Education is fundamental for the development of any nation. Higher education is a powerful tool for eradicating poverty, boosting shared prosperity, and making the society strong enough to face the challenges of times. This basic fact was very well known to Muslim Ummah during Middle Ages, a Golden Period in Islamic History. “Seek Knowledge” was the known Commandment of Islam for Muslims, and they followed it for almost eight hundred years.
Muslims around the world during the last four centuries showed great interest in every aspect of life except education. Poetry, music, painting, ceramics, architecture, metalwork, etc., became essential activities throughout the Islamic world. But very little interest was shown in the fast-developing modern education coming from Europe. Probably the most harmful act was their refusal to allow the use of the Printing Press in the 15th Century, a turning period for Europe. Through the Printing Presses, the scientific revolution was made possible in all the spheres of scientific and industrial activity in Europe.
After a long spell of slumber, Muslims worldwide have started to understand that without modern knowledge and higher literacy, their exploitation by the West cannot be checked. Sir Syed told the Muslim Ummah in the late 19th Century. Fortunately, education is re-emerging in the Islamic World during the recent past, say the 21st Century.
According to the survey by John Miller, 5 Muslim countries, namely Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, find places amongst 25 countries with the highest literacy rates of 100%. World Bank and UNESCO data for 2018 show that 25 Muslim Majority countries have achieved average literacy above 90 percent. These include Saudi Arabia (95%), Indonesia (94%), Malaysia (94%), Iran (90%), Jordan (96%), U.A.E. (94%), and Turkey (95%). Nine countries, including Syria (86%), Tunisia (82 %), Iraq (79%), Egypt (75%), Algeria (73) are, and Morocco (72%), were reported to be in the bracket of 70% to 89%. Unfortunately, fifteen countries, including largely populated countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nigeria, still lag in literacy less than 62%). However, compared to the literacy Data of 1980 (Av. 30%), 2018 data is highly satisfactory.
Global literacy rate (2017) is 82% (Men, 87%; Women 77%).
A redeeming feature is the fact that the Gender Difference (Men and Women) in literacy in many Islamic countries has also fallen sharply. At least 21 countries have the difference of only 0 to 7% only.
Tertiary Education (Higher education in all the disciplines of knowledge) in the Islamic world needs serious attention. Yes, indeed, scientific awakening is underway in the Muslim World. Research spending in many countries, like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Turkey, etc, has been raised substantially.
Tertiary Education in Western countries is generally above 40%, whereas barring a few countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia, it is between 2 to 6%. Research spending in Muslim countries also needs serious attention. Only countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar have substantially raised funds for this purpose. Qatar is reported to have proposed raising the Science budget from 0.8% to 2.8% of its G.D.P.
Many Muslim countries have already established centers of higher learning (Universities) with emphasis on the modern sciences. According to The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018, ninety-six universities from Muslim countries have been listed amongst the top 1102 Universities of the world. Twenty-two belongs to Turkey, followed by Iran 18; Pakistan, 10; Malaysia and Egypt 9 each; Saudi Arabia, 5; UAE and Indonesia 4 each; Jordan and Morocco 3 each; Tunisia 2; Algeria, Bangladesh, Kuwait, Lebanon, Nigeria, Oman and Qatar 1 each.
Another redeeming feature in the rankings is the fact that in forty-one universities, female students are higher in numbers than male students. Eleven Universities have more than 65:35 female: male ratio with Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University (22,257 students) of Saudi Arabia having the highest ratio of 81:19, followed by the United Arab Emirates Univ. (7,492 students) 79:21, Qatar Univ., (13,342 students) 73:27 and Kuwait Univ., (37,752 students) with the ratio of 72:28.