Friday, June 19, 2009

1400-Years Old Lessons for Today‏

By: Erum

Assalamu Alaykum. One of the posts mentioned the Prophet (saw) as a teacher. What can educators and institutions learn from the Prophet (saw) and his ‘classes’? Here are my initial thoughts: (I will benefit from your thoughts.)

  1. CHOICE vs. COERCION: The people who attended the Prophet (saw)’s ‘classes’ CHOSE to do so. They were not coerced into attending his gatherings. They WANTED to learn from him. When I CHOOSE to learn something, the outcome is very different from when I am required to learn it. Learning involves the heart, not just the mind. When the heart is not in it, what lasting good can be expected?

  2. CLASS-LENGTH: The Prophet (saw)’s ‘classes’ are not known to last for half the day, 5-6 days a week, 9 months in a year, with additional time being stolen from students’ family time for homework etc. On the contrary, this incident mentioned in Shahih Bukhari is an eye-opener: 'Abdullah (ibn Masood) used to give a religious talk to the people on every Thursday. Once a man said, "O Aba 'Abdur-Rahman! (By Allah) I wish if you could preach us daily." He replied, "The only thing which prevents me from doing so, is that I hate to bore you, and no doubt I take care of you in preaching by selecting a suitable time just as the Prophet used to do with us, for fear of making us bored." Rasulullah (saw) and his companion were careful about not overdoing it with adults. Children have much shorter attention spans. How much more sensitive we need to be with children!

  3. EMBRACING VS. EXCLUDING: The Prophet (saw)’s society instinctively knew something which traditional societies know, but very few people in today’s ‘brainwashed’ society understand. Those people knew that children are an integral part of the lives of adults, and vice versa. Children learn the most important things in life by hanging around adults, and not 30 other babes. Those people DID NOT EXCLUDE children from their lives. Children had easy access to the Prophet (saw). How many Imams and leaders are accessible to children today? The children were in the Prophet (saw)’s masjid, praying with him and attending his ‘dars’, riding with him, and fighting alongside him in battle! Do today’s masjids, Islamic classes, and adults’ halaqahs welcome children or repel them? Put yourself in a child’s shoes, then imagine aunties and uncles at masjids and classes looking crossly at you and reprimanding you and your mother for being there. What kind of feelings will you grow up with for these places? While the Prophet’s society embraced children, today’s society has a GET-THEM-OUT-OF-THE-WAY attitude. Schools and TV are two great ways to achieve this.

  4. CLASSES FOR ADULTS--- OPEN TO KIDS: Children, by nature, want to do what the adults are doing. And they resist uninvited teaching. So it makes more sense to have classes for adults where children are welcomed rather than have classes for children alone. The Prophet (saw)’s ‘classes’ perhaps aimed primarily at adults, were open to all. When you have classes for children alone, unaccompanied by their parents, a lot of your time will be spent, NOT in learning and teaching, but in CROWD-CONTROL. On a side-note, I have conducted weekly Islamic classes for children coming with their mothers, and classes without mothers. I found the classes to be more productive and effective when the mothers came. Firstly, her very presence shows that she is interested in her child’s learning. Otherwise, isn’t it more convenient to just send your child? Secondly, when mothers learn alongside their children, mums can go home and implement it. A child can’t do that. Much waste of the teacher’s efforts. Islamic schools need to think about this.

  5. NO AGE-SEGREGATION: Schools today are based on age-segregation. They stack 5-yr olds in one room, 6-yr olds in another one and 12-year olds in yet another one. This most unnatural partitioning exists nowhere else in real-life. (Yet schools are thought to prepare kids for the real world!). The Prophet (saw)’s classes were not age-segregated. Sayyidina Umar (ra) and his son attended together! Someone who acquired his Islamic education in traditional West Africa mentioned that there was a 60-year old and a 6-year old in his class. (Read John Taylor Gatto for the trouble with age-segregation.)

  6. WITHHOLD TESTING AND JUDGING: Rasulullah (saw) was constantly enriching people. But he was not constantly testing and judging them. Was he known to be asking: “What verse did I teach you yesterday?” “Wrong. Weren’t you paying attention?” “Right! Very Good” Was he labeling people as ‘Pass’ or ‘Fail’, ‘slow’ or ‘genius’ based on how much they could recall? How flawed, damaging and time-wasting the testing and grading system is requires another write-up. Suffice it to say that many of us hide behind ‘impressive degrees’ but have little knowledge and in-depth understanding of the very subjects we spent years studying.

The author homeschools her 4 children in UAE.


  1. Bismillah
    Jazakillahu khairan for this excellent insightful post about education of young children and adults during the time of our Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alyhi wasallam).
    The more I read up about education and it's methods today, I feel the need for the different educationists to engage in beneficial dialogue in order to be able to benefit the general masses, making motivating them to improve their children's early education. That is, parents need to focus more on their children's early years. This focus starts from pregnancy and goes on into infancy. Mothers should realize that their children develop their personalities the quickest, during early years of life.
    Right now, homeschooling is less common than public and private schooling. Homeschoolers rightly point out school systems’ defects, and even though it is not pleasing to know this, but, the fact remains that schools and colleges will not be disappearing from the horizon any time soon. Nor will teachers and educators. Education will continue outside the home, simply because home education is the ideal scenario that doesn't work for everyone. So if we know that there WILL be children who will need to go to a stranger to acquire knowledge, we can at the very least try to improve the public /private schooling system. This can be done once we accept each other's presence in the educational spectrum, and respect our differences of choice and outlook.
    Homeschoolers should therefore include as many school teachers in their spheres (whether physical or online) as possible. This will ensure that both groups interact and learn from each other.
    The question arises, till what age should a child be the one responsible for dictating to the parent when and how he or she wishes to learn? At what age does a parent know that "Okay, now s/he is old enough to study from a stranger."? We all know that Maeda Hanafi has been sent to university in New Haven at the age of 13. This in itself is a debatable issue.
    Prophet Muhammad's mosque is known Islam’s first university, because of the educational endeavors begun there for the Ashaab Al-Suffah, who were dedicated to learning outside their homes. Also, Islam encourages the seeking of knowledge by going to scholars even in different lands. This happens at a relatively adult age, but the fact remains that very few people will probably be educated at home by their mothers well into their late teens. Some might choose to learn from others (e.g the scholars of our time) and travel for this reason. In this case, I think the parents should respect their children's wishes, in particular if this learning is sanctioned and encouraged by Islam itself.
    Prophet Muhammad [sal Allahu alayhi wasallam] is himself an example of someone who did not receive his parents' guardianship during his early years, but rather he was raised by his grandfather and uncle.
    Another example that came to my mind was how Anas Bin Malik was left by his mother in the full-time company of Prophet Muhammad [sal Allahu alayhi wasallam] at the age of ten. That's a pretty young age for a child to be deprived of his parents' company, would we say? However, his mother had probably worked harder on him than we do with our wards nowadays, and therefore, acquiring the company of the best of mankind was an incentive for this sacrifice.
    The bottom-line is: each family is different, whether we look at the parents, their individual children, or them as a whole. Homeschooling is an amazing alternative to education, but I doubt it will ever replace or eliminate the traditional schooling system or the standardized testing system any time soon. It will also not work for everyone, because of the different circumstances of each family.
    For the time being, in order to try to improve the roles young mothers and teachers in schools play in the lives of young children, we can be more accommodating of their efforts in our circles, including them and educating them on how to deal with children, so that whatever teaching they do (within homes or schools) is improved and rectified.

  2. I also feel that a lot of how a child performs at school depends on the parents reactions to his or her test results. If the child does not do well on standardized tests, and the parents do not show concern (e.g. if they have identified that math is not their child’s area of interest, and do not show a negative reaction when s/he scores low on its tests) the child might not feel so bad about scoring low.