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The Graduate School 4-8-2010

The Need for an Islamic Pedagogy

Mohammed Sabrin
Florida State University
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Recommended Citation: Sabrin, Mohammed, "The Need for an Islamic
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Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations, Paper 2140




A Thesis submitted to the Department of Educational Leadership and
Policy Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Science
Degree Awarded:
Spring Semester, 2010
Copyright 2009
Mohammed Sabrin
All Rights Reserve

The members of the committee approve the thesis of Mohammed Sabrin

defended on April 8, 2010
Peter Easton Professor Directing Thesis
Jeffrey Milligan Committee Member
Tom Luschei Committee Member
Patrice Iatarola, Chair, Department of Educational Leadership and
Policy Studies.
The Graduate School has verified and approved the above-named
committee members.

In The Name Of Allah, And May The Peace And Blessings Of Allah Be
Upon The Messenger of Allah.
Oh Allah Accept This From Us, Undoubtedly You Are The AllHearing, All-Knowing (Qur'an 2:127)

Whatever is contained herein which is correct, then it is from the

blessing of Allah, and whatever is contained herein which is wrong, then it
is from me.

Table Contents

ABSTRACT ..................................................................6
INTRODUCTION ...........................................................7
PURPOSE ................................................................ 10
Research questions........................................................ 10
PEDAGOGY ............................................................... 12
Theory..................................................................... 12
Application................................................................ 14
METHODOLOGY ......................................................... 17
Evaluating Our Lenses.................................................... 18
PRESENTATION OF DATA ............................................. 24
Knowledge in Islam ...................................................... 24
Islamic Education: Content or Pedagogy? ............................... 32
Basis for Islamic Pedagogy in the English Sources ...................... 35
Medieval Methods ..................................................... 35
The Historical Context of Islamic Pedagogy ............................. 39
Modern Perspectives of Islamic Pedagogy ............................ 40
Islamic Pedagogy Directly from the Quran, Sunnah, and Contemporary
Arabic Works on the Topic ............................................... 46
Scaffolding in Islam ...................................................... 47
Case-based learning, but what do we mean by cases? ................ 47
ANALYSIS OF DATA..................................................... 56
Reciprocity and Maintaining a Sincere Intention ........................ 59
Prioritizing Values Through Ones Demeanor and Composure ......... 60
CONCLUSION ............................................................. 64
Bibliography ................................................................ 67
Notes......................................................................... 73


For the neo-colonized Muslim ummah1 (nation) without a place to

fully practice Islam since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, there is pressing
demand in the Muslim world for an Islamic pedagogy extracted from the
Quran and Sunnah (and the rich scholarship that exists concerning them)
that illustrates the Islamic perspective of knowledge and morality and how it
could be practiced in the various disciplines of the educational system to
promote human development (Cook 1999; Cook 2001). Re-newed
identification of the general public of Muslims with pre-colonization
identities has been particularly on the rise since the 1970s-which is
commonly known as the beginning of the Islamic Awakening in the
Muslim world (Cook, 2001, p.381; Haddad and Esposito, 1991, p.1).
However, similar to many other institutions in most modern day Muslim
countries, formal education mostly consists of teaching methods inherited
from previous colonizers, like rote memorization (Gesink, 2006, pgs. 328329; Ofori- Attah, 2008, pgs.15, 18). This dissonance of values is
perpetuated by corrupt authoritarian puppet regimes who seek to maintain
their power by supporting Western hegemony in the region; hence,
providing quality education that enhances critical thinking skills that might
challenge the status quo is not an initiative that receives much support
(Kincheloe and Steinberg, 2004, p.149).
While teachers in the Muslim world, in places like Egypt, often teach
Islamic and positivistic empirical sciences, both are taught through a
banking theory approach that does little to develop critical thinking skills,
let alone master basic conceptual knowledge. Aside from the ineffectiveness
of such methods, such a teaching philosophy spreads a passive slave-like
mentality to education which does not cultivate active citizens who will
work for social justice2. How one teaches reflects their values. The
following exemplar of an Islamic pedagogy hopes to offer a culturally
relevant solution. The intent of this research is to develop an Islamic
pedagogy that inspires an active approach to creating change in ones
society by changing oneself and working to be an active contribution to
societal change simultaneously. This thesis focuses on Islamic Pedagogy as
it relates to two branches-developing caring student/teacher relationships
and utilizing these relationships to apply a case-based learning approach
where students learn how to apply knowledge directly from the educator and
from their peers. While this research is mostly theoretical and could
possibly be valid for many parts of the Muslim world, the main
geographical intent for application is Egypt.

Egypt has a population of about 82 million; it is split into 26
governorates with about 90% of the people living on the 10% of the land
around the Nile, and the currency is the Egyptian pound. Egypt is ruled by
an authoritarian regime that has ruled by marshal law since 1981. This
emergency law is the primary obstacle to change in Egypt, including in the
field of education-not to mention that 1.3 of the 1.7 billion in American
funding is spent on support of the military which upholds these policies
(Boustany, 2008; Kelly, 2006; Zuhur, 2007, pgs. 2, 18 )3.
Egypt has the largest educational system in the Middle East (Sadik, 2006,
p. 87). This is mainly due to the tremendous population explosion over the
last half a century, which has also caused a great decline in per student
expenditure (at 40 percent per five years in the 1990s) and is getting worse
(World Bank, 2009, p.12). Education in Egypt is very centralized and
controlled by the Ministry of Education- with two sub ministries. The
main educational system in Egypt is governed by a sub ministry called the
Ministry of Education and Learning and is divided into two stages: the first
compulsory stage, from ages six to fourteen, is split into two cycles, five
then three years (only about ten percent of the population can afford any
level of private education). At the end of the second preparatory cycle,
students take a high-stakes national final exam which will essentially
determine the rest of their life, whether they go to general or technical
secondary education (Leavitt, 1992, pgs.96-97). If admitted to general
education, the second stage is two years of general studies and one year
specializing in a particular subject. The type of certificate granted at the end
of the third year depends on the score achieved on the final national exam
which will determine potential entrance into a university, and if admitted,
the field qualified for out of the students list of preferences (i.e.: Arts,
Engineering, Medicine, etc.). This final exam covers every course taken in
high-school and is such a catastrophic event that some students commit
suicide every year from sheer stress (Elhakeem, 2008)! The Ministry of
Education has repeatedly defeated efforts to change the national exam
(Leavitt, 1992, p.97). For the other half of the student population that get
tracked into technical secondary education, about 1 percent get admitted to a
university while the rest usually enter a trade or end up unemployed
(Leavitt, 1992, pgs. 96-97).
There is also the parallel Islamic educational system of Al-Azhar, which
is administered by the sub ministry Al-Awqaaf, and was established 975
CE. Al-Azhar has a four year primary stage, a three year preparatory stage, a
four year secondary stage, and higher education (Leavitt, 1992, p. 97). Both
the main educational system and the parallel Al-Azhar system have public,
private, and semi-private branches with the main difference between these
being that the size of the classroom decreases and use of international
languages such as English (for instruction) increases as one moves down the
spectrum from public to private. Correspondingly, under both ministries
public schools are free, semi-private at varying costs, and private rarely
within reach except for the elite class-of course aside from tuition, there are

numerous indirect expenses like transportation, uniforms, books, and other

The demanding nature of the national exam at the end of secondary
school combined with the poor quality of curriculum/ instruction cause
millions of dollars to be wasted each year on private tutoring and bribes to
get around the educational system. Ethnographic research from the Culture
and Education in Egypt Working Group (CEEWG) of the Middle East
Awards Program explicated how private lessons have become a market
themselves due to the tremendous failure of the educational system. Linda
Herreras work with teachers allowed for discussions that highlighted the
importance of improving the regular learning experience so students would
not have to purchase their education on their own--which of course
condemns most of the poverty-stricken of Egypt. However, these
conversations also highlighted the need to motivate teachers to put forth
more effort and enthusiasm in their teaching (despite the institutional
obstacles) and acknowledge their social responsibility towards their students
(Herrera and Torres, 2006, pgs.100-118).
In regard to teaching methods and content, Egyptian education has been
reduced to rote memorization of dated textbooks. Students, from basic
through secondary education, are lambasted with facts and figures with no
guidance on how to practically apply such knowledge or its relevance
(Herrera, 2006, p. 9). During basic education, students learn manners and
some academic content (like language, communication, agriculture, and
industrial skills) in this manner (Leavitt, 1992, p.97). In preparatory and
secondary education, the curriculum changes little, aside from an increased
workload and having the opportunity to specialize during the last year (in
general secondary education). In Al-Azhar schools, curriculum consists of
the same Ministry of Education and Learning curriculum with added Islamic
sciences. The minute percentage that can afford Western private schools
either receive a Western curriculum, usually in English or French, or a
language acquisition curriculum; there are some special education schools
as well (Leavitt, 1992, p.98).
Regarding Universities, Said laments:
Universities in the Arab world are generally run according to some
pattern inherited from, or once directly imposed by, a former colonial
powerclasses populated with hundreds of students, badly trained,
overworked, and underpaid faculty, political appointments, the almost total
absence of advanced research and of research facilities, and most important,
the lack of a single decent library in the entire regionthe few promising
students who manage to make it through the system are encouraged to come
to the United States to continue their advanced workthe patronage system
in scholarship, business, and research makes the United States a virtual
hegemonic commander of affairsthe Arabic and Islamic world remains a
second-order power in terms of the production of culture, knowledge, and
scholarship (Said, 1979, pgs. 322-323).
This is how Edward Said described Higher Education in the Middle East
in 1979 and it has not particularly changed much except for the fact that all
of these issues have only gotten worse, primarily due to authoritarian

political regimes that hinder any possible change that might put their power
at risk, lack of planning/organization in ministries of education, widespread
corruption, lack of resources, and the population boom mentioned
previously (Christina, 2003).
There are many issues that need to be addressed in Egyptian education
including curriculum (Herrera & Torres, 2006, p. 9), funding (Zuhur, 2007,
p.19), teacher training (NCERD, 2000, p.7), and early childcare education
(NCERD, 2000, pgs.7-14), but what has been seen over the last 2 decades to
the common observer-and of course professionals in the field as well
(AREME 2003; Birdsall, 1999, p.3; Herrera 2006; ; UNESCO, 2007)-to be
the greatest problem in improving education in Egypt has been quality.
Aside from the horrible economic prospects for employment, Egyptian
education does not motivate students to intellectually grow and it produces
citizens who have merely memorized and forgotten a lot of books. This
pattern is quite ironic given that traditional4 (pre-colonization) Islamic
pedagogy centers on a case-based learning approach where students
practically apply knowledge through an apprentice-style relationship with
their teachers and cooperative group work which allows them to participate
in their own moral and cognitive growth. Due to the complexity of political
constraints in improving many institutional aspects of Egyptian education,
enhancing teachers abilities to teach will empower them to change what
they can-their classroom.

The objective of this research is to develop an Islamic pedagogy that
inspires an active approach to creating change in ones society by changing
oneself and working to be an active contribution to societal change
simultaneously. This thesis focuses on Islamic Pedagogy as it relates to two
branchesdeveloping caring student/teacher relationships and utilizing these
relationships to apply a case-based learning approach where students learn
how to apply knowledge directly from the educator and from their peers. To
stimulate such relationships, I have focused on utilizing metaphysical
(Islamic) motivation in improving teacher effort/ability. Muslim teachers
who practically live according to the belief that teaching is an act of
worship-through the way proper education produces active citizens who
improve society-are more effective teachers. Through such relationships, I
have concentrated on utilizing case-based learning to stimulate critical
thinking, which enhances the quality of education.
Islamic pedagogy, with its high emphasis on caring apprenticeship
relationships between teacher and student allows teachers to utilize their
personal relationships with students to scaffold them to higher concepts.
When teachers draw on classroom occurrences/ disturbances to model
appropriate behavior and elaborate on various academic concepts, they will
construct live learning experiences inside the classroom. I will provide
specific examples of how to accomplish this. More generally put, every
moment in the classroom is a learning experience. This is what I intend by
case based learning.
Through the aforementioned student-teacher relationships and teaching
methods, educators set a certain example for students, thereby not only
directly guiding students moral/cognitive development, but also creating
mini role models among them to affect peer influence. Complimentary
group activities in such an environment would allow students to help each
other morally and cognitively develop. Given that family and peers have
been two of the biggest indicators of childrens future academic and social
achievement globally (Hanushek, 2007, p.277), empirical research appears
to support an approach that does not neglect peer influence. A common
theme on the parts of teachers and students I will highlight is Ihsaanworshipping God as if you see Him, and even though you dont see Him
you live according to the acknowledgment that He sees you. The potential
of this concept in addressing motivation will be elaborated on. From my
research and personal experience in Egypt, I have seen the potential for
these aforementioned threads due to the very social nature of Egyptian

Research questions
In order to craft a pedagogy such as what has been described above, it
will have to be asked first and foremost, what is Islam and what are the
epistemological definitions of knowledge and education within this belief
system; are there different types of the former or latter? What is the purpose
of seeking knowledge in Islam; how and with whom should it be done?
What do we intend by pedagogy and has a particular Islamic pedagogy ever


been outlined before by scholars in the past or present? Subsequently, these

questions will lead us to a framework of what an Islamic pedagogy might
look like.



Education involves the cultural patterns that determine how a people pass
on their values and accumulated knowledge/experiences to future
generations. I have consciously used as neutral a definition as possible for
our purposes here of presenting varying conceptions of education in the East
and West. Education involves two processes, official curriculum content and
moral education; in other words while a particular subject matter is being
taught, teachers also educate and socialize students into the accepted value
system of their society either directly (through the curriculum) or indirectly
(through their behavior and how they teach). How we teach is just as
important as what we teach; undoubtedly they are intimately linked.
Pedagogy has various usages in the field of education; a common definition
used is the study of teaching methods, including the aims of education and
the ways in which such goals may be achieved (Pedagogy, 2010).
Accordingly, the main factors to be addressed when discussing pedagogy
are the educator, student, and content; however, this research strives to
provide a pedagogy that can be utilized for theological or empirical
knowledge (irrespective of content). The pedagogical definition that will be
used here is the teaching methods and corresponding relationship between
teacher and student utilized to reach ones educational objectives.
While much of the literature in the field of education has focused on the
cognitive aspects of education, more recent research has highlighted the
importance of discussing what kind of moral education goes on in the
classroom (Lickona, 1991; Moore, 2007). In America, values are often
derived from the liberal arts public education system, citizens various
personal religious beliefs, or some combination of both (Moore, 2007;
pgs.1-10). The focus of this study is on developing a pedagogy culturally
relevant to one particular belief system-Islam; however, it will be analyzed
in comparison to existing literature on Islamic pedagogy as well as some
analogues from the Liberal Arts value system. I will present existing
literature on Islamic pedagogy as background in the presentation of data
This literature review will focus on Western literature regarding moral
education and outline one of the closest analogues to Islamic pedagogy-the
Ethic of Care-including the specific teaching methods that would logically
accompany such a philosophy of teaching.

Lev Vygotsky, a psychologist by profession, was one of the earliest
academics to comment on the importance of reconnecting the link between
cognitive and affective factors when researching the human psyche
(Goldstein, 1999, pg.648).Vygotsky defined a zone of proximal
development as the distance between the actual developmental level as
determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential
development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance
or in collaboration with more capable peers (as cited in Goldstein, 1999,
p.649 emphasis added). Therefore, using a customized student-centered


pedagogy, an educator could scaffold a student along to higher, more

intricate concepts (building on their previous knowledge) depending on the
supportive guidance received either from the teacher or other peers who had
comprehended the concept (Goldstein, 1999, pgs.649-654). Vygotsky
realized that learning is not simply an individual activity (otherwise not
much disciplinary analysis would be needed outside of a psychological
lens), and that more insightful analysis of educational development needs to
be discussed in relation to the social interactions that take place between the
actors involved. Accordingly, by developing deeper relationships with their
students, educators can consciously care for students in a way that provides
a suitable environment for growth.
Such deliberate attention to students needs on the part of the educator
would also provide a role model for other students to help each other grow
in cooperative learning settings. As will be highlighted, the quality of the
student-teacher relationship is pivotal to Islamic pedagogy as well.
Many academics5 have elaborated on the nature of this affective and
caring relationship between teacher and student (Bailey, 2000; Noddings,
1984; Rogoff, 1990). At the time that Nel Noddings wrote Caring: A
feminine approach to ethics and moral education (1984), she was
responding to a growing sentiment (as evident through the increasing moral
education literature) that more attention should be paid to treating students
like humans who need time, attention, and guidance to intellectually and
emotionally develop (Lickona, 1991). Noddings took this concept a step
further by clarifying that an educator has a moral obligation and
responsibility to actively care for their students and embody the values they
want to instill in them by virtue of the educators position as a role model
(Noddings, 1984).
She goes as far as to say that the one-caring (the educator) must
receive the cared for (the student) into themself by being engrossed
with their goals and needs; this motivational displacement involves
temporarily preferring the student to ones self (Goldstein, 1999, p.656). On
the part of the cared for they are expected to somehow acknowledge or
reciprocate this care in every caring encounter (Goldstein, 1999, p.657), but
are not ordered to (Noddings, 1984, p. 72). In fact, this reciprocity could
involve the teacher being directly acknowledged or simply witnessing the
cared fors happy growth Consequently, Noddings (1984) has
differentiated between naturally caring and ethically caring for ones
students; the former is not a reliable form of care because the educator
might simply not naturally care for or be drawn to a particular student, while
the latter involves an active, professional choice to care acknowledging an
ethical obligation. Ethical caring is an action, not a quality. A
student/teacher relationship based on ethical caring is more important
because naturally caring for all of ones students may or may not occur.
Also, people are naturally more drawn to those they are similar to in some
way, in which case natural caring would not suffice for equitable guidance
of students.
Educators should choose to care in strategic ways, irrespective of
whether natural caring develops over time or not. Ethical caring


demonstrates a sincere dedication on the part of educators to help students

grow, whether they are having a bad day or not, whether they like the
students or not; this choice requires a genuine belief in childrens ability to
succeed, which empowers the teacher and student throughout the learning
process. Such a practical and tailored approach to each child helps students
develop intellectually and morally. While this caring approach seems ideal
in explaining what should be done, one question is left unanswered, how do
we motivate practitioners to care? Why should they maintain a concern for
the ethical self (Noddings, 1984, p.75,) in the unpredictable daily hustle
and bustle of over-energized children, increasing discipline problems, and
even occasionally violent behavior? This will be developed in the discussion
of Islamic pedagogy, but first lets look at practical examples of Noddings
approach in the field.

Concerned about the moral state of youth in his time, Thomas Lickona
undertakes the task of outlining a detailed stratagem for the practical
application of a caring pedagogy. Lickona applies the concept of
Vygotskys ZPD to not only demonstrate the importance of teachers
taking active roles in helping their children cognitively and morally develop,
but that the teachers themselves must embody the potential results of that
development. He particularly goes a little further than Noddings by
highlighting that ones private life affects their public behavior (Lickona,
1991, p.49, 79). One has to become a role model of the behavior one wants
to see in students; the caring relationship that will be developed is what will
allow students to reach their potential development intellectually and
emotionally. An artificial faade played out every time a teacher comes to
class is easily seen through;
Lickona states we are coming to see that our societal moral problems
reflect, in no small measure, our personal vices (Lickona, 1991, p.49). On
the issue of role models one could also add to this that on a macro level, the
leaders of the nation should be the first exemplars in demonstrating these
morals on the world stage for them to really have any effect and trickle their
way down to the masses. However, the causal direction of social change is
not predetermined and teachers are also in a decisive position to effect longterm societal change from the roots up-through the children that will inherit
their legacy.
Undoubtedly, one has to truly change oneself before one can hope to be a
role model for others.
Doing so will pragmatically show children how to identify when moral
action/judgment is needed, how to reflect on it, and then act. By using daily
occurrences, positive or negative, in the classroom as teaching moments
instead of mere disruptions, Lickona shows how educators can act out the
moral reflection process right in front of their students. Teachers can
literally think out loud when a teaching moment occurs, about their
primary reaction to it, the weighing of opportunities for possible further
action, and then following through assertively to respond to the situation.
This process could involve for example, teachers modeling composure as
they pause to deliberate a situation requiring a moral decision, making value


judgments in front of students as to the particular pros and cons of a

particular course of action, and then acting (Lickona, 1991, pgs.54-57). This
process of using classroom incidents as teaching moments is often called
case-based learning. Modeling moral reflection in front of ones students
will pragmatically show them how to consciously represent the values they
Lickona also gives examples of how the lack of role models to model
moral behavior cannot even be substituted for by any of the material
recompense that is often offered to children for good behavior. Role
models pass on their morals to others they interact with since moral
behavior is a social act that is enacted publically and affects everyone
involved. Ergo, the better students treat others socially, the better they will
feel about themselves internally. Accordingly, lack of such role models
leaves many students in despair, selfishness, and loneliness. Children
without role models are often left undisciplined and only interested in
material consumption (Lickona, 1991, p.50). Many people are slowly
realizing that material pleasures will never substitute for beneficial human
interaction. Given that Lickona has shown how moral behavior should be
taught, He also gives suggestions for which values should be modeled.
Lickona advises educators to start with the core values of respect and
responsibility and then build upon these concepts a customized set of morals
(such as honesty, tolerance, fairness, prudence, self-discipline, compassion,
cooperation, and courage) according to contextual needs (Lickona, 1991.
pgs.43-44). Lickona acknowledges that getting agreement about shared
values does not, of course, guarantee that people will agree about how to
apply those values in every situation (Lickona, 1991, p.47). This potential
ambiguity illustrates once again the importance of using the case-based
approach outlined above. By using the curriculum, disturbances, and other
opportunities in the classroom to model good morals, ethical behavior is no
longer as challenging (Lickona, 1991, pgs.62, 69, 72).
Teachers who develop caring relationships with students can help
students to experience the world from the perspective of others (Lickona,
1991, p.55), an ability essential for teaching respect.
Becky Bailey, on a similar strand of ethical care, highlights the
background disposition needed for teaching morals, the importance of
maintaining composure at all times so that one maintains control and
assertiveness no matter what the situation (Bailey, 2000, pgs.26-30). To
actually maintain composure, given the hectic bustle of life in the
classroom, one should differ between management demands and moral
demands (Kohlberg & Selman, 1972, p.39); by stressing serious moral
infractions much more than the usual spills and misunderstandings,
educators can prioritize their demand of childrens short attention spans/
mental capabilities. Only with a composed demeanor can one act purposely,
and not off mere emotion, a temperament essential for moral reflection.
Also, the importance of acknowledging accomplishments through praise and
other methods by the educator is crucial for encouraging students along
throughout their moral growth (Bailey, 2000, pgs.82, 85, 92).


Lickona describes the aforementioned procedure for exemplifying moral

reflection by saying that good character consists of knowing the good,
desiring the good, and doing the good-habits of the mind, habits of the heart,
and habits of action (Lickona, 1991, p.51). A striking parallel will be seen
to this method in Islam of how once someone has knowledge of a virtue,
they purify their intention to do it, and then carry out the action. Some
teachers even use ethics journals that helped students to critically reflect
on their daily actions in the process of developing effective moral reflection
skills (Lickona, 1991, p.56).
Cooperative learning activities are also opportunities to develop bonds
between students so that they can assist each other in modeling moral
behavior (Lickona, 1991, p.74), while still allowing opportunities for
teachers to interject their own moral feedback and guidance (Lickona, 1991,
p.85). The feedback on behavior is recommended to be given in private,
guiding students to understand why what they did was inappropriate, and is
followed up on by the teacher to monitor progress (Lickona, 1991, p.86).
Through cooperative learning, students experience trial and error
opportunities with their peers to practice moral reflection and action, and are
then scaffolded to the desired objective through caring educators guidance.
Students participation in their own moral growth empowers them to begin
to act independently, raises their self-esteem, and has longer effects on their
long-term behavior. Accordingly, Lickona has outlined a framework for
developing the caring student/teacher relationship and the process for
utilizing this relationship to teach moral education, either directly between
student and teacher or through mini-role models created in cooperative
learning structures.
Subsequently, Ethical Care pedagogy has been shown to focus on the
importance of educators consciously caring for their students and
developing the relationships needed to scaffold them from their existing
level of cognitive/affective ability to the next. This process is accomplished
through a casebased learning approach that takes advantage of every
opportunity in the classroom as a teaching moment to apply knowledge
practically. Such an approach creates transformative learning experiences in
the classroom that help students grow. There are many such academics that
use some version or another of what we could label Ethical Care pedagogy
in Western literature (such as Gloria Ladson-Billings for example; see
Dreamkeepers), but I have highlighted these particular authors to preserve
space while simultaneously providing an in-depth analysis of such work.
The aspects of Ethical Care mentioned here will be compared to similar
traits found in Islamic pedagogy.


I have defined education and pedagogy thus far; therefore, we should
define some other essential terms to be utilized before proceeding. Islam, as
used in this paper, refers to Sunni Orthodox Islam (more specifically Ahl Al
Sunnah wal Jamaaa, ASWJ; lit: the people of the Sunnah and the
Community); ASWJ Islam makes up roughly 90% of the Muslim world
and includes the four major jurisprudence schools of thought: Hanafi,
Maaliki, Shaafii, and Hanbali. ASWJ works are known for their clear
reliance on the actual revelation as evidence when they write about anything
regarding Islam; this is opposite of the methodology of Sunni Ahl AlKalaam (lit: the people of talk) who sometimes prefer their own personal
reasoning over textual evidence by default and minimally cite Islamic
scripture when theorizing about Islam (Ashqar, 2003; Phillips, 2006).
Ironically, Ahl Al-Kalaam, who represent about 5% or less of Islamic
scholarship and Muslims throughout history, are the sole perspectives
formally acknowledged in Western discourses about Islam (except for
minute exceptions sometimes in Islamic Studies departments)6. The other
ten percent of the Muslim world consists of a mixture of various sects
(Shiism, varieties of Sunni like Sufism, etc.) which generally have some
different fundamental beliefs. Sunni Muslims follow the Quran (believed to
be the literal word of God revealed to prophet Muhammad) and the Sunnah
(the teachings, sayings, and way of prophet Muhammad, peace be upon
him7, on how to practice the Quran).
There is a lot of literature on Islam in general concerning almost every
disciplinary lens; however, relatively little has been written on the
development of a specific Islamic pedagogy. One must preface such a
statement by clarifying that the author has had limited time to research in a
Muslim country-where Islamic literature is expectedly much more
accessible. There is particularly much more literature in Arab Muslim
countries since Arabic is the language that the Quran and Sunnah were
revealed in, and therefore the language used in most serious theological
works written about them. This being said, one would normally be left with
the limited English scholarship that exists on Islamic Education as a whole
here in America. However, I have had the opportunity to research for a
small period of time in Egypt searching for Arabic works on Islamic
pedagogy. These combined with the Arabic Quran and Hadeeth (the
individual narrations of the Sunnah; pl. ahadeeth) exegesis available here in
America have been the primary sources for this research. For exegesis, I
have relied the most heavily on those of Ibn Kathir (the most widely known
exegesis in the Muslim world, compiled by the named 13th century alim),
Al-Ashqar (which is an abridged version of the famous 18th century AlShawkaanees exegesis), and Arkahdaan (which is an abridged version of
the widely respected Al-12th century Qaasimi exegesis). In regard to the
Sunnah, I have relied mostly on the two most authentic collections of
ahadeeth (the compilations of Al-Bukhari and Muslim). Other than my own
scriptural reflections, I have also highlighted the educational perspectives of
two of the most knowledgeable ulamaa in the past half century, Shaykhs Bin


Baz and Uthaymeen, as well as educational specialist Dr. Ahmad

Quran and Hadeeth exegesis ulamaa have frequently highlighted
pedagogical issues in their works although they did not usually dedicate
specific treatises to the topic. The works that have been found specifically
described as Islamic pedagogy actually dealt more with outlining a
specific curriculum of Islamic values that promote social, psychological,
academic, and moral development, but less on how to teach them.
Paradoxically, what would normally be viewed as a dearth in the literature
has a lot to do with what exactly Islamic pedagogy is as will be explicated.
There are over 6,000 verses in the Quran and more than 20, 000 authentic
ahadeeth; accordingly, to knowledgably speak about the Islamic stance on a
topic is not just to mention one verse of the Quran or one hadeeth from the
Sunnah as proof, but rather to present all pertinent revelation with the
appropriate corresponding analysis.
Understandably, such a task is more appropriate for an entire lifetimes
work than a Masters thesis; ergo, what is presented here is a survey-natured
textual analysis of the Quranic method of teaching in the Quran itself, the
pedagogical wisdoms behind the fashion in which scripture was revealed,
and the pedagogical techniques that prophet Muhammad used with his
companions. Glimpses of how this pedagogy was utilized historically will
be brought to light as well.

Evaluating Our Lenses

Given the overtly politicized nature of scholarship related to Islam in
Academia (see Orientalism and Covering Islam among others by Edward
Said), a note of caution must be heeded. Most academic scholarship-here I
do not intend the quality of the work, but merely that which is produced
within the ivory tower of Western universities and other learning
institutions)-on Islam is taught from a Modernistic lens-a belief system
promoted through our Liberal Arts educational system that preaches that the
only ultimate Truth is that there are no fixed Truths or constants, but rather
everything is variable and based on opinion. This seems self-defeatist if
pondered; but in any case this is a belief system that was borne out of the
European Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries mostly due to
perceived contradictions between various aspects of Christianity and
empirical science as well as the centuries old religious based conflicts
between France and Britain. This rationalist school of thought could really
be traced as far back as the Greek philosophy of scholars such as Plato,
Socrates, and Aristotle, but its current day revivers were European
philosophers such as Descartes, Nietche, and Kant (Kayum, 2010; Zarabozo
(2), 2010).
Christian theologians called for higher criticism of the Bible and came
to the conclusion that not all aspects were appropriate for all time; hence,
followers of the faith could choose the aspects of the faith they personally
deemed appropriate for their particular time and location. Such action was
justified by a belief that religion is an evolutionary process (Zarabozo (2),
2010). Bible scholars acknowledged (then and now) that the Bible was
written by more than 40 authors many years after the time Jesus is believed


to have died in Christianity (Dirks, 2010); accordingly, the Bible was no

longer treated as an ultimate Truth in official discourse. Some fruits of this
movement were the reform movements that occurred, like various Christian
reformations, and corresponding alternative belief systems being
constructed to take the place of religion in many public institutions, like
Due to the aforementioned reasons, many academics and politicians
concluded that the ideal solution was to secularize society and simply accept
the parts of religion that not only did not contradict existing scientific
theories, but that which also didnt contradict their own cultural preferences.
Not only were human-based empirical sciences taken as a universal Truthwhich has its human faults/biases (see Cuviers work on the Hottentot
Venus and The Origin of Species by Darwin for example)-but so were any
acceptanceessentially those that agreed with Western European culture.
Philosophers individual personal reasoning/opinions became a post-hoc
response to justify societys changing religious attitudes and new liberal
culture in Western Europe (Zarabozo 2, 2010). Anything that was Western
was presented as Human and Universal objective Truth, and everything
else was subjective uncivilized notions of culture, bias, and savageness
(Moore, 2007, pgs.36, 57-58,; Willinsky, 1998). One wonders if the maps of
Chaucers time with Western Europe shown, and the rest of the globe
shaded black are not still relevant.
Ironically however, this culturally relativist belief system of Modernism
was intolerantly forcefully spread throughout much of the Muslim worldeither through formal colonization or neocolonization through media and
education-as the solution to the intolerance of certain peoples during the
Medieval period (Zarabozo (2), 2010). Westernization of Muslim countries
educational systems imposed not only epistemological frameworks, but
entire Western value systems that were inconsistent with local values for the
sake of cultural/political hegemony. Post colonization, many countries were
trying to unyoke themselves of colonial cultural hegemony (imposed
through remaining transplanted educational systems), while simultaneously
trying to redesign relevant aspects of these systems to improve the perceived
weaknesses that led to their colonization-mainly military and industrial
expertise (Hussein, 2008, pgs.16, 21). Native attempts at such a task in the
20th century were Modernists such as Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani of Iran,
Namik Kemal of Turkey, Sayyid Ahmad Khan of India, and Muhammad
Abduh of Egypt (Spring, 2006, p.155,). While some of these Modernists had
questionable intentions to begin with, most of them wanted to import the
scientific and military expertise of the West while preserving the Islamic
belief system; as Muhammad Abduh noted for example, If one seeks to
educate and improve the Egyptian nation without religion, it is as if a farmer
would try to sow seed in unsuitable soilhis efforts will be in vain
(Spring, 2006, p.155). Later however, ulamaa like Abduh, particularly after
traveling to study in Western educational institutions, soon tried to replicate
Western culture as a whole (Hussein, 2008, pgs.19-20; Kincheloe and
Steinberg, 2004, pgs.142-144).


Modernism spread through the academic circles (and the elite sectors) of
major centers of Islamic culture like Turkey, Egypt, and the sub-continent;
however, particularly with the decreasing trust that laymen had in
theologians connected to the authoritarian regimes controlling most of the
Muslim world post-colonization, Modernism did not widely spread among
the masses (Hussein, 2008, pgs.20-50). Many of these Modernists were
viewed as foreign implants connected to the puppet regimes that were ruling
the Muslim world at the time since many of them not only promoted the
idea that Muslims only salvation after colonization was to Europeanize
completely, but many even rejected the notion of fighting colonial armies8
(Hefner and Zaman, 2007, pgs. 108, 118; Hussein, pgs.22-24, 106, 2008;
Kincehloe and Steinberg, 2004, pgs. 128, 149; Zarabozo 1, 2010). In short,
Modernist philosophy was (and is today) to reform the parts of Islam that
were/are not compatible with Western culture/interests: the most popular
being the criminal code, polygamy, belief in miracles/universal Truths,
prohibition of interest in business transactions, prohibition on women being
head of state, women wearing hijab, and much of the Sunnah in general
since it specifies Quranic legislation (Modernists prefer to go by the
spirit of the faith and not the specific commandments)9,10 (Hussein, 2008;
Kayum, 2010; Zarabozo, 1, 2010). I merely highlight this phenomena lest
readers presume that authors with Islamic sounding names necessarily
offer a native perspective because usually only people with the cultural
capital of a Modernistic worldview are admitted into Western-oriented
academic institutions in Muslim or non- Muslim countries-I hope to be one
of the few exceptions to this screening process. The Modernist movement,
and its later sub-branches of post-modernism and the like, was not widely
accepted among much of Western European laity in places like Britain, just
officially conformed to in academia and government circles for purposes of
promoting secularism and similar ideologies that served economic among
other interests (Zarabozo 1, 2010). Part of the reason for this trend might be
Western Europes long historical ties to religion as a source of identity and
the fact that Darwinism as an alternative perspective on life has been
arguably disproved by many scientists, particularly European ones-much of
the evidence used to support the theory has even been found to be forged
(Yahya, 2001). What concerns us however is that Modernism spread much
wider among laity in America and is the lens through which knowledge is
produced, particularly that concerning religion (Zarabozo 1, 2010).
The Modernistic lens is antithetical to religion because it portrays
religion as tales of the ancients (Quran, 16:24) (Wheeler, 2003, pgs.2223), irrational, and uncivilized (by European Enlightenment definitions) and
Modernism as the opposite objective alternative-an us vs. them
demonization of the other (Moore, 2007, pgs.36, 57-58). Modernism dons
a cloak of supposed scientific precepts, which are much more based on
culture than empirical proof, to try to promote a myth in academia that the
advancement of civilization itself depends on Modernism as educational
theorist James Carper has demonstrated (Moore, 2007, p. 57). However, it
has been realized that it was never so much the empirical sciences advanced
in the West, such as Chemistry and Biology (or even the technology), that


were at odds with Islamic values as some have posited (Talbani, 1996,
p.70), as much as it was the culture and value system (especially of Western
philosophy) being transplanted along with them (Cook, 1999, p.11).
As has been mentioned, Modernism views everything as a matter of
opinion; religion does not have any constants but is merely a product of its
environment and therefore inherently variable in all aspects. Due to
Modernisms secular nature, notions of providential guidance are not
Subsequently, most American academics when speaking about Islam
take their own prerogative on, and present their own opinions on what
should be the real True interpretation of Islam since it coordinates with
Western culture (despite the fact that it might contradict the belief and
practice of millions of Muslims). Accordingly one finds a wide diversity of
opinions (Moore, 2007, pgs. 35, 127-128,) as Moore and others (Sheridan
and North, 2004, p.149; Barazangi; Bonakdarian 1998; Anscombe 2007;
Sells 1999; Abou el-Fadl 2002; and Esposito 1999) have mentioned, but
they are all from the default Modernistic perspective11 mistakenly applied as
a universal Truth that all humans must follow. Many such authors often
write about very advanced theological issues with little or no
experience/knowledge of the Islamic sciences-like ilm Al rijaal (the science
of authentication for chains of narrators of ahadeeth-the teachings and
sayings of Prophet Muhammadthe science of Naskh (which verses or
ahadeeth have been abrogated by others and how), which verses/ahadeeth
are general and which are specific to the context they were revealed in or
one similar to it, and many other fundamental principles which are
inherently connected to the directives of the Quran and Sunnah12
(Kincheloe and Steinberg, 2004, p.165; Phillips, 2005). As Nasr notes, very
few of these academics with advanced degrees are actually able to read
classical Arabic texts with full in-depth comprehension of their meaning
(Nasr, 2009, p. 21). Accordingly such academics would not be considered
Islamic scholars as is usually understood when this term is translated into
the language of many Muslim majority countries-usually alim, someone
who has been deeply immersed in Islamic scholarship over 20-50 years.
This is pivotal to keep in mind when discussing literature written on Islamic
topics in the West and will be relevant to our discussion of Modern
perspectives of Islamic pedagogy.
Contrary to Modernist claims, the ulamaa of the Islamic sciences in the
Muslim world have always taken the context of revelation into
consideration when discussing scripture; hence, the emphasis on the Sunnah
and Seerah (essentially the biography of prophet Muhammad which gives
the context that he and his companions lived in while the Quran was being
revealed) which are their own sciences (with sub branches within them)
(Nadwi, 2005, p.115). But since the Quran commands Muslims to take
prophet Muhammads interpretation of the Quran that he taught to his
companions over anyone elses (Phillips, 2005; Qadhi, 1999), there is no
way to realistically force Islam to coincide with most current Western
cultural practices despite the wide diversity of arguments that may be
made. The aforementioned factors all contribute to the noteworthy disparity


found between how lay Muslims in Muslim countries practice Islam and
how Islam is re-presented in much of Western literature.
One can see examples of this imposition of values explicitly in the bias
representation of Middle Eastern educational systems of the Middle Ages
and how most non-religious education that occurred in fields ranging from
Medicine to Architecture is glossed over (in Western post-enlightenment
literature); the result has been the confection of a revisionist history where
the religious sphere of society was somehow divorced from the rest
(Kincheloe and Steinberg, 2004, p.130), a re-written secular history of the
Muslim world13. What academia has been silent about has been just as
telling as what has been said. Such selective memory leads to an easily
consumed myth for a progressive-minded audience: that such people, who
supposedly have nothing but theological knowledge, would either be
particularly unsuitable for the modern world, or an even more extreme
presumption that maybe the Medieval Muslim world was even secular all
along. Even with Harvards international character, they teach little about
Islam as a religion aside from Sufi mysticism in India and Africa; Sufis are
to Islam what Quakers are to Christianity (Kavulla, 2007, p. 56).
Nonetheless, Modernist, extreme Sufi(theres nothing wrong with moderate
asceticism in Islam that is not related to actions of polytheism, but then it
would not be considered Sufism as the term is used today) or Mutazilite
(deviant philosophical sect that rationalizes not believing in destiny and
many other parts of Islam) versions of Islam are what the American
government promotes with added notions of no hijab, sharia, or any
remotely social aspects of Islam (see Rand Report on Civil Democratic
Islam and the works of John Esposito, Hamza Yusef, Fazlur Rahman, and
Khaled Abou Al-Fadl). Only groups with Modernist related precepts are
regarded as normal like the Murjii (who believe faith is only in the
heart)14 (Wheeler, 2003, p.114). A wellread Muslim can differentiate
between these Sunni sects, who are only about 5% of the world population
of Muslims, but the average reader in the West cannot, hence the long
digress on this issue. The deliberate disregard to much of mainstream
Islamic scholarship in the theological sciences and blind eye turned towards
achievements in the empirical sciences have been integral factors of the
Modernist discourse and the main causes behind the very distorted image of
Islamic education as a whole in the West.
Why have certain orientalists wasted so many precious years of their
lives trying to disprove the Quran and Sunnah? Such programs of research
are not merely an offense to the consciences of millions of Muslims, but are
also misleading and thus unworthy to be considered as scholarship as
Martin affirms (Martin, 1985, p.187). The politically charged attempts to
forcefully re-write Islam into conformity with Western ideals merely serves
to alienate and dehumanize the vast majority of Muslims on the planet15,
while deliberately or not, selectively humanizing the elite authoritarian
classes (with Western cultural capital) that dominate most Muslim countries
(thereby implicitly justifying violence against the other as can be seen on
the world stage). While such wishful thinking on the part of Western
academics may fool the majority of Americans in the U.S. who are rarely


exposed to the average experiences and perspectives of humans in the

East, they dont even pragmatically effect any change in the
cultures/practices of the majority in the Muslim world aside from increasing
a consciousness that their way of life is being attackedhardly a platform
for dialogue. Empirical evidence that the cultural invasion has had the
opposite effect of its original intention is that recent studies of Muslim
majority countries confirm that the university experience actually
engenders religious attachment; [for example], the growth of secular
education in Egypt has encouraged rather than discouraged attachment to
Islamic culture (Cook, 2001, p.382). As Noam Chomsky often musingly
argues, democracy, as its now practiced, only works if the people are
persuaded to agree with what the people in power had already decided
(Chomsky, 2002). If we truly wish to see coexistence between East and
West, we must learn to be tolerant of others differences, even when they
really are different.


Knowledge in Islam
What is knowledge (ilm in Arabic) in Islam? The first words revealed of
the Quran to Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century C.E. were, what
means16, Read/Recite! In the name of your Lord, who has created all that
exists (Quran, 96:1). The word ilm is mentioned 750 times in the
Quran, ranking it third behind Allah (2,800 references), and Rubb (which
is usually translated as Lord, but has wider pedagogical connotations as
will be explained) at 950 references (Boyle, 2006, p.484).This is the essence
of Islam, knowledge; but what kind and for what purpose?
Knowledge has been defined by Arab linguists as the opposite of
ignoranceanything that can be conceived of or known... [and] more
obvious than to need to be defined (Mutawalee, 2005, p.177).
There are two types of knowledge in Islam, that which is known-what
humans have the ability to comprehend in this worldly life-and that which
is hidden (Al-Ghayb). Regarding both types there are also two
subdivisions, that which benefits (helps one to worship God better) and that
which does not (Uthaymeen, 2004, p.33). Regarding knowledge that which
is hidden but mentioned by name in revelation, either in the Quran or
Sunnah, (i.e.: the true nature of God, the angels, heaven, hellfire, etc.),
Muslims are still obligated to believe in it-the first characteristic mentioned
of the characteristics of the believers in the beginning of the Quran is that
they believe in the hidden (Quran, 2:2). Some knowledge might be
unbeneficial or could even harm humans. For example, when some
polytheists from prophet Muhammads tribe came to ask him about when
the Final Hour (Judgment day) would be, Allah (Arabic for God) told him
to say the knowledge thereof is with my Lord (alone). None but He can
reveal as to when it will occur-Allah goes on to explain that humans
knowing when judgment day would be would be a huge burden on them
(Quran, 7:187). Allah kept this knowledge hidden so that humans would
keep competing in righteousness till death, because in reality it is
unbeneficial knowledge since a persons opportunity to perform good deeds
will end at death and they wont be resurrected till judgment day. Similar in
meaning is when prophet Muhammad was asked by a Bedouin about the
appointment of judgment day saying, When will The Hour be ?" The
prophet replied to him, "What have you prepared for it? The man said,
"The love of Allah and His Messenger." The Prophet replied, "You will be
with those whom you love"" (Al-Qarnee, 2000, pgs.19-22). Well mention
three points of benefit from this hadeeth: one of prophet Muhammads
teaching techniques when responding to questions, was to direct the
questioner to the more beneficial question they should be asking as seen
here (Al-Shareef, 2010). The second point that the ulamaa have commented
on, is that knowing how to ask the appropriate question at the appropriate
time is half of all knowledge (not literally, but just to emphasize the point)
(Mekki, personal correspondence, April 10, 2010). The third benefit that the
ulamaa have highlighted is the importance of good company since one will
be with those whom he loves in the afterlife, for good or bad (Mekki,


personal correspondence, April 10, 2010); this is of importance for the

discussion on peer influence to come. Nonetheless, the Islamic perspective
of knowledge is that Allah has made available the two types of knowledge
that can be of benefit to us (if we use them to improve society), revelation
and the ability to use our senses to gain empirical knowledge. Ill elaborate
on the former, then the latter.
In Islam, acquisition of knowledge (ilm)-the two types that can be
known being that gained through revelation and that gained through the
senses-is justified and directed by the provision that all knowledge gained
be used in worship of the creator (Halstead, 2004, p.520) (worship being
widely defined as anything that pleases God as outlined in the Quran and
Sunnah, from fasting to sexual relations with ones wife (Muslim vol. 2A,
p.187). As God commands in the Quran, Say (Oh Muhammad)
undoubtedly, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are
for Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists)
(Quran, 6:162). Accordingly, the most important type of knowledge in
Islam is theological, meaning understanding the will and nature of Allah
through the Quran and Sunnah so that one may live by it (Uthaymeen,
2004). Only after a theological foundation would an individual know how to
live their life Islamically (meaning proper moral conduct) no matter what
field or practice they went into professionally. Proper character ensures
knowledge is used for the benefit of society; a chemical scientist with the
intention to build the most dangerous weapons for the highest bidder (as has
been often the case for some while)doesnt benefit us with his/her
academic knowledge. Hence, character education in Islam is analogous to
the role played by civic education in Western secular societies. Emphasizing
the importance of moral education, prophet Muhammad said I have only
been sent to correct peoples manners (Al-Shareef, 2010). In fact, it is
through these proper manners (understood broadly from the original
Arabic khuluq to mean proper interaction with ones Lord, family, society,
etc.), that God would teach humans that which would benefit them (Quran,
On the virtue of theological knowledge, Allah mentions in the Quran,
Allah and the angels, and those with knowledge bear witness that none has
the right to be worshipped but He and that He always sustains his creation in
justice (Quran, 3:18). According to Arabic Balaagha (study of eloquent
Arabic speech, particularly in the Quran), the subjects mentioned in such a
verse are listed in descending order of importance (wa or and has different
meanings depending on the context) (Umm Qataadah; personal
communication, April 3, 2010). Therefore, Allah has placed the testimony
of faith of those that have knowledge of Him, meaning his nature, will, and
names and attributes, after that of the Testimony of Allah Himself and the
angels. So great is having true faith in Allah, meaning with ones heart,
speech, and actions, that Allah chose the best of his creation, the angels, and
then the best of mankind, the most knowledgeable of his worshippers, to
testify to the most amazing thing possible, the whole reason that Allah
created the universeto be worshipped alone without any partners (AlKhattaabi, 2006, p.142; Mutawalee 2005, p.179). Al-Jawziyyah-a 13th


century Hadeeth/Exegesis alim-commented on this verse saying,

undoubtedly this is a testimony to the uprightness of those with true
knowledge because Allah will not use as a witness except those who are
trustworthy (Mutawalee 2005, p.179). Allah even commands his own
prophet, considered the best of mankind, in the Qur'an, to ask Allah for even
more knowledge (Quran, 20:114). Ibn Abbas, the companion of prophet
Muhammad who prophet Muhammad named Turjamaan (the explainer)
of the Quran for the entire ummah (Al-Bukhari, vol. 1, 1997, p.100-102),
narrated that when theological knowledge is mentioned in the Qur'an, that it
refers to beneficial knowledge of Islam, meaning that which is lived by,
and righteous deeds (Al-Jawziyyah, 2004, p. 58). In support of this, one will
not find a verse in the Quran of those that start with those who have true
belief not immediately followed by the phrase and do righteous good
deeds before delving into descriptions about them (going to paradise, etc.).
Subsequently, prophet Muhammad described the circles of knowledge
(this was the structure of the gatherings) as gardens of paradise (Al-Bukhari,
vol. 4B, pgs.233-235).
Regarding a hierarchy of importance for the individual, there are two
broad categories of theological knowledge. The first type is that which is
obligatory on every individual (fard ayn), the bare minimum of
understanding ones obligations as a Muslim: basically the 6 articles of
faith, rights of Allah, then others rights over a person (like their family and
community), and the 5 pillars of Islam so that he or she can worship Allah
properly. This knowledge is obligatory and a person would sin by not
learning it. The 2nd type of knowledge is that which is recommended but
not obligatory as long as someone in the community attains it (fard kifaaya),
like inheritance and business laws, where if some do it, then it is not
required of the rest of the community-except if they specifically deal with
the issue (like a family lawyer knowing inheritance laws for example). In
sum, whatever knowledge one has, they should use it to please Allah by
acting upon it, in which case it would be a proof that attests to their faith on
judgment day; and if they did not act by it, then it would be a proof against
them. As some ulamaa have commented, Knowledge is the roots [of the
tree of truthfulness17], its branches are truthfulness, and its fruits are
righteous actions (Mutawalee 2005, p.181).
The references to the virtue of theological knowledge, due to its positive
relationship with faith, in the Quran are numerous (Al-Zumur: 9, AlRad:19, Al-Anam:114, Al-Israa:106-108, Al-Ankaboot: 49, Al-Room:
55-56, etc.); in the Sunnah, we also have numerous examples like the
Whoever treads a path to seek theological knowledge, Allah will make
him18 tread one of the paths towards Paradise. The angels lower their wings
out of contentment for the seeker of theological knowledge; the inhabitants
of the heavens and the Earth, even the fish in the depths of the sea ask
forgiveness for the learned person. The superiority of the alim over the
worshipper is like the virtue of the moon on the night when it is full, over all
of the stars. Indeed, the ulamaa are the inheritors of the Prophets, and the
prophets do not leave behind dinar nor dirham [currency that was used in


the Arabian peninsula], but rather, they leave behind knowledge. So

whoever takes it, has acquired an abundant portion" (Al-Bukhari, vol. 1,
1997, pgs.103-104; Muslim, vol. 1B, 1990, pgs. 708-7110).
This hadeeth alone has the essence for teachers to promote a culture of
knowledge in their classrooms. The first benefit of seeking Islamic
knowledge is that it has the highest reward, paradise.
The second is that the angels themselves acknowledge this human being
and lower their wings in approval of his/her actions. The third fruit of
seeking knowledge is that everything between the heavens and earth, even
the fish in the sea, are asking forgiveness for this person seeking Islamic
knowledge; and if the reader has noticed, all of this has not been just
specifically for major ulamaa of Islam. This is simply a person trying their
best with a sincere intention to please God by learning more about their
Lord and messenger and what they have commanded from him or her so
that they can live by it. Only the fifth and sixth characteristics mentioned in
the hadeeth are in regard to the tremendously high status of one who
actually becomes a alim of Islam, their status over the average worshipper;
the alim who has gained this tremendous wisdom and God-consciousness in
his actions due to his knowledge and teaches it to others, is like the moon
compared to the rest of the stars. This is an analogy that prophet
Muhammad uses (use of analogies will be elaborated on); we know how
amazing the moon is because PM has mentioned in another hadeeth
(Muslim, vol.1B, 1990, p.708-710) that the people of paradise are going to
see Allah as clear as we see the moon in this life. He specifically highlighted
the moon because of its high status compared to the rest of the stars. Then
he said that the ulamaa are the inheritors of the prophets, and the prophets
did not leave behind dirham nor dinar, but rather they left behind
knowledge, so whomever obtains it, has surely obtained a tremendous thing.
This is a tremendous status as Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, the companion of
prophet Muhammad, explained whoever attains Islamic knowledge, it is as
if he has acquired prophethood between his shoulders, except that he was
not directly revealed to (Al- Jawziyya, 2004, p.58). It should be noticed here
also, that Ibn Mas'ud described the knowledge being between the shoulders,
referring to the heart, and not the mind like some would assume, because the
heart is the king of the body and soul (Al-Ghazali, 2009, p. 36).The focus on
utilizing knowledge to purify the heart is particularly because it is what
motivates a person to be the best or worst of people irrespective of what
empirical knowledge one has. If students and teachers view seeking
knowledge as an act of worship, then this is a powerful motivation given the
harsh socio-economic conditions in Muslim countries. Once, teachers and
students have this appropriate intention, then it becomes obvious that once
one has theological knowledge they will need other types of knowledge
(like empirical knowledge) to develop the institutions needed to develop
their society. This is not anything particularly innovative to state, since as
will be shown this was how most of Islamic Higher Education functioned
In any case, it is suffice to mention that Allah declared that having true
knowledge of the testimony of faith is one of the seven conditions for its


acceptance19; that is how extremely critical theological knowledge is in

Islam. As mentioned in chapter Muhammad, Allah commands know, have
true knowledge, that no one has the right to be worshipped except Allah and
seek forgiveness for your sins (Quran, 47:19). The ulamaa have
highlighted here how true knowledge was presented as a command before
the command of doing actions (seeking forgiveness) (Al-Bukhari, vol. 1,
1997, pgs.96-97; Al-Qarnee, 2000, p.6)-this affirms what was mentioned
shortly regarding the importance of knowledge for doing actions. In
Modernist discourse, belief is an opinion or point of view, but in Islam,
Allah describes true belief as having certain knowledge of something, just
as certain as one would be of any other knowledge attained by the senses (if
not more). Because if one knows there is a paradise and hellfire for
example, they will act correspondingly; as Allah commands the family of
prophet David, He says Do [not say] thanks/ praise (Quran, 34:13). If
teachers can relay to students that knowledge is to be lived by, then they
will carry this belief on to the study of empirical knowledge as well and
both types of knowledge would engage students to participate in their
education, creating transformative learning experiences in the classroom.
The Quran has also praised knowledge that is attained through the
senses, empirical knowledge.
Allah has made this type of knowledge even capable of raising the status
of animals; Allah says, Lawful for you is what is caught by those animals
and birds which you have taught and trained as Allah has commanded you,
so eat from what they catch for you, but pronounce the name of Allah as
you command them, and be conscious of Allah. Most definitely, Allah is
swift in holding accountable (Quran, 5: 4.). Accordingly, Tafseer ulamaa20
have highlighted how this verse shows the valuable status of knowledge.
The prey that this trained and taught animal catches for a person is
permissible to eat; but if it were untaught and had just killed the prey on its
own, this meat would be impermissible to eat. The only difference between
the two cases here was that the animal has been taught and trained to catch
prey in a specific way (Ibn Kathir, vol. 3, 2000, pgs.97-101). We can add
here that this knowledge was knowledge gained through the senses, since
this animal was taught by a human to perform a certain task in a specific
manner. This knowledge is not directly related to paradise and hellfire for
example, but this knowledge has made a certain type of human activity
more easily accessible, attaining food. As long as this human utilizes this
food for some beneficial reason, like to feed himself or someone else so that
they can fulfill their daily responsibilities, then this has been a positive use
of empirical knowledge. On the other hand, if this knowledge was used to
simply hunt for sport, killing animals with no pragmatic need to, then this
knowledge would be blameworthy. Subsequently, Allah has made
permissible the use of empirical knowledge-the dog using its senses to learn
from the human-to facilitate permissible human needs.
However, the most obvious example on the importance of empirical
knowledge in Islam is that in the Quran, Allah describes things that are
supposed to prove Gods existence to humans as ayaat.


These ayaat (lit: signs, proofs, verses [of the Quran], evidences) that are
mentioned in the Quran and are supposed to lead humans to acknowledge
God are of two types: things that can be sensed (i.e.: empirical science) and
textual revelation itself. The Quran that exists today, and matches all
known manuscripts around the world dating as far back as the seventh
century, describes with intricate detail:
human embryonic development (stage by stage), how the mountains
serve as pegs in the earth so that it doesnt shake, the origins of the universe,
functions of the cerebrum, the zone of separation between fresh and salt
water in the pacific ocean, the internal waves of the ocean, and the
precipitation process-details and processes that we did not discover or fully
comprehend until the modern science of the 20th century (Ibrahim, 1997,
pgs. 5-27). This raises an important question; why would such things be
mentioned which no one would be able to prove till hundreds of years later?
At the same time, there are countless Quranic injunctions rhetorically
questioning humans, after mentions of Allahs signs, do they not listen/
ponder/see/reflect (yasmaoon, yatafakuroon, yubsiroon, yatadabbaroon)
on these signs? One cannot go more than five pages without coming across
such verses. In one chapter, Allah mentions that some of his signs are in AlAfaaq (depths of space) (Quran, 41:53), which we havent been able to
even get a glimpse of till modern technology was developed. Without a
doubt, if humans were not to use their senses to discover the world around
them, they would never have realized these amazing miracles/signs all
around them. Throughout most of history since the Qurans revelation,
most of the aforementioned scientific phenomena would have been taken at
face value to be true as part of believing in the Quran, but not empirically
proven until the work of various Muslim scientists much later. No one
would have benefited from these particular signs of Gods existence (and for
Muslims, additional scientific evidence of the Qurans divine origin)
without empirical research. Evidence that Muslim ulamaa responded to the
aforementioned exhortations to research, inquire, and examine the universe
is seen in the many scientific contributions in Muslim societies throughout
Empirical science was never a shunned endeavor in the Muslim world.
One could cite numerous cases in the fields of History like that of Ibn Athir
and Ibn Kathir, in Ophthalmology like Ibn Al-Haytham, in Sociology like
Ibn Khaldun (who is considered the founder of modern Sociology), in
Medicine, like Al-Nafisi, or Al-Jabbar, who invented Algebra. In fact,
ulamaa would rarely specialize in just one field of the empirical sciences,
but rather many, unlike the Renaissance Man of the Renaissance. A
perfect example is Abu Biruni who specialized in Chemistry, Physics, and
Astronomy (and was one of the leading ulamaa to invent the scientific
method)-Muslim ulamaa even constructed the first public hospitals during
the Baghdad caliphate (Berkey 1992; Najeebabadi, vol.1, 2000).
However, in general, the Quran and Sunnah are not particularly worried
with ensuring humans seek empirical knowledge because it is taken for
granted that humans will not forget or neglect worldly issues since they are
all around them. As prophet Muhammad mentioned, I dont fear for you


poverty, but rather I fear for you that worldly issues would overwhelm you
(Muslim, vol.4B, 1990, pgs. 738-740). Hence, the Quran and Sunnah focus
on teaching proper moral conduct as a universal constant, so that humans
will use any other types of knowledge they acquire throughout time for
societal benefit.
As supportive evidence to the aforementioned perspective toward the
empirical and scriptural forms of knowledge is the principle in Islamic Fiqh
(Islamic jurisprudence) known as maa laa ya tim Al waajib illaa bihi fahuwa
waajib (lit: whatever obligatory deed cannot be accomplished except
through a particular method, then that method also becomes
obligatory21There is no way to establish rule of law and the social services
that Islam guarantees to people in Muslim societies-like for example free
education and healthcare, Zakah (an obligatory form of charity for the poor),
etc.-without Muslims who care about these moral issues and then take the
means to develop them. This would not contradict the research previously
cited on Higher Education today in the Muslim world which showed that
students become more Islamically oriented upon entering Higher education
(which is almost universally secular), the complete opposite pattern of what
happens in the West (Cook, 2001, p. 382). One hypothesizes that the
deliberate and obvious removal of Islamic theology and any other related
material by most authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world, particularly
over the last 20 years, forces students to have to learn Islam on their own,
while still pursuing the societal capital of a university education to achieve
their professional objectives and social reform efforts. It would seem
cognizance of the inherent complimentary nature between theological and
empirical knowledge in Islam is already evident to many youth in the
Muslim world, and accordingly would not be difficult to employ in
motivating students to utilize both in working towards social reform in
Muslim countries.
While we are on the point of motivations for seeking knowledge in
Islam, it would be opportune to highlight to teachers and students the
importance that Islam puts on Commanding the Good and Forbidding the
Evil-the Islamic analogue to social activism. Allah says You Muslims
are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin goodness and
forbid evil, and you believe in Allah (Quran, 3:110). Linguistically,
according to the science of Balaagha mentioned earlier, by citing the
commanding of good and forbidding of evil as the first characteristics of
such Muslims, these become the defining characteristics of Muslims who
can earn the title of best of peoples ever raised up for mankind. God
doesnt have a chosen people according to Islam by virtue of the mere name
they ascribe to themselves, color or ethnicity (Quran, 49:13). Muslims only
earn the mercy of God, which allows them to enter paradise, through their
actions. For example, even Muslims can be punished through billions of
years in hellfire to be purified of their sins before eventually entering
paradise, if they sincerely believed in the testimony of faith (the belief that
no one has the right to be worshipped except Allah and Muhammad is His
messenger). Proving ones sincerity to God requires action. Exegesis ulamaa
have highlighted how this characteristic is so important that Allah has


mentioned it before faith itself, not because it is more important, but

because Allah structures some verses like this in the Quran to stress a
particular concept. In another verse, Allah specifically commands Let there
arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining
goodness, and forbidding all evil. And it is they who are successful
(Quran, 3:104). But as we have discussed, there is no beneficial action
without proper knowledge. It is not hard for some people to be saalihoon
(righteous people; sg. saalih), but Allah praises even more in the Quran the
Muslihoon (those who call to righteousness in the society; sg. Muslih). In
many verses Allah enumerates accounts of evil and righteous people in the
past and how they received their due recompense; however, despite the
existence of large amounts of evil people at a particular time, Allah vows to
not destroy an area as long as there are still some Muslihoon among them
(Quran, 11:117). Once we have established the importance of both types of
knowledge and how they must be used to meet Muslims societal objectives,
who are the ones that will teach the power of education to our youth? The
Muslihoon in the field of education are the teachers. Through the motivation
that they are engaging in a tremendous act of worship such as commanding
the good and forbidding the evil as Muslihoon, teachers will be able to
engage their students to participate in actively working for social justice.
Spiritual motivation is a powerful stimulus in causing social change,
particularly if it already exists as a visible force in the society. One last
example of the active nature of Islamic pedagogy can be brought to light in
the story of Maryam.
Even Jesuss own mother, Maryam (Mary), who is considered one of the
best four women in Islam and has a chapter named after her in the Quran,
was not merely provided relief and sustenance by asking Allah for it. When
Mary was forging through the pains of child birth (and was horrified of what
people might assume of her pregnancy, since she was not wed), she did not
lose hope. After wearily collapsing under a palm tree for shade, Mary
supplicated to her Lord, but God did not help her immediately. Rather, God
told Mary, at the apex of her pain, to stand up and shake the palm tree for it
to bring down dates for her sustenance. Only then did God cause the fruits
to fall down (Quran, 19:16-26). This is a very powerful event, because even
if one gathered a whole crowd of people they would not be able to manually
budge a palm tree. This event exemplifies the principle that God only helps
those who help themselves. Allah says, Allah will not change a peoples
condition until they change that which is within themselves (Quran,
13:11). Islamic pedagogy stresses an assiduous work ethic of doing ones
part and then relying on God for the results.
Who will teach our children proper moral conduct and how to effectively
contribute to society? Who can cultivate childrens critical thinking skills so
that they can grow up to develop innovative local solutions for local
problems except teachers? Parents spend limited time with their children
globally. Egypt is an excellent case study for discussing educational issues
of the Middle East since it provides a motley of the North African and Gulf
socio-economic/ cultural contexts. After school, most students in Egypt for
example, spend the rest of their day with private tutors. During school,


children spend the most time with teachers and peers at school. We are
lacking role models and leaders all around the world, and as is being argued
here, teachers are one of the most direct opportunities to establish such role
models who will offer students practical examples of not only academic
content and morals, but how to utilize them to be an active participant in
society. Muslim societies will not change by themselves, and teachers are in
a pivotal position to be Muslihoon and create others who will change
society through their education as well. Now that we have discussed the
different types of knowledge in Islam and their purpose, lets see how some
scholars have proposed to teach that knowledge; what is Islamic pedagogy?

Islamic Education: Content or Pedagogy?

I have actually discovered very different findings on Islamic pedagogy
dependent on whether the language of publication was English or Arabic, so
Ill start with the English literature since this would be more likely to be
familiar to the reader. When Islamic pedagogy is mentioned in the West, the
most common research recalled is usually the work of The International
Institute for Islamic Thought. The International Institute of Islamic Thought
(IIIT) was established in 1981 as a private, non-profit, academic and cultural
institution dedicated to promoting research related to Islamic thought and
contemporary social sciences; it has branches all around the world. The
International Institute for Islamic Thought started the Islamization of
Knowledge project during the 1980s with two main objectives: to reconcile
the Muslim identity through Islamization of the Social Sciences and
thought [and] rejuvenate the study of Islamic history as a legacy and
foundation for developing Islamic thought and methodology (IIIT, 1989,
pg. xiv). The founders yearned a system that enlightens students with
practical knowledge in light of Islamic values (IIIT, 1989, pg. xiii),
suggesting reconciliation of the secular and Islamic branches of education in
the Muslim world as one of the pivotal steps in constructing such a system;
they even made some suggestions on how to go about obtaining such
funding (IIIT, 1989, pg.14). But what does it mean to Islamize knowledge?
Can all knowledge be Islamized and if so, what would be the pragmatic
benefits of doing so? And lastly, what concerns us the most; does such a
system include specific teaching methods derived from the Quran and
In attempting to answer these questions, Ishaq Farhan provides a typical
IIIT response (Al-Attas, 1980; IIIT, 1989; IIIT, 2000) to these questions:
secularization is responsible for the decline of Islamic thought in the
Muslim world since the fall of the Khilafa (caliphate) at WWI and the
holistic (which doesnt differentiate between revelation and empirical
knowledge) Islamic perspective of life must be revived by being
superimposed on the content of all academic disciplines (particularly the
social sciences, which are highly based on Western philosophy) to tackle
intellectual stagnation (in a culturally relevant manner) (Farhan, 1989).
First of all we must address the incompleteness of the above
presuppositions. If we analyze the quality of scholarship in the Islamic as
well as empirical sciences in the Muslim world, they have been on the
decline since at least the initial political decline of the Islamic empire, which


we could roughly date as starting way before colonization in the early 15th
century-with major setbacks occurring at pivotal moments like the loss of
the final part of Spain in 1492 and the colonization of most parts of the
Muslim world in the 18th and 19th centuries (particularly cultural/political
centers like the subcontinent and Egypt), by Western European powers.
Although the Ottoman caliphate still preserved some remnants of Muslim
identity up until the formal collapse at WWI, the power and influence of the
Islamic world was waning much before this. With the loss of political and
military power in the region (for various reasons outside the scope of this
paper), the Muslim empire had also long since begun to decline in academic
scholarship (Daly, 1998). However, Farhan is correct in asserting that the
more official secularization process that took hold after WWI severely
intensified this process. Theres no concept of secularism in Islam; the
longest verse in the Quran for example (an entire page long), details the
conditions for conducting business transactions (Quran, 2:282). Secularism
did add an identity crisis to an already worsening situation. As Al-Ghazali
notes, education starts at home-with the mother at its foundation-the
school, the mosque, the street, and the state (Al-Ghazali, 2010, p.44).
Contemporary ulamaa such as Shaykh Bin Baz have outlined similar visions
of Islamic pedagogy (Al-Khattaabi, 2006, p.229).
Regarding the notion of Islamizing the discipline of education Farhan
understandably stresses the importance of the Islamic belief that seeking
knowledge is an act of worship and a responsibility placed on intellectuals
to use it for societal good as is mentioned in the Quran (Quran, 33:72), but
he does not specifically define what Islamic education is (Farhan, 1989,
p.308). Farhans suggestion of providing all students with a minimum basic
working knowledge of the various branches of Islamic theology (Farhan,
1989, p.312) is commendable and integral to the vision of Islamic pedagogy
in this paper as well. In fact, such has already been in practice throughout
most of Islamic history, raising practicing Muslims who can employ
whatever knowledge they gain for the advancement of society no matter
what their field. Throughout Islamic history, once students mastered
foundational texts in theology, they would either specialize in a particular
branch of the Islamic sciences or delve into the empirical sciences and
become full-fledged ulamaa so that they could contribute to the
development of entire sciences that pragmatically corresponded to their
local needs (thereby fulfilling the communal obligation, fard kifaaya, in
knowledge production). There was never an artificial barrier constructed
between empirical sciences and revelation because Islam legislates that two
Truths cannot contradict each other-and that Tawheed (the belief that no one
has the right to be worshipped but Allah) implies a certain unity and
intrinsic harmony in the universe due to the oneness of the creator
(Halstead, 2004, p.526). Subsequently, in this sense I would agree with
Farhan on this aspect of his definition of Islamic education.
However regarding Farhans suggestion of Islamizing disciplines, then
for most fields, this has no practical or theological justification. What would
be Islamic biology, chemistry, or nuclear physics?


There is no such thing as a non-Islamic biological cell for there to be an

Islamic one. True empirical findings void of cultural bias/baggage are just as
valid whether theyre developed in the East or West. If we are not trying to
copy and paste Western academic solutions to the East, then this is not an
issue in the first place. However, similar to much of the work from IIIT (AlAttas, 1980; IIIT, 1989; IIIT, 2000), all anxious laments and frustration at
the condition of Education in the Muslim world end with general
recommendations about how the ultimate solution is to provide Islamic
points of view, Islamic curriculums, Islamic educational models etc.but
like what specifically? A majority of IIIT publications are so theoretical that
even the analytic framework that is being suggested does not have very clear
components aside from being Islamic (Halstead, 2004, p. 522; Panjwani
Paradoxically, one could go through entire IIIT works and be hard
pressed to find more than one Quranic verse or Hadeeth.
Lack of socio-political order and rule of law are the main obstacles
(among the others mentioned in the Said quote above) in Muslim countries
that hinder the development of successful research institutions. The
fundamentals of the empirical sciences for example can be learned
anywhere, but will always need to be supplemented by critical thinking
skills, how to knowledge; the World Bank has recently acknowledged this
point suggesting more emphasis on procedural knowledge in the Middle
East (how to learn/research, evaluate, and ideas for improving pedagogy) as
opposed to declarative knowledge (facts and numbers) (Galal, 2008, pgs.
91-92,). The nostalgic emotional plea to Islamize everything is emblematic
of the early stage of the Islamic Awakening starting in the 1970s where
many people flocked to anything that might remotely embody Islamic
identity. Unfortunately however, due to the neo-colonized inferiority
complex that was present in much of the Muslim world (and still somewhat
exists to an extent) toward anything Western, IIIT (similar to their Ahl-Al
Kalaam counterparts throughout history) tried to impose the Western
philosophical framework of Modernism on the study of Islam to prove to
the world that Islam could be Modern. All specific examples of what an
Islamic curriculum might look like for example are identical to Western
ones, just with the word Islamic before them, with no perceived
contradictions or dilemmas with titling something Islamic philosophy or
ideology (Farhan, 1989, pgs.313-314; Halstead, 2004). In order for
empirical knowledge to be utilized for Islamically sanctioned objectives,
one merely needs intellectual practicing Muslims as teachers/researchers in
a socio-political context that appreciates/supports such efforts, not Islamized
empirical content.
Nonetheless, the IIIT objective mentioned above of reconciling the
Muslim identity through Islamization of the Social Sciences, then this
does have some potential since the social sciences are heavily based on
Western philosophy, and as has been mentioned, Western philosophy on a
very fundamental level is usually an attempt to grapple with societal
problems as they exist in the West.


There is plenty of historical precedence for producing Islamic

perspectives in the social sciences that have been derived from the Quran
and Sunnah on Sociology or Medicine and History for example (see Ibn
Khaldun or Ibn Al-Jawziyyah respectively), but what I have stressed
repeatedly here is that the Quran and Sunnah acknowledge two forms of
knowledge: revelation and an emphasis on using the senses as a form of
acquiring knowledge (i.e.: empirical knowledge). Ergo, it is no disservice to
or weakness of Islam that the Quran and Sunnah dont contain the cure to
Cancer or Aids, etc. As has been discussed, and as many activists have been
struggling to understand for some time, although the Quran and Sunnah do
contain scientific miracles, the Quran is primarily a book of signs, not
science (Ibrahim, 1997). The Quran and Sunnah, for all practical purposes,
are guidance on proper moral behavior. While many other advanced
concepts no doubt exist, it would be disingenuous to contradict the obvious
concepts therein for the sake of superimposing every new Western idea that
comes up onto the texts.
Yes; the Quran and Sunnah are the foundation for a Muslim, and moral
character in general is the foundation for any societys long term stability
and development, but revelation encourages Adl (lit: justice/fairness in
judgment) in everything one pursues (Halstead, 2004, p.523). Accordingly,
there is nothing un-Islamic about unbiased methodological inquiry free of
cultural baggage/assumptions (a task much easier in the natural sciences
than in the social ones as IIIT acknowledges), even if it is produced in a
non-Muslim context. What revelation does admonish is using philosophical
sophistry to circumvent Gods commands for the sake of personal
interests/desires. Islam to Muslims is the parallel of Modernism to the
Western world, a way of life, but both can cooperate on empirical endeavors
that dont contradict each others belief systems and societal objectives.
This is the appropriate non selfdefeatist way that Muslims can attain IIITs
second goal to rejuvenate the study of Islamic history as a legacy and
foundation for developing Islamic thought and methodology without being
stuck in the past. IIIT has not given us a particular Islamic pedagogy with
specific teaching methods for teachers, but it has highlighted the prerequisite of knowledgeable practicing Muslims (those with a working
knowledge of Islam) as teachers who can effectively utilize Islamic
pedagogy. At the core of Islamic pedagogy is Muslim character. As will be
demonstrated, many of the characteristics of Islamic pedagogy fall under the
general moral code of Muslims. The centrality of the role-model in Islamic
pedagogy makes the character of the educator key; it is only through such
moral character that caring relationships between teacher and student can be
developed and then utilized to construct pragmatic learning experiences in
the classroom.

Basis for Islamic Pedagogy in the English Sources

Medieval Methods
Prophet Muhammad did not leave behind any particular academic
institutions, but he left behind his companions who had learned how to
embody Quranic values and manners in their lives wherever they went so


that they would contribute to society for the pleasure of God (not fame,
material wealth, etc.) in whatever they undertook. The pedagogy used
throughout most of Islamic civilization was that of prophet Muhammad, one
of a caring teacher leading by example and teaching a customized
curriculum in a dialectical manner. This curriculum emphasized a
foundation of moral character and application of knowledge in ones
behavior for the benefit of society (Berkey, 1992, pgs. 1-38,). Similarly
throughout Islamic history, quality Islamic education was a communal
activity that hinged less on books or institutions than on who one actually
learned and received an ijaza from (authorization to pass on their
knowledge); education was a very personal experience (Neill, 2006,
pgs.484-485) (Berkey, 1992, pgs. 16, 18). Students of Islamic knowledge
used to spend their whole lives traveling to sit with the greatest of ulamaa
and learn from them how to live by what they learned and practically apply
it to become more God conscious (Berkey, 1992, pgs.22-38,). Such a
pedagogy was necessary because possessing true Islamic knowledge meant
living by it; after all, what good is knowledge that doesnt benefit? Allah
says, Do you enjoin Al-birr (piety and righteousness) on people while you
forget to practice it yourselves, despite that you are of those who recite the
scripture; have you then no sense? (Quran, 2:44). Hence, when students
received an ijaza from ulamaa, it was for how much they knew and applied.
This was only earned after years of this apprenticeship type relationship
where ulamaa had watched them grow and assessed their behavior in
various communal settings (i.e.: with the general public and fellow students)
(Neill, 2006, pgs. 484-485). As Islamic ulamaa modeled the moral behavior
they wanted to develop in their students, education became an active
reflective process. The ulamaa are the inheritors of the prophets, meaning
they acquired proper moral conduct through their knowledge of the
scriptures, but more importantly through daily practice with their mentors
(Uthaymeen, 2004, p.3). In the Quran, this is actually the reason that
messengers were sent, to bring their respective books of revelation, and set
the example of how to apply them, thereby purifying people from lowly
behavior (in Arabic tazkiyah) (Quran, 2:151). Allah mentions in the Quran
and We have sent down to you (O Muhammad) The Remembrance, so that
you may clearly explain to mankind what has been revealed to them, and so
that they may give thought (Quran, 16:44) and Indeed in the Messenger
of Allah (Muhammad) you have a good example to follow (Quran, 33:21).
Those who learn Islamic knowledge after them continue this legacy by
acquiring proper morals from righteous people who model them.
Actions speak louder than books. This is the importance of modeling the
values one aims to teach in Islamic pedagogy and it applies whether this
content is theological or empirical. Application allows for deeper processing
of content as is well known; therefore, Islamic pedagogy must consistently
allow application of knowledge in the classroom.
Given the importance of the alim in Islamic education historically, a
student was often expected to take up to two months in choosing a teacher,
choosing on the basis of the alims own teachers reputation, age, and
character. The centrality of the teacher was evident in the fact that


biographical dictionaries of medieval ulamaa for example listed all the

ulamaa an alim had learned from and usually nothing about where the
learning actually took place, except maybe just the region (which you could
often just tell from the alims last name) (Berkey, 1992, pgs. 22-24).
Needless to say, simply learning from a book was considered illegitimate
knowledge, and books themselves were just used for reference.
Accordingly as we will notice, concepts like how to teach fell under
the general content of Islamic manners and behavior; if a person was well
versed in Islam and they were living by it, then there was no need to write
books about the topic22. Students would learn how to teach and learn
through practical application on a daily basis as they learned Islamic
theology, and this did not mean mere memorization of virtuous qualities lest
we be deceived by modern propaganda that could indicate otherwise.
As guardians of the spiritual well-being of the society, ulamaa
constructed intricate measures to preserve Islamic knowledge as seen for
example in the details of the ijaza or degree system that was developed.
Al Tusi, a medieval alim, explained how, memorizing two words is better
than hearing two pages, but understanding two words is better than
memorizing two pages, which highlights that ulamaa differentiated
between riwaya, the ability to memorize and transmit knowledge, and
diraya, the ability to critically analyze it and apply it contextually (a fact
often overlooked in discussions of the role of memorization in Islamic
education-often politically motivated to portray a zombie-like system with
no critical thoughtone more reason to modernize and progress from
traditional methods). This differentiation of types of cognitive processing
was reflected in what type of authorization one had to teach; ijazas ranged in
degrees, from general transmission of knowledge (tadrees) to issuing legal
fatwas using that knowledge (iftaa), corresponding to the level of
comprehension attained (Berkey, 1992, pgs.30-31). This latter level was the
highest because as has been highlighted, Islamic knowledge focused on
application to the extent that Allah punishes those who dont apply the
theological knowledge they have learned, saying have you seen he who has
taken his own opinions/desires as his Lord, so Allah has let him go astray
despite his knowledge and has placed a seal over his ears and heart, and
placed a seal over his sight (Quran, 45: 23). Despite this persons
knowledge of Allahs majesty and mercy, paradise and hellfire, the person
in this verse chose to submit to their own lowly desires/opinions instead of
submitting to Allahs commands (Islam, lit: submission); therefore, their
knowledge has not benefitted them and has become the cause of them losing
any beneficial use of their senses to comprehend Gods signs. Allah also
says, oh you who believe, why do you say that which you do not do;
undoubtedly it is a grave thing in the sight of Allah that you say that which
you do not do (Quran, 61: 2-3). Once again we see that applying
theological and empirical knowledge for the right purposes are intimately
connected in Islamic pedagogy. The importance of teachers as role models
that construct teaching opportunities in the classroom will be further
developed in the comparison between Ethical Care pedagogy and Islamic
pedagogy at the end of this paper.


Knowledge is believed to be a blessing that increases a person in faith if

it is applied, but can also be a proof against a person on judgment day if
neglected. Aside from what one would assume to be the pragmatic time
consuming effort of writing long books by hand (without a printing press),
such a focus on applying knowledge as a lifestyle could also explain the
relative lack of interest in writing books about topics which were viewed as
requiring experience (i.e.: teaching). The revelation contained the
universals, but how to apply some of these aspects-that did not have specific
commandments-could change from time and place; for example scaffolding
will be shown to be a general theme of Islamic pedagogy, but how to
appropriately do that depending on the content, context, and audience
requires hands-on practical experience and practice. Despite all this, there
have been some ulamaa who did write works dedicated to specific teaching
methods after attaining such experience and practice in the field.
Often cited as the first Muslim alim to write a handbook for teachers
is the ninth century Ahl Al-Sunnah jurist (faqeeh) and judge (qaadi),
Muhammad ibn Sahnun (Gunther, 2006, p.369). From the intellectual center
of Al-Qayrawaan in Tunisia he wrote Adab Al-muallimin (Rules of
Conduct for Teachers). The first four chapters focus on the merits of
teaching and learning theological knowledge and treating students fairly,
and the remainder of the work is a collection of specific questions he asked
his father on curriculum, discipline, and organizational issues. This alims
reliance on his fathers expertise in writing about teaching and learning is
significant considering one of the main stories about teaching in the Quran
is the story of an Ethiopian slave and how he raises his child (the chapter is
named after him, Lukman). Again, most of the manners of teaching
mentioned in this work are based on general Islamic manners, but Ibn
Sahnun does advise teachers specifically to not only encourage students to
study individually and cooperatively, but also to create situations or cases in
the classroom that would challenge their minds and allow them to
practically apply knowledge (Gunther, 2006, pgs. 370-371).
Shams Al-Din, a contemporary academic who focuses on Ibn Sinas (a
Muslim23 philosopher) educational theory highlights how using the study of
Quran is an excellent way to holistically teach various disciplines due to
the many themes contained therein (Gunther, 2006, p.379). This is in
accordance with the historical custom of ulamaa focusing on one verse or
hadeeth at a time and explaining it from various angles (points of grammar,
historically, the laws to be derived from it, etc.).Such a multi-disciplinary
approach to teaching is in dire need given the over-compartmentalization of
academia at the moment. Life is a multi-disciplinary venture that requires
multi-disciplinary people to grapple with it and offer pragmatic solutions to
pragmatic problems. Well-balanced holistic teaching creates well-balanced
people who are not confined to the narrow interests of their department or
Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali is undoubtedly one of the most quoted
theologians in Western literature due to his Ahl Al-Kalaam background;
however, he suggests rules of conduct for teachers that are very much in line
with Ahl Al-Sunnah when it comes to pedagogy: teachers being particularly


caring with children, having a sincere intention to only please God,

scaffolding students by building on their previous knowledge gradually as to
not damage their love for learning, advising them on their bad behavior in
private, and practicing what one preaches (Gunther 2006, pgs. 384-385).
Aptly, Gunther has titled his article Be Masters in that you teach and
continue to learn referring to 3:79 in the Quran; what he has translated
as masters (lit: rabbaniyoon) also has the deeper connotation of someone
who practices what they learn (Al-Qarnee, 2000, p.46).
Aside from the aforementioned works there remains (from the literature
available in English) those who have identified Islamic education and
pedagogy as memorizing the Quran. Helen Boyle has done empirical
research in modern day Quranic schools, mostly in Morocco (but some in
Nigeria and Yemen) which she defines as Islamic schools (Boyle 2002,
2006). The differences between Islamic schools past and present needs a
little bit of fleshing out.

The Historical Context of Islamic Pedagogy

During the early Middle Ages, roughly the first 400 years of Islam (7th
century-11th century), education in the Muslim World revolved around the
mosque, which is actually the center of most social activity in Islam
(Szyliowicz, 1973, p.53,). Not only a place for ritual worship, the mosque
was where Muslims irrespective of ethnicity, origin, age, or gender24
gathered to learn knowledge of various types-proper recitation of Quran,
Tafseer (exegesis of the Quran), Hadeeth (the narrations of the Sunnah and
their sub sciences), Fiqh (jurisprudence, meaning the various rulings derived
from the Quran and Sunnah), Arabic language and poetry, History,
Medicine, and many others. It would not be uncommon to find a student
population of a very sundry composition, from students who were ulamaa
themselves to laymen, in the thousands in one gathering called a halaqah (a
circle of people around a alim giving a lecture)-there were even teaching
assistants such as musamlis, mufids, and muids who were advanced
students of the shaykh and would repeat in a loud voice the lecture to others
far away in the halaqah, explain various ideas, and highlight points of
benefit to those they were responsible for.
Islamic education in a mosque was very informal with most decisionmaking regarding everything from curriculum to schedules determined by
the individual ulamaa offering the lectures (Berkey, 1992, pgs. 7, 20, 40,
Specifically for children, a system of elementary education schools also
existed (Kuttabs) which varied according to the degree of emphasis on
memorization of Quran. Kuttabs socialized students into a Muslim identity
by memorizing the Quran by the time they were 8-9 years old, and taught
them general skills like learning how to read and write, basic Geography,
and Math. Teachers at these schools were expected to maintain high moral
character as role models, have memorized the Quran, and know the basics
of non-theological subjects (Szyliowicz, 1973, pgs. 54, 57). Discipline was a
pivotal moral principle taught in schools and teachers would not hesitate to
beat their students for moral infractions, as theological knowledge was
learned to be applied; however, discipline would be relaxed as one matured,


advanced in their education, and fully comprehended the importance of their

studies (Berkey, 1992, p. 37). Upon completing the kuttabs, students could
either enter directly into various trades and professions or continue onto
madaaris for higher education which consisted of a foundation of
theologically-based sciences. Thereafter, students could choose to either
specialize within this general theological base or build upon it and delve
into other forms of positivistic natural or social sciences (Gesink, 2006, p.
The Madrasa (pl.madaaris, lit: a place of study) was the central formal
educational institution throughout roughly the second half of the Medieval
period (11th century to 16th century). Madaaris were places of higher
education usually attached to a mosque, and were funded by awqaaf (sg.
Waqf)-religious endowments from charity contributions, usually in the form
of a building or piece of land preserved to be used for religious purposes.
Awqaaf were protected from taxes and state seizure (Gesink, 2006, p. 326).
The term madrasa was used interchangeably with mosque since in
reality a formal location was irrelevant to the learning process as has been
mentioned; hence, madaaris still provided the same de-centralized structure
as mosques. Decision-making regarding the structure and components of
Islamic Higher Education was still made locally by the (usually unpaid)
ulamaa who taught in the Madaaris. Accordingly, madaaris were only as
good as their teachers, the ulamaa; ergo, after students had memorized the
Quran and a certain amount of ahadeeth they would start studying various
treatises/books with their Shaykh (more or less a synonym for alim).
Preferably, texts were memorized as they were learned in depth-for example
a hadeeth might be explained in regard to its place in seerah (the prophets
history), jurisprudence rulings, grammar, points of benefit, etc.
As it has probably been noticed, there was no high school stage of
education between elementary school and higher education mentioned here;
this is because there was no concept of teenage hood in most pre-modern
societies. Therefore, graduates of kuttabs and others around the age of
puberty either entered directly into madaaris/mosques or into the working
world, but both would experience live application either through their
apprenticeship to an alim or to a tradesmen. Nowadays however, only a
handful of institutions exist where one can study Islamic higher education in
the manner that has been described above; most of what has been leftover
post-colonization has been Quranic schools. These are really kuttabs, but
due to the wide dearth of places available to do in-depth Islamic study in the
Muslim world today, many Western academics refer to these as Islamic
schooling which is a tremendous disservice to the true Islamic
scholarship that does still go on till this day. In sum however, it can be seen
that Islamic schooling or pedagogy, with the exception of the last 100-200
years, was far from revolving around memorization.

Modern Perspectives of Islamic Pedagogy

To return to Dr. Boyles research, she runs through the usual modernist
discourse of attempting to re-write reason onto scripture. Taking AlGhazalis classical differentiation of knowledge (revealed and empirical)
one step further, she attempts to redefine empirical knowledge as reason,


claiming it is the second form of knowledge after revelation. She continues,

humans need knowledge derived from human reason to understand and
interpret revealed knowledge. The Quran emphasizes the importance of
reasoning in confirming and expanding existing knowledge (Boyle, 2006,
p.485). This is somewhat misleading. First of all, Al-Ghazalis
differentiation of knowledge into empirical and revealed knowledge is in
fact also ASWJs differentiation of knowledge as well since it is based on
numerous proofs from Quran and Sunnah. Regarding interpretation and
comprehension, most issues in the Quran and Sunnah are very
straightforward commands. As Allah says, these clear verses are the
foundation of the Book (Quran, 3:7) and that they are put forth in simple,
plain Arabic (Quran, 41:3); He affirms that it is upon Him to explain the
entire revelation (Quran, 75: 19), and He does by detailing aspects that are
mentioned in passing in some places of the Quran, in other places of the
Quran or through the Sunnah (where prophet Muhammad specifically
teaches what the verses mean). The prophets were sent to explain their
books as has been mentioned. Subsequently, rarely do Muslims need to
reason out what the revelation means. No doubt, the Quran praises the use
of reason and the senses to acquire knowledge, but always posits revelation
as superior.
A classic example of the Qurans praise of revelation over human
reasoning is that of the first sin committed on earth. Allah commands Satan
to bow to Adam, and Satan refuses, reasoning why should I bow to a
creature youve made from clay, when you have created me from fire
(Quran, 17:61). Satans reasons with an a priori supposition based on his
own opinion, that fire is superior to clay in the first place, when in fact as
the Ulamaa have highlighted (Arkahdaan, 1993, p. 287-288) clay is a soft,
supple element often associated with building and creating things, while fire
is often initially associated with destroying and burning things. Even if fire
were superior to clay, Satans disobedience to Allah is the reason that he is
regarded as cursed and doomed to eternal hellfire throughout the Quran;
hence, any reasoning that directs someone to disobey Allah is viewed as
flawed logic.
Another example is that of the son of Noah. Noah warns his son that
Allah is going to flood the whole earth, but his son disregards his fathers
warning. He reasons that he will probably be safe atop a gigantic mountain
since in his limited human experience and knowledge, he has never seen a
flood reach that high. According to his limited mental capacity, hes wrong.
Again, by placing his reasoning above Allahs commands and
underestimating Allahs ability to do as he pleases, Noahs son drowns in
the flood while Noah and the rest of his family who obeyed Allahs
commandments, are protected in the boat Allah commanded them to build
(Quran, 11:25-49). Human reasoning will always differ from person to
person, so how do we know whose to follow? Do we wander aimlessly
without any foundation, jumping from theory to theory? This is where Islam
differs from the Dewey-ish Western foundation of doubt first and then ask
questions. Muslims have a theological foundation whose primary belief is
to not doubt in it, but rather to follow it. Then within these guidelines that


they hold as divine, they utilize their faculties (the senses and personal
reasoning that Allah has given them) to ascertain how best to apply Allahs
commandments (not whether or not to) and expand on existing empirical
knowledge.but not to put themselves ahead of Allah and His
messenger, meaning obeying oneself instead of God (Quran, 49:1). This is
how Islam prioritizes revelation in comparison to personal reasoning and the
Getting past the politics of Boyles initial argument about knowledge in
Islam, she proceeds to strangely champion memorization as a learning
method as it relates to the Quran, countering those who claim memorizing
the Quran indoctrinates children since most children dont understand what
theyre memorizing at such an age. She even cites how it acts as a moral
compass later on for those who do understand it (Boyle, 2006, p. 486-494).
This first argument is quite correct; most Muslims are not Arabs, and
therefore wouldnt understand what theyre memorizing25. Subsequently,
this makes Boyles claim that Quranic memorization is conceived of as a
manifestation of reason (Boyle, 2006, p. 489) unlikely. While such an
argument attempts to defend what Boyle perceives to be Islamic pedagogy,
it seems very antithetical to her argument to claim that memorizing
unknown words and phrases is a method for youth in the Muslim world to
reason with the world.
This second argument however is suspect. Due to the political situation
in the world, many Western governments are trying to promote institutions
where the Quran is memorized to satisfy increasing local demand for
Islamic knowledge-based services (as a concession to Islamic identity),
while simultaneously continuing to increase government control/closure of
institutions that actually discuss what the Quran and Sunnah means. Quite
bluntly, rising demand for Sharia, the application of the political and socioeconomic aspects of Islam, has the potential to be very detrimental to
Western economic interests in the Muslim world (IIIT, 1989, ix). This is
because the values that would be propagated would be very much in
contention with those of modern day Western Capitalism like boundary-less
consumerism (which is disproportionately of Western services and products
due to structure adjustment policies which are pre-requisites for Western
funding26). The Western cultural invasion needs to have a very culturally
pliable consumer population to adapt to the ever-changing demands of
Western products. When Muslims are Islamically conscious and are living
Islam publically and privately, there are limits to the cultural changes
available due to the implementation of Sharia as a way of life (IIIT, 1989,
x)-not to mention the natural resources that would be re-directed to the
needs of native populations instead of exported at drastic losses to their
owners (Blum, 2000) (Chomsky, 2002).
Nonetheless, to not be too cynical and entertain the second argument,
that Boyle is defending memorization of the Quran for its moral virtues,
then yesAllah says, and whosoever is Godconscious, then Allah will
make for them a furqan (a criterion to judge/distinguish between things
(Quran, 8:29). And most certainly having over 6,000 verses of Gods words
always with a person, would act as a moral compass and divine guidance to


refer back to (if they understand them), as if it is engraved on the heart;

when one considers the Muslim belief that the Quran is the literal word of
God, then this is not surprising. Also, according to the story of creation in
the Quran, there could be precedence for memorizing as a preliminary
method of teaching. Allah says to the angels, Undoubtedly, I am going to
place (mankind) generations after generations on earth. They said, Will
you place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood,
while we glorify You with praises and thanks and sanctify You. He (Allah)
said, I know that which you do not know. Exegesis commentators
commented on these verses explaining that despite the fact that there would
be such people who would cause mischief, Allah would also create the
prophets, Muslihoon (whose importance has been highlighted), righteous,
etc. and that they would both keep each other in check as is explained in
other verses (Quran, 2:251 and 4:69). 27 Allah continues And He taught
Adam all the names (of everything), then He showed them to the angels and
said, Tell me the names of these if you are truthful. The angels reply,
Glory is to You, we have no knowledge except what You have taught us.
Undoubtedly, you are the All-Knower, All-Wise (Quran, 2: 30-32). To
be brief, humans and jinn28 are the only creatures that have free will and
reason and are thus held accountable for their actions. Allah specifically
commands them in the Quran saying I have not created the jinn and
human beings except to worship me (Quran, 51:56) (the wider definition
of living according to the Quran and Sunnah as we have explicated).
Everything else in the universe worships God in its own way. Angels have a
certain amount of knowledge that cannot increase or decrease, but they have
no free will for that to affect anything; they must worship God. Animals and
other creatures have free will, but no real intelligence and analytical skills
which are required for discipline. Humans have free will to follow their
random desires or be disciplined; in accordance with this ability, they have
the unique ability to acquire higher forms of analytical knowledge and make
conscious decisions. If humans use their intelligence to obey God and
discipline themselves through proper moral conduct, then they can reach a
status above that of the angels, but if they cause evil and harm in society
without any regard for moral bindings, (despite the reason and knowledge
that God has blessed them with), then they become worse than the animals
who dont know any better. Critical conscience morality is not developed
through memorizing anything alone without comprehending and applying it.
Accordingly, we realize that memorization alone would not be enough to be
the ultimate end of Islamic pedagogy. Even if one were teaching nontheological knowledge, memorizing the components of a car would not
teach someone how to build one.
Here Adam is taught the names of everything; one cannot identify
something without names which entail certain attributes/ characteristics that
describe them. One might learn more about these attributes later on, but the
first step is to be able to differentiate things from one another. Memorization
is the first step in seeking Islamic knowledge and even more pragmatically,
children can handle little more than this at the pre-school to elementary
stage (which is the primary time this method is used) as Ibn Khaldun notes


(Boyle, 2006, p.488). Boyle cites Al-Ghazali as explaining, First is the

committing to memory; then understanding; then belief and certainty and
acceptance (Boyle, 2006, p.488). The importance of immediate application
of knowledge when teaching can be seen in how prophet Muhammad would
sometimes not even specifically say how to do something, but merely delve
into application; for example he told his companions, pray as you see me
pray and got up and showed them (Al-Qarnee, 2000, p. 51).
Memorizing the Quran teaches children to differentiate Gods speech
from human speech; the former is taken as a foundation of absolute Truth to
build upon, and the latter human knowledge is to be employed for the
objectives of the former. One of the benefits of Quran is that it teaches
Muslims the nature of God and His creation, and the general laws of the
universe that they can learn more about on their own. However, after
memorization-which is mostly an individual endeavor to begin with, aside
from periodically checking ones recitation with their Shaykh for accuracycomes the real beginning of true Islamic pedagogyapplication as weve
discussed here. Similarly, at any level of education of empirical sciences,
but even more so at younger ages, students must always be able to identify
and classify things before analyzing and discussing them. We cant discuss
reading till we know what letters look and sound like, math till we know
what numbers are and their properties, history till we know what countries
and continents there are and so forth. Particularly for younger children,
when everything is still fairly new to them in the world, they must be taught
the names of things before they can begin to comprehend them.
Scaffolding starts with the basics and builds upon them, but educators will
have to learn how to accurately assess their childrens capabilities and
knowledge so that they are given enough to challenge them, without
overwhelming them (Kohlberg and Selman, 1972, p.29). Memorization is a
start, but an education that transforms requires more than that. Islamic
pedagogy requires being a witness to education being applied and then
taking part in it.
So far, I have interwoven the primary characteristic of Islamic pedagogy:
the emphasis on the apprentice-ship relationship between teacher and
student and the importance of the former as a rolemodel throughout this
paper, as well as the importance of holistic education. The world is
multidisciplinary by nature. Humanity cannot hope to enjoy and maintain a
stable way of life if we consistently sacrifice the environment and animals
for humans, human interaction for the sake of technology, humans needs
for other humans luxuries, and heartless politics for human compassion.
Our knowledge age is really just an age of information, little of which
actually enriches the soul or offers human solutions for human problems.
We can no longer sustain producing robot-like graduates who will only
bring the solutions that are specifically relevant to their academic
department and are covered by their grant. Holistic education that teaches
children the power of education in causing social change can create active
citizens who will contribute to their society for the societal good and not just
their own.


I have also discussed the importance of providing students with in-depth

knowledge and cultivating their critical thinking skills as part and parcel of
Islamic pedagogy, because without comprehension there can be no
application. As we have seen however, Islamic pedagogys stance towards
social change is not necessarily asking participants to question all their
presuppositions to work for social justice, so it does differ from a Freirean
Critical Pedagogy in this respect. The problem in Muslim countries is not so
much the material being taught as it is the fact that it is not being taught;
rather Islamic pedagogy takes advantage of the Islamic inclinations that
already exist in a Muslim society and transforms them into tools of
motivation for social change. Plainly, Islamic pedagogy seeks to highlight
the beliefs that are already believed in on at least a sentimental level and
utilize them to act out pragmatic social change.
As we have noticed however, the little bit of English literature that exists
on Islamic pedagogy addresses how Muslims taught throughout history, but
doesnt directly engage an even more fundamental approach to determining
what Islamic pedagogy is; how does Allah himself rubbi, or raise,
humankind in the Quran? Weve already illustrated that He did not give
humans a book to just memorize. According to Islamic belief the Quran is
the word of God meant to teach people how to live until the Day of
Judgment, so how are these moral lessons taught by the ultimate Murubbi
(educator), Allah.


Islamic Pedagogy Directly from the Quran, Sunnah, and

Contemporary Arabic Works on the Topic
Tarbiyya, the closest parallel to education in Arabic comes from the
root rubbaa which means to educate, discipline, cultivate, and raise caringly
to maturity in stages (Al-Khattaabi, 2006, p.226). The difference between
Tarbiyya and Taleem (learning) in Islam is that Tarbiyya is a planned,
organized holistic cultivation (theological, psychological, intellectual,
physical), while Taleem is simply learning some sort of new information; it
could happen in a structured fashion with certain objectives, or by mere
coincidence (Al-Khattaabi, 2006, pgs.227-229). Interestingly, the term
rubbaaniyoon mentioned previously (translated as masters)-that described
people with knowledge who applied it for societal benefit-in Gunthers
research, also comes from the word rubbaan. Rubban were people, among
the few sea-faring Arabs there were, that used to not only take care of the
ships and prepare them for seafaring, but also ride onboard as maintenancetype people (Al-Khattaabi, 2006, p.227). The symbolism here is striking as
it implies a humble sort of educator who not only takes responsibility for the
welfare of a large group of people, but one who also is not merely on the
seashore waiting to see if things work out. The educator is a leader, but
also one of the normal approachable people that others feel comfortable
with. This theme is multiplied by the fact that the Arabs were not
traditionally sea faring people to begin with; hence, someone involved in
such a position is participating in an endeavour that is known to be
challenging, but they know that it is a job that must be done. Teachers are
pivotal to the safety of the ship carrying the next generation of youth and
without them onboard, the ship will not complete its journey.
Rubbaa is also the same root used to describe bringing a plant to fruition,
hence the many metaphors in the Quran about revelation being like the life
found in water that rains from the sky to bring the dead earth to life with
plants (Quran, 6:99, 13:17, 22:5). This is the ethic of care that is needed in
the relationship between educator and student. This metaphor combined
with the fact that Tarbiyya also comes from the same root as rub (which is
usually translated as Lord or master) highlights that despite having the
connotation of authority (Neil 483-485, 2006), Allah caringly cultivates
humans in a state of dignity teaching them that which they did not know
(Quran, 96:6). This is the type of relationship between teacher and student
promoted in Islamic pedagogy. This theme can be highlighted in several
ways; first of which is the way Allah describes Himself.
Whenever Allah mentions punishing anyone in some way, He usually
describes it as an action that He is capable of, but not an attribute directly
ascribed to Himself. Allah describes Himself with about 99 names/
attributes in the Quran and Sunnah and only two to three names have a
connotation related to punishment or some similar theme. Positive aspects
are directly ascribed to Himself: Al Hayy (2:255), Al Qayoom (2:255), Al
Khaaliq (6:102), Al Raheem (2:163), Al Rahmaan (1:3), Al Kareem (27:40),
Al Wahhab, Al Ghaffar (20:82), etc. (The Ever-Living, The One who
sustains and protects all that exists, The Creator, The Most Merciful, The
Most Gracious, The Most Generous, The Bestower).


Whenever Allah mentions an act involving pain, punishment, hellfire,

etc., He describes them as actions He is capable of doing as recompense for
those who deserve it (Quran, 4:10, 4:37, 10:8, 10:13, 10: 27, 25:13, 25:19,
89:13). This is significant because in the Arabic language actions that are
directly described as characteristics have a much more powerful meaning. If
we contemplate this, a lesson we can derive is that by default, an educator is
compassionate and forgiving; but he or she can discipline when necessary.
This concept will be seen in prophet Muhammads teaching methods as
well. In fact, every single chapter in the Quran except one starts with the
words In the name of the Most Beneficent, Most Merciful. Another
perspective on this issue is the nature of how the Quran was revealed.

Scaffolding in Islam
One of the main reasons that the Quran was revealed piecemeal over 23
years is specifically because changing human behavior is a gradual process;
Allah was very compassionate in His wisdom of gradually scaffolding the
Arabs at the time, not placing a burden on them larger than they could
handle as Allah promises humankind (Quran, 2:286). The Arabs in preIslamic Arabia were living in complete savagery; they would bury their
children and sell women as property, have random sexual relations, drink
extremely heavily, and other crude behavior (Al-Fawzaan, 2005). They were
not spiritual people and people do not generally dramatically change
overnight. Therefore, Islamic legislation took them step by step scaffolding
them through moral refinement. Verses revealed in Mecca when Muslims
were still oppressed and persecuted focused on attaching peoples hearts to
the fundamental beliefs of Islam and contained little legislation of specific
duties and laws. Verses discussed Tawheed-that since there is only one God,
only He has the right to be worshipped and Gods attributes-and the Day of
Judgment, when humans would be held accountable for their deeds and
accordingly granted paradise or hellfire. As Muslims developed deeper
knowledge of the faith and corresponding conviction, they increased in
numbers and emigrated to Medina, establishing a society there. During this
process, verses were revealed which increased acts of worship to their final
amounts and outlined the laws for the finer details of day to day societal
interaction (like political, social, and economic legislation). A comparative
analysis of the Meccan and Medinan verses will highlight this gradual
pattern to the reader. The order of revelation was best described by Aisha,
the wife of prophet Muhammad, who said If the first verses to be revealed
were regarding prohibition of zinaa (adultery/fornication) and alcohol, they
would have swore By Allah, we will never stop committing zinaa and
drinking alcohol; but the first verses that were revealed were about
Tawheed, paradise, and hellfire. It was not until the hearts were firmly
attached to and loving their Lord that came down the verses with the
commandments about the permissible and prohibited (Al-Bukhari, vol. 1,
1997, pgs.45-50). The issue of scaffolding has been touched on repeatedly
throughout this paper so well transition to how we do that.
Case-based learning, but what do we mean by cases?


Regarding the structure of the Quran; the Quran is not compiled in the
order it was revealed in since different verses were revealed at different
times throughout prophet Muhammads life; rarely were entire chapters
revealed all at once. This concept is expressed in the way the Quran is
described as being revealed: nazzalnaa or nazzala (meaning piece by
piece) as opposed to the other divine books of the past which are described
as being anzalnaa or anzala (all at once) (Quran, 3:3-4). Each time a
verse or set of verses were revealed, this was a real live case scenario
opportunity for prophet Muhammad to explain these verses; this is why the
entire Quran can be thought of as an entire collection of case scenarios
where practical application of verses was taught live, on the spot. The
details of these cases are found in the Sunnah or Seerah (biography of
prophet Muhammad). Each time a concept would be revealed, the context
and teachings/sayings of prophet Muhammad in response to it would
explain it, An example of this teaching method in practice can be seen in the
first chapter in the Quran, Al-Fatiha (the opening).
Abu Said bin Al-Mualla, a companion of prophet Muhammad, was
once praying in the mosque, and Allahs messenger called him to come, but
he didnt respond (Muslims are not suppose to turn away from or interrupt
their prayer once they enter into a mode of prayer, except for an
Later Abu Said told prophet Muhammad why he had not responded,
since he was praying. Prophet Muhammad responded Didnt Allah say,
Answer Allah (by obeying Him) and His messenger when one of them calls
you to that which will give you life (Quran, 8:24)? Prophet Muhammad
then told him, I will teach you a chapter, which is the greatest chapter in the
Quran before you leave the mosque.
Prophet Muhammad later on took hold of his hand, and headed to leave
the mosque, so Abu Said asked him, didnt you say to me, I will teach
you a chapter which is the greatest chapter in the Quran? So, prophet
Muhammad taught him the beginning of the first chapter starting with All
praises and thanks be to Allah, the Rub (Lord) of the Alameen (lit:
anything that is possible to be known, the universe) (Ibn Kathir, vol. 1,
2000, pgs. 41-58).
There are a couple of points of benefit here. First is that prophet
Muhammad, by purposely calling Abu Said during his prayer, a time when
normally one would not respond, has used the opportunity to teach him the
meaning of another verse (8:24), which has an even wider concept behind it
mentioned in verse 150 of chapter four, do not differentiate between Allah
and His messengers when it comes to obedience.The one you are praying
to right now, is the same one that has commanded you to obey the
messenger. Allah says in another verse, Say oh Muhammad to mankind, if
you really love Allah, then follow me (follow the Quran and Sunnah) and
Allah will love you and forgive you your sins (Quran, 3: 31). Then
prophet Muhammad proceeds to caringly take him by the hand and teach
him a new chapter of the Quran. Prophet Muhammad has accordingly, not
only re-emphasized and explained to Abu Said the extent to which a person
responds to the messenger, but that the implementation of the knowledge


he had of a previous verse would lead him to more beneficial knowledge,

the new chapter he learned. On a more macro level, prophet Muhammad has
taught Abu Said that acting upon what one knows will honor a person with
more knowledge. Also, prophet Muhammad has reiterated the analogy of
revelation to something that gives life to creation. This is just one case from
the numerous ones in the Quran of a concept being presented in a verse or
set of verses, and subsequently being applied and demonstrated or
explained. Prophet Muhammad has captured the interest of Abu Said with
his initial promise to teach him something amazing at a later time, and then
taught him several subsequent intimately tied concepts (those mentioned
above) using one main case scenario as a vehicle (the creation of a scenario
that would teach the companion the extent of obedience to the messenger).
Such multi-layered learning allows deeper processing as various concepts
are brought together in one situation that defines their relationship to one
another. Furthermore, cases like this not only serve to teach the person
directly experiencing them, but also the bystanders who witness these events
as other companions at the mosque at the time would have learned from this
incident as well. The stories in the Quran which usually take up significant
portions of every chapter also serve as case scenarios by which to learn a
lesson and give a person live examples of a particular concept as it is being
Pertaining to the Content of the Quran, Allah has a specific preference
of how He teaches concepts in the Quran. Roughly half of the verses in the
Quran are related to the past: stories about (mostly) prophets, but also
righteous and evil people/nations that existed and the lessons that can be
derived from their stories for people who contemplate/ponder them. These
stories can be thought of as case studies, as well as the specific snapshots of
events that happen within these stories. These stories provide role models,
especially in the stories of the prophets, for people to emulate, and describe
the various thought processes, reasoning, and behavior that cause people to
do actions that lead them to either paradise or hell. Many chapters for
example describe the various conversations and dialogues that will occur
between the people of paradise and the people of hellfire. I have tried to
implement the use of stories myself as much as possible throughout this
paper (i.e.; Adam, Satan, Noah, etc.) as examples of the concepts being
Stories in the Qur'an are drawn from actual historical events and are
sometimes presented in a summarized version in one part and then in
intricate detail in others. An example of this can be seen in the stories of the
prophets in chapter Hud which are repeated again in chapter Al-Qamar, but
with a different style and manner as if one is reading them from anew. With
the stories of the prophets for example, a theme in chapter Hud is that the
mission of all the prophets was one; all of them called their people towards
Tawheed, singling out Allah in all their acts of worship without associating
any partners with Him. There are numerous examples of this in the Qur'an
like chapters Al-Anbiya', Maryam, and Al-A'raf. Allah says for example,
"Before your time We never sent any Messenger without having revealed to
him that none has the right to be worshipped but I, so worship Me alone,"


(Quran, 21:25). "And to the people of 'Ad, We sent their brother Hud. He
said, O my people, worship Allah Alone, you have no deity other than Him.
Will you not, then, fear Him?'" (Quran, 7:65). This is not only a comfort to
prophet Muhamamad as God is essentially telling him that hes merely one
in a long chain of prophets, whose people also put them through trials and
sometimes never believed in them: "Therefore, be patient oh Muhammad as
did the Messengers endowed with firmness of heart before you bore
themselves with patience. And be in no haste about the disbelievers"
(Qur'an, 46:35); but these stories are also recalling the memory of these
widely known tribes of the past in the minds of the Arabs prophet
Muhammad was speaking to. The verses are igniting the previous
knowledge that the Arabs had of these peoples that came before them and
using the fact that they all called to the same thing that prophet Muhammad
is calling to as rapport to scaffold them into following him. Allah says,
undoubtedly, in the stories of the prophets there are lessons for those with
sound intelligence and comprehension and He commands prophet
Muhammad and everyone who reads the Quran after him, tell these stories
so that perhaps they would ponder and reflect (Quran, 12:111,
11:176).The lesson is not just for those present during these events, but also
to those witnessing them by reading/hearing about them in the chapter. This
is even more obvious in the story of Moses and Pharaoh when the pronoun
changes from addressing Moses and Pharaoh specifically to a general one
that addresses all of humanity (Quran, 7:103-156). As Shaykh Bin Baz
notes, the use of stories is one of the most effective methods for teaching
because it causes the listener to commit until its resolution and maintains
their attentionbecause phrases (or pieces of information) are forgotten, but
powerful events that have happened are rarely forgotten (Al- Khattaabi,
2006, p.292). Shaykh Bin Baz even explicitly recommends using stories of
current events as opportunities by which concepts can be taught (AlKhattaabi, 2006, p.302). Again, conceiving of stories as cases and
opportunities for learning, are an excellent way that the Quran utilizes real
life experiences to teach certain concepts. Such case studies and examples in
the classroom will flesh out the concepts being taught. This has been in
regard to the method of stories as a teaching technique in Islamic pedagogy.
The other half of the Quran is about the future-descriptions of the Day
of Judgment and the events that happen on it, paradise and hellfire, etc. In
both the stories and descriptions about the events of the future, there is
countless use of debate and dialogue between God, angels, humans, and
Rarely are things merely summarized; rather the various actors are
actively expressing their thoughts to the reader so that one can envision the
scene of events that are taking place clearly. Dr. Afsaruddin has highlighted
how debate and dialogue (munaazara) was a core teaching method used
among Jurisprudence ulamaa for sharpening students analytical skills
(Afsaruddin, 2005, pgs. 148, 151). This competitive aspect of Islamic
pedagogy will be highlighted in a later hadeeth. Allah commands prophet
Muhammad many times to use questioning while calling people to Islam,
saying say to them [the polytheists] oh Muhammad, who is the Rub of the


heavens and the earth? Say it is Allah. Say Have you then taken for worship
Auliyaa(protectors/guardians) other than Him that have no power either to
benefit or harm themselves (Quran, 13:16)? Such questions were meant to
make the idol worshippers ponder and question the logic of worshipping
their statues. Challenging students to participate in their education ensures
that teachers and students are on the same page. Questions get students
involved and engaged in the learning process.
Other than these two broad strands of content regarding the past and
future (about 6,000 verses total), there are also about 500 or so verses of
direct laws in the Quran.
There are also some pedagogical methods to be derived from the order
that the Quran was compiled into. Accordingly one finds that the first
chapter in the Quran, Al-Fatiha, is called the opening chapter and
essentially summarizes Tawheed (that no one has the right to be worshipped
except Allah-the central belief in Islam) and the relationship between God
and humankind as an introduction of sorts (Ibn Kathir, 2000, vol.1, pgs. 4158). The second chapter, which we could consider the first main chapter, is
considered by Tafseer (exegesis) ulamaa as the summary of the Quran; for
example it is the only chapter to contain all five pillars of Islam in one
chapter, the best verse, and the longest verse in the Quran (Ibn Kathir,
2000, vols.1 and 2). The last three chapters of the Quran (AlIkhlaas, Al-Falaq, and Al-Naas) all also deal specifically with Tawheed
in a very simple fashion (they are three of the shortest chapters in the
Quran). Usually when we listen to a lecture or read a book, we might doze
off throughout the middle, but we usually remember the main points that
were mentioned in the beginning and the end; this is not necessarily due to
lack of interest on the part of the reader, but could just be a natural human
reaction to absorbing large amounts of information at one time. On the next
level down, at the level of the chapter, the structure of individual Quranic
chapters also reveals that they usually begin and end with pivotal moral
lessons related to the chapter. This is seen in the end of chapter AlFurqaan which describes the ideal Muslim, or in the fact that the vast
majority of chapters start with a specific statement about the veracity,
authenticity or greatness of the Quran, Tawheed, and occasionally
paradise/hellfire-essentially the main aspects of Islam. The details of what
belief entails will be explained throughout the chapter, but the reader is
given an overall abstract of what is to come or how it should affect them.
Similarly, when teachers are giving lectures or talks, they should make sure
that they do not dwell too long on explanations or examples without
recalling the audiences attention to the main topic and purpose of the study.
While on the theme of the ordering of the Quran, we will present a case
study of the first verses revealed of the Quran.
As was mentioned, the first words revealed of the Quran to Prophet
Muhammad in the seventh century C.E. were, what means, Read/Recite! In
the name of your Lord, who has created all that exists (Quran, 96:1).
Out of all the different words that Allah chose to begin his last revelation for
mankind, (and Arabic is a vast language) Allah chose the word Iqra,
which can be translated as read or recite in English and actually comes


from the same root as Quran (lit: something which is recited, which
highlights the importance of oral transmission of knowledge and not just
books in Islamic pedagogy). This first chapter is titled Iqra or Al-'Alaq
(many chapters have more than one name depending on the content). The
first word as we have mentioned means to read or recite, while the second
the 'alaq (lit: blood clot) actually refers to the external appearance of the
embryo and its sacs during embryonic development when the presence of
large amounts of blood in the embryo prevent blood flow29 (Ibrahim, 1997,
p.8). The context for this first revelation is that prophet Muhammad (in
Mecca), prior to receiving revelation at the age of 40, would have many
dreams that would come true so he would travel to the Hira cave and spend
many days at a time in seclusion to worship God30 In these first verses of the
Qur'an, Allah sends angel Gabriel to command prophet Muhammad to read,
but prophet Muhammad was illiterate31 so he replies that he is not of those
who read. Also significant, is that there is no tablet or anything for him to
read, so how can he read? The exegesis ulamaa said regarding this, that it is
as if he is telling him to read in the ayaat of Allahs creation since the word
ayah has multiple meanings of proofs, evidences, signs, and verses (AlQarnee, 2000, pgs. 114-115). Allah is determined to show prophet
Muhammad that the One who created him is capable of anything, so three
times Gabriel commands him to read, and squeezes him tightly; every time
prophet Muhammad says he cant. The fourth time, Gabriel says to him to
read in the name of your Rub who created you. If your Rub can create you,
then if you say In the name of God, believing in Gods ability to help you
do what seems impossible, and try your best out of obedience to Him, He
will make you able to read. Allah emphasizes this point about His power,
commanding prophet Muhammad to read in the name of the One who
created humankind from a mere 'alaq. Read/recite and your Rub is the most
generous. He is the one who has taught with the pen, has taught mankind
that which they did not know (Quran, 97:1-5).
Unquestionably, the one who created man and his speech can make them
compatible at His will. This is an excellent example of how teachers should
similarly teach their students to do their best, and then rely on God for the
results. Furthermore, Allah specifically mentions teaching mankind with the
pen here; as the exegesis ulamaa have mentioned, this is the main way
knowledge has been passed down throughout history, even though it was
not so much during prophet Muhammads time. Writing traps knowledge
onto a material substance so that it can be built upon and developed over the
ages (Al- Bukhari, vol.1, 1997, pgs. 118-122). Allah is teaching prophet
Muhammad that any knowledge we have is ultimately from Allah and proof
of his majesty. Allah says and of all things He hath perfect knowledge
(Quran, 2:29). This helps one maintain humility since as is mentioned a
couple verses later, humankind gets arrogant and transgresses the bounds
when they feel self-sufficient (Quran, 97:6-7).
The importance of being humble as an educator is seen even in the
example of the prophets, who were all shepherds without any royal or
kinglike status in society; even after their prophethood, they still maintained
these simple lifestyles. This aspect of humbleness was highlighted in the


linguistic analysis of a murubbi; one cannot hope to change society without

living amongst the people dealing and cooperating with them. If teachers are
far removed from the field of their expertise and merely swimming in
theories and not the practical problems of their societies, then education
becomes a mere intellectual exercise and not a transformative experience for
the teacher or student. Within case-based learning we have discussed the use
of stories and debate to stimulate scaffolding, and the next most common
pedagogical technique utilized in the Quran and Sunnah is the mathal.
Again, as has become obvious, there is nothing outrageous or necessarily
peculiar about Islamic pedagogy, merely practical methods for simple
instruction. The mathal (analogy/example) according to Arab linguists is
something that has some things in common with another and some things
notused to draw a similitude of a similar image32 by building on previous
knowledge to bring the comprehension of something more
apparentusually using a structure/format that is common among people
(Al-Majeed, 1992, p.79-81). Drawing analogies is literally translated
hitting analogies in Arabic (darb Al-amthaal) because they are popularly
known for being spread very easily in Arab culture due to its oral nature;
something that travels wide through the land is known to have received the
action of darb or being hit. Many linguists considered amthaal the highest
eloquence of speech because they are concise in achieving the intended
meaning and comparison, commenting that the person is made comfortable
by familiar concepts and objects and generally veers away from the strange
and new (Al- Majeed, 1992, p.79-81). In other words, analogies are widely
recognized/used verbal expressions that facilitate quickly scaffolding
listeners/readers to a particular idea or understanding.
As analogies are utilized in Islamic pedagogy, then the Quran and
Sunnah are profuse with analogies. Allah even describes that one of the
signs of the believers is that they comprehend Allahs examples/analogies
because He has guided their hearts and senses to understand them (Quran,
2: 26).
In the Sunnah, prophet Muhammad uses them noticeably, particularly
while questioning his companions. For example, to explain the purification
that the 5 daily prayers offer from sins, he asked his companions, If one of
you had a river in front of their house that they bathed in five times per day,
would they ever be dirty? The companions replied no. Prophet Muhammad
said, this is the analogy of sins to the five daily prayers; each prayer wipes
away all the minor sins since the prayer before it (Al- Qarnee, 2000, p.51).
This is an example of the use of analogies combined with the method of
interactive dialogue in teaching.
Another analogy is when prophet Muhammad said: "the example of the
guidance and knowledge with which Allah has sent me is like the abundant
rain which strikes the earth. Some of it is fertile and accepts the water and
brings forth plants and grass in abundance. Some of it is hard and holds the
water so Allah people to use it. They drink from it, water their animals and
irrigate. Some of the land it strikes is level and barren and does not retain
the water nor produce plants. The first is the example of someone who
understands the deen (way of life33) of Allah and benefits from that with


which Allah has sent me and learns and teaches it to others. The last is the
36 Many ulamaa have also discussed how to properly use modern
technology such as projectors and computers to use images (Al-Khattaabi,
2006, p.161) as prophet Muhammad use to use drawings and and diagrams
to explain concepts to his companions (Al-Shareef, 2010) example of the
person who pays no attention to it and does not accept the guidance with
which I have been sent" (Al-Majeed, 1992, p.124).
Here the prophet has drawn a similitude between peoples hearts and
their response to Allahs revelation and different types of ground, with the
revelation being like the water that rains down from the sky to bring the
earth to life. The first type of person is one who comprehended the
revelation, lived by it, and taught it to others. They dont only hold the
knowledge but teach others and help them to benefit from it and grow as
well (Al-Majeed, 1992, p.126). The second type of person is one who
merely memorizes the knowledge, but maybe doesnt quite understand it;
nonetheless, they are able to pass on this knowledge to someone who will
benefit from it. Prophet Muhammad has still commended such people as
well in another hadeeth saying, May Allah illuminate the person who hears
a hadeeth from me and memorizes it until he conveys it. Perhaps a person
who has memorized a hadeeth (lit:
fiqh) conveys it to someone with more Fiqh than themselves [so that
the latter would comprehend it and benefit from it], even though the
[original] carrier of this hadeeth was not a Faqeeh [someone who
understood it] (Al-Majeed, 1992, p.127). Imam Al-Nawawi, a
Hadeeth/Exegesis alim, comments on this hadeeth saying this first type of
soil does not benefit from the rain directly, but holds it and its benefits for
someone else (human or creature). This is similar to the second type of
human who memorizes the hadeeth in their heart even though they dont
fully comprehend it themselves and dont have the critical thinking skills to
derive the various rulings and full meanings from it. Nonetheless, when this
person comes across a thirsty searcher [sic], they will benefit the latter with
this knowledge (Al-Majeed, 1992, p.128). The third type of person is one
who does not respond to the revelation at all nor do they relay the message
to others and this type is portrayed as barren land which does not benefit
themselves or others. Such a person might even theoretically believe in the
revelation through their lips, but not actually live by it (Al-Majeed, 1992,
Interestingly, the first two types of people are presented as those with
some type of understanding, be that as it may at different levels; even the
one who merely memorized at least comprehended that the material was
important enough to concern oneself with to begin with. There was some
benefit to memorization since here it was something considered an
unquestionable Truth of life: revelation. However, the third type of person is
the one that is presented as blameworthy since they had none of these
qualities. An analogy could be drawn between this and some empirical
knowledge as well; some empirical knowledge is necessary to know within
and of itself. As was discussed earlier, there are some types of basic
knowledge that simply must be memorized as they are fundamental to being


a productive part of society like memorizing the continents of the planet,

numbers, an alphabet of some sort, the elements of nature, essentially main
concepts that a person cannot do without. The names of the continents or
even countries could change, but in the meantime, they are basic terms that
need to be known so that one may learn more about them. What concerns us
here is that the analogy above is providing deeper, more specific explanation
for concepts being taught (the purpose of amthaal) like those in verses such
as 13:17and 22:5; for example Allah says:
Allah says:He sends down water (rain) from the sky, and the valleys
flow according to their measure, but the flood bears away the foam that
mounts up to the surface;thus does Allah (through parables) distinguish
Truth from falsehood . Then, as for the foam it passes away as scum upon
the banks, while that which is for the good of humankind remains in the
earth. Thus Allah sets forth parables (for the Truth and falsehood, i.e. Belief
and disbelief) (Quran, 13:17 ). Essentially, Allah is saying that other
ideologies associated with disbelief will eventually fade away because they
are not sustainable ways of life like the one He has chosen for humankind
(Al-Majeed, 1992, pgs.126-127). In this case, prophet Muhammad has used
one analogy to describe others that are similar in theme, but maybe more
difficult to grasp. This is the primary use of analogies, to clarify the concept
at hand. There are numerous analogies mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah,
and the ones mentioned in the Sunnah tend to generally be a little more
direct and of a explanatory nature, fitting for the Sunnahs role in regard to
the Quran.
In sum, analogies play a role similar to stories of elaborating on a
concept that is being taught by scaffolding a student from their current level
of comprehension to a higher one. Consequently, we have now outlined how
Islamic pedagogy utilizes the vitally significant caring relationship between
teacher and student to stimulate motivation between the former and latter to
utilize education to work towards social change and reform. Metaphysical
motivation is employed as an impetus to spark active learning in the
classroom which transforms individuals. Through such an apprenticeship
relationship between teacher and student, case-based learning is utilized in
the classroom to construct live learning experiences using analogies, debate,
and stories as vehicles with which to scaffold students. This is Islamic


Islamic Pedagogy as it Relates to the Western Analogue of Ethical
Caring Correcting Mistakes and Offering Advice on the Path to Acquiring
Wisdom It should be mentioned upfront that the following comparison
between elements of Islamic pedagogy and elements of Ethical Care are not
presented with the intention to demonstrate that the use of one teaching
method in the former or latter justifies or proves the effectiveness of the
other. Rarely, the following analysis is meant to merely highlight parallels
between the two pedagogical approaches- particularly regarding the nature
of the caring student/teacher relationship-for the sake of drawing
connections between ideas that have been perceived as pedagogically
effective in the East and West.
As has been discussed, the nature of Quranic revelation was conducive
to scaffolding a people from practically non-existent moral standards to very
high ones. Similarly, children are like blank slates;
we cannot assume that they should know better, because for many things
they do not and have not been taught, so one must take their time and
caringly show them appropriate behavior. When done at a young age, such
caring instruction is like etching these values into the childs memory as an
old Arab proverb goes. A young boy, Anas, was once eating with prophet
Muhammad, but he was not doing so according to Islamic etiquette; he was
not eating from his side of the plate, but rather sticking his hand all over it.
The prophet said to him Oh, young boy (a term of endearment in the
Arabic yaa bunay!)! Say Bismillah (in the name of God), eat with your right
hand, and eat from what is directly in front of you.
The boy commented later, This remained my way of eating from that
time on (Bukhari, 5376 in USC).
Prophet Muhammad did not scold him for what he was doing wrong, but
rather immediately proceeded to simply instruct him what the correct way
was, an approach to correcting mistakes that has also been promoted by
Bailey. The effect of how Anas was taught is what made the new knowledge
stick with him and change his future behavior.
Bailey also suggests not focusing on what children are doing wrong as to
damage their selfesteem, but to rather simply tell them how they can do it
correctly. This is a much more positive approach to correcting mistakes.
Dont just say dont do this or that, but rather educate children on the
important part, what they should be doing (Bailey, 2000, pgs.55-73). Ethical
Care and the Islamic pedagogy being outlined here have promoted a
forgiving, optimistic approach to teaching children.
Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying he is not of us who does not
show mercy to our younger ones
(Abu Dawud 764 in USC). Children are very sensitive in their early years
and need sympathetic guidance that corresponds to their mental and
emotional capabilities.
The expression yaa bunay! used above is actually the same expression
that Lukman (an Abyssinian slave) uses with his son in the chapter of the
Quran named after him. Lukmans classic advice to his son combines
scaffolding/prioritizing knowledge and presenting it in a caring manner as


part of Islamic pedagogy. Lukman is praised in the Quran as having been

given great wisdom and religious understanding because he gives thanks to
God. And from the fruits of this wisdom is how he teaches his son how to
prioritize in order, Tawheed, righteousness to the parents, keeping good
company, ihsaan, prayers, commanding the good and forbidding the evil,
and then being patient if that brings him suffering. Also if one notices, Allah
mentions peoples rights over his son right after Tawheed, the bare
minimum acknowledgement of Allah needed for his actions to be accepted,
and right before even mentioning prayers and commanding good/forbidding
evil, which are two of the best acts of worship a person could practice. This
organization is beneficial in teaching students the importance of their
communitys rights over them as Allah mentioned them early in the list of
actions to highlight their significance. After performing such virtues, then
there is the fear of becoming haughty so there is the advice on how to
maintain humility-good character in sum. Allah begins the story with
Lukman telling his son: "O my son! Join not in worship others with Allah.
Verily! Joining others in worship with Allah is a great dhulm (wrong)
indeed. And We have enjoined on humankind to be dutiful and good to their
parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and
hardship, and his weaning is in two years; give thanks to Me and then to
your parents, unto Me is the final destination. But if they (the parents) strive
against you to make you associate partners with Me in worship (which you
have no knowledge of), then do not obey them, but treat them in this world
kindly, and follow the path of he who turns to Me in repentance and in
obedience. Then to Me will be your return, and I shall inform you of what
you used to do. O my son! If there be (anything) equal to the weight of a
grain of mustard seed, and though it be in a rock, or in the heavens or in the
earth, Allah will bring it forth. Verily, Allah is Subtle (in bringing out that
grain), Well-Aware (of its place).O my son! Aqim-is-Salat (perform the
prayers on time and correctly), call people to Al-Ma'ruf (Islamic
Monotheism and all that is good), and warn people from Al-Munkar
(polytheism of all kinds and all that is evil and bad), and bear with patience
whatever befalls you. Verily! These are some of the important
commandments ordered by Allah with no exemption. And turn not your
face away from men with pride, nor walk in insolence through the earth.
Verily, Allah likes not each arrogant boaster. And be moderate (or show
no insolence) in your walking, and lower your voice. Verily, the harshest of
all voices is the voice (braying) of the donkey" (Quran, 31:13-19).
To return to our topic of caring Tarbiyya, maintaining a positive
environment for a child serves to not damage their self esteem and maintain
the loving relationship between teacher and student. Also, the importance of
keeping children motivated through a caring environment seems to be
timeless because even nowadays academics such as Deborah Stipek and
Allan Wigfield have highlighted how important the classroom environment
is for maintaining motivation34 (2010, February).
On correcting mistakes in general, there are numerous cases where
prophet Muhammad stressed on explaining to people the reason why what
they were doing is wrong, and not hastening to condemn them (Bukhari,


717, 4992 & Al-Nisaai, 4999 in USC), many times offering them more
appropriate alternatives (Al-Nisaai, 1119 in USC). One bedouin man had
once urinated in a mosque, because he had not realized that it was a sacred
place and the companions of prophet Muhammad were outraged and were
going to grab him, but prophet Muhammad amazingly commanded his
companions to not even interrupt him, nor yell at him, but to simply let him
finish. Acknowledging the bedouins unrefined habits compared to the city
folk at the time, prophet Muhammad explained to him that it was
inappropriate to urinate in a mosque and had the area cleaned. After this the
Bedouin was so impressed by the prophets caring attitude to a complete
stranger that he supplicated oh God, forgive me and Muhammad and no
one else-the Bedouin made such a exclusionary prayer as a slight jab at
the companions for how they were about to react to his behavior (Zino,
1995, p.75). Prophet Muhammad customized his response in dealing with
someone who would have been at a much lower level of moral refinement
(as was Bedouins reputation) then someone from the average population in
the city. Similar to Lickona (1991, pgs.55-67), prophet Muhammad has
taught that admonishment by itself is not a true learning experience; how
proper moral conduct is taught is the essence of the message. The
companions would be seen later throughout their lives imitating these
methods from their role-model, the prophet, with their own students.
Once when some young girls were eulogizing the deaths of their fathers
in a recent battle, they started praising prophet Muhammad in a way that
was not befitting of him by saying that he knew the future. Prophet
Muhammad did not prohibit them from mourning their dead fathers, but told
them to simply remove the part which exaggerated his position. In this way,
he removed the mistake they were making, but allowed them to continue
with their eulogy (Umm Qatadah, personal correspondence, April, 2, 2010).
Accordingly, teachers should not focus on the faults of students, but be
balanced in celebrating their good behavior. Educating students on how to
do things correctly instead of complaining about what they are doing
incorrectly is an approach Bailey has suggested as well (Bailey, 2000,
pgs.55-73).Compassion is key.
One of the primary goals of case based learning as it relates to moral
education, as discussed by Lickona above (Lickona, 1991, p.47), is for
students to realize when a situation requires moral action, reflect on it, and
then act upon it. By revealing the doctrines of Islam piece by piece, there
was live explanation/application of the verses by prophet Muhammad in
front of his companions so that they could see what it actually looked like to
uphold ones covenants, maintain ties of kinship, help the poor, be humble,
etc in practice. Morals as general themes always sound wonderful, but the
true task is developing the wisdom to know how to prioritize values and
contextualize them to ones situation. Most would agree that lying is wrong
for example, but would also agree that it could be commendable if it was
going to save someones life.
In Islam, developing such a discerning nature is called having (deep
understanding) of the faith, not simply knowing the dos and donts, but
truly comprehending the principles and value system of Islam to the extent


that one is able to do the best most beloved act to God contextual to the time
and place. Prophet Muhammad described this when he stated that whoever
Allah desires good for, he gives him deep understanding of Islam and the
insight of how to apply it properly (Al-Bukhari, vol. 1, pgs.98-100).
Another hadeeth states that One faqih (one with fiqh) is more powerful
against the devil than a thousand worshippers (Berkey, 1992, p.4). The
word hikma (wisdom) could also be used as a synonym for fiqh, since
prophet Muhammad said do not envy anyone, except in two cases: a person
whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it righteously and a person
whom Allah has given hikma (deep comprehension of the Quran and
Sunnah), acts according to it, and teaches it to others (Al-Bukhari, vol. 1
pgs.98-100). Interestingly, the word hikma when combined with reference
to the Quran in a verse, is used to refer to the Sunnah in the Quran. This is
an importance of case based learning that modernist and Islamic approaches
to moral education would agree on-developing critically conscience
morality. This theme applies to all knowledge, many Muslim students in
Muslim countries memorize basic content material, but knowing when and
how to apply it is the only way such information has any benefit. Students
merely memorizing the names of virtues or how many elements are in water
will not benefit them in this life or the hereafter.

Reciprocity and Maintaining a Sincere Intention

As has been mentioned, the term Tarbiyya literally has this agricultural
connotation of caring as if one is caring for a tender plant. Herein lies the
motivation for an educator to care about their students in Islam; it is their
spiritual Islamic obligation. This motivation for caring is different from
Noddings concept of reciprocity (1984, p.74) which expects some form of
human motivation or reward for caring.
In Islam, all good deeds must be done for the pleasure of God. Prophet
Muhammad said, the reward of deeds depends upon the intentions (AlBukhari, vol. 1, 1997, pgs. 85-86). Accordingly, the attitude towards
Noddings reciprocity (1984, p.74,) in Islamic pedagogy would depend on
the form it takes. If it was initiated on the part of the student in the sense of
applying the knowledge (and the educator happens to witness this happy
growth), then this might be praiseworthy as this could be indicative of the
students sincerity (one of the two conditions for good deeds to be accepted
in Islam) in learning to become more God-conscious (assuming theres no
worldly pretentiousness about desiring to be looked up to by others or fame
involved). In this sense, the educator sees the fruits of his/her labor, which is
a possible sign of Gods acceptance of his/her deeds in Islam. The educator
can then take satisfaction in the fact that the child has not merely memorized
the content, but has rather processed it deeply and been affected by it in
some way. If this content was moral in nature, then the child has learned to
identify when moral action is needed, purified their intention to do it, and
then proceeded to consciously make a moral decision. To a teacher that
views teaching as an act of worship, this offers tremendous intrinsic reward
that they have participated in social reform as a Muslih. On the other hand,
if their reciprocity takes the form of gifts or praise for the teacher, then this
could cause possible harm to the teacher by inflating his/hers ego if he/she


attributes the outcome to themselves (and not to the mercy of God for
allowing them to achieve the good they did), possibly nullifying their deeds.
Furthermore, if the educator expects such reciprocity from the student, then
this makes their sincerity questionable from the beginning, because a
Muslim expects his reward solely from God.
In Islam, God has created humankind to worship Him and blessed them
with innumerable blessings, foremost of which is creating them; therefore,
they are obligated to reciprocate this bounty with obedience, and though He
is not required to, He has chosen to reciprocate to them paradise for their
obedience. This issue of maintaining sincerity is so crucial in Islam that one
is expected to choose their company on the basis of those who they believe
to be sincere (Quran, 18:28). If one ponders this, what would happen if
classes and schools in the Muslim world were constructed with the explicit
intention of providing environments conducive to good moral character and
not merely sorting the population into schools by their various socioeconomic brackets? This would have a profound effect on inequality if
teachers can group students together on this basis of being sincerely
committed to social change and yet everyone in the classroom comes from
all degrees of SES. This is why the teachers function as a role model is so
important. As Ibn Khaldun affirms students will often emulate their teacher
as part of learning (Halstead, 2004, p.525); hence, students can also serve as
peer role models in cooperative group tasks with other students. Creating
good company and a moral environment in the classroom minimizes the
need for repetition of the teachers efforts. An assertion Vygotsky would
wholeheartedly agree with since he acknowledges the contagious nature of
behavior between people (Goldstein, 1999, pgs.648-654). Education is a
broad endeavour, and as is being realized, it cannot be narrowly viewed
from a psychological lens. Humans are social creatures.
The aforementioned modeling of moral behavior in Islamic pedagogy is
what Lickona focused on as the first step to teachers teaching morals,
embodying them first, ridding themselves of their personal vices. Seeing
moral behavior, students can visualize what proper behavior looks like,
intend to live by it, and then actually start trying their best to do so. The
apprenticeship relationship that illustrates to students how to go through this
process is analogous to the case based learning methods that might be
utilized by Lickona-inspired educators in the classroom as mentioned
above-using daily incidents of life as teaching/learning opportunities.

Prioritizing Values Through Ones Demeanor and

In regards to values, Islam legislates very similar moral values to the
Modernist framework of Ethical Care, like honesty, cooperation,
responsibility, forgiveness, courage, self sacrifice, and discipline (Quran,
2:177). Prophet Muhammad was described by his wife Aisha as a walking
Quran (Al-Ashqar, 1985, pgs.814-815). when she was asked about his
character. He embodied a caring approach to dealing with people since
Allah had advised him about how to go about teaching people about Islam,
saying Had you been harsh and hard of heart, they would have dispersed


from around you, so pardon them for their faults, and ask Allahs
forgiveness for them, and consult with them in affairs. Then when you have
reached a decision, place your trust in Allah; surely, Allah loves those who
put their trust in Him (Quran, 3:159). Prophet Muhammad would advise
his students, the companions, similarly, saying, Allah will not show
compassion to those who do not show compassion to people (Al-Bukhari,
1997, p.59). If one understands this, then they will see why the caring
student-teacher relationship is so important to productive educational
experiences in the classroom from an Islamic perspective.
Concerning the demeanor of an educator, the aspects most repeated even
in modern day Islamic encyclopedias on raising children, are exactly the
manners and character the teacher is supposed to be teaching. Good
character is the cornerstone of Islamic pedagogy. For example in Ahmed
Mustafa Mutawalees Maosooat Al Umm fee Tarbiyyat Al Awlaad fil
Islam (Encyclopedia of Raising Children in Islam), meticulous care is
taken to highlight all the specific references in Quran and Sunnah that refer
to the ideal character of a Muslim in general for the parent/educator and
child/student: social competence (brotherhood, righteousness to the parents,
maintaining ties of kinship, righteousness to neighbors, visiting the sick,
compassion, mercy, fairness, forgiveness, generosity, and leniency) (2005,
pgs.65-168), etiquettes of seeking in-depth Islamic theological knowledge
(2005, pgs. 217-231) (interestingly shorter since pragmatic basic khuluq are
what is required, while in-depth knowledge is recommended), psychological
well-being (courage, chastity, discipline, accountability, and love) (pgs.315375), emotional well-being (love, compassion, general tips for how to deal
with children (pgs. 376- 387), health/sexual well-being/relationships
(marriage, chastity, patience, God-consciousness, good companionship,
etiquettes for maintaining love between spouses) (pgs. 393-442), and
healthy living (exercise, nutritious diets, medical issues, etc.) (pgs. 449591).
A crucial disposition that Bailey also highlights for educators (2000,
pgs.26-30,) is the importance of maintaining composure throughout the
daily opportunities for modeling morals; this is the backbone of Islamic
pedagogy. Numerous ahadeeth (pl. of hadeeth) of Prophet Muhammad
mention the importance of maintaining ones wakaar (composure) (not to
mention being from the most often repeated characteristics of the ideal
believer at the end of chapters Lukman and Al-Furqan in the Quran). One
of the most famous examples of wakaar is when a man had come to prophet
Muhammad and kept asking him to give him an invaluable piece of advice
(expecting some long complicated response) and prophet Muhammad kept
simply telling him to not get angry in two words (Muslim, 1077 in USC ).
The man had traveled a far distance to obtain some profound wisdom from
this prophet he had heard about, and the prophet told him to not get angry.
Virtue should not necessarily be judged/valued for its complexity. Truly,
how many learning opportunities are lost when educators cannot calmly
morally reflect on a situation before acting?
In order to practically maintain ones composure, one needs to always
maintain an upbeat optimistic disposition and not be flustered easily,


thereby being able to be lenient with minor occurrences of misconduct, but

able to clamp down with major infractions. Modeling prioritization of
values was seen in prophet Muhammads interaction with children like
Anas. Anas stated "I served the Prophet Mohammad (and his family) for ten
years. (During these 10 years) he never got angry with me nor asked why I
did this or didn't do that (Bukhari 418 in USC). This was the tolerance and
compassion prophet Muhammad displayed towards children since they are
still developing and learning. On many occasions prophet Muhammad
would joke caringly with Anas for example, saying you with the two ears
(Zino, 1995, p. 98). However, this was all regarding issues that were
offenses to ones person, but when it came to important matters, like insults
to the faith or religious infractions he would say things like teach your kids
to perform their prayers by the age of 7, and beat them for it (Muslims are
not allowed to hit other humans in the face or hard enough to leave a mark
unless in combat or a government official administering punishment for a
crime, etc. as explained in other ahadeeth) if they are not performing them
by the age of ten35 (Bukhari 677 in USC). Hence, the teacher is expected to
be naturally caring as part of his/her Islamic personality by default, but
has the ability to be discipline when needed.
The aforementioned is the parallel in Islam to differentiating between
moral and management demands as was expressed by Kohlberg and Selman
above (Kohlberg & Selman, 1972, p.20). One must be very lenient while
trying to help their students learn proper moral behavior-because if they
pounce on every mistake a child makes throughout the day, theyll never get
through a lesson-but they can save their emphasis for the fundamental
values they are trying to instill. Even with regular academic content, as
present day ulamaa have argued, overwhelming students with any type of
knowledge will bore them and diminish their desire to learn (Al-Shareef).
The last example I will present is regarding Lickonas use of cooperative
work to teach children how to teach and learn from each other (Lickona,
1991, p.74). Prophet Muhammad would often put up a question for
discussion when intending to teach something (Al-Bukhari, vol. 1, 1997, p.
90). There would normally be a group of companions with prophet
Muhammad throughout the day (Arabs were/are very social
historically).Once prophet Muhammad was with some companions and
asked Indeed there is a tree that does not shed its leaves, and resembles a
Muslim. So tell me, which is it?So people started discussing the trees of the
country side. Abdullah ibn Umar said I thought to myself that it was the
date palm tree, but I was shy and did not speak up (this is because he was
very young and did not want to interrupt the elders). So they asked the
messenger, tell us what it is Oh messenger of Allah. He said it is the date
palm tree. Ibn Umar mentioned to his father how he had known the
answer, who replied It would have been more beloved to me than such and
such had you said it was the date palm tree(Al-Bukhari, vol.4B, 1997,
To not go into too much detail on why the Muslim was most like the
palm tree, the general reason the ideal Muslim should resemble a date palm
tree is because all parts of it are beneficial for some use, compared to most


trees that would have been found in the Middle East at the time. What
concerns us in this comparison is that prophet Muhammad questioned them
to test their general understanding of how a Muslim should be (to get them
thinking), gave them time to discuss the issue among themselves
collectively36, and then come up with answers. He also used an illustrative
analogy to convey his point. By having different ages of people within a
group, the experience was one that highlighted the importance of developing
assertiveness in children so that they feel comfortable voicing their opinions
and feel intellectually safe to make mistakes. Independent critical thinking
followed by cooperative discussion is an excellent strategy in the
cooperative aspects of Islamic pedagogy that allows students to practice
with peers similar to them in ability and then have an educator highlight the
points of benefit that they understood or maybe missed at the end.


I will end this discussion on Islamic pedagogy with an ideal case study
that represents the concept of Ihsaan in Islam. If teachers and the students
they teach can begin to live life according to the acknowledgement that
whatever social contributions they are putting forth are an act of worship,
and they live with the sincere intention that their efforts are solely for
Allahs pleasure, they can begin to develop Ihsaan-worshipping Allah as if
they see Him, and even though they dont see Him, they live according to
the acknowledgement that He sees them. The following is known as
hadeeth Jibreel (the hadeeth of angel Gabriel); Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the
companion, narrates:
While we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah one day, a man
[Jibreel in human form] came to our gathering whose clothes were
extremely white, whose hair was extremely black, upon whom traces of
travelling could not be seen, and whom none of us knew, until he sat down
close to the Prophet, may Allah bless with him and grant him peace, so that
he rested his knees upon his knees and placed his two hands upon his thighs
and said, 'Muhammad, tell me about Islam?' The Messenger of Allah, may
Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'Islam is that you witness that
there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah,
and you establish the prayer, and you give the Zakat [obligatory charity on
assets], and you fast Ramadan [a month of the Islamic lunar calendar], and
you perform the hajj [pilgrimage] of the House if you are physically and
financially able to.' He said, 'You have told the truth,' and we were amazed
at him asking the prophet and [then] telling him that he told the truth. The
man said, 'Tell me about iman.' He said, 'That you affirm Allah, His angels,
His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and that you affirm the
Decree, the good of it and the bad of it.' He said, 'You have told the truth.'
He said, 'Tell me about ihsaan.' He said, 'That you worship Allah as if you
see Him, for if you don't see Him then truly He sees you.' the prophet
asked, 'Umar, do you know who the questioner was?' I said, 'Allah and His
Messenger know best.' He said, 'He was Jibreel who came to you to teach
you your deen37'." (Al-Bukhari, vol. 1, 1997, pgs.80-81)).
There are entire books dedicated to this hadeeth, so we will focus
specifically on the concepts dedicated to Ihsaan and the
demeanor/appearance of an educator. Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbalee, a Medieval
alim, highlighted how, by stating that angel Jibreel had just taught them
their deen, then this hadeeth is essentially inclusive of all the individual
obligatory acts a Muslim must do, citing that Islam is more directly defined
as the physical submission of a person, Iman (faith/belief) is more directly
defined as the articles of faith with the 7 conditions mentioned previously,
and Ihsaan is the highest level of worship of a person consistently always
behaving under the acknowledgement that Allah sees them, even though
they dont see Him-this last level is impossible for regular humans to
maintain indefinitely, but they are supposed to try their best to reach this
high standard (Ibn Rajab, 2007, p. 41-69). Ihsaan is actually mentioned even
as the first chapter in raising children encyclopedias like the one
mentioned above (Mutawalee, 2005, p.11) and it is one of the behaviors that


needs to be modeled the most. Ihsaan linguistically means to make

something better; one way it is used in the Quran for example is to return
bad behavior from someone with a better response (Quran, 13:22) or to
even make someone better by for example feeding them or doing some
other beneficial service for them (Mutawalee, 2005, p.11). These points
recall the image of the humble educator that was highlighted before in the
Rubbaan. In short, the ulamaa described Ihsaan as sublime manners,
increasing in importance as one goes from a broad social network that goes
all the way from the likes of plants and animals to the poor, wayfarers,
orphans, visitors, and neighbors, to ones most inner circle of spouses,
children, parents, and then of course ones relationship to Allah38
(Mutawalee 2005, pgs. 13-20). If we can raise students to live according to
such a set of priorities, then we will certainly as educators have taught them
a practical application of how to manage ones life, which is essentially the
key to success: time management. How humans use their time and prioritize
is what differentiates between the leaders and the followers, the active and
the passive, those who transform their society or are transformed by it.
Moral education is a timeless, necessary aspect of any educational
system that values social justice and coherence. By living our values, not
only do we change society individually, but as teachers we also prove to our
students that we believe in what we are teaching. In regards to how we do
that from an Islamic perspective, as has been shown here, the vehicle for
Islamic pedagogy (whether one is teaching morals or positivistic sciences)
has been the caring apprenticeship relationship between teacher and student
which presupposes the former as a role-model figure. Islamic character, or
moral education, is the focus of Islamic pedagogy upon which the studentteacher relationship is built. Moral character and the caring relationships
that stem from it are pivotal in teaching any type of knowledge. Teachers
are who they are inside and outside of school, because experiences change
people and they do not shed these experiences, for good or bad, when they
come to school. Only from these understandings can any specific teaching
methods be productive.
Through case-based learning-cases being defined as stories, analogies, or
any other clips of material-students are scaffolded through the construction
of live application opportunities (for example through group
debate/dialogue) in the classroom. But as has been highlighted, for holistic
education, the teacher as a role model is pivotal. If we dont live by what we
say, then who will care? Through such an interactive pedagogy, any form of
content knowledge being taught, theological or otherwise, can be a
transformative experience. Such a pedagogy is in dire need in the Muslim
world given the passive rote memorization methods left over from
colonization. For the Muslim world, looking far back enough in the past,
past oppressive colonial systems of education, can reveal dynamic teaching
methods that change people.
In conclusion, we have highlighted the importance of empirical and
theological knowledge in Islam and their potential for motivating educators
and students to work towards social justice. In order for teachers in Muslim
countries (like Egypt) to scaffold their students to such concepts as they


teach them a curriculum, they should teach through a culturally relevant

pedagogy. The one outlined above hopes to not only use existing analytical
frameworks to improve the quality of education, but to also employ Islamic
frames of reference to motivate an active approach to education. In this
exemplar of Islamic pedagogy, Islamic pedagogy has been shown to stress
the importance of an apprenticeship style relationship between teacher and
student. Through such a relationship, teachers can utilize Case-Based
learning to scaffold their students to higher concepts using methods such as
stories, analogies, and live application in the classroom to construct
transformative learning experiences. This concept of Islamic pedagogy has
also been found to have analogues in Western literature as well known as
Ethical Caring.
By using socio-culturally relevant frameworks in the field to apply this
concept, some form of Ethical Caring pedagogy could be promoted
globally to teach teachers how to develop pragmatic caring relationships
with their students that help both parties to grow--morally and intellectually.
Opportunities for further research within Islamic pedagogy might include a
comparison between prophet Muhammads teaching techniques with men as
opposed to women or delving more into detail in any of the concepts that
have been discussed in this paper.
The way students learn affects how they view their position in effecting
change in the world. If education becomes a mere intellectual exercise with
no pragmatic connection to real world problems, then such is a fruitless
venture. Education all over the world has massive potential to create raw
social change in society, but first we must realize it is not just what we
teach, but how it is taught.


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1The Muslim ummah refers to the Islamic belief that all humans born after prophet
Muhammads birth are considered from the ummah of Muhammad in general (ummat Al
dawa or invitation), but those who choose to believe and follow him are the more specific
ummat Al ijaaba (ummah of those who responded), who we would call Muslims today.
Muslims believe in all the prophets (ie: Adam, Abraham, Jesus, Muhammad, etc.) in the
sense that they all originally came with the same central message of Tawheed (worshipping
only One God), but different branches/details (how to pray, etc.) contextual to their
time/location; each prophet had their own branches for their particular ummah (the
ummah of the Jews, of the Christians, etc.). Prophet Muhammad is believed to be the seal
of the prophets from his time till judgment day for the entire world. Differences between
the three monotheistic religions over even the central meaning of Tawheed today (the status
of Jesus being more than a prophet, etc.) are believed to be due to tampering/alterations of
the older scriptures by various theologians and others throughout history. For a fuller
discussion, see Dr. Umar Ashqars Belief in Allah.
2- See Paulo Frieres Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2003)
3- For the often underplayed details of U.S foreign policy see Howard Zinns
Peoples History of the World or William Blums Rogue State: A Guide to the Worlds
Only Superpower.
4- Some academics label the 18th and 19th centuries the traditional period of the
Muslim world, thereby, dismissing much of pre-Western Enlightenment history as of
negligible significance (Bray, 2007). (Noddings, 1984, p.74).
5- I am purposely using academics to refer to Western scholars affiliated with
universities and academia to differentiate them from Islamic Studies scholars/theologians
(university related or otherwise) in the Muslim world who will be referred to as ulamaa (sg:
6- These ulamaa who tried to incorporate Greek philosophy into Islam as early as the
9th century, are known for placing their own reasoning over textual proofs. They include
scholars such as Al-Ghazaali, Al-Razi, and Ibn Rushd; some of them took on W.
philosophy as their own substitute belief system, such as Ibn Sina and Ibn Arabi. Ahl AlKalaam, philosophers, and Sufis are usually the few ulamaa deemed worthy of mention in
Western academia) for obvious reasons (Halstead, 2004). Fazlur Rahman and others
(Afsaruddin, 2005) go as far as to translate Mutakallimun (derivative of Ahl Al-Kalaam)
and Kalaam as Muslim theologians and theology respectively, thereby delegitimizing all
mainstream academic scholarship of Ahl Al-Sunnah over the last roughly 1400 years.
7- Muslims are encouraged to say peace be upon him at least once the first time
they mention prophet Muhammads name in a gathering or paper, etc.
8- Modern Modernists include Egypts Syed Tantawi who considered building a
gigantic wall on the Egyptian border to effectively imprison Palestinians in Gaza and cut
off their aid supplies a religious obligation (Suleiman, 2010).
9- The most common strategy of Westernizing Islam has been a conscious attempt,
particularly over the last half century, to delegitimize the Sunnah of prophet Muhammad
and his companions by various methods, like portraying it as a sort of cultural baggage left
over from the pre-Islamic era. An example is seen in Hallaqs The Origins and Evolution of
Islamic Law. Hallaq ignores any reference to tens of early works on Hadeeth, Fiqh, and
Rijaal to purportedly claim that a Qadi (lit: judge who rules by Quran and Sunnah) in
early Islam did not have to know the Quran and Sunnah or that Quranic legislation
evolved since the prohibition/punishment on/for drinking alcohol was not applied to
Tilaa (a Middle Eastern fruit drink)-which is not technically alcohol (khamr) according to
Islamic jurisprudence (Nadwi, 2005).
10- Even Seyyed Hossein Nasr (a Sufi Modernist affiliate himself of IIIT, which is a
mildly Modernist institution) notes, the prejudices that have marred the study of Islam in
the West since the time of Peter the Venerable, when the Quran was first rendered into
Latin and even beforehand, must finally be overcome if in-depth
11- The a priori suppositions of the Modernistic lens are at least acknowledged in
some of the work of academics such as Mohammad Akram Nadwi, Sherman Jackson, Talal
Asad and Sabaa Mahmood. Mahmood praises how Asad for example highlights how the


power of Western forms of knowledge lies not only in their ability to re-present social
reality but also to intervene and remake non-Western traditions, practices, and institutions,
[hoping to transform] what it means to live as a Muslim subject in the modern world
(Nyang, Ahmed, and Bukhari, 2009, p.11).
12- Nasr ironically notes, in many of the major centers of Middle Eastern studies,
everything is taught seriously except Islam itself. One sees often in such centers numerous
courses on history, anthropology, languages, sociology, political science, and similar
subjects pertaining to the Islamic world, but little in-depth study of Islam as the religion
There is no greater source of distortion than applying the secularist perspective of the past
few centuries in the West to a religion and civilization where it does not apply. (Nasr,
2009, pgs.19, 23).
13- Such political initiatives are highly motivated by modern attempts to spread
Western culture in the Muslim world through various methods like increasing
secularization of Muslim societies and advocating Western gender roles (Kincheloe and
Steinberg,, 2004, pgs.44-47, 161-163). One author went so far as to twist the words (relying
on an average readers ignorance of Arabic syntax and morphology) of 18th century Islamic
revivalist Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab to re-present some of his statements regarding the
rights of women as supportive of current Western conceptions of female gender roles.
Many references link to page numbers that dont even exist in the original work (see
Delong-bass Wahhabi Islam: From Revival to Reform, 2004)!
14- A common myth, which depends on absolute ignorance of the existence of Arabic
resources to refer back to, but nonetheless is mind-numbingly recycled (either explicitly or
implicitly by ignoring roughly 1400 years of Islamic scholarship that entails otherwise) is
that these aforementioned sects were the most important in Islamic history and then
somehow magically with the advent of Muslims like Abdul Wahhab in the 18th century and
Sayyid Qutb in the 20th, Islam evolved political/economic aspects. In reality, Islam has
always been practiced as a social way of life in the Muslim world up until colonization
when most aspects were effectively secularized (see History of Islam by Akbar Shah
Najeebabadi). The false notion that such revivers or reformers were bringing something
new is simply because they tried to reincorporate such aspects during/after colonization,
blasphemy to Western academia which believes that the world was created in the European
15- By no means do I intend here that Islam is now, or was ever in the past, something
with absolutely no variables. Islam, since the Qurans first verses were revealed had
variables like the different forms of recitation revealed to prophet Muhammad according to
the different dialects spoken in Arabia at the time (Martin 34, 1985). Sharia, or Islamic
Law- which is mostly a guideline for a set of objectives-only has certain constants that
dont change with time; Fiqh however, or Islamic jurisprudence, can vary depending on the
context (it gives very specific commands/prohibitions, etc.) . But, a macro level analysis of
Islamic theology will reveal about 70% of jurisprudence issues are agreed upon (and minor
issues like where to place ones hands during prayer or whether hijab should include the
face and hands or not are not pillars of Islam in the first place), because they are all due to
slightly different understandings of the Quran and Sunnah based on proof, not mere
opinion (see The Evolution of Fiqh by Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips). On the other hand, the
Modernist movements attempts to reform Islam, attack fundamental principles and
constants of the faith derived from the Quran and Sunnah that dont change with time and
are supported by about 1400 years of scholarship based on sciences which Modernists dont
even acknowledge. Without
16- The Quran is believed to be the literal speech of Allah which can not be literally
translated due to its divine origin (something will always be lost in translation); hence, any
translation is a human attempt to convey the meaning as closely as possible (Ibrahim, 1997,
p. 54). This is why I, in agreement with mainstream Islamic scholarship, have referred to
translated verses as what means here, to highlight this issue, but will refrain from
doing so the rest of the paper for space.
17- What it means to be truthful (sideeq) to Allah is a wide topic, but it can most
simply be explained as steadfastness in being sincere to Allah in all ones actions by
consistently doing the most pleasing thing to Allah particular to a time and location (see AlAfanis Al-Ikhlaas: Tateer Al-anfaas min hadeethil Ikhlaas).


18- Masculine pronouns such as him or he used in revelation are the default gender
used but applies to both men and women unless there is evidence to the contrary on the
issue in the Quran or Sunnah.
19- Knowledge of the testimony of faith (or shahada) is 1 of the 7 conditions
mentioned in the Qur'an needed for this shahada to be accepted, like absolute certainty in it,
sincerity to it in 1's actions, being truthful to it, love, meaning not loving any of creation
more than Allah and his messenger, full submission, and complete acceptance of every part
of the religion as it was revealed (Al-Jabiri, 1995).
20- Tafsir (exegesis) ulamaa are essentially the companions of prophet Muhammad
(since they had the Quran directly taught to them from prophet Muhammad), so all later
Tafsir Ulamaa essentially did was to use their narrations as a basis and expound upon them
in regard to whatever aspect of Tafsir they were elaborating on in their work (ie:
grammatical, historical, derivation of laws, etc.).
21- See Al Wajiz fi Sharh Al Qawaid Al Fiqhiyah by Abdul Karim Zaidan for a
concise summary of the principles of Islamic jurisprudence (Usool Al-Fiqh).
22- Interestingly however, there were many books on how to seek knowledge in
treatises often called something to the effect of The Book of Knowledge(Zaid, p.75).
23- Although excellent in medicine and other empirical sciences, his writings, which
challenged the Quran and claimed it had to be verified with reason (like some of his
counterparts, Al-Farabi, Al-Arabi,etc.) have caused some ulamaa to declare such
philosophers outside the fold of Islam. It is ironic that many of the ulamaa acknowledged
and celebrated in the West were not technically considered Muslim in much of the Muslim
world (Halstead, 2004, p. 518).
24- Women had a tremendous role as ulamaa in Islamic history, but within the
guidelines of Islamic gender roles and appropriate conduct between the sexes (segregation,
etc.) (Nadwi, 2007), contrary to the revisionist history of Modern women imposed by
some Western academics (Afsaruddin, 2005, pgs.164-165). Nadwis work is actually just
the preface to an Arabic 40 volume biographical dictionary of women ulamaa).
25- Plus the Quran uses classical Arabic vocabulary, syntax, and morphology,
different from those of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which are needed to grasp the
deeper meanings of Quranwhich are rarely taught outside of Arabic Studies departments
these days.
26- For the effects of this in Egypt see Civil Society Exposed: The Politics of NGOs in
Egypt (Abdelrahman, 2004, pgs. 17, 85, 102-107).
27- Allah explains many times in the Quran, that from His wisdom is that He created
everything in pairs-male/female, day/night, good/bad, etc. For example as will be seen in
chapter Iqraa, if humans, even the pious, begin to feel selfsufficient, then they will
transgress the bounds, oppressing themselves and others.
28- creatures made from a gaseous substance, from the Ghayb; the species that Satan
comes from, but they can choose obedience or disobedience like humans.
29- The Quran describes the stages of the embryonic process in certain places (like
23:12-14) which describes how the embryo matures from a nutfa (drop of semen) to the
described alaqah stage above to the mudghah (chewed substance appearance referring to
the somites at the back of the embryo (when it becomes like
30- Before revelation there was no formal form of prayer revealed yet for the Muslim
ummah so prophet Muhammad would seclude himself in the cave to meditate about the
greatness of Allah (Al-Ashqar, 1985, pgs.814-815).
31- The Quran mentions that one of the wisdoms behind choosing an unlettered
prophet for the revelation was so no one could accuse him of writing it himself (Qarnee,
2000, p. 115). In fact if he were to write it himself, it wouldnt be in his interest to write a
verse saying that God teaches with the pen since it was common knowledge among prophet
Muhammads tribe that he was illiterate (Al-Ashqar, 1985, pgs.814-815).
32- Deen is the closet word to religion in the Quran. With secularism in the Arab
world, the word has also taken on the meaning of religion in Modern Standard Arabic.
33- They cite how children are overconfident about themselves from the ages of 4-7,
when key characteristics of classroom environment are flexible grouping, evaluation
through skill mastery on report cards not grades, work is displayed, small group instruction,


differentiated tasks, and mistakes are valued. All of this disappears as they grow, and so
does motivation.
34- Not praying the 5 daily prayers is disbelief in Islam, hence the more severe tone;
there is some difference of opinion among theologians if one is considered a disbeliever by
abandoning them in general or out of laziness while still believing in their obligatory nature
(Ibn Rajab, 2007).
35- Ibn Sina has highly stressed the importance of students having good company in
their learning experiences as well (Gunther, 2006, p.380).
36- As a side note, the ulamaa have commented how this hadeeth shows the
desirability of creating opportunities for students to experience live dialogues (through for
example guest speakers), the importance of an educator maintaining a pleasing
appearance,(similar to how Jibreel came in this hadeeth), the close proximity in which the
learning took place between Jibreel and the prophet, and how a group of students (the
companions) should be as a family who miss each other upon each others absence and stay
abreast of each others affairs (Ibn Rajab, 2007, p. 41-69).
37- For an interesting glimpse at how the concept of Ihsaan would work in developing
grassroots educational initiatives through what Iqbal Quadir would describe as a network
effect (of the people, by the people and for the people) (Quadir, 2005), see the story of
Dhul Qarnain in the Quran, a powerful righteous ruler who historically ruled most of the
earth and his assistance of the weak in giving them greater than what they needed, but
making them assist in the effort themselves (Quran, 18:83-98; Ibn Kathir, vol. 6, 2000,
pgs. 203-209). People maintain what they work and sweat to accomplish.


Mohammed Sabrin is 25 years old at the age of this work. He was born
in Cairo, Egypt to Egyptian parents and has lived in the U.S since about the
age of six. He completed his undergraduate education at The University of
Delaware majoring in English with a concentration in Ethnic and Cultural
Studies. It is during this time that he developed his deeper interest in
education and how it relates to social change due to his experience with
postcolonial literature. He is now completing his Masters in Educational
Leadership and Policy Studies with a focus of Socio-cultural International
Development Education Studies (SIDES) at Florida State University. He
hopes to continue his graduate studies during his PhD focusing on the
empirical side of pedagogy with an intent to be an Education professor in
Egypt. He also aims to develop Early Childhood Education institutions
corresponding with his immediate interest of improving the quality of ECE
in Egypt. His professional teaching experience includes working with
various underprivileged Latin American and African-American
communities academic enrichment programs in the U.S. and being a
Graduate Assistant for the SIDES program at Florida State University. He
is a stern believer in holistic education that transforms individuals and
offers pragmatic solutions to societal dilemmas.
And Allah Is The Most High And Knows Best.