By Maulana Muhammad Rabe Nadwi, Rector, Nadwatul Ulama
Translated by Mufti Mohammad Anwar Khan
When Allah Almighty created the first human being on this earth, He gave him all the necessary articles to help him live in this world with ease, along with his progeny. He placed in him a curiosity, a very significant inherent nature: seeking knowledge. This quality is not found in other living creatures of the world. It is obvious that this quality has not been inculcated in the human beings without a purpose. The Holy Qur'an says, “So did you think that We created you for nothing and that you will not be brought back to Us?” (23:115). “And I did not create the jinns and the human beings except that they should worship Me.”(51:56)
Through these verses, two important points are highlighted for us. One of them is that Allah (swt) has given the human beings a purpose in their lives so that they understand their mission in this world - the meaning in their lives - and accordingly, lead their lives. The second important point is that Allah has created all worldly things like the earth, the sky, the space etc. to help us fulfill our mission. Along with these two important things, the biggest Divine gift presented to human beings is that Allah has bestowed upon all of us an inherent, inborn quality, a thirst for seeking knowledge. By seeking knowledge, a person can perform remarkable acts in this world. He can fulfill all his worldly needs. At the same time, he can perform all the Divine obligations assigned to him by his Creator. So, a person should understand his purpose in this life - spiritually and materially - and should try to maximize the benefits. But, at the same time, he should keep in his mind that he should not seek knowledge merely for meeting his worldly needs, and selfishly strive to further his goals in seeking material wealth. He should aim behind his education at seeking the greatest purpose of life. The Holy Qur'an has laid a great stress on this point. Allah (swt) says in the Holy Qur'an, “Read and your Lord is the most Gracious, Who imparted knowledge by means of the pen. He taught man what he did not know.” (96:3-5)
When the Prophet of Allah (saws) communicated this verse to his Companions, they at once paid their full attention towards attaining the knowledge that was required from them by their Creator. Within a short period of time, the focus on education became the center of public attention in the Muslim community. They started to make rapid achievements in different fields of study inspired by the lofty teachings of the Holy Qur'an, which taught them to ponder, reflect, and think about the world around them. Armed with the knowledge from the Holy Qur'an, they started taking a keen interest in other sciences around them, diversifying their studies, seeking to gain an excellence in all their educational endeavors, and other related undertakings.
Soon, a number of Muslims achieved the highest calibers in learning, and over a period of three centuries, they excelled over all the other nations in the world in various educational spheres. It was clearly the Golden Age of the Islamic Civilization, which was enriched by the Muslim society, and helped to shape the history of the whole world, giving it a sense of direction. Gradually, the neighboring nations started to benefit from the Muslims. At last, the wisdom of achieving a literary and scientific education became the most desirable achievement that was required for a Muslim in this world, to be recognized by others as a man of letters, talents, manners, cultivation of good taste and refinement of knowledge in order to improve his standing in the society - a trait that would soon be adopted by other European countries in the West.
But, after five glorious centuries of attaining excellence in different educational sectors and learning passed, the Muslims became negligent in seeking a quality education for themselves and their families and stagnated among the nations of this world for overlooking this inborn trait gifted to them since their birth by Allah. In this period, the nations which were uneducated, underdeveloped, and ill-equipped made vast strides in the field of education, after having learnt its importance from the Arabs. As a result, they took the center stage in the world, and started to dominate all fields of learning, which had been until then ignored by the Muslims and attained astonishing accomplishments in the field of knowledge. They became the leaders, dominating all the fields of education known to human beings.
Nowadays, the Muslims appear to have slowly started realizing that one of the reasons for their backwardness was neglecting the basic commandments of the Holy Qur'an that exhorted them to read, learn, think, ponder, and reflect upon various things around them, and in the process acquire sufficient knowledge to recognize the Grand Design of their Creator in His Divine Plan in creating His order in this Universe. They are now sharply feeling this defect in the Muslim society, and striving hard to overcome the obstacles in their way, to remove their shortcomings, which stand in the way of getting themselves a well-rounded education. Now, if Muslims start to thirst for knowledge like their illustrious predecessors had done in the past, then it will be just a matter of time before they can achieve their lost glories in the field of learning, and dominate all the educational sectors in different walks of life.
What we are trying to say here is that: the purpose of learning education to the Western countries is the means to obtain worldly pleasures and luxury. Islam does not forbid Muslims from seeking such legitimate pleasures. However, if the purpose of any education is only to seek material gain and worldly wealth, then the purpose of seeking such an education becomes limited, selfish in its nature, and is considered inhumane as it benefits only individuals and not the society at large.
It is not proper for a human being that he keeps his eyes only on seeking the worldly pleasures, and develops a hankering for material wealth in this life, enclosing himself in a world of his own, by cutting himself from all his surroundings. On the contrary, the person, especially, the Muslim who is seeking an education will strive hard to benefit others by his learning, in the society in which he lives, and extend a helping hand to all humanity who may be in need of his services and talents. He should widen his horizon of thinking, and extend the scope of learning from beyond the material world and extend it into the spiritual world. We may profit from the worldly things but at the same time, we should have our eyes fully focused on the life, which we are all destined to live in the Hereafter. We should never forget that we have to leave this world one day for our heavenly abode in the Hereafter.
We should, therefore, try to enrich the world around us by improving upon, and enhancing the lives of other human beings around us with the help of knowledge and education, which they have gained in this world. In the glorious era of Muslim dominance, the central educational points used to benefit people in this world and the world in the Hereafter. But, when the imperialist powers started dominating the educational fields, they took the education that could benefit people in this world, and make them abandon the education that could lead them to prosperity in the Hereafter.
The Islamic schools established in different corners of India are serving the Muslims, and also the nation in this field. The people who are learning education in modern colleges and universities do not care for the spiritual aspects of education. They do not pay much heed to religion; they only follow the educational patterns that are designed for them by the Western culture, and curriculum. They are unable to understand the fact that this kind of knowledge is designed to alienate human beings away from religion. Such people always keep questioning the necessity of Islamic schools. They should understand that the Islamic schools are established to enforce the Islamic way of life and to inform the people that they need to pay heed to this aspect in education. They are designed to convince the human beings that they should seek through the knowledge of the Holy Qur'an, which they have attained, the lofty goals on this earth. They should enrich humanity with all the well-rounded religious and a liberal education they have sought for themselves to supplement and develop the needs of human beings in their midst, and thereby earn for themselves the pleasure of Allah both in this world and in the Hereafter.
Nowadays all the Muslim schools have equipped themselves with the necessary manpower, and the modern educational tools required to provide a modern education to their students along with the religious. They do not forbid Muslims from learning contemporary education. What they say is that one should not learn education that leads one towards renouncing sound social and human values.
But, it is distressing to note that in spite of the lofty examples and the noble ideals set by the Islamic learning centers of the past, the modern Muslim scholars educated in contemporary learning centers of the world keep criticizing the Islamic schools fed by a steady stream of false propaganda by Western imperialists who are keen to see that the Muslims of the world never come close once again to attaining their past glory in dominating the leading Universities of the world. They don’t like that the Muslims achieve the accomplishments done by their illustrious predecessors in the past - making the world a better place to live in with their knowledge and love towards education.
Convinced by their Western masters, and fascinated by their way of life and ideology, many people rush to call all the Muslims gaining an education in Islamic schools as potential terrorists, and the places of worship built for the Muslims on the campuses of Muslim Universities as hubs of terrorism. Anybody who is seen growing a beard has all the beginnings of a budding terrorist. If one goes to mosque regularly to pray, he is labeled as a complete terrorist! This is an ignorant attitude.
The Muslim Madrasas and schools across the country and the world should boldly invite impartial non-Muslim observers from the educational sectors and the Media to the Madrasas to monitor the Islamic teachings, which are imparted in these schools. Consequently, they can dispel the doubts created in the minds of the non-Muslim communities who are being fed with misinformation about these Madrasas. This process will effectively help set their minds at rest forever about the Muslim students and the community at large that the world would be benefited by encouraging more Madrasas to be opened in their midst. The teachers of the Muslim schools should take the burden of imparting quality education in these schools to all their students so that even the non-Muslims come forward to enroll their children and wards in these schools.