Tariq Ramadan on the Future of Islamic Education

Toward a Better Future for Western Muslims
By Reading Islam Staff

Over the last 25 or 30 years what western Muslims have achieved is great
Dr. Tariq Ramadan

The transcript of part of a talk by Dr. Tariq Ramadan on “Islamic Education in the UK: A View To The Future, 2012”, which he gave at Jesus College, The University of Oxford.

There are three things as an introduction just to start with when it comes to Islamic education.

I think it’s a critical discussion and very often we come back to this discussion about some of the things that we are trying to do in the West with Islamic schools:

Is it the right way or not?

What are the priorities?

The Objectives

And I think that sometimes we are missing the point not coming back to the fundamentals. What are we talking about when it comes to education and what are the objectives?

So I would prefer to start with this which is the framework and the objectives: the principles, the way and the objectives, and then to see which kind of answers we can give because when we speak about Islamic education we are not speaking about education for Muslims, we are speaking about the principles and the framework, the system, and the objectives that we are trying to promote and remain faithful to when it comes to education, I think that this is something which once again has to be discussed.

And very often I see people want to do exactly the same as what is done by other systems and just add ‘Islamic’. And they are very happy in the competition when the Muslims are doing as good as the others. My point is not just to enter in a competition and do the same as the others and we are happy because we are adding ‘Islamic’. What is the added value of Islamic education in the West? The point for me is not to integrate within the system, it’s to contribute to reform the system for the better.

So it’s a philosophy, it’s an approach. I can understand someone who may disagree with me from the very beginning. So let us agree or disagree from the beginning but this is the way I’m starting the discussion: What’s the added value and what are the principles that we need to understand or to promote or to translate in our life?

A Structured Approach

I saw too many people having the good intentions to have an Islamic school. But the philosophy, the principles, and the objectives are not there

And the second point is really to go to something which is a structured way of dealing with the issue. Good intentions and hopes, this is always good. Actions are judged by our intentions. But it is not because we have good intentions that we are prevented from being structured, disciplined, knowing exactly what we want and what we have to do. So I saw too many people having the good intentions to have an Islamic school. But the philosophy, the principles, and the objectives are not there. So the good intentions could destroy if we don’t have the right way of doing things.

And this is something that we get from the Prophet’s life (peace be upon him), always asking God to help him, but not forgetting to think when it comes to implement, and to ask the people around him, even non-Muslims, people from other faiths, “Help me to go the right way. I rely on God but I need human intelligence and human agency in anything that I have to do.”

And we are in the West surrounded by people who are working on education, coming with new theories, trying their best to come with better theories, and we are sometimes neglecting all this in the name of the fact that we have the right principles! But to have the right principles and not the right methodologies is wrong, because there is no way of understanding the principles if we don’t know how to implement them in a specific context.

So, this is why to be a good Muslim is to have two types of knowledge: The principles and the context, the environment, where and with whom you are living, what you are to achieve here in the name of the principles, and knowing the context within which you are living.

And then to come to evaluation, we need it, we need to evaluate, we need to assess where we are. What we have achieved within the last 25 years. I would say that we have to be positive about this because over the last 25 or 30 years what the western Muslims, the European Muslims, have achieved is great. If only we are looking at what we have achieved coming from where we were coming as Muslims in the West is great. Does it mean that we should be happy with it? We should be happy with the constructive and be critical with the failures and what still has to be improved in the whole process.

Main Principles

Now, let me come to some of the principles that are so important for me when it comes to Islamic education as the principles on which we have to rely. I think that this is where everything when it comes to the beginning of the revelation that we have is really to understand the oneness of God. Tawheed is essential. But when God is talking to the Prophet (peace be upon him) the first dimension on which He is relying, talking about himself is Rab Al-Aalamin. Rab is not exactly the way we translate it into English, it is not ‘Lord’. In Rab, there is the root of tarbia (education). So He is taking someone, the chosen one, the purified, and saying “Now I’m your educator. Now this is the way I’m taking you from here and I want you to go there. So on the way towards truth, on the way towards Me, on the way towards being close to Me, I’m your Educator and you are going to be educated. With this process, you are yourself going to be the model for all. So you are the best because the educator is God”. So education is something which is essential.

in any Islamic education based on the Islamic principles you educate the mind and you educate the heart

On what dimensions is this tarbia (education) based? And even when we have something which is really disconnection with God when Allah is talking about Himself. Al-Rahman. And you know how much the Prophet (peace be upon him) loved this chapter, the chapter of Al-Rahman where education was mentioned twice in the beginning of the chapter. He taught Quran, the recitation, the revelation. He created man and then He taught him how to express himself. Between coming from God with this understanding the revelation and being able to speak out there is twice ‘education’.

So education here is essential, not only knowledge and this is why Abu Hamed Al-Ghazali was very much in his book 'Ihyaa Oulum Al-Deen' writing on this dimension of knowledge and understanding. Knowledge is what you get and understanding is what you understand out of what you are getting.

So this is something which is this dimension of ‘knowledge’, ‘understanding’ and we have a third word which became a specialized word when it comes to Islamic law and jurisprudence ‘Fiqh’. In fact, Fiqh is deep knowledge, and deep knowledge is the knowledge of the revelation, the understanding of the revelation, and the implementation of this revelation in your time and in your place to remain flexible. So you have the three dimensions: Knowledge, understanding and Fiqh. So these three dimensions are all important.

But it’s not enough to get that because as it was said, very often when we start talking about this, we think in our systems that very often when we speak about understanding, we speak about mind, your mind. That’s wrong. Your heart is involved in understanding. And this is a dimension which is so important in anything that has to do with spirituality, is that in any Islamic education based on the Islamic principles you educate the mind and you educate the heart.

So this is something that we know. Any teacher knows that you always get better knowledge when you love the teacher. It’s easier. Mathematics is always easier when you love the teacher. So this is why the Messenger was loved. He was loved and he was the best teacher because at the same time he came with the fact that “Lawful is clear and unlawful is clear”. It’s clear, there are limits but because we love you and you learn to teach us how to love Him, we understand that it is out of love that we respect the limits.

So our minds are ready to respect because our hearts are open to love...

Watch Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s Full Talk

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Related Links:
The Islamic Philosophy of Education
Islamic Education: What Choices!
The Westernization of Islamic Education
Challenges Facing Islamic Education
Excellence in Islamic Education Key Issues for the Present Time

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