Islamic Education Today and Yesterday: Principal Themes and their Potential to Enlighten Western Education

Islamic Education Today and Yesterday: Principal Themes and their Potential to Enlighten Western Education

Terence Lovat (University of Newcastle, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8528-2.ch001
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The chapter will offer a literature review of principal themes to be found in contemporary and earlier sources concerned with distinctive features of Islamic education. It will be found that, among a number of themes, those concerned with the teacher-student relationship and the holistic balance between intellectual and spiritual/moral ends stand out as dominant. Explicit in much contemporary literature and implicit in some earlier sources lies a critique of Western education as more instrumental and so narrower regarding these two features. The chapter will conclude with a summary of the distinctive contribution that Islamic education can make to a Western education contemporaneously in search of a renewed holism and fortified moral component.
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Speaking at a seminal gathering of Muslim educators in Saudi Arabia in 1977, Syed Muhammad al-Attas (1979) noted the dilemma facing Muslim education everywhere at the time, namely that Muslims were at risk of losing the essence of Islamic education. So what was this essence, in his view? He spoke mainly of two things: first, the central importance of the nature of the relationship between teacher and student, one characterized as close, personal and loving, so reflecting the role of the teacher as standing in the place of God in the student’s formation; and, second, the need for balance between intellectual and broader developmental aims, especially those around moral and spiritual formation. Both of these essential features of Islamic education were seen as being under threat from the dominance of Western educational priorities, ones that were affecting Muslim education both directly in Western settings but also through Western influence in Muslim countries. The inference was that Western educational assumptions are built around more instrumentalist notions of teacher-student relations and more pragmatic, outcomes-based aims rather than those pertaining to holistic human achievement, both of which run counter to the essence of Islamic education. In a word, Islamic education was conceived of as being principally a form of holistic moral education, to be seen in the distinctive ambience of teacher-student relations and the balancing of intellectual with moral and spiritual ends. These principal features can be found as persistent themes among Muslim scholars, today and yesterday, addressing Islamic education’s distinctiveness. They are also features that persistently arise in Western education reforms striving to overcome the narrow instrumentalism around which al-Attas’s critique is focussed. Among these reforms are those centrally concerned with quality teaching and modes of moral education.

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