Monthly Archives: February 2015


Teaching Islam: Between Differences and Distinctions


Assalamualaikum WBT.

Alhamdulillāh. Solātan wa Salāman ‘alā Rasulillāh. Amma ba’d.

The complexity of Islamic education requires some paradigm shiftings. Rather than seeing the differences as an obstacle, we should reexamine the way we perceive it, based on the Quranic guideline, and some historical experiences.

وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَٰكِن لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ ۖ فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ ۚ إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ

“… Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.” [Al-Māidah 5: 48]

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. [Al-Hujurāt 49: 13]

The differences and diversified aspects of life are created by Allah and meant to be like that. If we truly dedicate ourselves to the genuine spirit of Islam, we might realize that practicing and teaching Islam in a pluralistic society is more reflecting the Islamic identity than being in a monotonous society. From the Prophetic era, up to the last Muslim political entity, The Ottoman, Islam was always practiced in a multi cultural, racial, and religious society.


From my understanding after watching the video, schools have their right to maintain the standard curriculum which must be made known to parents prior registering their children. Historically, students chose to study with which Shaykh they preferred and at which Madrasa, with the information of what is the methodology and school of thought the madrasa and the Shaykh represent.

Parents must respect the school and must maintain good bilateral relationship so that any concern will be properly channeled. Nowadays, when parents disagree with certain things at school, rather than discussing them with the right persons, they take the matter to social media. When parents do not teach their children to respect school as well as the school do not teach the students to respect the parents, it will be a lose-lose battle.

Based on the 13th verse of Surah al-Hujurāt, the diversity is one of the main characters for human civilization. It should not be considered as a source of problems. But the differences are guided with the principal of lita’ārafū (لتعارفوا). The word lita’ārafū contains:

  • seeing the differences as interesting
  • wanting to know and understand the differences
  • require two way process

This should help the school to build its policy on tackling issues as sensitive as mazhab, ideology, trend, Salaf vs. Khalaf, Sunni vs Shiah, etc. School is a learning institution. Any issue, must stick to learning. Outsiders including parents, should not interfere the process of learning. Any additional values should only enter school through the process of learning.

In a school, we might experience for example, a student gave public speaking saying that reciting zikr after prayer in jamaah is bid’ah or music is haram. This naturally caused chaos among students. Some teachers agreed and some disagreed. To make sure that school maintains its identity as a school, school is advised to use the PNP policy. Positive-Negative-Positive.

  • [POSITIVE] we salute the student for his ability to express his opinion in public, willing to take risks which is crucially needed for leadership quality.
  • [NEGATIVE] we remind him that ‘throwing’ wildly his opinion like that will not help him to achieve what he himself wanted to achieve. Talking is easy, but teaching and learning are not.
  • [POSITIVE] We motivate him to use proper language, and support his opinion with evidence, argument, and come up with name of scholars who agree with his opinion. We give him this task so that he learn and other students too. We thank him, for raising the issue, so that other students alert with it.

In the class, teachers teach standard curriculum. It is hard for others to decide if the school curriculum is Shafi’e based, or non-Mazhab, because we do not use text books. Students are taught the right way to perform wudhu’ and solat. Some obvious differences like reciting Qunut in Fajr prayer are highlighted and students are made to understand the reasoning behind both contradict opinions. They’re encouraged to refer Fiqh al-Sunnah and Bidayah al-Mujtahid for advance level, as well as Kifayah al-Akhyar, al-Ikhtiyar or al-Iqna’ (Shafi’e and Hanafi’s reference in Fiqh). They conclude their understanding not necessarily on making choice between the two opinions, but to follow the Imam with adab and akhlaq. If the imam recite the Qunut, then recite with him. if the imam leave the Qunut, then do not delay the sujud to read the Qunut on your own.

Knowledge must never separated from Akhlaq. Knowledge with Akhlaq is an asset. Knowledge without Akhlaq is a liability.


Again, school is a place to learn.

Other faiths are learnt in two modules. Theologically, the differences between Islamic faith and others are taught in Aqidah subject. In this subjects, students see differences more than similarities. For civilizational studies, the subject is taught in World Religions (civilizational studies). Here, students see similarities more than differences. For example, what other faiths talk about environment, medical ethics, as well as architecture, rituals, music, etc.

These are some of the main points I learnt from the sharing of Mr. Habeeb Quadri, Shaykh Omar Qureshi, and Mrs. Sharifa Abukar, together with our practice at school. Diversity is responsible to enhance the development. It is a rahmah. Only if the spirit of lita’ārafū is obeyed.


The IBERR is dynamic and reflects some form of social-reconstructionistic approach. Contemporary issues such as environment, Islam and modernism etc. While The Jamiatul Ulama (KZN) Ta’limi’s syllabus is more essentialistic and perhaps perennialistic if the Turāth is used rather than text books. Both of the syllabus have their own strength. The only concern is not to overload students with too many content which the main objective at school level is to positively train the students to know how to know, and love to know, becoming the lovers or knowledge and learning.

Wallahu A’lam.




Faith Based Curriculum Alternatives: a Jewish and a Catholic School

Greg-Beiles-Jewish-SchoolMr. Greg Beiles, Toronto, Canada

Assalamualaikum WBT.

Dr. Seema and colleagues, brothers and sisters.


Firstly, the two videos gave us a good understanding on what is going on in other faith based schools. In a country like Malaysia, we do not have Jewish School, a very few Catholic schools and no known Hindu or Buddhist school, which I would like to dig deeper. When we think of people from other faiths, we tend to think that everyone is against each other, especially when the perception is dominated by politics. But through education, it is clearly demonstrated that people of different faiths are working on self empowerment and learning how to become a good member of society and contribute. This is an important and strong message for Islamic schools like ours.


Another thing, I want to think that the two videos are only at the introductory level because I feel like the explanations are not deep enough to understand the philosophy behind the integration. More or less, they are initiated at micro level and we do not hear they refer to certain Jewish or Catholic scholars in education who perhaps did their research on this matter at the philosophical level. So, I am not sure if the explanations given by Mr. Greg Beiles and Dr. Graham McDonough represent Jewish and Catholic modules of curriculum as a whole. As expressed by Mr. Greg Beiles, the integration, at least in Toronto, it is still considered as a new thing.

Mr. Beiles mentioned that the methodological level to extract concepts like freedom from Jewish tradition and distinguish it from a universal version of freedom, it not easy. When the teaching relates the story of the Jewish migration from Egypt with the experience of the American slaves escaped to Canada and how that can be understand from a Jewish Studies perspective, it raises a question to me. In Jewish Studies, why they want to integrate? What is the motive? Is it because of the external motives like wanting to make the religious studies relevant, or is it because of the internal motives, i.e. the Jewish faith itself requires integration?

As a comparison, in Islamic Studies, at the methodological level, to relate something with something represented by the concept of ‘ibrah (عبرة). The word ‘ibrah means to connect something with something. When Allah concluded the story of Prophet Yusuf ‘alayh al-salām, He said,

“There was certainly in their stories ‘IBRAH for those of understanding. Never was the Qur’an a narration invented, but a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of all things and guidance and mercy for a people who believe.”[Q12:111]

The word ‘ibrah is commonly translated into ‘lesson’. But the word itself in Arabic, semantically speaking requires us to relate the story of Yusuf with ourselves. If we see the story of Yusuf only as the story of people who used to live in Egypt and part of Palestine, we have not reach the learning objective. So in this case, integration is not because of external motives but the faith requires us to make the connection as a form of integration. It becomes a foundation in learning History.

Dr. Graham McDonough, Toronto, Canada

I had difficulties to understand the second video with Dr. Graham McDonough because the sound quality is not very good. I had to listen to it several times to get the main points Dr. Graham McDonough expressed in his session.

Dr. Graham McDonough opened his session with the idea that school as a formal educational institution is a culture rather than a Catholic tradition. It triggered us to also explore how was education during the early years of Muslims. From an informal form of teaching and learning, to the emergence of Madrasah, understanding the differences between form and substance can help us to maintain the dynamism in our contemporary Islamic education; knowing what to add, what to keep and what to leave.

What caught my attention the most, is the emphasization to begin the learning with cognitive studies in Catholic schools. This is unique and I wish the cognitive is specifically trained at the very early stage of education. We work on this issue in our school and my son is now studying in a school where the first 6 months of their schooling, they restrict the learning only to language proficiency (English and Arabic), plus memorization of the Quran and cognitive. The endangered mind of current students, mainly caused by early exposure to ‘screen literature’ like television, computer, tablet and smartphone somehow caused the students to experience some learning difficulties. They do not have problem with Maths and Science. But they have serious problems with subjects that require thinking, articulation, analysis. If this issue is left untreated it might lead to many forms of cognitive dissonance. I would love to see how the Catholic Schools work on this issue, as well as other Islamic schools among the ITEP colleagues.

Understanding the Jewish and Catholic schools’ effort on developing their curriculum, strengthen what Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali al-Nadwi’s view on the impact of materialism on faith (Tafsir Surah al-Kahf). Materialism disconnects physical, emotional, and intellectual aspects of life from spirituality. Not only Islam, even other faiths are facing this major challenge too.

A holistic integration between the mandated curriculum with Islam, is a huge responsibility that educationists must take it as a form of jihad.

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