Importance of Islamic Education

Why we must encourage and seek Islamic education as well as secular education for children

By Amreen Pathan

طَلَبُ الْعِلْمِ فَرِيضَةٌ عَلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ

“Seeking knowledge is a duty upon every Muslim.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)

The magpie moment of the focus of this article would be bereft without commenting on the above Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH).

It is a Hadith many Muslims will have heard and probably quoted at some point too.

The scholars have differed in their theories about the constitution of ‘knowledge’ in this Hadith:

  1. Some scholars are of the opinion that it is that knowledge without which a Muslim is unable to fulfil the absolute obligatory demands of their faith – Salaah for example.

Similarly, it is such knowledge without which a Muslim is unable to refrain from Haraam (impermissible acts).  The implication of this definition is that one must acquire knowledge in order to practice their Deen (religion).

  • Some scholars are of the opinion that it is that knowledge which humankind is in immediate need of. Without it, humankind cannot survive. There is no reason why this should not encompass one’s knowledge of God as much as it should about creation.
  • A third group of scholars define knowledge as ‘sincerity.’ The sincerity here is of that calibre which allows a Muslim to distance themself or rid themself of spiritual maladies such as jealousy, miserliness, arrogance and pride.
  • According to Imam Malik (may Allah have mercy on him); one should acquire knowledge to the extent that they may benefit from their faith.
  • Abdullah ibn Mubarak (may Allah have mercy on him), upon being questioned about this Hadith, is reported to have said that when an individual has any doubt about any aspect of faith, it becomes incumbent upon them to seek the answers to their questions.[1]

There is no friction between any of these explanations. Whichever informed interpretation/s one chooses to derive, the outcome is the same: self-development in religious and spiritual dimensions.  

What we understand from this is that seeking Islamic knowledge is an absolute must. Without it, one cannot become a better Muslim or Muslimah. For example, if one does not know which actions make one’s Salaah invalid, then according to definition five, they must actively seek out this information to fulfil the requirements of their prayers. If one does not, then it is their ignorance that is making their Salaah void.

Similarly, even though definition three provides a more spiritual mindset, the same example of Salaah is applicable. Salaah is a practical form of worship that paves the way for the heart to permeate spiritual qualities such as humility. If one is not rectifying their Salaah, then the act of worship transforms into a physical barrier that blocks goodness from entering the heart and from evil leaving it.

The point of all this is that a child’s Islamic education is of paramount importance. The emphasis that a parent places on their child’s Islamic education should be equal to if not more than the emphasis placed on secular education.

There is no obligation on a child of course to perform Salaah, to offer Zakat (charity), to fast to perform the Hajj pilgrimage and so on. But once a child reaches the age of maturity and they become answerable to Allah (SWT) for their actions and misdeeds, they will struggle to fulfil their obligations without the fundamentals – the bare necessities. 

One may argue that such knowledge is accessible to all at any given time. Therefore, as and when a child reaches the age of maturity, the knowledge can be accessed and studied as required.

Absolutely right.

But also absolutely wrong.

Acquiring knowledge especially today is as easy as ABC: just pick up a book; search Google; attend a lecture, listen to a podcast; read a paper and so on. However, this is only pertinent if we take a western definition of knowledge. Rosenthal – a ‘prolific scholar in the field of… Islamic civilization’ – explains knowledge as ‘fall(ing) short of expressing all the factual and emotional contents of ‘ilm (Islamic knowledge)..’ Further, he says: ‘Ilm is one of those concepts that have…given Muslim civilization its distinctive shape and complexion.’

What Rosenthal has cleverly identified is the concept of knowledge in Islam as a model covering education, theory and action. What this means is that acquiring knowledge is not the end goal. Acting upon it is and this is the domain of Muslim civilisations. It is what makes a Muslim exactly that – a Muslim. Without action, the theory and education is baseless and if application was not crucial, everybody quite frankly would be the protagonists of their own bildungsroman.

How is this relevant to a child’s Islamic education?

The action comes from mindset. Just like a farmer sows seeds in a field already prepared for fertilisation and implantation, knowledge can only be fertilised in the mind of a child if that mind has been prepared to process and receive the knowledge that enters it. If the mind has not been prepared, then it will filter the knowledge that enters it as unimportant and impracticable.

For example, if a child has never been taught that Salaah is the first obligation of a Muslim and has not been in the company of those who offer their Salaah diligently, then having to perform it as an adult will be immensely difficult. This is because as a child, the realisation of its significance was never acquired and now it is deemed unimportant.

We see from this example the spiritual importance of even a child’s education. Imam Ghazali (may Allah have mercy on him) proposes that the purpose of Islamic education is ‘the establishment of morality…and to achieve the happiness of the world and the hereafter.

This highlights how the objective of Islamic education is harmonious with the purpose of life: to serve Allah (SWT). By offering your child an Islamic education, you are creating the groundwork for him/her to serve Allah (SWT) consciously and to establish a moral framework for themselves.

A friend shared some advice that she had received in her role as a teacher at a Madrassah. The sum of this advice was that as much as Madrassah was about Taleem (Islamic education), it was equally about Tarbiyyah. Much can be said about this term but for now, its definition as a ‘systematic development and training of children will suffice. Whilst Taleem focuses on the dos and don’ts and the how-to and why, Tarbiyyah focuses on fostering an understanding of and love for Islam. Therefore, without Tarbiyyah, Taleem is null and void.

This does not mean to disregard the absolute basics of Islamic education. The science of Islamic education for example is based on the noble Qur’an and Ahadith (prophetic sayings). Both use the Arabic language and so a child must become comfortable with recognising and reciting the letters that make up the words of the Qur’an and Ahadith.

Just by being vigorous in sending one’s child to receive an Islamic education whilst also providing a similar environment at home, the child will recognise the value of an Islamic education even in comparison to a secular one.

Further, if we consider the weight given in the Qur’an to this concept of reflecting upon Allah’s creation, then we can realise that Islamic education is not at odds with the secular one and in fact promotes it in its emphasis on critical thinking, logical reasoning and questioning.

Take for example the following verse from Surah Ibrahim:

“This is a message for mankind, so that they (take lessons and) be warned, and so that they may know that He is One God, and so that the people of understanding may observe the advice.” (14:52)

In this verse amongst others, Allah (SWT) is inviting mankind to ponder.  The ‘people of understanding’ are those who abandon societal and ideological obligations and instead choose to think of themselves. This enhances the value of an Islamic education even more.

Finally, remember, whilst one’s secular education will determine their future in this life, one’s Islamic education will supersede this time frame, beyond the grave, well into the Hereafter, for an eternity unbeknownst to man. By disregarding a child’s Islamic education, we are ultimately setting them up to fail.

#Islamic Education #Madrassah #PurposeOfEducation #Spirituality #’Ilm

[1] (Siddiqi, M.H., ed. (2006)  Zaad-ut-Talibeen, p.104., Pakistan: Zamzam Publishers)

(1) Comment

  • Ayesha October 17, 2021 @ 11:49 pm

    As educators, we too are constantly learning & striving to become better nurturers. Thank you sister Amreen for highlighting the importance of Islamic education.

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