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Education Agenda of the Muslim Community A few suggestions

Amidst a plethora of suggestions aimed at resolving the challenges faced by the Muslim community in India, the most frequently advocated one is the promotion of education within their ranks. The call for education resounds from every platform, seeking to uplift the Muslim community from their current predicament. However, despite the abundant emphasis on education, there appears to be a notable absence of comprehensive solutions to address the issue at its core.

The majority of education proposals for Muslims highlights the importance of educating them. However, there is a common misconception associated with the term “education,” as it often refers to equipping Muslim youth with degrees. In essence, the focus seems to be on making them literate rather than truly educated. It is crucial to recognise that there exists a significant disparity between being literate and being educated. Presently, a considerable number of Muslims are achieving literacy, but the progress towards genuine education is slow. Mere literacy expansion cannot bring about substantial changes; instead, it necessitates the cultivation of educated individuals. Unfortunately, many educational institutions primarily focus on making the youth “literate-only” to enhance their employability and job prospects. This approach is reinforced by society’s perception that obtaining a degree automatically leads to better employment opportunities, ease, and prosperity in life.

The notion discussed here is prevalent in education and becomes even more problematic when adopted by women. While education is a key factor in empowering women economically and socially, there is a concern that if taken to an extreme, it can lead to the neglect of traditional roles and femininity. The idea of educating girls to make them self-sufficient is undoubtedly valuable, as it promotes financial independence. However, some women, lacking a full understanding of their traditional responsibilities and the wisdom behind them, may mistakenly prioritise education above all else in life.

It is important to clarify that the intention is not to oppose women’s education, but rather to highlight certain weaknesses in the education system and the societal expectations it perpetuates. This observation is based on the experiences of some educated working women who struggle to find happiness in their marital life due to their strong belief in self-sufficiency. By pointing out these concerns, we aim to bring attention to the importance of striking a balance between education and preserving core values and roles within society.

Here, we present the Education Agenda of the Muslim Community, which emphasises adopting a Holistic Approach to Education. This comprehensive plan comprises both long-term and short-term programmes, with some programmes presented in detail and others briefly introduced.

Currently, Indian Muslims are placing greater importance on education compared to the recent past. However, this importance seems one-sided and lacking in comprehensiveness. The sole focus is on seeking admission to schools and colleges and obtaining degrees. Instead, we must endeavour to instil a culture of education in Muslim society, sparking a cultural revolution regarding education within the community.

This educational and cultural revolution aims to be all-encompassing, targeting the youth from an early age, and envisioning a brighter future. It will have a universal appeal while also being tailored to specific country contexts. In the following, we outline some key features of this Cultural Revolution in the field of education. Our discussions will revolve around the purpose of education, addressing the issue of knowledge duality, and touching upon other fundamental debates in education.

The purpose of education needs to be reevaluated and aligned with the right principles in the Muslim community. Currently, our education system focuses solely on one aspect of our brain’s capacity and relies heavily on rote-learning. Students are expected to memorise information and reproduce it during exams, essentially transforming them into human pen drives. Regrettably, our entire education system is confined to a rigid curriculum and exam-oriented approach, as remarked by the renowned educationist, Paulo Freire. The prevailing mentality in society revolves around obtaining high marks as the ultimate measure of educational success. Consequently, we have adopted a narrow perspective where acquiring marks is mistakenly equated with acquiring knowledge. In essence, we have become “Marks-ists” in the realm of education. A more comprehensive and holistic vision for education should be developed to foster genuine learning and understanding among students.

As per the views of this education expert, the Indian education system perpetuates oppression. It is a direct replica of the educational model imposed by British imperialism, which primarily churned out bureaucratic “Babus.” The expert emphasises that education holds the key to emancipate the oppressed. Therefore, the educational system should aim to liberate those subjected to oppression by equipping both the oppressors and the oppressed with tools for reform. This way, oppressors can comprehend that oppression stems from human flaws. Additionally, it is crucial to recognise that both oppression and victimhood are detrimental to humanity and pose significant hindrances to establishing a harmonious and peaceful society.

The primary objective of education is to awaken human consciousness to the greater purpose of life, leading individuals to reach their highest potential by humbly surrendering to the Creator of the universe. In Islam, education serves to elevate humanity beyond mere physical existence, transforming them into spiritually aware beings with elevated consciousness. This mystical state enables individuals to attain both worldly success and salvation in the afterlife through the pursuit of knowledge and heightened awareness.

Put simply, our education has two main objectives: one is short-term, and the other is long-term.

The short-term goal focuses on enhancing our worldly life by acquiring and applying knowledge and information. On the other hand, the long-term goal revolves around learning principles of self-purification that lead to a better life extending beyond this temporal world into the hereafter.

However, there is a concern that education is becoming solely focused on turning students into economic beings (homo economicus), reducing the higher purpose of education. We need to revive the universal and loftier objective of education within society. Instead of relying on rote-learning and its application, education should emanate from the core of consciousness and be guided by the heart, which unfortunately is not commonly practised.

Another critical issue in the Muslim community’s education system is the division of education into two separate categories: “dunyavi” (worldly/contemporary) education and “deeni” (religious) education. However, the definitions and explanations of these two parts are limited within the Muslim community. Worldly education is often referred to as secular or modern education and it is primarily seen as a means to secure livelihood and employment, rather than being associated with virtue. In contrast, modern education, influenced by Western paradigms, neglects essential aspects of understanding the universe and oneself, that is the true essence of education.

The notion that our knowledge originates from the Creator of the Universe is entirely disregarded and invalidated. The modern understanding of knowledge presented in the secular world is limited solely to sensory data. Empiricism, a fundamental aspect of Western philosophy, holds the belief that genuine knowledge and justification are derived exclusively or primarily from sensory experiences. Contemporary knowledge is entirely disconnected from the supernatural and metaphysical realms.

Remarkably, a considerable portion of the Muslim community has also embraced this non-spiritual perspective on science. Consequently, the significant task of achieving profound spirituality and God-consciousness through the knowledge available in this world remains unaddressed, and the educated members of the Muslim community are largely unaware of its importance. Even in the present day, experts studying philosophy and transcendental realities emphasise that knowledge remains incomplete without a comprehension of transcendental aspects. Interestingly, the secular world now acknowledges this viewpoint and labels it as a holistic approach to education.

[The writer is Director, Holistic Education Board (HEB)]

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