The importance of Islamic education may be best understood if we reflect upon the first revelation that came to the Prophet Mohammad (SAS). The first word of the revelation was Iqra which ment read. Iqra is a very comprehensive word. It instructed Prophet Mohammad (SAS) and his followers to read, write, understand, share and propagate by all possible means. Iqra is repeated in the very first brief revelation to stress its importance. It is amazing that even the means for the teaching and learning process is specified as a ‘qalam’ or pen. In fact the pen is a great gift from Allah (SWT) to mankind. Only the human beings have the privilege, honor and ability to write or record their ideas and reflections. In this way the mankind may benefit from the previous works or leave behind the works achieved by them for the coming generations. Obviously, audio, and video taping and computer are modern alternatives of recording by a pen.
How and where should the teaching/learning process start? Note that the first instruction to Prophet Mohammad (SAS) for propagation of education was: Ash-Shuara # 214
And warn your tribe (O Mohammad(SAS)) of near kindred.
Hence, education process must begin from our own family. In fact this was the way of all the Prophets.
Allah (SWT) also says to the believer in the Quran. At-Tahrim # 6
O you who believe! Ward off yourselves and your families against a Fire.
The companions of Mohammad (SAS) asked him, “How do we save our families from the hellfire?” The messenger (SAS) said, “By giving them Islamic education.”
Similarly Allah (SWT) instructs us to offer salat very regularly and make
And enjoin As-Salat (the prayer) on your family, and be patient in offering them [i.e. the Salat (prayers)].
Hence education and its application must start from our own families. Such education will have strong roots since family members recognize our sincerity and noble efforts more readily. Outsiders may label us phony or a madman.
What was the most important goal of our forefathers in their lives? In order to seek an answer to this question, consider the historic event when the Prophet Ibrahim (AS) and Prophet Ismail (AS) built the house of Allah (SWT) in Makkah. Upon completion of this task, they humbled themselves even more and made this important supplication.
Al-Baqarah # 128
“Our Lord! And make us submissive unto You and of our offspring a nation submissive unto You, and show us our Manasik (all the ceremonies of pilgrimage – Hajj and ‘Umrah), and accept our repentance. Truly, You are the One Who accepts repentance, the Most Merciful.
Hence the goal of our forefathers was to acquire education as well as to impart education to their children so that they maybe truly submissive to the will of Allah (SWT). In order to achieve these goals, they added to this historical dua, Al-Baqarah # 129
“Our Lord! Send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall recite unto them Your Verses and instruct them in the Book (this Quran) and Al-Hikmah (full knowledge of the Islamic laws and jurisprudence or wisdom or Prophethood), and purify them. Verily! You are the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.”
Allah (SWT) granted this prayer of our forefathers, and sent Prophet Mohammad (SAS) to accomplish these goals. Note that among all of the favors of Allah (SWT) to mankind, the most important favor is providing of the guidance to his servants. Allah (SWT) reminds us of His favors in surah Aal-Imran #164
Indeed Allah conferred a great favour on the believers when He sent among them a Messenger (Mohammad(SAS)) from among themselves, reciting unto them His Verses (the Quran), and purifying them (from sins by their following him), and instructing them (in) the Book (the Quran) and Al-Hikmah (the wisdom and the Sunnah of the Prophet(SAS)), while before that they had been in manifest error.
Let us examine how Prophet Mohammad (SAS) accomplished these goals and objectives. Prophet Mohammad (SAS) built Masjid Nabawi in Madina soon after his migration from Makkah to Madina. This mosque had no roof for a long time because of lack of financial resource. The companions of Prophet Mohammad (SAS) prayed in this mosque in intense heat for a long time. We note that even at that time an area was exclusively reserved in the mosque for teaching/learning process. Many of his companions used to stay in this platform day and night. They not only conducted teaching/learning activities there but also ate there and slept there. Doctor Hameedullah calls it a residential university. Let us see how this university operated at that time. We note that once Saad bin Ubada (RU) invited eighty students of this university for a dinner. This indicated that the number of the students was very large and that the rich people helped this institution in whatever way they could. We also find that Muadh bin Jabal (RU) spent too much in charity and went into debt. Therefore he had to sell his home to get himself out of this debt. Now he had no place to live. Due to these circumstances he had to live in this residential university. However, he did not want to be an unnecessary burden on the university. He was therefore assigned the task of watching the unripe fruit and dates donated for the residents of the university. Hence, everyone must help the teaching institution whatever way one can. We may add here that when Muadh bin Jabal was appointed governor of Yemen, he was instructed by Prophet (SAS) to go from state to state and town to town to initiate teaching institutions and make sure that they worked productively.
These students were living in this university only for the sake of their love for learning. For example, Abdullah bin Umar ] considered it a wastage of time traveling between Quba and Medina. He preferred to leave home and parents and lived among these residents. Finally we note that one student of this university happened to die. They discovered two dinars in his pocket while his funeral was being prepared. The Prophet (SAS) showed a sign of displeasure and said: “Anyone with two dinars does not deserve a free lunch in this university.” This teaches us that no one is allowed to take undue advantage of the various facilities of teaching institutions. This gives us some insights in the functioning of the residential university at the time of the Prophet (SAS). All these details are given from Dr. Hameedullah’s lectures in Bahawalpur University.
One day the Prophet (SAS) came out of his home into the mosque and found two groups of his companions in the mosque. One group was engaged in the remembrance of Allah (SWT), while the other group was engaged in teaching/learning process among themselves. Both groups were obviously doing beneficial activities. However, the Prophet Mohammad (SAS) preferred to join the one engaged in the teaching/learning process. This shows the love and importance of Islamic Education in his mind. He used to say: “I wish that no day dawns on me when I have not learned something new.”
The participants of this residential university of Madina were called As’hab-us-Suffah.
We further note that at the time of the battle of Badr some prisoners of war could not pay ransom. The Prophet (SAS) asked each of them to teach at least ten Muslims as their ransom. He did not hesitate to make use of non-Muslim teachers when enough Muslim teachers were not available.
Once a nine year old boy was riding behind the Prophet (SAS). The Prophet (SAS) said to him: “Oh young man, let me teach you some words of wisdom. If everything and everybody gathers together to benefit you in some way, they can’t benefit you except what Allah (SWT) has ordained for you. Similarly if everything and everyone got together to harm you in some way, they can’t harm you except what Allah (SWT) has written for you.”
We wonder why Prophet Mohammad (SAS) chose to teach this young lad such high words of wisdom. Obviously, the Prophet Mohammad (SAS) understood the true potential of young men. The name of this young man was Abdullah bin Abbas (RU). As a result of this education, Abdullah was a member of the Central Advisory Council of Omar (RU) when the Islamic state had spread far and wide to many continents. This young man was running the daily affairs of this huge Islamic state. The other members of this advisory council were very elderly companions of Prophet Muhammd (SAS). They felt awkward having this young lad with them. Umar (RU) noticed this concern of the elderly members of the council. He asked elderly members a question. “What do you think were the circumstances in which surah An-Nasr was revealed?
The elderly members replied that it was pointing towards the conquest of Makkah when a large number of people entered Islam. Omar (RU) asked the same questions to Abdullah bin Abbas (RU) in the presence of these elderly members. Abdullah said: “I think it points out that the mission of the Prophet Mohammad (SAS) was nearly fulfilled and he was about to leave us.” Omar (RU) replied: “I felt the same way.” We further notice that this was the last complete surah revealed to the Prophet (SAS) and after this revelation he changed his dhikr from Subha Nallah Wa Bi Hamdedi Subha Nalla-hul-Azeem to Subha Nallah Wa Bi Hamdedi Astagh Feroka Wa Attobo Elyk. Aisha [ asked, “What made you change your dhikr?” The Prophet Mohammad (SAS) said, “I have been ordered so.” And then he recited surah An-Nasr. This clearly tells that potential of the young is tremendous and if it is utilized properly, it can work miracles.
Prophet Mohammad (SAS) also paid special attention to the Islamic education of women. We note an interesting observation in the oldest book on seerah called Al-Maghazy of Ibn Ishaq. According to some pages of this book published recently in Marocco, Prophet Mohammad (SAS) used to first recite the revelation to a group of men as soon as he received it. He would then recite it to a group of women as well, indicating the significance of Islamic education of women. There are several sayings of Mohammad (SAS) that refer to this. One of the hadith states, “Whoever had three daughters and was patient in raising them. It would become a protection for him from the hellfire.” (Bukhari)
A second hadith states, “Whoever has three daughters whom he provides dwelling, supports them, and has mercy on them, paradise is guaranteed reward for him.” (Bukhari)
Islamic education had always been a top priority in the minds of distinguished Muslims, even in very adverse circumstances. Imam Shafi became orphan when he was a child. His mother left him with her brother since she could not support her son financially and she went back to her parents. Imam Shafi memorized the entire holy Quran when he was only seven years old. He received other Islamic education as well. He moved to Makkah with his uncle and received additional Islamic education from the top scholars of the time. Now he wished to become a student of Imam Malik in Madina. He had no money for travel and personal needs. He obtained a letter of recommendation from his teacher in Makkah for a scholarship and arranged some funds for travel. Imam Shafi’ presented this letter to Imam Malik who read it and said to him angrily, “Do you think Islamic education is left for recommendation only.” Imam Malik however saw the talent of this young man. He not only took him as his student but also provided for his needs from his own pocket. Imam Shafi’ made himself distinguished among the students of Imam Malik.
Similarly, we find an interesting situation of Imam As-Sarakhsy
who lived in the 5th century after the Hijra. He was an expert on Islamic jurisprudence and was very honest and bold. The rulers of his time imposed additional unjust taxes on the public. In fact the rulers were squandering money and wanted to put more financial burden on the public. Imam As-Sarakhsy gave a verdict and instructed people not to pay the taxes. The ruler could not kill him, but he imprisoned the Imam in a dead well. The Imam remained for fourteen years in that well. He received permission from his guard to allow his students to come and sit around the edge of the well. Imam dictated to his students the explanation of the book As-Sayr Al-Kabeer written by a famous student of Imam Abu Hanifa. This explanation was produced in four volumes. Similarly, Imam As-Sarakhsy dictated verbally and produced Kitab Al-Mabsoot in thirty volumes. Dozens of other books were produced from this dead well by Imam As-Sarakhsy as well.
We know that Prophet Yusuf (AS) used to impart education to his prison mates while he was in prison. Hence teaching/learning process must go on all the time.
Obviously, a question comes to mind: “What do we gain by acquiring and imparting Islamic education?” Allah (SWT) says in the Quran At-Tur # 21
And those who believe and whose offspring follow them in Faith: to them shall we join their offspring, and We shall not decrease the reward of their deeds in anything. Every person is a pledge for that which he has earned.
In other words, if children happen to be at a lower level of Heaven than their parents, then parents will wish that the whole family will be united in Paradise. Allah (SWT) is promising here to unite them, provided that the children have good faith as their parents do and that they follow in their parents footstep in practice.
Abu Hurairah (RU) narrated that Prophet Mohammad (SAS) said, “Some people will find themselves in very high levels of paradise. They will wonder how they achieved these very high levels, since their deeds were not so supreme. Allah (SWT) will say to them, ‘You left behind your children who were always praying for you, with each of their prayers your level in paradise was raised higher and higher.’” (Musnad Ahmad)