts or times. Islamic rules still allow the individual to exercise personal discernment, as they are intentionally set up to equip individuals to deal with the novel situations that are part of the ongoing continuum of human life. In this vein, Islamic education in our post-modern times takes a different approach to traditional aims and problems than do religious or theocratic educational systems. Most current educational systems are similar in that they focus on forming good citizens for their given society. But since each country has its own measure, concept and specific criteria for good citizenship, education developed on this basis tends to be parochial and therefore narrow in scope. Islam, on the other hand, takes a much broader view, one which Muslim educators have called "ideal educational aims" (Ashraf, 1979). Preparation for citizenship in a given society is only one aspect of the holistic educational endeavour, which also includes the mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, and social development of an individual. In fact, Islamic education simultaneously nurtures wholeness and holiness, for Islamic theory is quite insistent on an individual's spiritual development. Ashraf (1979) holds that education should aim at the balanced growth of the total personality of a human being, a concept which he describes as follows: "Education should therefore cater for the growth of the human being in all its aspects: spiritual, intellectual, imaginative, physical, scientific, linguistic, both individually and collectively, and perfection (of morality)." Many verses of the Qur'an and the Sunnah emphasize just this ideal of human potential. The Qur'an repeatedly draws attention to humans' accountability in leading a moral life, acquiring knowledge and maintaining a status of equilibrium in self-actualization. It is accurate to say that moral education in Islam is to be achieved through the whole conduct of education; in the school; within the family system; and in society at large. Conclusion The institution of education in Islam began with a simple learning circle in the mosque, whose objectives were mainly religious. But as the Muslim empire expanded, and as Muslim governments and states emerged, Islam began encountering new cultures and their distinctive religions. This multi- lateral growth called for the revision and renewed evolution of general educational goals in Islam. The eventual establishment of the multi- disciplinary madrasah, as we have seen in previous articles of this series, did not abandon the major aims of education in Islam. Rather, it broadened the curriculum to include more branches of the sciences in Islam. All of the earlier-mentioned terms -- ta'lim, tarbiyah and adab -- are interrelated and unless their meanings and functions are combined, I feel it is impossible to arrive at a true and comprehensive understanding of education in Islam. Therefore, the definition of Islamic education must be broadened to include the full range of terms and functions discussed so far in this series. Based on the foregoing, education in Islam may be defined as the total process of imparting knowledge, developing mind and body, forming moral character and cultivating the spiritual being. Ideally, these multiple aspects lead the educated individual to the stage of human perfection; that is, attaining all that the human being is capable of, according to the capacity given to him/her by Allah. Thus, the teacher is at the same time mu'allim (the instructor or transmitter of knowledge), murabbi (the educator) and mu'addib (the trainer of personality). In conclusion, let me reiterate that moral instruction, as the essential ingredient of education in Islam, is highly centralized and comprehensive. Traditional guidelines from the Qur'an and the Sunnah provide a very clear framework for all applications of morality. This is not just taught as a subject in the Muslim educational system, but is implemented throughout all school activities. In short, Islamic education combines both procedures and content, both techniques and substance, thus producing an effective moral education that helps human beings attain their God-given intellectual, physical and moral potential. courtesy:The Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Magazine, May 18, 2008.
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