Schools of Religious Education (II)

Schools of Religious Education (II)


Reflections

Drawbacks in the Method of Teaching

The method of teaching adopted in our religious institutions is the one in which students read the prescribed texts while the teacher listens. During the course of this process the teacher makes corrections and guides the students if a problem arises. At certain occasions the teacher also asks questions from the students related to the lesson. In this method of teaching, knowledge is restricted to certain prescribed books and neither the teacher nor the student steps out of it. This results in the fact that after years and years of study, students only succeed in achieving knowledge of certain books. It is a known fact that gaining knowledge of a few books is totally different from gaining access to the knowledge of the subject itself. For example in the lectures of the discipline of interpretation, students do get to know books like Jalalain and Baidawi but they don't get an exact know-how of the discipline of interpretation. This is exactly the case of other disciplines also.

But this doesn't mean that in our opinion this method of teaching through books is without its benefits. The truth is that one cannot gain access to different fields of knowledge just by reading books.

In teaching different disciplines, three methods can be adopted:

i) Lecture based method of teaching;

ii) Discussion based method of teaching;

iii) Practical application.

In lecture based method of teaching the teacher lectures the students, and they keep important points in memory or they note them down. In this way the teacher plays the central role. He tries to present the essence of his knowledge and experience regarding the particular discipline in front of the students. According to a student's point of view this method is convenient. But to stick to this method only can prove to be harmful to the reading faculty of the students. It can result in a distaste for the habit of reading and may even demotivate them to the extent of abandoning it altogether. It may also discourage them from working hard.

The second method of teaching is based on discussions. According to this method the students read the prescribed books and after solving the problems of Grammar and Morphology, understand the meaning of words and sentences through the dictionaries and then come to the class. During the session, instead of reading books discussion is held on the topic. Students talk about it according to their respective intellect and present their points of view and essence of the reading material. The whole discussion goes on in the guidance of the teacher. The teacher focuses his attention on solving the remaining problems and makes efforts to improve and sharpen their faculty of understanding. In this way power of reading evolves and develops in students. They also develop the skill of interpreting the meanings of a new book. But reliance on this method alone can waste a lot of time. If this method is adopted without a brief introductory session of the topic, then it becomes very difficult to keep the discussion under control.

Practical application is another possible method. According to this method, students use the rules and regulations in order to find solutions to practical problems. This is also called 'case study method'. Students are provided with different cases and they submit their respective solutions to the teacher on the prescribed date. After this, all the solutions suggested are discussed in the class. Each student tries to defend his suggested solution. A great advantage of this method is that students learn practical application of the rules and regulations they study. So apparently this method seems to be the most useful for the future practical and academic life of students. But on the other hand the basic defect of this method is that it can only be used when the students have been briefed about the rules and regulations. Before this preliminary measure this method would not be very useful.

We are of the view that a harmonious blend of all these three methods of teaching should be used to enhance the abilities of the students to the maximum level.

For the introduction of a new discipline, lecture based method of teaching should be used. During these lectures, the key terms and books of the respective discipline should be introduced to the students. Then in a systematic manner, important issues of the discipline should also be put forward to the students. After this 'discussion based method' of teaching should be adopted. During the course of this method students should be assigned some study projects, from different important books on the subject. Students should be prepared for discussion and lectures on small topics, and on the due dates students should present their points of view in front of the class and defend them. If these two methods of teaching are followed in the right manner then the students will grasp the basics of a discipline very easily. After this, the case study method can also be employed for practical application when and where necessary.

Difficulties Related to Blind Acquisance in Some Thought

At the present time not even a single religious school is in existence which disseminates knowledge purely on the basis of Qur'an and Sunnah. All the religious schools (madaris) are busy promoting the creed of a certain sect or group. Some are devoted to Deo-Bandi school of thought, others to the Brailvi school. We have some schools of Fiqh Jafaria and Ahla-Hadis' view also.

Mr. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi writes about this situation:

Their gravest flaw is that they are based upon the principle of Taqlid. Here a student from the very first day is labelled as an orthodox follower of a particular sect. His destiny seems to be carved out beforehand as a devout denouncer of every other sect and an ardent acclaimer of his own. He is made to believe that only his brand of beliefs is in direct conformity with the Qur'an and Sunnah. He is brainwashed with the notion that only his sect has been Divinely blessed with the true version of Islam. An inference attributed to a highly revered scholar of his sect stands supreme till the Day of Judgement. That it can be challenged by explicit reasoning derived from the Qur'an and Sunnah cannot be thought of. On the contrary, it becomes a part of his faith that such a scholar cannot falter.

It is this superhuman veneration that has actually given rise to the menace of religious sectarianism. Differences in opinion have often developed into severe conflicts. An atmosphere charged with lightening and resounding with thunder prevails amongst our religious circles. Every now and then, a new episode of slander erupts from our mosques, which are unfortunately being used for these malignant offensives. The intense disregard the various sects have for one another has led them to violate all norms of decency. Even immoral tactics are employed to safeguard their own views and interests. Prejudices and bigotry have severely hampered the long needed compilation of the Islamic law and its subsequent implementation. Like nations at war, they continue their crusades against each other -- while, very close to them, the forces of evil mock at them and continue to flourish.

There are some among them, who claim to be liberal by not insisting upon the taqlid of a single person, yet are adamant that after the fourth century Hijra, the process of direct deliberation and reflection over the Qur'an as a means for deduction and derivation can no more be deemed admissible; a matter that stands closed and no one should dare open it. To them the explanation of a Qur'anic verse or a Hadith contrary to the conventionally understood meaning, outrightly amounts to heresy. Evident omissions and apparent flaws in inferences made in the past are accepted vehemently simply because no one has ever disputed them. In their opinion, scholarship and research only consist of enumerating, as much as possible, the views of previous scholars in support of their own. As a result, all their mental pursuits are confined to compilation and collection of references, while the faculties of reasoning and intellect are impelled into a permanent state of dormancy.

There is not doubt about it that this basic fault is the reason for other drawbacks of the education system of religious schools (madaris). The secondary status given to Qur'an is because of this. The attitude about Hadith is a product of this. Whether it is draw backs in the method of teaching or defects in the method of teaching languages, this is the root cause of every ailment, and without eradicating this basic defect no other reform can be achieved.

Another problem resulting from this situation is that now only preachers of particular sects and schools of thought can teach in these schools as teachers. Only a person who considers truth to be confined to a certain sect or school can be entrusted the responsibility of teaching. That is why scholars of high calibre spend their lives in oblivion. Neither do they find a place for themselves in such schools, nor they like to set foot in places like these. In this way the situation epitomises the decline in the quality and calibre of teachers. Obviously if the quality of the teaching of faculty keeps on declining then every passing day brings further trouble for these schools.

According to our opinion the government should establish universities of higher religious education to straighten up this state of affairs. In these universities it should be accepted as a basic rule that on this earth the only source of religion is the last Prophet of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (sws). It is only his prerogative that whatever is declared as religion by his words and deeds should be accepted as religion forever. We have this religion of the last Prophet (sws) in the form of Qur'an and Sunnah, complete and preserved. All the jurists, scholars, intellectuals and sufis are ruled by Qur'an. Nobody has the privilege that any of his opinion, research, inspiration etc. should take any precedence over Qur'an and Sunnah.

The natural outcome of accepting this as a basic rule would be that only those scholars will be assigned the duties to teach in these universities who consider Qur'an and Sunnah as the only primary sources of religion and try their level best to act according to that. Moreover, it is also necessary that these teachers should be given the liberty to form any religious, political and social opinion on the basis of Qur'an and Sunnah and they should be free to express their opinions so that eminent scholars should not avoid teaching in such universities.

Drawbacks Related to the Training of Students

Today the religious schools (madaris) are a victim of the same moral decline from which our society is suffering. If a common man tells lies, a student or graduate of a religious school also does that. If a common man deceives others or abuses or behaves in a selfish manner, so does a student of religious schools (madaris). So if an ordinary man does not act according to the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws) so do the people who are apparently related to religion.

Often the lack of moral training in religious schools (madaris) is criticised in the journals of Islamic world. In response to this criticism two types of attitudes from these religious schools (madaris) have emerged. Some people insist that moral decline is definitely a problem for common man but it is not a problem for graduates of religious schools (madaris). They are of the view that religious schools (madaris) provide such high moral training that after completing their education students become examples of good morality and character for the society and the common man. Contrary to this view some people though accept that the morals and character of students graduating from these schools is not up to the mark, still they are far better than the politicians, leaders, intellectuals and managers of the society in this regard.

As far as the first point of view is concerned, its flaw can be judged by the simple fact that if one criticises the opinion of a graduate or scholar of these schools or takes part in an intellectual discussion with him, one will be find such an example of morals and characters which one can neither appreciate nor follow.

To the contrary the second point of view is based on the illusion that the same level of character is required from graduates of these schools which is demanded or expected from the doctors, engineers, lawyers, politicians and intellectuals. These people forget that these scholars of religion are infact the salt of the earth, the light of the world and lanterns of guidance in the darkness of declining morals and characters. How can people who will set the standards for the world ultimately, test themselves on the worldly standards. How can they compare themselves with others when they are the ones from whom the world will seek guidance and light.

Whatever the condition of society be, whenever a scholar of religion will be tested, it will be done on a very high standard. A person should think twice before setting foot on this journey. After choosing this career he is putting himself under criticism from the society. If at all there can be a standard in this world for the scholar of religion, it can be of the personality about whom God Almighty has said:

O Prophet, verily you are on an exalted standard of character.

To remain steadfast in the most difficult of times, to smile on others insolence, to accept differing opinions with open heart, to answer hate with love, to forgive others, to remain silent on charges of infidelity, to avoid heated debates, to avoid causing pain and to talk to others in a polite manner, to accept your own faults, to be there for people in their moments of grief, to stop criticising others and to set flexible standards for people but difficult for one's ownself is indeed very hard. This level of character cannot be achieved unless one has a strong relationship with God, utmost love with the Prophet (sws), sense of responsibility, true awareness of the day of Judgement and a burning desire to save one's fellow human beings from the fire of hell. Apart from all this, to remain on a high standard of character in the hardest of times, it is also necessary that one should not even hesitate to sacrifice one's life, property and honour for the cause of Almighty.

It is a fact that throughout the history of the Ummah people with weak morality and characters have never been trusted in the matter of religious knowledge. The great scholars of the past were not just scholars of highest intellectual calibre, they we also at a very high level of morality and character. The stories of their determination and courage are like stars of heaven in dark nights. We have example of Saeed Bin Museeb, when he was tied to the trunk of the date palm and flogged. He fell unconscious because of pain, hunger and thirst. His back became red with blood. But when he gained consciousness he was even more enthusiastic about speaking the truth.

We also have the example of Imam Malik bin Anas, when he was tied with a rope and was flogged but he did not bow down before the king. Then he was made to ride the bare back of a camel and was carried around the town that he might succumb to the ignominy. But when his tongue moved to speak, this is what it uttered:

He who knoweth me knoweth me and he who doth not know should know: I am Anas' son Malik and I declare that there is nothing as a coerced Divorce.

Another example we have of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, when after all the persecution he only decided to speak the truth according to Qur'an and Sunnah, infront of the Caliph Mu'tasim Billah.

All the above mentioned people not only are on a high level of morals and character, they also possess the zeal for the triumph of religion. These are the people who never surrendered to the rulers of the time, thinking that one day they will be answerable before the Almighty. They faced all the opposition and persecution just for the right cause, so that an example should be set in front of people and so people should not lose interest in religion. People like these have always provided the light of guidance. Although it is a fact that there importance was not realised in their own time, and they faced all kinds of hardships, however it is always these people whose names remained preserved in the pages of history and could never be forgotten.

It is this role which elevates a scholar from the position of just being a scholar and makes him an ideal for the society. But when those who should be ideals of the society, set the society as their ideal and themselves fall into ignorance instead of guiding and reforming the nation, then how can any improvement or reform be expected from them.

In this situation it is inevitable that very high standards of morals and character should be presented to the students of religious schools (madaris). In this regard students should be made to study the characters of the Holy Prophet (sws), his companions (ra) and other pious people of the Ummah, and in this way the real respect and position of these elders should be enhanced in their minds. If this is achieved then the love of these elders will pave the way for the desire to achieve the same standards in the hearts of these students.

For the practical training of students it is also necessary that they should be made to spend some time in the company of pious scholars. They should be encouraged to specially pay attention to those verses of Qur'an and Ahadith of the Holy Prophet (sws) which speak of the building of character and morals. Moreover they should be made aware of their responsibility of Dawah for the triumph of the True Faith.

A special issue in this regard is the meaningless Degree of Masters in Islamiyat. It should be kept in mind that to achieve Masters degree in a subject means that a student has intellectually achieved the level of an expert or master in that subject. The only thing left is Doctorate in subject which is actually a proof of having a critical eye on the subject. With this existing concept about the Masters degree it is natural that people doing masters in Islamiyat start considering themselves masters of religious disciplines. But in reality these people do not even know the ABC of religious disciplines. They even lack the basic know-how of Arabic. All they do is memorise a few interpretations, of some surahs, of different schools of thought included in their curriculum. But they lack the basic knowledge of the rules of interpretation of these schools.

They remain unaware of the rules on which different jurists have based their works although they gain some knowledge of their opinions. This results in the fact that these masters of religious disciplines technically know nothing.

In the presence of so many religious schools (madaris) in the country, there is no rational justification to continue to have M.A Islamiyat program, except that some people would not like to send their children to religious schools (madaris) because of above mentioned drawbacks. So if some of the students decide to opt for higher religious education they should have an alternative in the form of Masters in Islamiyat.

Contrary to the existing system of education, the one suggested by us eliminates this problem. If the education system uptill the level of F.A. / F.Sc is established on the principles mentioned then there will not be any need to continue with the Degree of Masters in Islamiyat. After intermediate every child will decide according to his / her aptitude. So in our opinion the current system of higher education in Islamiyat should be eliminated and the degrees from religious schools / universities should be given the same weightage as is given to the Degree of M.B.B.S. in the field of medicine.

Summary:

At the end of this discussion we present the summary of this programme:

1. Apart from encouraging the existing religious schools (madaris) to reform their system, the government should establish universities of higher religious education.

2. In these universities the responsibility of teaching should only be handed over to the scholars who consider Qur'an and Sunnah as the primary source and try their level best to act according to the teachings of these sources.

3. These teachers should be allowed to form any political, social, intellectual and religious opinion in the light of Qur'an and Sunnah and should be given the freedom to express their views whenever and wherever they desire, so that scholars of high calibre should not hesitate to teach in these universities.

4. Like other modern disciplines only those students should be admitted to these universities who have at least gone through intermediate level from ordinary schools.

5. The duration for religious education should be five years and the curriculum should be arranged in such a way that the Qur'an should have the central role in it. Only Qur'an should be considered the standard of test for every interpretation, Hadith, philosophy, opinion etc.

6. With this the main importance in this curriculum should be given to the literature of the Jahaliya period, Hadith, Jurisprudence, Islamic law and Syntac. Ancient Philosophy and Logic should only be taught to an extent that students should get familiar with the terms of these disciplines and should not have a problem in going through the books of these disciplines. From amongst the modern disciplines, Philosophy and Psychology, Economics, and Physics and Political Science should be included in the curriculum in such a way that students while understanding these disciplines fully, also qualify to present the point of view of Qur'an and Sunnah in this regard. A brief selection of world literature should be included, so that students can have an understanding of the superb literary style of Qur'an. A comprehensive book regarding the rules of modern law should be included. All the important schools of fiqh in Islam should be taught in a way so that students should consider the whole collection as their own heritage and should realise that any prejudice is totally unacceptable in the world of knowledge. So only those opinions should be accepted out of this collection which are according to the teachings of Qur'an and Sunnah.

7. Students should not be made to read books only, but preparation should be done for their religious and moral training, and to achieve this purpose, they should spend some time in the company of pious scholars. They should be encouraged to pay special attention to the verses of Qur'an which speak of building of character and morals. Along with it the spirit for the triumph of religion should be inculcated in them, informing them of their true responsibility of indhar.

8. The current system of higher education in Islamiyat should be eliminated and graduation from these universities should be accompanied by the degrees equivalent to the degree of M.B.B.S. in modern medicine.

We have presented our suggestions to improve the education system of our country. In our opinion these are the minimum requirements for the reformation of the education system, without which no worth while change can be expected.

Translated by: Amar Ellahi Lone




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