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Thursday, September 19, 2013

MUSLIM TEACHERS AND THE CHALLENGES OF KNOWLEDGE

Since the earliest days of man, Education has been the major factor that has played the most significant roles in the development of human civilization. It is a universal maxim that it is the light of the world. The Arabs say: al-'ilmu nuurun wal jahl zulmah.i.e knowledge is light while ignorance is darkness. It was the first divine yardstick of superiority from the time of the first man. It has been the pivot upon which the wheels of human progress rotate. To quote Mark Twain's irreverent jibe in his 'Pudd'nhead Wilson's New calendar of 1897: " In the first place, God created idiots. This was for practice, then He created schools". Freely translated, Education is any process of imparting and acquiring of knowledge, be it, in a formal or an informal manner. In Islam, this process is a lifelong project. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) is reported to have said that the search for, and acquisition of knowledge is from cradle to grave. A project that spans the entire period of man's existence is no doubt a serious one. To him, it is more important than prayers since that too, depends on Education to be acceptable to Allah the Almighty Creator. In fact, no other religion emphasizes the importance of education as Islam does. It is pertinent to assert that the Prophet gave preference to learners over supplicants. Ibn 'Abbas reports: "One day, the Prophet entered a mosque and saw two circles of Muslims-one circle consisted of people reciting litanies of supplications and remembrance of Allah, while the second circle consisted of people who were teaching and learning. The Prophet stood between the two circles and said: the two circles are involved in good deeds; as for these, they are praying to Allah for His favours, if He likes, He will give them what they want and if He likes, He won't; but as for these{ pointing at the second group}, they are teaching the uneducated ones. These are better in the sight of Allah. Surely, I have been raised as a teacher. He then sat in the company of those who were teaching and learning". In the light of the above, Education is a serious affair which requires the best of our attention. It must be guided by a deep sense of obligation and responsibility. From the aforesaid, it is clear that education can be seen as a Divine Trust. In Islam, the dimensions of this trust and its demands on the human society are diverse, and a true appreciation of them requires multi-sectoral and multi- faceted approaches. Universally, it is understood as trust and a natural right. It was in an obvious realization of this that nations of the world issued the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS on the 10th day of December, 1948. Article 26 of the declaration states: {1}Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.{2}Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial, or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace" The founding fathers of the American Nation also realized and recognized this trust very early and it is what assisted them in attaining the position of pre-eminence they occupy among the comity of nations. Writing as far back as 1870, James Russell Lowell declared: "It was in making education not only common but in some sense compulsory On all, that the destiny of the free republics of America was practically settled". Earlier in 1788, Benjamin Rush had written: " There is but one method of preventing crimes, and of rendering a republican form of government durable, and that is by disseminating the seeds of virtue and knowledge through every part of the state by means of proper places and modes of education" Education and its Challenges The nature of man is a very complex one. His needs are as diversified as the nature of his environment. The only type of Education that can manage man's multifarious needs and urges is such a one that is able to bring about an all-round development of the human potentials. It should focus on intellectual, moral and spiritual developments of man. Since man consists of body and soul, any development of one without the other must naturally lead to negative consequences. In Islam, the acquisition of knowledge is a prerequisite for Worship. Allah says in a Hadith Qudsi: Fa'rifuunii qabla an ta'buduuni, wa man lam ya'rifnii fa kayfa ya'budnii . Know me before you worship me; how will he who does not know me know how to worship me? The search for knowledge is so important for all Muslims that the Holy Prophet instructed that they could travel as far as China in its quest. It is also seen as an struggle in the way of Allah. In a tradition, the Prophet also said: Man kharaja fii tolabil 'ilmi fa huwa fii sabiilillahi hatta yarji'a Whoever goes forth in search of knowledge is on the path of Allah until he returns. The primacy given to the search for knowledge by Islam was what drove early Muslims into climbing the stairs of intellectual pre-eminence in the medieval period. They were the ones who revived the ancient Greek heritage and developed it long before the Europeans woke up from the slumbers of the Dark Ages. They excelled in all fields of learning and left their footprints on the sand of time. It is however unfortunate to observe that the spirit that motivated the early Muslims into academic pursuits is absent in us today, particularly among Nigerian Muslims. It would indeed be strange to early Muslims to know that a generation of Muslims who attach little or no importance would come after them despite the legacy they bequeathed to later generations. It is also disheartening to observe that in Nigeria in general, Education only enjoys the patronage of the tongue and paper. Governmental proclamations and documented policies that were never meant to be implemented are celebrated through the print and electronic media. This unwholesome attitude has given birth to the cult of mediocrity in the entire Nigerian Educational system. We therefore do not see in the educational sector the kind of commitment that can produce the "total" being. Those who manage the sector are either superficial in their approaches or give primacy to material profits. It must also be remembered that Education is a divine Trust for which man is accountable to Allah. It is not an accident that the first revelation in Islam is a commandment to read. The emphasis placed by Islam on learning shows that nothing can take the place of a sound education. The various prophetic declarations are instructive in this regard. It involves a plethora of duties and responsibilities that leaves no right thinking Muslim out. Since Islam places the task of developing and securing the society on the shoulders of every mature Muslim, the task of building the individuals who will develop the society is also a collective responsibility. The responsibility of an educator who understands that education is a divine trust is not an easy one. It becomes more complex when the educator is a Muslim. He is therefore expected to understand the nature of the task and be ready to face it. Because, this is a conference for Muslims, we have the greater role of ensuring that whatever we do in our schools keeps the Islamic vision of transforming the world in view. Our responsibility therefore becomes hydra-headed with several tasks attached to it. This is because though transformation we are talking about may be gradual, it has to be total. To achieve this therefore, the government, schools, teachers, parents, religious clerics and the media must understand the enormity of the task if any positive result must be achieved. Every individual in the society must see himself or herself as accountable to Allah for the success or otherwise of the educational systems, formal and informal. We must all bear the responsibility for positive religious education, result- oriented moral education, an all round physical and health education that does not shy away from balanced sexuality education as well as intellectual and cognitive education that nourishes the mind, illuminates the soul and refines the self.. We must also ensure good mental health through rational psychological education which guarantees excellent self esteem and lays the foundation for combating and controlling mental challenges like shyness, fear, anger, envy and inferiority complex. We are also expected to make plans for social and communal peace through a functional social education which prepares the individual for societal living by developing in him positive social conscience. Thus educated, the individual will understand his rights and the rights of others and what his duties are to them. He will also understand that inter-dependency is the bedrock of the modern society. To sum it all, our main responsibility is to join in hands in building an educational system which combines balanced qualitative secular and religious education with practical and pragmatic moral indoctrination to achieve a total transformation of the individual with a view to transforming the world.  Conclusion In the matters of education, the Stakeholders are the parents, the teachers, the students, the Proprietors of schools and the Government. The first centre of education known to a child is the home. Parents should understand their roles as Educators and character moulders. They should teach the right ideals to the child by their own conducts. The virtues of hardwork and diligence must be learnt from home. Parents who give their children the impression that money can achieve for them anything in life are destroying them. No School, however well-equipped and well-planned, can replace the home. Another duty of parents is to give priority to issues affecting the education of their children. Parents who do not buy books and other item at the time the children need them are unwillingly destroying the process of education. They should also realize that the kind of education their children get is most often determined by their own attitude as parents. A parent that does not pay school fees regularly is not only putting the education of his child in jeopardy, he is also jeopardizing the education of the other children whose parents are prompt in paying. This is because whatever incentives and remunerations the school may want to provide for teachers, will be affected by the attitude of these people who default in the payment of school fees. Teachers constitute one of the pillars of the school system. Though, they are engaged in formal education, their personalities impact directly on their students in all situations. It is therefore pertinent to note that they are engaged in both formal and informal education. Every teacher should therefore be conscious of everything he does in the presence of students. He should realize that teaching is a blessed profession, it is in fact a divine vocation. The first teacher was Allah, and He has appointed Prophets as Teachers of mankind .Every teacher should thus understand the sacredness of his/her job and put in his/her best. Even when one feels that he is under-remunerated, he should realize that he enjoys an opportunity which is denied of non-teachers. A good teacher will no doubt realize that while training the children of other people, he understands his own children better. He should therefore be committed to the job as it serves as are fresher course for him in parenting. Proprietors of schools, together with the teachers must ensure that morality is not sacrificed for frivolous enterprises. In entrenching discipline, good conduct must be rewarded and bad habits, punished. Heads of schools should enforce discipline among Teachers and Students alike. In fact, religious morality should reflect in every subject. L.P.Jacks, a seasoned school administrator writes: "Not long ago, I met one of our great high School masters; a  veteran in that high service. Where in your time-table do you teach religion?.I asked him. We teach it in Arithmetic by accuracy. We teach it in history by humanity. We teach it in Geography by breadth of mind. We teach it in the playground by kindness to animals, by courtesy to servants, by good manners to one another and by truthfulness in all things. We teach it by showing the children that we, their elders are  their friends not their enemies." From the above, religious instruction does not end with I.R.S. True Islamic Education requires an all embracing system where universal moral principles guide all actions. Government too has a major stake in education that goes beyond remuneration of teachers or providing facilities for schools. Education thrives only at the time of peace. A society bedeviled by social injustice cannot be peaceful. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the government to make education attractive by establishing social justice. Where there is social justice, attraction to crime is reduced. Parents, teachers and other citizen are then in the right frame of mind to discharge their trust. Finally, if all the other stakeholders are committed, and children, for whom all is to be done, are not given the right orientation, no one can discharge the trust. Children should therefore be given such an orientation that would make education attractive to them. Their own attitudes will no doubt go a long way in determining how well the other stakeholders can discharge the trust of education. Permit me to conclude this speech with an anonymous admonition titled the "Game of Life" given by a Christian priest to one of his pupils: "I am giving you the ball, Bob, and naming u quarterback for your team in the game of life. I am your coach, so I'll give it to you straight." "There is only one schedule to play. It lasts all your life but consists of only one game. It is a long game with no time out and no substitutes. You play the whole game all your life." "You'll have a great backfield. You are calling the signals, but the other three fellows in the backfield with you have great reputations. They are named faith, hope, and charity." "You'll work behind a truly powerful line. End to end, it consists of honesty, loyalty, devotion to duty, self-respect, study, cleanliness, and good behavior." "The goal posts are the pearly gates of heaven." "God is the referee and sole official. He makes all the rules, and there is no appeal from them." "There are ten rules, you know them as the Ten Commandments, and you play them strictly in accordance with your own religion." "There is another important ground rule. It is do unto others as you would have them do unto you." "In this game, if you lose the ball you lose also the game." "Here is the ball. It is your immortal soul. Hold on to it." "Now, son, get in there and pitch, let's see what you can do with it"                                  May Allah grant us the wisdom and the moral courage to truly accept and embrace education as a trust which it really is.

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