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AHistoryoftheMuslimEducationSystem

Thegoalofthisresearchpaperistoprovideadetailedanalysisoftheevolutionoftheeducation
systeminIslam.RatherthanjustpresentthecolorfulhistoryofIslamiceducationinastrictly
chronologicalfashion,thisresearchpaperpullsfromsourcesthatalsoconcernthemselveswith,
whatonesourcereferstoas,ahistoryofsocialphenomena.Bylookingattheevolutionof
educationinIslamthroughbothachronologicalandanthropologicallenswearegivenamore
completeviewoftheeducationsystemasawholeandhowitdiffersfromnonmuslimsystems.
AsAmjadM.Hussainpointsoutinhiswork,ASocialHistoryofEducationintheMuslim
World.FromthePropheticEratoOttomanTimes,Theappropriatewayofeducationinthe
WesterncivilizationisbasedonPlatosoitsnotderivedfromdivinerevelation,itsbasedon
philosophy,ontheloveof(human)wisdom.TheMuslimeducationsystemisrootedentirelyin
thedivine.TheQuranrepeatedlypushesMuslimstopursueknowledgebecauseknowledge
bringsoneclosertoGod.Thisresearchpaperwillperiodicallydelveintospecificquranic
scripturestohighlightthisfundamentaldifferencebetweenthehumancentricWesterneducation
andthedivinelycentricMuslimeducation.
BycombiningspecifictermsmentionedintheQuranwiththosementionedinthehadith,onecan
moreeasilydefinetheroleofeducationfromtheIslamicperspective.FromtheQuranwegetthe
Arabictermstarbiyahandtalim.Tarbiyahessentiallytranslatestofosteringgrowthand
referstotheideathatpursuingeducationisanappropriatemethodofadministeringnurturement
anddevelopment.Talimisderivedfromtherootalimameaningtobeinformed/toperceive
anditdealswiththereceivingorimpartingofknowledgeviatrainingorteaching.OneArabic
termtadib,mentionedinthehadith,comesfromtherootwordadubameaningrefinedor
cultured.Tadibessentiallyreferstotheprocessofcharacterdevelopmentandcarriesmoreofa
moralisticconnotation.Onthemicrolevel,tadibdealswithonessocialbehaviorwithina
personalcommunity.Onamacrolevel,tadibalsoextendsitsreachtorefertoonesbehavior
withinsocietyasawhole.Sowhatistherelationshipbetweenthesethreeterms?OneIslamic
contemporaryphilosopherbythenameofSyedMuhammadNaquibalAttasdescribeshowhe
thinksthatthetermstalimandtarbiyahareincapableofconveyingthetruemeaningsof
education.Hedescribestadibashavingahigherlevelofabstractionthantarbiyahandtalim.In
otherwords,tadibencompassestheimportanceofbothtalimandtarbiyahandholdsadeeper
meaningthansoleinstructionortraining.AlAttasphilosophyconcerningeducationdraws
attentiontoindividualdevelopmentwhileemphasisingthesocialityofachievingsaid
developement.CriticsofalAttasphilosophyscrutinizethefactthattadibanditsetymological
contextdonotappearintheQuranwhatsoever.Furthermore,thesesamecriticsarguethatwhile
tadibmayconcernethicalandsocialeducationalaspects,itdoesnotnecessarilyincludespecific
instructioninthesciences.Therestofthisresearchpaperwillprovideadeeperlookatthis
dichotomy,takingchronologicaldatafromthetimeofMuhammadscreationoftheMosquein
MedinaleadinguptopresentdayIslam,andsupplementingthisdatawithsocialcontext.
ThepursuitofknowledgeandcallofcogitationarerecurrentIslamicthemesthatlayat
therootofavarietyofQuranicscriptures.OnethingabouttheQuranisthatwordsofhigh
importancearerepeatedagreatamountthroughoutthetext.Itsalmostawayofembedding

certainconceptsinthemindsofitsreaders.Someprimeexamplesofthispertaintowordslike
Allah,whichisrepeated2,800times,thewordRab(theSustainer)repeated950times,andthe
wordllm(knowledge)repeated750times.Muslimrulerssawtherepetitionasasignof
importanceandthusheldheavyemphasisoneducatingthegeneralpopulouswiththis
information.Anotherexampleofacommonlyrepeatedwordistheveryfirstwordofthevery
firstrevelationtoMuhammad,Iqra.Iqraisacommandforlearningthatsystematicallyshows
upthroughoutboththeQuranandtheprophetMohammedsteachings.Iqrareallyhighlightsthe
importanceofacompulsoryeducation.Theideabehindthecompulsoryeducationisthatno
personshouldmissoutonlearningopportunities.ItiswrittenthattheprophetMohammedwas
knowntomakespecialteachingsessionsforthewomenofMedinawhocouldnotattendthe
normaleducationalsessionsattheMosqueduetofamily/domesticresponsibilities.TheQuran
evencallstoeducateslavegirls,whodidnothaveaccesstopropereducation.Thereareplenty
ofversesthatcanbepulledfromtheQurantoexemplifythisideology,forinstance:TheSay
[untothem,OMuhammad]:Canthosewhoknowandthosewhodonotknowbedeemedequal?
Butonlythosewhoareendowedwithinsightwillkeepthisinmind(Quran39:9).Another
examplewiththesameencompassingmessageisthefollowing:AndHehassubjectedtoyou,
[asagift]fromHim,allthatisintheheavensandontheearth:behold,inthataremessages
indeedforpeoplewhothink.(Qur'an45:13).Elementaryeducationbecameclosetouniversal
amongsttheMuslimpopulous.
Theonlywaytocastsuchanallencompassingeducationalnetthoughistohaveaconcrete
locationthatallcangotoandlearnat.Suchaconcreteandconsistentlocationcameintheform
oftheMosque.TheconceptforthemosqueoriginatedduringthelifeofMuhammadafterhe
builtthefirstmosqueduringhispriesthoodinMedina.Mosquestookonaverydynamicrole
withinthecommunity,servingasaplaceforworshipaswellasfunctioningasapoliticaland
socialhub.Muhammadwoulddeliveraddressesfromthemosquesandmeetwithbothfollowers
andemissaries.Beingthedynamiccentrethatitwas,itisnosurprisethatmosqueswerealso
usedasplacesofeducation.Bothreligiousandworldlysciencesweretaughtatthemosque.Itis
veryeasytoseetheimportancethatmosquesplayedinthelivesofMuslims.Themosque
playedahugepartinthespreadofIslamaswell.Tothisdaythemosqueisasymbolof
educationinthemuslimworld.Oneofthereasonsmuslimsciencesthrivedthroughoutcertain
pointsinhistoryisduetothefactthatwhereverIslamtookhold,mosqueswouldbebuiltand
educationwouldtakeroot.Oncetakingholdinacommunity,thesemosqueswouldflourish
intowellestablishedinstitutionsoflearning.Dependingontheareaestablishedin,these
mosquescouldsupporthundredstothousandsofregularattendingstudents.Thisalsomeantthat
theywereoftenequippedwithvastlibraries.Examplesofsomeofthemoreprominentlibraries
arethemosquesinDamascus,Medina,andCairo.Thefirstoftheseschoolstoformwasthe
schoolinMedina.TheschoolinMedinawasformedaround653CEwithDamascusschool
formingaround744CE.Sincelearningreligiousritualswasanimportantskilltohavefroman
earlyage,childrenusuallybeganschoolingaroundfiveyearsold.Intheseearlystagesof
educationtheywouldhavebeentaughttoperformbasicSalahaswellasrecitationoftheQuran.
Duringtheformationoftheseschoolsmuslimprimarystudentsweretaughttowriteandread
Arabic.Nowadaysthough,whileitiscommonformuslimstudentstoknowhowtorecitethe
Quran,theyarentnecessarilytaughttheskillstoabletoreadorwriteintheArabiclanguage.

Thereareplentyofexamplesthatshowhowthelessonsbeingtaughttothestudentswenthand
inhandwithaspectsofthereligion.Forinstance,studentsweretaughtbasicarithmeticsothat
theywouldbeabletomaketheappropriatecalculationspertainingtotheZakatorcharity.If
studentswereseekinghigherormoreadvancededucationtheycouldseekoutlargerMosques
withmoreresources.AlotofprominentMuslimuniversitiesformedfromMosquesthatwere
verywellattendedorheldsomelevelofprestige.TheArabicwordJamiameansuniversity.
ThiswordisderivedfromtheArabicwordforMosque,Jami.Oneofthemostfamous
muslimlearninginstitutionshastobetheworldfamousAlAzharUniversityasitistheoldest
universityintheworld.Itcameintoexistenceroughlyaround969CE.Evennowinthisdayand
ageAlAzharishometooverahundredthousandstudents.TheUniversityofAlKaraouinein
Fez,Moroccoistheoldestdegreegrantinguniversityintheentireworldhavingbeenfoundedin
859CE.
ThegreatfervorwithwhichMuslimcommunitiessoughtuniversaleducationwaswithouta
doubtahugefactorinthebringingonoftheIslamicGoldenAge.TheIslamicGoldenAge
traditionallydatesfromthemiddleoftheseventhcenturytothemiddleofthe13thcentury.
DuringthistimeMuslimrulersmanagedtobuildoneofthelargestempiresinthehistoryofthe
world.TheIslamicGoldenAgegaverisetosomeofthebrightestphilosophers,geographers,
engineers,scholars,artists,andtraders.Thesegreatmindshelpedtocontributetohugeadvances
inarts,industry,law,agriculture,economics,literature,technology,medicine,sciences,
navigation,andaplethoraofotherfields.Itsasifallthesebeautifulmindswerethrivingoffof
eachotherssuccessesandcontributionstotheirrespectivefields.Educationwasboththefuel
andtheflamefortheconstantinnovation.ThesuccessesoftheIslamicGoldenAgecanbe
tracedbacktotheemphasisthattheQuranplacesonthepursuitofknowledge.TheQuransays
somethingalongthelinesof:Thescholarsinkismoresacredthanthebloodofthemartyrs.
DuringthistimeperiodtheHouseofWisdomwasestablishedinthecityofBaghdad.The
HouseofWisdomwasaplacewherebothMuslimandnonMuslimscholarswouldmeetto
collect,analyze,andtranslatethevastamountsofknowledgethattheyheldintoArabic.This
wasknownasthefirstTranslationmovementanditisthereasonthatwehaveabulkofthetexts
thatwehavetoday.Therewerecountlessancientworksandtextsthatwouldhaveabsolutely
beenlosttotheworldhadtheynotbeentranslatedtoArabicduringthistheperiod.Eventually
thesetextsthatweretranslatedtoArabicwouldalsobetranslatedtoTurkish,Sindhi,Persian,
Hebrew,andthankfullyforthewesternworld:Latin.Someoftheliteraryandscientificworks
thatMuslimscholarstranslatedintoArabicduringtheIslamicGoldenAgewereoriginallyfrom
ancientcivilizationslikeMesopotamia,India,China,Rome,AncientEgypt,NorthAfrica,
AncientGreece,andeventheByzantineempire.Greatattemptstopreserveknowledgelikethe
onemadeinBaghdadattheHouseofWisdomwerealsobeingmadeatcountlessother
prominentMuslimuniversities.Thiscreatedavastnetworkofcitieswithphenomenal
collectionsofwrittentextsandmanuscripts.Muchoftheinnovationstemmedfromthefactthat
theIslamicEmpirewasatrueculturalmeltingpot.Itunitedtogethergroupsofpeoplesranging
fromtheIndians,Africans,Chinese,MiddleEast,andevenwhiteEuropeans.Oneofthebiggest
innovationsthatcamefromtheIslamicGoldenAgewastheinventionofaneasytoproduce
paper.BeforethistimethesecretofpaperwasheldcloselybytheChinese.Andrightlyso,the
abilitytomassproducepaperwasanabsolutelycrucialelementtotheculturalandscientific

boomthattheIslamicEmpireproduced.HowdidtheMuslimsobtainthissecretpapermaking
processfromtheChinese?IthappenedwhenIslamicmightpressuredprisonerstakenatThe
BattleofTalasin751AD.Thenewfoundskillquicklyspreadthroughthealreadygrowing
IslamicEmpireactingasyetanothercatalystforgrowth.AfterperfectingtheChinese
papermakingmethod,librariesandbooksbegantospreadallovertheEasternWorldand
eventuallyWesternWorld.
OneimportantaspectoftheIslamicEmpirethatfosteredsomucheducationanddevelopment
wasthefactthattheIslamicholycityofMeccaheldacrucialroleasthecenteroftrade
throughoutArabia.Thisisimportantbecauseitbroughtdifferenttrades,products,skills,and
waysofthinkingfromallovertheMiddleEasttoonecentrallocation.ThepilgrimagetoMecca
alsoplayedahugeroleinthecityspositionasacenterforgrowthandinnovation.Meccas
positionasamerchanttradingpowerhousewasanabsolutelyenormousbenefitfortheIslamic
Empire.Thetightholdonthetraderoutesledtounheardofeconomicgrowthandprosperity.
ThisinturnincreasedtheoverallproductivenessoftheEmpire.Thewealthymerchantsused
theirvaststoresofmoneytoinvestinsuchindustriesastextilesandfarmingplantations.
TheIslamicGoldenAgewasbothaproductof,andaplatformforgrowthfortheMuslim
educationsystem.Asignificantamountoftheinstitutionsthatwetakeforgrantedtodayonly
existinourmodernworldasaresultofthemonumentalscientificandculturalstridesmadeby
thosemindscomingoutofMuslimuniversities.Afewexamplesoftheseinstitutionsareas
follows:thehospital,thepubliclibrary,thespaceobservatory,andmuchmore.Itshardtoeven
quantifytheimpactthattheIslamiceducationsystemhadonthefieldofmedicine.Thevery
firsteducationalinstitutionstoissuediplomaswerethemedicaluniversityhospitalsofthe
medievalIslamicworld.ThesuccessofmedicaleducationintheMuslimworldcanbehighly
attributedtothelegitimacyoftheMedicaltrainingatthetime.MedicalstudiesatMuslim
institutionsrequiredtraininginthefieldsofpharmacognosy,physiology,alchemy,andmuch
more.Theseinitialstudieswerefollowedbyintenseclinicaltrainingandfieldworkinactive
hospitals.Whiletrainingatthesehospitals,medicalstudentsperformedawidevarietyoftraining
activitiessuchassimplephysicalexaminations,basicrounds,andlecturesonawidevarietyof
importantclinicaltopics.Ifstudentsaresuccessfulintheircompletionofallpriortrainingthan
thesoontobedoctorshadtopassrigorousoral,written,andpracticalteststoreceiveanysortof
licensing.IntypicalIslamicfashion,Medicinewasnotjustafieldofphysicalsciencerathera
combinationofphilosophicalperceptionsrootedinthereligionandcultureofMuslimsociety.It
isforthisreasonthatadheringtoanagreeduponcodeofethicswasnecessaryforhopeful
doctors.Onenaturalmutualevolutionthatgrewwithmedicaltrainingwasthegrowthand
improvementofmedicalfacilitiesandinpatienttreatment.Muslimehospitalswerethefinestin
theworldandwereknownfarandwidefortheirlackofanysortofdiscrimination.Noethnicor
genderbasedbiaseswereallowedtointerferewithapatient'saccesstothebesthealthcareinthe
world.
Likenearlyeveryothersuccessthatthemuslimworldproduced,thespreadofmodernmedicine
canbetracedbacktoQuranicscripture.TheProphetMuhammadwasaproponentofmedical
researchsayingthatForeverydisease,Allahhasgivenacure.Followingsuchteachingsfueled

Arabscientists,scholars,anddoctorstopouroverancientmedicalmanuscriptsandelaborate
uponandimproveontheirmethodologies,documentingeverystepoftheway.Theremainderof
thissectionwillhighlightspecificMuslimmedicalpioneersasmentionedbyMatthewEFalagas
inhisarticleentitledArabScienceintheGoldenAgeandToday.Thisarticlewasfeaturedin
TheJournaloftheFederationofAmericanSocietiesforExperimentalBiology.Hereareafewof
themostwellknownMedicalinnovatorsmentionedbyFalagas:AbuBakrMuhammadibn
ZakariyyaarRaziwasthefirsttodifferentiatesmallpoxfrommeasles.Healsodescribedthe
laryngealbranchoftherecurrentnerveaswellasintroducemercurialointmentsandhotmoist
compressesinSurgery.Andifthatisnotenough,arRaziwroteafamous30volumemedical
encyclopediaknownastheAlHawi.AnotherscientistYuhannaibnMasawayhwasthefirstto
performdissectionsanddescribeallergies.AzZahrawiiscommonlyreferredtoasthefatherof
surgery.Heperformedtracheotomiesandlithotomies,introducedcottonintomedicalsurgeries
andpractices,documentedtwinpregnancies,breastcancer,andsexuallytransmitteddiseases.
AnotherMedicalpioneerbythenameofIbnSinaheldhonorsfordifferentiatingmeningitisfrom
ahostofotherneurologicaldiseases,hedescribedanddocumentedAnthraxandTuberculosis,
introducedurethraldruginstillation,stressedtheimportanceofhygiene,dietetics,andhe
introducedaholisticapproachtomedicine.ProbablyIbnSinasgreatestaccomplishmentishis
productionofthemedicaltextbookalQanunfilTibb,alsoknownasTheCanonofMedicine.
Thistextbookremainedasthetopmedicaltextbookforover500years.Thatisanunprecedented
amountoftimeforascientifictextualworkorbooktoremainrelevantandstateoftheart.
Overall,thecollectiveworkofMuslimscientists,scholars,anddoctors,theIslamicGoldenAge
contributedimmenselyinallmedicalfieldsrangingfromdentistry,anatomy,dietetics,surgery,
hygiene,anaesthesia,cardiology,orthopaedics,urology,obstetrics,neurology,ophthalmology,
andmanymoresubfieldsofMedicine.
Asclearlylaidoutinprevioussectionsofthisresearchpaper,advancesinmedicalscienceswere
farfromtheonlyfieldsaffectedbythesuccessesofMuslimeducationalprogressiveness.The
stridesmadeinthefieldsofmathematicsandastronomywereequallyimpressiveandvastly
importanttotheknowledgethatourscientistsknowandaccepttoday.Onefineexampleofa
muslimscholarrevolutionizingthesciencesofhistimeisAlKhwarizmi.AlKhwarizmiwasa
9thcenturyMuslimmathematician,geographer,andastronomer.Amonghismanydiscoveries
werethenumber0,thedisciplineofAlgebra,thedevelopmentofthedecimalsystem,andmuch
more.AlKhwarizmisnameiseventheetymologicalbackgroundforthewordalgorithm.Other
scientificbreakthroughstocomefromtheMuslimeducationsystemwereproductsofscientists
likeJabirIbnHayyanwhoisthefatherofchemistry,orAlKindiwhodiscoveredthescienceof
cryptanalysis,orAlRhaziwhowrotethefirstrecipeforsoap.OtherscientistsincludeIbnAl
Haythamwhomadehugecontributionstothefieldofoptics,orAlBiruniwhoisthoughtofas
thecreatoroftrigonometry,orAlIdrisiwhocreatedthefirstglobe.Thelistcouldspanhundreds
ofpagesitselfbutothercontributionsbymuslimscholarsincludedthemechanicalclock,the
discoveryofcirculatingblood,andtheflyingofthefirstmannedrocket.Whilesendingaman
intospacewasstillquiteawhileaway,discoveriesmadebyMuslimastronomersdidmorethan
pavethewayforthescientiststhatdidputmankindintospace.WhydidMuslimscholarshave
anobsessionwiththenightsky?ItislikelytiedtothewonderandawethattheQurancreates
surroundingthetopicoftheheavens.ThefollowingexcerptsofQuranicScriptureshould

providebackingforthisclaim.Scripture21:33saysthat:ItisHewhocreatedtheNightandthe
Day,andtheSunandtheMoon:allcelestialbodiesswimalong,eachinitsorbit.Another
passagedescribesthefollowing:GodistheOnewhohassetoutforyouthestars,thatyoumay
guideyourselvesbythemthroughthedarknessofthelandandofthesea.Wehavedetailedthe
signsforpeoplewhoknow.(Quran6:97).OneversethatIfoundparticularlyinterestingcome
from(Quran55:5).ThisversesaythatTheSunandtheMoonfollowcoursescomputed.One
versethatreallytiestogetherthescientificreasonwithreligiousmystiquecomesfromtheQuran
verse2:164.Thisversestatesthefollowing:
Verily,inthecreationoftheheavensandoftheearth,andthesuccessionofnightand
day;andintheshipsthatspeedthroughtheseawithwhatisusefultoman;andinthe
waterswhichGodsendsdownfromthesky,givinglifetherebytotheearthafterithad
beenlifeless,andcausingallmanneroflivingcreaturestomultiplythereon;andinthe
changeofthewinds,andthecloudsthatruntheirappointedcoursesbetweenskyand
earth;(inallthis)therearemessagesindeedforpeoplewhousetheirreason.
WhatsimportantabouttheseparticularscripturesisthesamethingthatbridgesallMuslim
sciencesbacktothereligion.theimportanceisthatunderthesescientificphenomenathatare
beingproducedbythisthrivingcivilizationliesaninstinctivesystemthatIslamencourages
followerstoexplore.Forinstance,Islamicinterestinastronomycamefromtheneedtobeableto
accuratelytellthetimeofdaysothatonecandoeachofthefiveprayersintime.Anotherreason
isthatMuslimspraytowardsMeccasotheyneedtoknowhowtolocateitsdirectionusingthe
sky.Lastly,itwasveryimportantthatMuslimscankeeptrackofthelunarcalendarsothatthey
knowwhentofastforRamadan,attendtheHajj,andcelebrateothervariousIslamicholidays.
Allinall,Muslimastronomersmadehugecontributionstothefieldofastronomy.Duringthe
GoldenAgeover3,000starsweregivenArabicnamesasitwastheprominentlanguageinthe
land.Muslimastronomyfurthermoregaveusmethodsofcalculatingtime,measuringmonths,
navigatingtheseas,andlocatingcoordinates.Itissadthatalotofthisinformationisleftoutof
Westerntextbooksandlosttomostgenerationsofyouthfulwesternminds.
AftertheAbbasidCaliphatewasdisintegrated,theSeljukCaliphatehadjust
started(1057CE).BythispointintimetheIslamicEmpirehadlostitsunityandironthrone
becauseofreligiousconflictsandassassinations.Otherfactorsthatledtotheirdownfallinclude:
TheCrusadesandtheMongolinvasions.

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