A discussion on the Islamic Education in the UK : A View to the Future organised by the Islamic Society of the University of Oxford, held at Jesus College, Oxford, on 6th of March, 2012. Professor Tariq Ramadan gave a lecture on this important topic.
Professor Ramadan at the very start said that we must start with three points : the main framework, objectives, principles and then end of objectives. “We are attempting to promote the principles framework and the objectives ; but very often we want to do exactly the same as what is taught by other systems and simply add the word ‘Islamic’ and they are happy in the competition when the Muslims are doing as good as the other,” mentioned Professor Ramadan.
Professor Ramadan explained that for him, the first point is not simply to integrate within the current system, but more rather to contribute to the system for the better. He said, “Let us agree to disagree from the very beginning and identify the added-value and principles that we need to understand, promote and translate in our lives”
The second point, Professor Ramadan said, is to restructure how one can deal with the issues of good intentions and hope. “I have seen too many people having the good intention to have Islamic schools. Yet good intentions can destroy unless we identify the right way of achieving them,” said Professor Ramadan and added, “This is something that we learn from the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) life. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was always asking God to help him but he did not forget to think when comes to implementation and to ask the people around him, even non-Muslims, people from other faiths, to help him to go the right way. I rely on God but I need human intelligence and human agency anywhere in the West.”
People researching and working on education are developing new theories, trying for the best to devise a better. “If we neglect this new research and theories in the name of the fact that Muslims have the right principles, is this right ? Having the right principles yet not deriving the right methodology is wrong because there is no way to understand the principles unless one understands how to implement such principles within a specific context,” argued Professor Ramadan.
Principles - the context and evaluation Professor Ramadan talked of the principles, context and evaluation. He said that we need to evaluate ; we must be positive. “To be a good Muslim is always to strive to have a good knowledge. This must relate to the principles, context and environment - where and with whom you are living and what you want to achieve there. In the name of the principles, one must consider the context within which you are living and then draw your conclusions, evaluate. We need to evaluate, we need to assess where we are,” said Professor Ramadan.
Speaking about the achievement over the last 25 years ; Professor Ramadan said, “I would say that we must be positive of this because over the last 25 or 30 years what the Western Muslims, the European Muslims have achieved is great. Does it mean we should be happy with it ? We should be happy with the constructive and critical ways and consider what must still be improved in the whole process.”
Some of the principles that we must rely upon First The Tawheed Professor Ramadan said, “Let me consider some of the principles which are important for me when it comes to Islamic education, the principles which we must rely upon. I think that it comes to the beginning of the revelation that we have really to understand the Oneness of God – Tawheed is essential. When God is talking to the Prophet (peace be upon him) the first dimension on which He (God) is relying about Himself Rabbul Alamin, the Rab is not exactly the way we translate it into English saying Lord.”
Tarbiyah Professor Ramadan said, “In Rab there is the root of Tarbiyah ; the Educator. He (God) is taking the Prophet (peace be upon him) and saying I am your educator ; now this is the way I am taking you from here and now I want you to go there. So on the way towards Truth, on the way towards Me, on the way towards being close to Me, I am your Educator and you are going to be educated ; and through this process you are yourself going to be the model. So you are the best example, because the Educator is God. So the Tarbiyah is essential.”
Upon what dimensions is this Tarbiyah based ? Professor Ramadan said, “Allah is talking about Himself Ar-Rahman and you know how much the Prophet (peace be upon him) loved this Surah – Surah Ar-Rahman. Talim twice here between Allamal Qur’an. He taught Qur’an, the recitation and the revelation. He Created the Man and then Allamahul Bayan. He taught him how to express himself. Coming from God with this understanding in the Revelation and being able to be speak out be twice Allama. So Talim here is essential, is not only knowledge.”
Three dimension, Al-Ilm, Fahm and Fiqh Professor Ramadan said, “So there is this dimension of Al-Ilm and wa-Faham. So, Al-Ilm which is the knowledge that you acquire and Fahm is what you understand from that knowledge which you have acquired. This is something which is the Dimension of Al-Ilm, al-Faham and we have a third word which is Fiqh. In fact, Fiqh is deep knowledge ; and deep knowledge is the knowledge of the understanding of the revelation and the implementation of this revelation in your time, in your place to remain fit.”
Professor Ramadan continued, “So there are three dimensions, Ilm, Fahm and Fiqh. These three dimensions are important but that is still not enough ; because as it was said, very often when we start talking about this ; we think and in our system today very often when you speak about understanding, you speak about mind ; your heart is understanding and this is a dimension which is so important in anything relating to spirituality.”
Principles : Mind, Heart and Body Speaking about the principles of Mind, Heart and Body, Professor Ramadan said, “That in any Islamic education based upon the Islamic principles when you educate the mind, you educate the heart. This is something what we know and any teacher knows that you always get a better knowledge when you love the teacher. Mathematics, for example, is always easier when you love the teacher ! So this is why the Messenger was loved ; he was loved and he was the best teacher. At the same time, it is clear that there are limits - because we love you. You learn to teach us how to learn ; in him we understand that it is out of love that we respect him though our mind is ready to respect because our heart is open to love.”
“This is the meaning of education but still this is not enough ; it is not only this. Today we should also consider what we are acquiring from behaviour, psychology - it is not only your mind, your heart or even your body. Teach your body from everything that we have in our prayer. There is something which is hardly you educating the body. Now we have physical education ; there is something which is deep in the way you are using and training your body to be closer. For example, the way you say salam, the way you greet people, the way you serve them - your body is learning and understanding something and this comes from psychology, anything relating to the relationship with your body, heart and mind,” said Professor Ramadan.
He continued, “It is a comprehensive approach ; never neglect the body if you want the spiritual education ; anyone who is just talking about your heart and saying that this is spiritual is missing the point ; because what we learn from the Prophet (peace be upon him) is exactly this : Connect the mind with the heart with the body and understand that when the body is ready it is sometimes the body opening your heart, not always the opposite. These are the three dimensions of the principles that we have in Islamic education and it is part of something which is related to the meaning of things as you are saying education is mainly about meaning."
Basic Islamic Education : Food for Mind, Heart and Body What would you like to achieve ? “Understanding the meaning through al-Ilm, Faham and Fiqh is the very essence of the very simple part of the Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him), when you get it right ;” said Professor Ramadan and added, “If every dimension of the human being is right - your mind, heart, body - they have their voice and you must be very cautious to gear to every dimension of your being it’s right. So your mind must acquire the knowledge as much as your body must have food, as much as your heart used to get love and all these dimensions are part of the education. You will never achieve peace which is the very essence, the high objective of Islam ; you will never achieve peace if you do not understand that education is all about being balanced ; first the balance is to recognise that you have needs and then it is for you to look for and discover the answer to these needs.”
“This is part of what we must explore from the basic Islamic Education and this is why in considering human beings, in considering our children, it is the very meaning of dignity. To give dignity - give me the food for my mind, the food for my body and the food for my heart. Educating is all about this,” said Professor Ramadan.
Conception - Three Basic Rights, Basic Dignity Having noted these principles of food for mind, body and heart there are three points which follow on from this. Three conceptions of basic rights and basic dignity. Professor Ramadan said, “When we are talking about this, these are the basic rights of any human being, any family, any Muslim-majority country, any community we must consider this : The respect of the basic rights, giving the dignity, the basic dignity to the human being.”
1) Autonomous : Giving Education to Walk Without “What is the first consequence of this ? The first is what we should do at one point in my life I am going to be autonomous ; I am going to be mukallaf, mukallaf means without my father, without my mother, without my teacher, I am going to be asked by God ; and you must teach me how to be autonomous, as the French philosopher noted, ‘I am not teaching you to think like me ; I am teaching you to think without me.’ This concept is essential - that education is that I am giving you the means to walk without me, at one point on the Day of Judgement you are not going to return to me, you and I will be alone,” said Professor Ramadan.
He also argued, “Autonomy is something which is essential in our education ; yet how can one be autonomous knowing only the text and not the context. For the protector, for example sometimes in considering Islamic schools, and also even within our families, we as parents protect our children in a way that when they are outside in the world they are not equipped to face the realities. So they are not autonomous, they only pretend to be just to please us. Yet when someone just pretends to be autonomous to please the authority, everything is lost. The authority and his or her way of teaching autonomy is wrong - it is not effective this way.”
“Autonomy is essential ; are we today educating our children, boys and girls, to be autonomous, where autonomy means not only to be able to make the correct decisions but where autonomy is spiritually strong enough to face the challenges of this life today with their heart, their mind and their body,” said Professor Ramadan.
2) Knowledge of Context : The second point connected to being able to be autonomous, is giving the knowledge of the context. Professor Ramadan argued, “If you only count Islamic education ; if you know the Qur’an ; if you know the Hadith ; and you are not reading the world. By the way, the first revelation, when you start understanding the beginning of the revelation, when it is said to the Prophet (peace be upon him) IQRA iqra is read, it is not only read the text, then wal qamar ; it all the world, it is changing your understanding of the world ; these are signs. So we must understand the world within which we live as much as we must understand the Book. The Book is there to help us understand the world and we must look at the people around us.”
Professor Ramadan said, “I think that this is where our Islamic education in the West is to learn about the West. Learn about society, people and what it means to be autonomous in Britain now, today, not in Egypt 25 years ago, not in Sudan and other countries. This is the context”.
3) Valued Outside Talking about Islamic schools, Professor Ramadan said, “Out of the Islamic schools in Britain, or wherever you are, if you have Islamic schools that are isolating our boys and daughters in a space where they are good there but not valued outside there is something wrong. In fact, I need to get the knowledge when I go outside to have a value ; people are looking at me exactly when we are all like this. We must stop having idealistic hopes such that you are going to be a good Muslim, to get the good Islamic knowledge. I need to be valued ; I need to have a value in the society. Good education is giving me a value.”
Which kind of added-value do we give to our young generation in Britain ? What will you contribute ; what will you give to this society ; what is the value that you have as a human being, while raising these questions, Professor Ramadan said, “The only ‘I am visible because I wear the headscarves, I am visible because I have beard’, this is the opposite of getting value.”
Some of the Principles to Promote Islamic Education 1) Freedom Professor Ramadan said, “Freedom is essential in Islam - many of the scholars when they talk about the fact that the Angels were prostrating in front of Adam (peace be upon him) for two reasons : First is knowledge and second is that it was free. He is a free human being. Adam was free ; so he is free. This freedom is essential ; we need to educate our children in a way they are free.”
“My first concern is freedom - not freedom to speak or freedom to move, more rather it is freedom of what you want to be, how you want to be - it is to be assertive, to be at one with your own values. You might not be free. You think you are free to follow, but I am free not to follow ; I am able to say I don’t like it because I am educated to try to find my right answer. I think that we must be serious about this concept. Muslims are not serious about the question of freedom,” argued Professor Ramadan.
He maintained, “Freedom of what you want to be ; how you educate your children to be get with this spiritual trend is important here. Then you also have the freedom to speak and freedom to ask questions. This is something which is missing very often in our mosques. Our Islamic education is all about ‘You listen. Listen because I am giving you the Qur’an, giving you the Hadiths’.”
2) To Question Professor Ramadan said, “This is why I think we must also understand that if you want the right education in the West, or in Britain for example, you devise a course. You are not teaching the students to ask questions because all questions are legitimate, you call the students.”
Referring to the use of the internet today, he said, “We avoid questions about behaviour, about sexuality. How am I being protected if you are hiding the questions that are in my mind ? I am colonised with questions and yet you pretend that these questions are not there. The only answer to my question is Aujubillah haram. Haram is not helping me. I am surrounded with all these questions so please don’t put me in a situation when I feel this is attracting me, where I feel I am wrong or I am a bad guy.”
“So start with normality and try to go to spirituality ; from natural to spiritual ; but not from bad. You cannot be at peace with this ; visible thinking starts with this ; firstly we must have the courage and secondly we must be active,” said Professor Ramadan.
Critical Thinking 1) Active - Ability to Speak Out, to Write ; The Need for Writing ; To be Effective Professor Ramadan said, “With this freedom the second requirement is to be active ; as it was said to be active means to be able to speak. We need to teach our children, our people, our students to speak out - we need to teach them also to write. I think that we need this writing for it is not only read, it is to write. To be effective and have value within our society, we must speak in order to be heard and write in order to be read.”
“It was also said to serve, which is exactly to serve as a contribution. I don’t like all this business about integration ; integrate our school into the system ; all this for me is awful. For example this school should contribute - yet you are what you give, the education which is helping our children to give ; to give with your mind, with your heart and with solidarity,” argued Professor Ramadan.
But once again if you want to serve the society ; Professor Ramadan enquired, “If you want to serve in Britain what do you know about the history and legacy of this country ? What do you know about the critical questions that the British, the fellow citizens, have ? You need to know these questions and this is I say that we must reconcile ourselves.”
“Many Muslims say that they respect other religions so the first respect to have is at least to learn about the other religions, to read about it. Yet what do you know about Christianity, Buddhism or other religions ?” enquired Professor Ramadan and maintained, “It is a two-way process. We live in the West yet we are not doing the job as such and we are not teaching this two-way process - we must acknowledge and recognise that at the very least the knowledge of both us and the others is part of this process.”
2) Spirituality : Putting Meaning into Action Speaking about spirituality, Professor Ramadan said, “For me when I speak about acting here, spirituality means action. Just to feel that you are close to God means that in anything that you do you put meanings into your actions. Never forget this, when you start by saying Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim, put meanings in actions. The objective of this is to satisfy God and serve the people and the best way to satisfy HIM is to serve the people. This is spirituality - this spirituality is not only to pray during the night. As I always repeat : Pray during the night in order to serve the people during the day - this is the way you serve God and yourself. By the way by serving and praying, this is the connection.”
3) Education is about Love Professor Ramadan suggested that education is about love. “The last point also comes from education. I would like to highlight two points relating to this - I really mean that education is about love. Firstly you have to learn how to love your own parents, your family, your children and secondly you also have to learn how to love your society. When we consider ourselves in this country for example, how many Muslims (those who were either born here or who came later in their lives) already look at Britain and consider the people as ‘my’ own people and refer to them as ‘my’ people. This sense must come from the heart, not the mouth - you may say ‘I care about you and I care about this society’ but is this really the case ? Whilst you may speak about it, how do you actually put your words into action,” argued Professor Ramadan.
“In our mosques, in our schools we keep on repeating us versus them. You can speak about this when it comes to morality but not when it comes to building a society,” said Professor Ramadan and mentioned, “All the Prophets (peace be upon them all) and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the last one, when checked and oppressed, he had to leave them and when he returned and he said, ‘My people, you are my people ; and I am serving you even against your will. Why, because He (God) told me to do so. So I am serving him against your own will. You know why ? because you are acting against your own benefit’. So the point for us in relation to education is for us to love the society that we live in, love the people and somehow translate this concept into our education system.”
Professor Ramadan concluded “There is one central theme here and that is that in order to share something with your society, you need to learn and teach about the arts - this includes beauty, poetry, tastes and culture because engaging with all these dimensions is a way of translating our love for our societies and our people in a non-verbal, a deeper way. Since the more that you celebrate beauty the more that you celebrate the Creator of beauty. All this can be summarised in one sentence such that ultimately education is about teaching and educating courageous people - those who are free, ready to speak out, ready to be assertive and courageous enough to be able to show the people around them their needs. The need of love could be perceived as a fragility and weakness, yet the most courageous people are those that admit that they need and those that say that they love. So the only right question to ask today might be : How many courageous people are we educating in our schools ?”