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A Glance at Islamic Pedagogy

By Ahsan Syed

Education is the most fundamental quality that separates man from other species. Today in the modern world, everyone proposes their idea of how to teach and what the classroom setting should be like. Teachers and principals have their idea of teaching, psychologists recommend their own ways, and scientists deduce their own ideas through their research. Some believe it’s important to use high-tech gadgets while others adopt a more traditional approach. Educational meetings and seminars are held to talk about how teachers can improve teaching and how students can learn more. Islam is a religion which values education so much that it is amongst the top most priorities required by its adherents. Islam from its very beginning cherished education and continues to do so. Islam is today the same as it was 1400 years ago; it is the Muslims today who give it a bad name. An Islamic classroom revolves around three basic principles: the rights of the teacher upon the student, the rights of the student upon the teacher, and the etiquette and humility required to learn.

The teacher’s role in every society whether it be in Islam or any other ideology has always been to teach. Their goal is to see that the student “reaches the bar” and understands the material well. Sometimes teachers, due to whatever reason, “lower the bar” just so that the student can reach it. This is absolutely looked down upon because it does not allow the student to achieve his potential. According to Islam, this is the main right that is placed upon the teacher. Majority of the teachers all around the world fulfill this responsibility.

There are two main things required from the student. The first one involves his respect for the teacher and material (like books, pencils, etc.), and the second one involves the subject material. The first one, respecting the teacher and material, is pretty clear and obvious. The basic idea being that there is no harm done to the teacher whether it’s physically, verbally, or even to waste his time, and in regards to his materials, he should keep them organized and use them for their purpose. Respecting the teacher and the material, according to traditional Islamic education, is equally important as the subject material if not more. The second point, the student’s involvement with the subject material, has three parts to it, each being equally important:

1. Mutala’ah: The initial preparation of the material before the student comes to class.

2. Hudhoor: The student’s actual presence in class as well as his attentiveness and participation (if required) through the lecture.

3. Takrar: And finally a thorough revision of the material before the next class as well as to review previously covered lessons from time to time.

All three are highly emphasized, and majority of the time they are mandatory. Another principle unique to the Islamic pedagogy is that it highly encourages memorization of the material. In fact, many Madaris, traditional Islamic schools, require the student to memorize the material. These components ensure that the student has fully understood and completely grasped the material.

The final principle which encompasses the whole process is humility and etiquette which are essential to observe by the student and the teacher. An example of this is that students and teachers sit on the ground with desks built accordingly. This is a very unique feature only found in traditional Islamic seminaries in terms of higher education. Just by this one action one can see respect, humility, and etiquette. When an individual sits on a chair, he or she is likely to stretch their feet out (most likely towards the teacher if they are facing them, and this is considered a sign of disrespect). Almost always, students recline their backs to the chairs which causes them to be sleepy (also considered a sign of disrespect). Majority of the time, the teacher has to stand and give the lecture while the students sit comfortably. Also, this is a physical action representing their humility and submission to Allah because Muslims believe all knowledge comes from Allah, the All-Knowing.

There are many aspects from the Islamic pedagogy that other schools and institutions can benefit from. If the above method of studying were to be followed by any student of any field, then they can be certain that their knowledge is intact. This has been the practice found since early Islam which students learn from their teachers who’ve learned it from their teachers and the chain continues on. Although worship and submission to Allah are given the first and foremost priority in Islam, they too require some knowledge. Thus knowledge is embedded in the very essence of Islam, and it is a key-fundamental aspect of it.

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