Education…what do you instantly think of? Most people think of school and academic subjects and those of us that have been privileged enough to attend religious lectures on the matter, immediately think of the popular sayings of our Prophet [pbuh] and our Imams [pbut]. Examples include but are not limited to “seek knowledge from cradle to grave” and/ or “seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim male and female”. We hear these sayings and since most of us are either in school or have graduated, we pat ourselves on the back on a job well done. Alhumdulilah, we are educated. Are we really?
For those of us that have graduated recently, we caught ourselves questioning our education. What did we really learn? How much of it will we retain? Will we ever get jobs in the fields we want? Will we be making enough money?
And then the truth dawns on us; we went through four or more years of higher education worth thousands of dollars to get a piece of paper in return and the only thing this piece of paper proves is that we ‘can’ learn. For some unfortunate people, this is the first time they think about the purpose of education. Why do we bother educating ourselves? What does your education do for you? Is formal schooling the equivalent of an education?
Mark Twain once said “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” and I agree with him on that. So, what is education and what is the purpose of educating ourselves?
Education is a subjective concept as each person’s values and beliefs about it vary to a great extent. Personally, I define education as the never ending gradual process of acquiring worldly and religious knowledge. I believe the purpose of education can not be strictly defined into any one category of development. I see education as social initiation, social reformation, personal development and as the basis of academic understanding. Education is social initiation because it allows students to learn social norms that are prevalent in any society. These norms shape the present and the future of students. I believe sometimes these norms are taught explicitly and at times implicitly. This process begins formally in kindergarten and continues on to post-secondary education. It mainly teaches students how to conform to their society and I believe a teacher leads by example in this case. Students learn these norms just by the way the teacher treats them. So for all those future parents out there, think about this when you are choosing between a public and an Islamic school for your 5year old. Anyone that thinks teachers do not influence their students is gravely mistaken.
Secondly, I believe education can also be used for social reformation. If there are changes to be made in a society, the best way to make them is through education. I see one clear example of this as the environmentalist movement that has been ingrained in our public schools now however at one point in time it was unheard of for schools to have a recycling program. I have also seen many of my teachers lead by example in this case and provoke students to think about the environment. Therefore, I believe this is another purpose of education as it brings activism into the classroom which is crucial for students to become a functioning, caring part of society. In addition, I have encountered many fellow Muslims that are so involved in their formal schooling that they neglect current events. They are unaware of the situations that other Muslims are dealing with and even if they are aware, they don’t seem to care at all. If we as Muslims want to change the system, we must use social reformation via formal schooling to our advantage. We must make ourselves aware of the issues at hand and we must be prepared to discuss/explain them to our friends. If you are old enough to know the details of every celebrity’s life, then you are old enough to understand the israel/Palestine issue among other issues.
Thirdly, personal development seems like an obvious goal for education to me. The individual has to choose what to do with his/her life and the teacher has to be the guide. The personal development of each student is different based on his/her abilities and choices. Parents also play an important role in this case and they should never leave everything up to the school authorities.
Lastly, and most importantly I believe education provides students with academic understanding. It gives students research based information as tools for their success. Students are able to use education as a means to fulfill their needs whether they are social or financial. Education provides students with the tools for continual development for lifelong success. A student should be able to know the basic content of a course however more importantly, a student should know how to interact with people and know his/her place in the society. A student should care about the society he/she resides in and a teacher should lead by example in this case by showing regard for the students.
I believe education must have aspects of activism in it to make it worthwhile. It may be too optimistic to assume that education can solve major problems but quite frankly, I see education as the only long term solution to the problems we face today. The masses must be educated about social justice as only then can the masses realize what needs to be done to fix the system. The path to real education is through formal schooling at this point in time. Formal schooling teaches us critical thinking skills however it is our job to use those critical thinking skills beyond the classroom, for instance when we hear/read the News.
As Muslims, it is impossible for us to separate our schooling from our identity. Therefore, the smart thing to do is to combine the two, i.e. educate yourself about Islam and then make Islam a filter for all the information you receive. In this manner, it will be difficult for anyone to ever mislead you into believing false information or following the wrong path. We must be optimistic and believe that the world can be changed for good, one student at a time.
There are many educated people who have ruined their future on account of their ignorance of religion. Their knowledge did not prove of any avail to them.
~ Imam Ali [a.s.]