Islamic Education Movement: Recent History and Objectives 

Shah Abdul Hannan*  

Islamic Education Movement, which is otherwise widely known as the Movement for the Islamization of Knowledge, as a new phenomenon started its journey sometimes in 1977-1978. A group of scholars thought that the educational system in the Muslim World is not fulfilling the needs of the Muslim countries and that it should be thoroughly revised and updated. In this backdrop, the first Islamic Educational World Conference was held in Makkah in 1977 in which more than 300 academicians, scholars and intellectuals participated. The first Conference made certain significant recommendations for the Islamization of Knowledge. Later more such Conferences were held in other parts of the world in which Ulama, academicians, scholars and intellectuals of various countries joined. Such Conferences were held, among other countries, in Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh. This writer had the opportunity to take part in the Conference held in Dhaka in 1980. These Conferences helped to a great extent in crystallizing and conceptualizing what should be the future shape and structure of the Islamic Education. Later notable institutions like International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), USA joined in this Movement. The prime focus of activities of IIIT since then had been on the Restructuring of Thought and Islamization of Knowledge including Islamization of Education. 

As the outcome of the painstaking efforts of the learned scholars of various disciplines to formulate a pragmatic Islamic Education Policy through the Islamic Education Conferences and contribution of eminent Islamic organizations and individuals, the first Islamic University, the International Islamic University (IIU), Malaysia, was established. Distinguished Islamic scholars of the world, well known for their contribution in relevant fields, who are at the same time specialist in their own discipline and subject and at the same time firm believer in Islam assembled in the new alma mater. Many of these scholars were leaders of the Islamic Movement in their own countries and were at the forefront of dawah, Islamic activities in their own arena. Dr. AbdulHamid AbuSulayman, renowned scholar and current Chairman of IIIT USA took the responsibility of the IIU, Malaysia in the initial stage. A prolific writer, Dr. AbulHamid has in his credit a number of publications of which ‘Towards an Islamic Theory of International Relations’ and ‘Crisis in the Muslim Mind’ are widely acclaimed. Dr. AbulHamid, on assuming the responsibility of the University, vigorously started the work of Islamization of Education. Arabic and Fiqh, Islamic Law and Jurisprudence were introduced as compulsory university requirement courses. The University from the very beginning took steps to gradually Islamize the subjects of the social science discipline and the effort is still on.  

Later more Islamic universities have been established in other parts of the world following the model of IIU, Malaysia. One such university has been established in Islamabad (Pakistan), another in Uganda in Africa and another in Kushtia (Bangladesh). It must be admitted that the Islamic University, Bangladesh has, to some extent, lost direction because of political environment within the country, and the University could not make much headway following the model of IIU, Malaysia; nevertheless it has to be accepted that Islamic University, Bangladesh also made some contribution in the Islamization of Education and Islamization of Knowledge. Later Darul Ihsan University and Islamic University, Chittagong were established with the same mission*. 

To many it remains a question why Islamization of Education is important and this demands an in-depth examination and critical and careful analysis. Islamization of Education is significant because the root cause of all problems and malaises of the Ummah, the Muslim community, is education. If we look at the setback and crisis of the Ummah, if we evaluate the political, economic and social dilemma of the Muslim world and particularly if we refer to the overall scenario prevailing in the Muslim countries from the Islamic point of view and look at them from an Islamic vision and perspective then we shall reach to the conclusion that the ultimate reason for all these ills in the Muslim world lies in our failure to restructure the education which shall not only meet the demand of our time but at the same time make a Muslim a Muslim. Had we been able to educate Muslims, as worthy Muslims there would not have been political, economic and social problems in the Muslim world of the size and level as exist now. Such prominent scholars and academicians as Ismail Raji al Faruqi, AbdulHamid AbuSulayman and Syed Ali Ashraf, eminent educationist, Islamic scholar and founder of Darul Ihsan University Bangladesh share this view. 

Islamic educationists and scholars are of unanimous opinion that the root cause of all problems of the Ummah is education, it is more appropriately the crisis of education. Such thinkers and intellectuals identify the failure of the education as being the prime reason of the crisis faced by the world today. They think that education has failed to achieve the desired objective because our education has ignored ethics and morality during the last one hundred years. 

The crisis humankind, the world civilization is facing is because the curriculum of the educational institutions have ignored ethics and morality for at least last one hundred years. As an outcome of this disrespect to eternal moral values, our educational institutions have produced violent and cruel man devoid of love, affection, fraternity, brotherhood and fellow feeling. What has happened in Bosnia, Kosava, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, Afghanistan and more recently in Gujrat in India is the result of modern education, which has produced cruel and violent man. Modern man is not imbibed with the eternal humane values and therefore most sophisticated nations do not mind to bomb unarmed civilian, women and children in Afghanistan and does not mind to continue sanction against Iraq at the costs the lives of millions of Iraqi children. Nobody can hope to change this sorry state of affairs, to really improve the face of modern civilization unless the educational curriculum is restructured and emphasis is given on moral and ethical values. 

What is, therefore, required is to reorganize the education on the foundation of ethical principles, to combine moral education with professional education. Professional excellence has to be integrated with morality and ethics, which basically can be derived from religion. As far as Muslims are concerned such values can be drawn from Islam and if Muslim societies are not rectified in the light of the precept and teachings of Islam then the Muslim societies nay the whole world is bound to suffer. That means humankind will suffer. The solution, therefore, lies in combining Islamic values with modern subjects in case of Muslims. Where non-Muslims are in majority as in Japan, China and other countries modern subject should be combined with ethics and morality. Nobody should forget that in the days of globalization and internet in the new millennium no region remains unaffected if any part of it is affected. Therefore the problem has to be addressed both at regional and international levels. 

Dr. AbdulHamid A. AbuSulayman, former Rector IIU, Malaysia and currently Chairman of IIIT USA addressing a seminar in Dhaka during his recent visit to Bangladesh pointed out: “Muslims are not performing. Bangladesh is not performing. The Muslim world is not performing”. He pointed out that in January 2001 (or December 2000) the total GDP of the Muslim world was US $ 1100 billion whereas the GDP of Japan at that time was US $ 5500 billion, five times more than Muslim world whereas Muslim world is spread over from Pacific to Atlantic. Why this is the condition of the Muslim world, Dr. AbdulHamid asked? “Why are not Muslims performing, why are not Muslims motivated, why are not Muslims big actors in the world scene, why are they only spectators, why they are in the fringe”, Dr. AbdulHamid asked his learned audience in the seminar.  

Dr. AbdulHamid thinks that Muslims are marginalized because: “We are not motivated”. The present educational system has failed to motivate Muslims and one of the foremost reasons of this is that Muslims still have slavish mentality of the colonial period. We could not leave, get rid of slavish mentality. We only imitate. We do not think positively and in a constructive way. We have lost our originality and creativity. Dr. AbdulHamid thinks that we must give due importance education deserves and integrate moral values and ethics with modern professional knowledge. He believes that we as Muslims integrate professional education and social science with Islamic values. 

Now if we look back to history what we see. If we fall back to Abbasi, Usmania or Mughul period we will find that their educational system did produce army generals or civil servants who studied the then modern subjects and at the same were fully conversant with teachings of the Quran, Sunnah, the Tradition of the Prophet (SAWS), Fiqh, Islamic law and jurisprudence.  

There was integration in the educational systems of them. An army officer during the Abbasi used to know not only military science but also such an officer was conversant with the teachings of Quran, Sunnah, Fiqh and Arabic language. Likewise a civil servant was required to study the then professional subjects along with Quran, Sunnah, Fiqh and Arabic. Approximately 150 to 200 years earlier, the system of education was an integrated whole.  

What is then the responsibility of the new generation of Muslims? The duty and obligation of the Muslims, the task of the entire humankind is to think and reflect on how to restructure the educational system and not to give over emphasis only on professional knowledge for if we only over emphasize on professional knowledge then we shall only produce robot and not man with soul and values. In fact we have to structure educational system in such a way, for all nations in all countries worldwide, which shall integrate professional knowledge with ethics and morality and we Muslims believe it and are fully committed to it. This can be done on the basis of religion. It should however be made clear that the establishment of Islamic University does not mean that the door of such educational institutions shall remain closed for the non-Muslims. Islamic University is open for all. Any student can study in such a university and the teachings of Islam shall not be imposed on the non-Muslim student. Non-Muslim student shall have to study only the educational program. It needs to be further examined whether non-Muslim student can be offered optional subjects in some discipline or areas.  

The message of Islam is universal. Islam addresses humankind: Ya Ayyuhan nass, O mankind. Allah has revealed Quran not to divide mankind. The duty of the Prophet (SAWS), was to unite people. Islam teaches man not to take away the rights of others but to protect it. Islam stands for moderation. In real sense there is no extremism in Islam. Islam is a middle way. Allah (SWT) in Surat Al Baqarah has revealed: “We have created you as a balanced community”(2:143). Allah did not tell that We created you as extreme community. 

It is, therefore, clear that if we are fully able to appreciate and realize the true meaning of Islam, then we cannot turn out to be extremist. There is no reason of non-Muslim being afraid of Islam. If we look back to history then we shall find that Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) established a system in which life, honor and property of the non-Muslims were fully secured. Moreover, in the commonwealth established by the Prophet (SAWS) under the Charter of Medina the Jews were self governing and autonomous and they used to conduct the life according to their own laws. The Muslims used to follow their own law, Shariah and the state was run according to set principles as in the case of defense.  

The essence of Islam is Tawheed, which not only means that Allah is one but also it signifies that humankind is one and its honor is indivisible. The objective of the Shariah is welfare of the mankind. Tawheed signifies the welfare of the entire mankind. It also means and implies that believers of Tawheed must always wish, carve and long for well-being and happiness of others and must not distinguish between man and man and respect all man. There may be small difference between man and man for various reasons but it is not good to differentiate between man and man. It is against the principle of Tawheed. Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) fully absorbed the full meaning of Tawheed. He (SAWS) said in his farewell pilgrimage speech: No Arab has superiority over non-Arab. White colored has no superiority over the black. What is the meaning of this? There is male and female both in white skinned and black skinned people. It signifies that female of a particular race is not superior to male of another race nor male of a particular race is superior to another. Likewise what is the meaning of Arabs and non-Arabs are equal. It means Arab female is to equal to non-Arab male and non-Arab male is equal to Arab female. 

It becomes clear from the teachings of the Prophet (SAWS) that in spite of small differences Islam makes no significant distinction between man and man as regards their honor, respect and dignity. Islam firmly upholds human equality. These small differences that exists in our society are the result of the prevalent educational system. There is nothing to fear from Islamic education. If Islamic educational system is established in Bangladesh the door of education shall remain wide open for all. There shall be various options open for the non-Muslims to prosecute their studies. New avenues shall be opened and new scopes and opportunities shall be created. Human equality shall be pursued meticulously. The honor, dignity and respect of the non-Muslims shall be vigorously guarded. There shall be no compulsion in respect of religion as enunciated in the Quran: La Ikraha Fiddeen (Surat Al Baqarah: 256).  

* Former Secretary, Govt. of Bangladesh

* Readers are requested to let me know if they know of any other modern Islamic University in any other place.

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