The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Acquisition of knowledge is binding on all Muslims (both men and women without any discrimination).” [Narrated by Ibn Maja in al-Sunan, 1:81 §224]
Education is regarded as a basic human right in the developed countries, where every individual has a right to education irrespective of gender, race or social standing.
Education plays a pivotal role in the upbringing of a child; it nurtures their way of thinking and expands their mind. Subsequently, it is one of the most influencing factors in the development of a nation.
Spurred on by Islam’s call to education, many Muslim scholars deeply explored the oceans of knowledge and made astounding discoveries and innovations that were later to form the core basis of many modern scientific disciplines.
In Islam, the acquisition of wisdom has been made obligatory by Divine commandment. The aim of education in Islam is to associate and balance a person’s physical and spiritual growth.
Furthermore, Islam advocates the advancement of free education for everyday life and core ethical & religious values.
Importance of Education in Islam
Islamically, there has been a strong emphasis on education based on the Quranic instruction:
“Read! In the Name of your Lord Who has created (all that exists). He has created man from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught (writing) by the pen. He has taught man that which he knew not.” [The Noble Qur’an 96:1-5]
The first word of the Quran revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was ‘Iqra’, which means “Read.” Reading is the avenue to education, and it is the means through which knowledge can be gained. Being the first revealed word, “Read” serves to symbolize the importance of education in Islam.
In Islam, seeking knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim, be they male or female.
Education in Islam can be categorized into two types:
- Religious Education – This type of education consists of learning and interpreting the Holy Scriptures in Islam such as the Qur’an and Hadith (the record of words of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This type of education serves to increase spirituality and act as a guide on living one’s life in the best way possible.
- Worldly Education – This is the type of education that is concerned with worldly matters. By increasing in worldly education, an individual can positively influence the society that they live in, and thereby the world at large.
Contributions of Muslim Scholars to Modern Education
Historically, Muslim scholars have played a pivotal role in contributing to developments in science. The period between the 7th to 15th centuries is referred to as the “Golden Age of Islam.” During these periods, many Muslim scholars were heavily in pursuit of knowledge in many fields. This pursuit was motivated by their faith in Islam. As a result, many breakthroughs were made in different areas. Some of these are mentioned below:
- Medicine – Ibn Sina (Avicenna) was a Muslim philosopher and medical practitioner whose life was devoted to studying medicine, philosophy, and other fields of science. He developed cures for ailments using herbs and surgery. He also wrote a book titled The Canon of Medicine, which was translated into Latin in the 12th century and formed part of the curriculum in medical schools across Europe for centuries. (Beshore 1988)
- Chemistry – Jaber ibn Haiyan, also known as Geber in Latin, contributed immensely to the advent of modern chemistry. Jaber described many chemical substances in his work, namely sulphide of mercury, oxides and arsenic compounds. Inorganic acids were also discovered during this time during chemical experiments, which proved invaluable in the following centuries.
- Mathematics – The areas of mathematics practised by Muslim scholars during this period were mainly Algebra, Geometry, Astronomy, and Optics. Mohammad ibn Ahmed is reported to have invented the number zero in the 10th century, which made considerable contributions to Astronomy and Geography advancements. Al-Khwarizmi wrote the first book of Algebra. The word can be derived from al jabr, representing the two basic operations used by al-Khwarizmi in solving quadratic equations. The first part of his book “Kitab al-Jabr wa al-Muqabalah” was translated and made available in Europe in the second half of the twelfth century. (Faruqi 2006)
Culture, Status, and Religion
Even though acquiring education is compulsory in Islam, many remain illiterate. There are various reasons for this but mainly this is due to lack of knowledge of Islam and cultural influences. For instance, if we take the example of the Indian subcontinent, there is a clear bias against women’s education. Many women in these countries are socially not allowed to pursue education.
As per the CIA’s World Factbook, findings on literacy in Muslim majority countries suggest a gender disparity between women and men. Men’s literacy rate is higher than that of women and links directly to the education rate. A lower literacy rate for women means that their education rate is equally low. (McDonnell 2017)
However, on the bright side, the situation for women’s education in the developing countries has relatively improved over the past years. Many women are now ‘allowed’ to pursue schooling up to a bachelor’s or even a master’s level. Those not privileged enough to receive an education either have a poor financial background or an aberrantly conservative one.
To conclude, education is a tool to shape not just an individual’s life and future but the society is at large. In addition, this is why it has been said, “Knowledge is power.”
To also quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Additionally, if it were not for the contributions made by Muslim scholars, knowledge would not have come as far as it did.
- Beshore, G 1988, Science in Early Islamic Culture, F. Watts, viewed 25 March, 2021, <https://books.google.com.pk/books?id=PULntwEACAAJ>.
- Faruqi, YM 2006, ‘Contributions of Islamic Scholars to the Scientific Enterprise’, International Education Journal, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 391-399.
- McDonnell, J 2017, ‘Islam and Educational Equality for Muslim Women’, Law School Student Scholarship., vol. Paper 906., viewed 25 March, 2021, <https://scholarship.shu.edu/student_scholarship/906/>.