chapter
8 Pages

EDUC ) ATION AND THE

These religious schools and colleges

often offer free accommodation, free

books, rigid discipline and a suspicious

attitude to any subject or curriculum that is largely secular. It must be stated from the start, how-

ever, that there is no good reason why the secular system of education and the religious schools need to regard themselves as in opposition to each other. In some countries the religious school does incorporate a full curriculum of the normal subjects in addition to the religious ones, to no apparent detriment of the students’ development in either. Thus, the opposition of the two school systems to each other probably has more to do with local political disputes and rivalries than it has to do with a basic clash between religion and the secular world. The Qur

) an does stress the significance

of our relationship with God and the importance of orienting ourselves with respect to the afterlife. However, it is also a very realistic text, with lots of advice on issues such as money, trade, economic exchange, personal manners, and so on, and it can hardly be claimed that the Qur

) an advocates not involving

oneself in the everyday practical affairs of the world. Secular subjects are then highly appropriate for the Muslim student, just as they are for everyone else. What is mainly at issue in the religious

schools is not the curriculum but the pedagogy. The curriculum is based on the Qur

) an, and students may be

encouraged to learn to recite it by heart and then to interpret it, studying perhaps some of the leading commentators and legal thinkers and what they had to say about different parts of the Book. Particular issues will be selected and their solutions in the Qur

) an discussed,

with the variety of ways of interpreting such solutions often analysed and grouped together in certain ways. As well as the Qur

) an, the hadith, the sunna of the

Prophet and his history will all be studied, together with the language of Arabic which for most Muslims is a thoroughly

foreign tongue. Even for Arabs, the type of Arabic used in the Qur

) an is not

necessarily familiar and the grammar of the Book is often studied in madrasas. There is no reason to think that this sort of religious curriculum is in any way antagonistic to general education; it is merely an intellectual exercise carried out on a religious subject matter, and so forms part of a useful educational training. It might be said that such a benign

view of Qur ) anic schools is misleading

as it ignores the particular style of teaching that goes on there. The Qur

) an

is often learnt by rote, and the status of the teacher is elevated since he is passing on religious truths, not subjects that may be acquired or rejected at will by the student. So the pedagogy is based on the view that knowledge is acquired rather than discovered, that the student’s mind is passive and receptive rather than active and creative, and that the general attitude is one where all knowledge is seen as unchangeable and books need to be memorized, not questioned. A dichotomy is thus set up between Islamic and modern education. The former has an otherworldly orientation, aims at socialization into Islam, uses curricula largely unchanged since medieval times and treats knowledge as something to be revealed and acquired because of a divine command. The questioning of what is taught is not welcomed, the teaching style is authoritarian, education is mainly undifferentiated and memorization is important. By contrast, modern education has an orientation towards the modern world, and aims at the development of the individual pupil. Curricula change to reflect changes in the subject matter, and knowledge is acquired through empirical or deductive methods and treated as a problem-solving tool. Teachers welcome student participation and questions, and the emphasis is on internalizing the main aspects of the

subject, not memorizing them. Modern education can be very specialized, with very clear boundaries between disciplines. It has been argued by Hoodbhoy

(1991) that the two styles of education are in conflict with each other because they differ not only in subject matter but also in style. Students who go through the madrasa system and then enter the state system find it difficult to adjust because they have to play by an entirely different set of rules. They are not used to thinking independently, to taking risks with what they learn or to being inquisitive. So even if they do enter the modern education system, they are unlikely to thrive; their mindset is too enmeshed in an entirely different process of education. As Talbani (1996: 77-8) puts it when referring to Islamic society: ‘originality, innovation, and change were never upheld as intrinsic values. The ideal of Islamic culture was not mechanical evolutionary progress, but the permanent immutable transcendental divinely revealed moral, theological, spiritual values of the Kur

) an and

Sunna.’ It is certainly true that the use of constant repetition, which trains the power of recall, reflect an Islamic tradition of recitation and of seeing knowledge as external and as something to be revealed. On the other hand, this view of the

clash between the two pedagogies might be regarded as exaggerated. After all, how much of the so-called modern curriculum is really taught in accordance with the principles of modern education? There is a good deal of rote learning here also, and many students do not feel that they can question or challenge their teachers. Even at the level of tertiary education many students in the modern system of education are passive and concentrate on taking notes and repeating what they hear in the lecture hall. In addition, how much of the religious

curriculum is really as traditional as the stereotype suggests? There is always going to be some mechanical learning when a new language is at issue, and students may also be encouraged to learn to recite the Qur

) an as a propa-

deutic to understanding it, but these things do not in themselves orient the student away from independent thought. There is no evidence that children brought up within the confines of traditional religious education are any less innovative or active than children brought up within the modern system. We are familiar with the phenomenon of the religious thinker who is at the same time highly skilled outside the religious environment, and presumably his or her religious training does not impede adopting a distinct methodology when working on non-religious subjects. Rather than wonder whether people

can switch from one type of thinking to another, we might ask whether these two pedagogies are really so distinct. The madrasas that allow commentary and different views on the Qur

) an to be

explored surely err more on the modern side of pedagogy, as their students will be spending a lot of their time arguing, debating, sifting evidence, challenging the views of those set above them, and so on. Religion does not consist of the mere repetition of religious material, but rather often also in an attempt at understanding it and working with it to apply religion to contemporary issues. This is just as true for Islam as for any other religion, and we need to remind ourselves of the subversive nature of the Qur

) an itself. When the Holy Book was

revealed, it challenged the prevailing views and what up to that point had defined authority. The Qur

) an argues

that individuals should not do what their fathers had done just because this was accepted practice; instead it adovocates thinking, reasoning and arguing

until the truth is revealed. It is difficult to argue, then, that Qur

) anic education

is in itself opposed to modern principles of teaching and learning. This is not to ignore the fact that in many places Qur

) anic education follows a traditional

model which does stand in the way of modern education. However, when this occurs perhaps it is simply the case of adopting too much respect for tradition, something that the Book itself constantly counsels against.