Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Education in Islam - The role of the Mosque

Salah Zaimeche PhD presents an historical overview.

The Quran urges the faithful to, think, ponder, reflect and acquire knowledge that would bring them closer to God and to His creation.

The Quran uses repetition in order to imbed certain key concepts in the consciousness of its listeners. Allah (God) and Rab (the Sustainer) are repeated 2,800 and 950 times respectively in the sacred text; Ilm (knowledge) comes third with 750 mentions.

The prophet Muhammad commanded knowledge upon all Muslims, and urged them to seek knowledge as far they could reach, and also to seek it at all times.

Following these commands and traditions, Muslim rulers insisted that every Muslim child acquired learning, and they themselves gave considerable support to institutions, and learning in general. This contributed largely with the commands of Islam to make elementary education almost universal amongst Muslims. `It was this great liberality,' says Wilds `which they [the Muslims] displayed in educating their people in the schools which was one of the most potent factors in the brilliant and rapid growth of their civilisation. Education was so universally diffused that it was said to be difficult to find a Muslim who could not read or write.'

In Muslim Spain, according to Scott, there was not a village where `the blessings of education’ could not be enjoyed by the children of the most indigent peasant, and in Cordoba were eight hundred public schools frequented alike by Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and where instruction was imparted by lectures. The Spanish Muslim received knowledge at the same time and under the same conditions as the literary pilgrims from Asia Minor and Egypt, from Germany, France, and Britain. And in the great Muslim university of Cordoba, both Jews and Christians attained to acknowledged distinction as professors. So high was the place of learning that both teachers and pupils were greatly respected by the mass of the population; and the large libraries collected by the wealthy landed and merchants showed that learning—as in the Italian Renaissance (six hundred years later)—was one of the marks of a gentleman.

`In scarcely any other culture,’ Pedersen holds, has the literary life played such a role as in Islam. Learning (ilm), by which is meant the whole world of the intellect, engaged the interest of Muslims more than anything…. The life that evolved in the mosques spread outward to put its mark upon influential circles everywhere.'

Every place, from the mosque to the hospital, the observatory, to the madrassa was a place of learning. Scholars also addressed gatherings of people in their own homes. Al-Ghazali, Al-Farabi, and Ibn Sinna, amongst many more, after teaching in public schools, retired to their private libraries and studies, and continued teaching `those fortunate enough to be invited.'

This universality, not even equalled today, thirst and impetus for education was proper to those days, when Islam was the banner, and like most achievements only proper to those days, and none others. The role and place taken by knowledge in that era will be considered (God willing) in subsequent works. Here, focus will be on the organisation of education, its aims and methods, above all the role of the Mosque. That of the madrassa, another lengthy subject, will be covered subsequently.

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