The Islamic Response to the Secular Educational System
By Br. Khalid El-Gharib
The West has claimed that for centuries its scientific and technological progress was a direct result of isolating religion from the practical affairs of societies by the secular ideology of separating the Church from the State. The rise of secularism meant that religious teachings in the social and political systems were replaced with man-made legislation. This perception that views religion as impractical and full of contradictions was due to the historical brutality possessed by the Church against scientists and philosophers.
This article addresses the reasons that brought about secular educational systems in the West and will refute the generalisations made by the West to include Islam as a religion of rituals and spirituality that does not manifest itself in the temporal aff airs. This article is dedicated to Muslim university students to enlighten their Islamic world view on the western secular educational systems.
The Evolution of Secularism
Special Character of Orthodox Christian Revelation and its Consequences
The special character of Christian revelation is transforming the exclusive worship of the One and Only Lord of the Universe (Allah) into the idea of Trinity, in shifting the emphasis from the message of God revealed through the person of Jesus to the Inc arnation of God Himself in the person of Jesus has succeeded only in confusing the realms of the Supernatural and Natural, of th e Divine and Human, the Infinite and Finite. It has, therefore, laid itself open to numerous intellectual attacks from which it has still not succeeded in extricating itself.1
Descartes2 , one of the pathfinders of modern philosophy, intended to attain knowledge, including that of God, by reason alone contradicting his Christian faith that must be accepted and believed against reason.
Reason Versus Christian Theology 3 during the Dark and Middle Ages
The Christian Dogma, defining itself in the form of Trinity and Incarnation, in the doctrine of Original Sin and Vicarious Atonement (Salvation) was constantly being challenged by intellectuals and defended by the Church through executions and persecution. The scholastic Middle Ages had been confronted with the problem of reconciling religion and faith, reason and revelation. But since Christian theology was particularly unresponsive to intellectual queries, St. Peter Damian "deprecated the application of reason to theology" .4 Therefore, the concern of uniting faith and reason had to rest finally by separating the domains of philosophy and religion, of faith and reason.
It is this shift of focus in the intellectual horizon of Europe that is of tremendous significance. If the Middle Ages had been characterised by a concern for the Supernatural and the Divine, the Renaissance preoccupied itself with Nature and Humanism. If the Middle Ages had been identified with the authority of the Church, the Renaissance projects itself through its concern for the secular which affirmed the value of experiment.
Therefore, the work of scientists and the contribution of philosophers, were together producing the intellectual climate that was gradually leading towards Naturalism, Atheism and Secularism.
Scientific Exploration and the Growth of Materialism
With the passage of time, further scientific discoveries were made that were at odds with the teachings of the Church. To preserve its authority, the Church took some harsh steps against the emergence of new ideas. Many sci entists were branded as heretics, infidels and satans. The famous astronomer, Galileo (1564-1642) observed and studied different aspects of the universe. His conclusions supported the system of Copernicus (who pointed out that the Earth revolves around th e Sun)5. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition and was subjected to an indefinite period of imprisonment for daring to hold scientific beliefs in contradiction with the views of the Church.
The Renaissance and the Reformation, Reactions against the domination of Orthodox Christianity
The response to the oppression of the Church from the people, especially the scientists, thinkers and the philosophers such as Voltaire and Rousseau, was equally strong. They began to highlight the contradictions of the Church and called for nothing less than the separation of the Church and the State. Desperate measures were taken by the Church to deflect the criticism, frustration and anger that was vented by the people. These measures fell to halt the winds of change that had galvanised the masses. The Church realised that it could no longer stay in charge of the State without reforming itself. Thus, a period of reformation commenced. However, the Reformation did not guarantee any bright future for the Church as the struggle became intensified between the 16th and 17th centuries.
The eventual outcome of the struggle for power between the Church and the thinkers and philosophers was the separati on of the Church and the State. This solution limited the authority of the Church to preserving the morals in society, and left the administering of the worldly affairs to the State. The separation was completed by the 18th century, and formed the basis o f capitalism, marking the beginning of the enlightenment period that sparked the industrial revolution in Europe.
The inevitable outcome of separating the Church from the State was the application of secular schools of thought in politics, economics, sociol ogy and cultural affairs. But the most serious victim of secularism were the educational systems since they are directly responsible for the intellectual quality of human beings. While people in secular societies are being educated, they are also being mo rally and ethically degenerated. The education of an immoral human being gives him or her the tools to be more wicked and destructive in this world.
The Islamic World View
Islam as an Ideology
The role of Muslims in the advancement in the fields of sciences and humanities is directly related to the driving force of Islam. It is this Islamic ideology that deserves the credit and not the individual Muslims. Unlike Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, Islam is not merely a religion but rather a unique and comprehensive ideology that guides the life of the human being. The Islamic ideology, by the definition of an ideology, consists of both the idea and the method to implement the idea as a practical manifestation in reality.
The Islamic idea itself is composed of two essential components; the creed or doctrine (aqeedah) and a system of rules and regulation founded on this doctrine ( shari'ah). The Islamic aqeedah provides the correct and comprehensive answers to the fundamental questions regarding humanity' s existence and that of the universe. It addresses the issue of the human being's purpose in life, and links it with what proceeds life and what will come after it, thereby providing the basis for the Islamic system to properly organise human affairs.6
The Islamic shari'ah provides a comprehensive law governing the affairs of human beings. It correctly establishes: the relationship between the human being and his Creator, the personal affairs of individuals, and the various relationships (social, political, economic, and in ternational) that exist in society.
The Islamic methodology provides the means to apply the idea (the creed and systems) to practice.
Unlike Secularism, Capitalism and Communism, Islam is built on the correct world view that is compatible with the human being. Islam does not ignore human beings' instincts or desires, but organises them in the proper context, including the desire to acquire knowledge. The implementation of the Islamic system is neither confined to time or place no r dependent upon science and technology, and must occupy our instincts, needs and natural desires.
Islam invites and directs humans to study reality
Islam has made it obligatory on all believers to acquire knowledge for themselves. In the very first verse of the Qur'an revealed to him, the Prophet (s.a.w) was instructed to read:
"Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists). Has created man from clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous. Who has taught (the writing) by the pen. Has taught man that which he knew not. " [s96:v1-5].
The importance of reading, writing and acquiring knowledge has been explained in this verse in a most forceful and direct manner. Since it is obligatory for every believer to obey Allah' s commandments, it was therefore announced by the Prophet (s.a.w) that learning and searching after knowledge was a sacred duty of every Muslim.
The Qur'an appeals constantly to reason and experiment which is a blessing indispensable to arrive at proper judgement.
"Say: 'Are those who know equal to those who know not?' It is only men of understanding who will remember (ie. get a lesson from Allah's Signs and Verses)" [s39:v9].
The Qur'an also directs man to study the physical world in orde r to understand the reality and to appreciate more the greatness of the Creator. Although Islam points to the physical world to make people think, it encourages people to discover more laws. The Qur' an is fundamentally a book of guidance and a code of life for mankind to enable it to differentiate between the right and the wrong.
The Islamic Perspective of Scientific Methodology
"And Allah has brought you out from the wombs of your mothers while you know nothing. And He gave you hearing, sight, and hearts (intelligence and affections) that you might give thanks (to Allah) " [s16:v78].
Allah (swt) reminds the human being that he is born into this world without any knowledge of the existence, but He has equipped this human with the tools -the five human senses- that he needs to explore the might of the creation in order that h e/she may give thanks to the Creator. The Creator, Allah (swt), has taught man since his presence on earth,
"And he taught Adam all the names (of everything)" [s2:v31],
through the agency of wahi (revelation). The last revelation that is composed of the Qur' an and the Sunnah, does not establish itself in its followers by blind faith or imitation, but rather by an invitation to the human being to think deeply about his existence and his surroundings.
Islamic methodology calls human beings to ponder upon the profound nature of this universe and observe its many phenomena that establish a definitive proof for the existence of One Creator. We are constantly discovering more and more laws tha t make up this order. The motives and objectives of all civilisations (and the resulting urban growth world-wide) is firstly, to discover and research the resources in the universe and aspects of matter and energy that are useful to man. This is asserted in the Glorious Qur'an,
"Do they not look in the dominion of the heavens and the earth and all the things that Allah has created?" [s7:v185].
The second step is then to utilise these discoveries rationally for the benefit of man. Again, this is a direct command from Allah (swt):
" See you not (O men) that Allah has subjected for you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever in the earth?" [s31:v20].
For the Muslim, these processes are an act of worship that have to be guided by revelation in order to understand the reality of nature and the limitations of the human being. On the other hand, the non-Muslims seek their guidance from man-mad e laws that mechanistically and absurdly view the creation as a self-operated system.
Guidelines Towards an Islamic Educational System
1. By observing the physical world and the laws of nature, the Islamic thought, that is derived from the Qur 'an and Sunnah, presents the philosophy which explains Allah's Might and Wisdom. These observations should not remain at the boundaries of the materi al world, but should conclude that this unintelligible universe could not have possibly come to existence by itself nor by a chance or accident, and hence should provide reflections about the attributes of the Creator. Such attributes d efine the Creator as a Deity above His creation, neither matter or energy can shape His identity, nor can space or time encompass His eternal existence, confirming the Qur'anic verse:
"There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer" [s42:v11].
2. The Islamic educational system does not acquire conceptions about life, death and the Universe from the materialistic and secular world, and must purify its curriculum from any materialistic ideas that contradict basic facts in Islam. How ever, the Islamic educational system should utilise the expertise and experience of the material systems in the fields of applied sciences and industry and reconstruct their data on the basis of Iman.
3. The achievements and contribution of early Muslim scholars which have been completely neglected and overlooked in the Western books on the history of sciences, should be unveiled and incorporated into the curriculums of the Islamic educational system. Sin ce the Islamic civilisation was the longest in the history of humanity, scientific and humanitarian branches of knowledge flourished under its rule, and Muslim scholars led the world in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, medicine, agriculture and sociology, to name a few. The unveiling of this heritag e which paved the way for the emergence of the modern sciences will dignify the sense of originality and belonging in the Muslim youth.
4. The miraculous scientific notions in the Holy Qur'an must also be revealed to prove to people that the Qur'an contai ns basic scientific facts and laws of the universe that were unknown at the time of revelation and for centuries afterwards. These scientific notions are material proof to people of all creeds and tongues that the Holy Qur' an is the Word of Allah and that Muhammad (s.a.w.) is His final prophet.
5. The Islamic educational systems should emphasise the importance of acquainting a thorough knowledge of Arabic, the language of the Qur' an. Arabic is not only necessary to fully comprehend Islam, it is a requirement to perceive the Qur' anic world view. It is also important to encourage proficiency in the language of the community in order to effectively convey the message of Islam.
Specific Advice for University Students
1. The Muslim student when seeking knowledge and education must consolidate his/her faith by purifying his/her intention, since sincerity is the foundation upon which every work is established. The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: "Actions are but by intention and every man shall have but that which he intended" [al-Bukhari and Muslim]. Hence, the Muslim should pursue education for the pleasure of Allah (swt) and not for material or social gain.
2. There is no question that seeking knowledge and education at universities is necessary for Muslims to meet the formidable challenges of the massive poverty and illiteracy which they face. However, those Muslims who suffer from the lack of belonging and u nderstanding of Islam, will graduate with a degree of secular mentality that centralises this world. Allah (swt) declares:
"Whoever wishes for the quick-passing (transitory enjoyment of this world), We readily grant him what We will for whom We like. Then, afterwards, We have appointed for him Hell, he will burn therein disgraced and rejected" [s17:v18].
Therefore, it is crucial that students at universities do not compromise their Islamic education with the excuse of their studies. They should also be cautious of teachings that challenge the code of belief (aqeedah) and law (shari' ah) of Islam and adopt the criteria that would enable them to distinguish these secular thoughts and ideas from their field of interest. Seeking a profession that provide halal income sources is also the priority of the Muslim.
3. The Muslim student should develop a professional attitude towards his/her education and cherish their work and career prospects. The Prophet (s.a.w) said: "Allah likes it when the one amongst you perfects his works" [sound hadith, reported by Bayhaqi in Shoua'bul Iman]. This prophetic guidance clearly dire cts the believer to perform tasks to the best of his/her capabilities. Hence, excelling in the field of study should be the aim of every Muslim student. However, the Muslim student should not have ambitions that selfishly neglect his/her obligations towar ds his/her Muslim society and Ummah . In fact, his/her prime ambition should be gaining the necessary expertise and experience to participate in the reconstruction of the Islamic State. It is essential that Muslim students evolve this Islamic state of mind, otherwise the Islamic hope will remain a dream.
4. The Muslim Students' Associations and Societies on the campus of the university provide the religious and social requirements for all Muslim students. The Prophet (s.a.w) said: "A believer to another believer is like a building whose different parts enforce each other". The Prophet then clasped his hands with the fingers interlaced [al-Bukhari]. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the Muslim student cooperate and take advantages of all the facilit ies and resources accessible to him/her. He/she should also be motivated to participate in the organisation of functions and activities of their association, to train him/herself to become dynamic Islamic workers, and also, to mature the brotherhood atmos phere between colleagues.
5. Adherence to strict moral codes and upright ethics is a fundamental component of the Muslim character. The Muslim student must exhibit a respectable behaviour on and off campus, and qualities such as beneficence, forgiveness, honesty and kind speech should manifest in his/her actions. The Prophet (s.a.w) said: "I have been sent only for the purpose of perfecting good morals" [Al-Muwatta'].
It is historically evident that many intellectual Muslims were able to integrate the sciences of religion with other branches of knowledge. The simple reason for that, is because worldly sciences in the Islamic Khilafah found the correct environment and methodology to cultivate and improve the quality of life. Today, worldly science s are exploited to produce a mechanistic and a materialistic human being without the aspect of humanity, that sees no error in transgressing its limits and in violating its environment.
We have long been awaiting a promising young generation that can raise themselves above dunya. A lot of hope is rested upon the shoulders of this expected generation whose mission in this world should be the establishment of Allah's prerequisites for victory and success in this world and in the Hereafter.
"Allah has promised those among you who believe, and do righteous good deeds, that He will certainly grant them succession to (the present rulers) in the earth, as He granted it to those before them, and that He will grant them the authority to practice their religion, that which he has chosen for them (ie. Islam). And He will surely give them in exchange a safe security after their fear (provided) they (believers) worship Me and do not associate anything (in worship) with Me. But whoever disbelieved after this, they are the Fasiqun (rebellious, disobedient to Allah)" [s24:v55]n
Contemporary Atheistic Materialism -A Reaction To Orthodox Christianity, p15.
Rene` Descartes (1596-1650), French mathematician, scientist, and philosopher who has been called the father of modern philosophy. For a full biography, see The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Macropaedia: Cartesianism, Descartes.
Theology is the study of God, His attributes and His relations with man and the universe
Columbia Encyclopedia, under Peter Damian, Saint, p1527.
Islam and Science, p4
Islam and Science, p7-8
Contemporary Atheistic Materialism -A Reaction To Orthodox Christianity, Prof. Jaliluddin Ahmad Khan, II Publishers.
Islam and Science, S. Ahmed, A.Abdul Muntaqim and A. Siddiq, Islamic Cultural Workshop.
Muslim Contribution to Science, Dr. M. Mirza and M. I. Siddiqi, Kazi Publications.
The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Macropaedia: Christianity.