By Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz
The Quran (96:2-4) says: ‘Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One who taught by the pen, taught man what he did not know.’
Here, God is expressing some attributes of His that He is the Most Bountiful One and that He taught man what the latter didn’t know. To teach humanity the use of the pen is one of the signs of God, and teaching is one of God’s attributes. From this you can appreciate the importance of a teacher and how noble a teacher’s vocation is. At the same time, this vocation comes with great responsibility. It is such a delicate task! If a teacher doesn’t teach properly, a child may completely lose interest in studies. If a teacher is very stern and strict, a child may develop deep-seated fears that can accompany him for the rest of his life. If a teacher isn’t friendly or forbids questioning, a child may drop out of school and in that way ruin not just his own life but that of several coming generations as well. And for this, the teacher will have to share in the sin.
On the other hand, if a teacher inspires a student and helps him become a good person, she earns sawab or Divine blessings. In that sense, there is no better investment for a teacher. What is much more important for a teacher is not his students’ examination scores but what sort of person they turn out to be because of their schooling. If a teacher fails in his role in enabling a child to become a good human being, he has failed as a teacher even if the student scores high marks in his examinations.
God has blessed every human being with the capacity to know different things. How people turn out to be depends partly on their environment, including on what sort of teachers they may have had. A crucial question to ask here is how teachers and the educational process can bring out the inner potential of children that God has blessed them with. Herein lies the importance of values in education.
The role of a teacher shouldn’t be limited simply to teaching this or that subject. There are some values which are necessary for social wellbeing that teachers must seek to inculcate in their students besides engaging in formal classroom teaching. This is really crucial for the very future of humanity. Teachers will touch the hearts of their students when they teach them not just this or that subject but, much more than that, if they teach them how to live.
In their role as conveyers of certain values, teachers must help children develop respect for all people, irrespective of religion, class, caste or whatever. God, in the Quran (17:70), says:
‘We have honoured the children of Adam, and have borne them on the land and the sea, given them for sustenance things which are good and pure; and exalted them above many of Our creatures.’
This verse suggests that all human beings all the children of Adam must be honoured, no matter how different they may be from oneself in terms of ethnicity, religion, economic class and so on. Respecting the dignity of others also includes respecting their feelings and their right to their ideology or faith, even if it be very different from one’s own. Respecting others in this way is a Quranic commandment that is as binding on us as are namaz and zakat. This means that even if someone talks against my religion, I must not insult him. I cannot disrespect someone who is different from me in terms of religion or ideology if I call myself a Muslim. From a young age children should be taught to accept and respect differences and teachers can play a major role here. Imagine if an entire society follows this principle, can there be any conflict?
The Quran (6:108) lays down: ‘Do not revile those [beings] whom they invoke instead of God, lest they, in their hostility, revile God out of ignorance. ‘ This is another commandment of God. We need to respect other people and their right to their faith or belief system. We should not hurt their religious feelings. This is something that teachers need to help students learn from a young age.
‘Repel evil with what is best’, the Quran (23:96) instructs us. What this commandment reflects is yet another value that teachers should help students imbibe. If we reply to evil with evil, we go against the Quran. The best way to repel evil is with good.
In preparing young minds to be able to flourish in terms of social relations, teachers can draw on another Quranic teaching: ‘Each community has its own direction in which it turns: vie, then, with one another in doing good works.’ This suggests the importance of doing good to others. God also instructs us, ‘Tell My servants that they should always say what is best.’ It is an absolute commandment. No matter what provocation one might face, no matter how badly someone may speak about you or even your religion, one must always ‘say what is best’ if one is a Muslim, i.e. someone who has truly submitted to God. If I am a Muslim, this is binding on me. Children need to be taught this by their teachers.
Yet another such verse (16:90) tells us ‘God commands justice, kindness and giving their [due to] near relatives, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and transgression. He admonishes you so that you may take heed!’ Here, the importance of justice is underlined. Teachers need to help students understand the importance of practising justice in terms also of their present and future relations and roles as children, as students, as neighbours, as fathers or mothers, as citizens. They need to develop the awareness that justice is part of obedience to God.
A good teacher is not simply someone who knows a lot about his subject and can deliver a good lecture. She must also be able to motivate her students, using different methods, so that they can understand what she wants to convey. A good teacher does not just deliver what she wants to communicate to her students but delivers it well, so that the students can properly comprehend her message. This is actually a practice or sunnat of God.
The Quran (2:260) describes a conversation between God and the Prophet Abraham which has great relevance with regard to the educational process.
‘When Abraham said, “Show me, my Lord, how You revive the dead!” God said, “Do you not believe?” Abraham answered, “Yes, indeed I do believe, but just to reassure my heart.” Then God said, “Take four birds, and train them to come back to you. Then place them separately on each hilltop, and call them: they will come flying to you. Know that God is almighty and wise.”‘
Here, the Prophet Abraham asks God to show him how He brings the dead back to life, and God responds by asking him if he doesn’t believe. Abraham replies that he does believe but he still wants satisfaction of the heart. Then God tells him about the four birds and what to do with them.
There is a very important message for us here. The Prophet Abraham asks God a question. God doesn’t forbid this or consider it a crime. Instead, God accepts the question and answers it, with the help of a practical illustration or example (of the birds).
There is a very significant point to consider here. If one can ask God a question, then one can ask anyone a question, including one’s teachers. The above Quranic verse shows the true attitude of Islam with regard to questioning, something that is markedly absent among many Muslim societies today, who insist on unquestioning, blind conformity. When the Prophet Abraham asked God a question, God didn’t get angry or say that he has lost his faith, unlike what some Muslims do today when it comes to religious matters.
One test of a good teacher is whether he or she encourages questioning. Teachers should never discourage the questions of their students even if they themselves don’t know the answer because children’s minds grow through questioning. Forbidding questioning is like breaking someone’s legs and then insisting that he run in a race.
A good teacher encourages her students to ask questions because questioning is a practice or sunnat of the Prophet Abraham, who asked God a question because he wanted to be convinced. And God, the greatest Teacher, recognised the importance of satisfying the heart of Abraham and appropriately replied to his question. God replied by providing an example that satisfied Abraham.
Following the sunnat of God described above, a good teacher should satisfy his students with the help of examples to make an issue clear. If teachers teach in this way, they will earn the love and respect of their students and a big place in their hearts.
(Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz has written extensively on Islam and on science-related issues. He can be contacted on [email protected])
By Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz