Q: I have been working in a country for several years and am preparing to leave. One thought which was always in my mind when I offered Friday prayer was the fact that I could not understand the Khutbah because I had not learned Arabic and did not receive Qur’anic education. It seems that our parents are prepared to send us to school for fifteen years or more to learn worldly things, why do they not make us spend a year or two to learn Qur’an, and Arabic?
A: You have pinpointed a very important problem to which many of us pay very little attention, despite its seriousness. The roots of this problem are complex and its solution requires thoughtful action on the part of parents and communities. Most parents realize that it is their responsibility to provide their children with a reasonable or good standard of education. It is true that some parents feel that formal schooling may not be particularly important, because they themselves did not have proper education. They take their children out of school in order to put them to work so that their wages will contribute to the finances of the family. We are not dealing with this aspect of the problem now. We are simply looking at the education of children who have spent many years at school until they go to university. These are the majority of our young generation, especially in Third World countries.
Most parents agree that the best thing they can get to their children in order to enable them face life problems without difficulty is good education. It is through education that their children can hopefully secure good jobs and make their mark in life. Parents try to choose the best school for their children, even if that would mean spending a substantial portion of the family income. In a country where the standards of education are notably high in non-government school, one mother was giving herself and her family an added burden by choosing a private school, which charged high fees. In explanation she told me: “You can’t do anything better with your money than spending it on your children’s education. Let us face it, it is better to spend the money on their education than to leave it to them when you die.” I do not dispute the validity of her argument. I am only giving this example to emphasize how important many of us see our children’s education. As you have said, most children spend at school twelve years or more to reach the university level. During this time, they are net spenders of the family income. Some of them may work during the summer holidays, but what they earn constitutes only a very small fraction of the family income. They also spend it on themselves. If they go to university, they are likely to spend three or four more years before they start to work. Some of them go even further in order to have a higher education. Many families happily go through the arrangements and consider every time a child passes an examination an occasion to celebrate. If a child is successful in his education, he is considered to have secured his future. But has he? However, if we look at school curricula in the majority of the countries, we find that little attention is paid to religious education. While some aspects of the faith of Islam are taught and selective readings of the Qur’an, may form part of the curriculum, there is little else to make the young identify themselves with Islam as a faith. It is not unusual that school children are not required to sit in an exam in religious education. When school children consider what is required of them to pass their exams, it is not surprising that they should concentrate on mathematics, science or languages and neglect religious education. Moreover, what is taught of religion is approached in a purely academic way. School children cannot even associate what they are taught about religion with their practical lives. More often than not, it is merely the aspects of worship that are taught in addition, perhaps, to a few more values. That sort of religious education has miserably failed in giving school children any insight into their faith.
Much of this sad state of affairs is due to the fact that after Muslim countries gained their independence, they continued to implement the methods of education
that they inherited from the colonial period. Modification has certainly been introduced especially with regard to how the history of the colonial era is taught. There may be more emphasis on nationalism. But the colonial rulers of Muslim countries were determined to weaken the sense of faith among Muslim population in the areas that they ruled. They realized that Islam nurtures a strong sense of opposition to un-Islamic colonial rule and they had to suppress it if they wanted their rule to continue as long as possible, and their interests to be realized after their departure. That is indeed what is happening in the majority of Muslim countries. Therefore, they continued to reduce religious education to a very secondary degree. The result is that the new generations are not better informed about their Islamic faith than their fathers who were taught by the colonial rulers. Muslim scholars have tried to counter this trend by organizing study circles in mosques to which they attract the young. Where such circles have been allowed to flourish, they made a great impact and their contribution was substantial. It is often the case that these circles do not provide religious education and teach Arabic language, but they also arrange for supplementary education in other subjects which are taught at government schools. In this way, children who attend these study circles have invariably fared much better even in their formal education than their classmates have. This state of affairs adds to the responsibility of parents. God will indeed question them about not providing their children with good religious education. Indeed, they
should know better. If they are prepared to make sacrifices for their children’s education so that they secure a good future, should they not look after their children’s future life? Governments in Muslim countries must be made to feel the need to modify their educational system so as to cater properly for the religious needs. If this cannot be achieved easily, then parents should look for ways and means of supplementing their children’s education either by taking it upon themselves to teach them their faith, or by providing private tuition. I realize that this may not be easy for all people, but all parents have their responsibility to prepare their children for their future life by helping them to grow up as good Muslims. n