The Essence of ‘Education’

A’ūthubillahi minash-shayṭānir rajîm

Bismil-lāhir raḥmānir-raḥîm

Alḥamdulillāhi rabbil ‘ālamîn

Waṣṣalātu was-salāmu ‘alā-ashrafil mur-salîn

Sayyedinā wa maulāna Muḥammadin wa’alā ālihi

Wasaḥ̣̣ bih ajma’în

Mr MC, Respected families of Klerksdorp & the Northern Province, honoured members of the Islamic Medical Association and all new health worker graduates in the Northern Province

Assalāmu ‘alaykum wa raḥmatullāhi wa barakātuh

Alḥamdulillāh, praise be to Allah! I am deeply honoured and privileged to share some of my thoughts and experiences with so many young and aspirant leaders tonight. And even more so in the presence of the ever vigilant IMA [Islamic Medical Association] Klerksdorp Branch. As an educator I see a close, even complementary relationship between the health worker and the educator – they are both concerned with the wellbeing of their fellow beings. Hence my references to education are equally applicable to health.

Please permit me to preface my talk with this inspiring and oft quoted verse from the Holy Quran:

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and earth. The parable of His Light is (as if there were) a niche and within it a lamp: the lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were, a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree , an olive, neither of the east nor the west whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it. Light upon Light! Allah guides to His Light whom He wills. And Allah sets forth parables for mankind, and Allah is All-Knower of everything.”
(24:35) (Sūrah An-Nūr : 35)

My comments on reading this verse are a personal response, not the learned tafsir of the ‘ālim. I speak as I, an educator and learner am inspired by Allah SWT’s Sublime Word.

Allah is the Source of Enlightenment, of Perfect Knowledge, of a Perfect Education. The magnificent imagery of the lamp in the niche may well be interpreted by modern educationists and lawmakers to express the universality of education: the lamp in the niche casts no shadows, symbolic of Allah’s Divine Design of providing the facility to ALL humankind. Hence any government or individual that denies anyone access to education, violates that person’s divinely ordained right! The glass cover protecting the light adds to it the component of security as a condition for meaningful education. But it may well serve as a reminder to the ummah to protect the Message from adulteration.

A brilliant star – another beautiful symbol of the dynamism of education that constantly attracts the learner and the teacher to respond.

The olive, the oil that keeps the light glowing is fired from within – the enthusiasm and commitment of the dedicated educator that keeps the light glowing and, in the words of Imam Al-Ghazali “burns him/herself out” only to find the light in those whom he/she had taught.

But Allah SWT reminds us that the curriculum of education is “neither of the east nor the west”, but related to the totality of life’s needs. And then the wonderful, triumphant expression of “Light upon Light (Nur alan-nur)” with the promise of success and eternal joy: search and Allah lights the way to success!

Tonight we pay tribute to the many health graduates who find themselves performing their in-service training in institutions throughout the Northern Province and particularly in the fair city [or is it dorp?] of Klerksdorp. We acknowledge and thank them for their years of study, perseverance and sacrifice. We know how many temptations they faced and requests to abandon their studies for greener pastures. Alḥamdulillāh, they have achieved and travelled the first few steps on the Path to Success, the Path to Allah SWT and today we rejoice with you.

In Western Universities during the previous century all new graduates used to sing a special song… How well some old students still remember the opening line:

Gaudeamus igitur
Juvenes dum sumus.
Gaudeamus igitur
Juvenes dum sumus.

meaning literally “therefore, let us rejoice, enjoy our youth..” Of course the words, “rejoice” and “enjoy” have a different connotation to us as Muslims. Allah SWT does promise us a tremendous amount of pleasure not only after but in the process of striving in His Path. Do you remember the two little verses in Suratush-Sharḥ: that send such a comforting, lekker feeling through your entire being as you just recite these verses: “Fa Inna ma ‘al ‘usri yusra! Innama ‘al ‘usri yusra!”

“Truly with every difficulty there comes relief”
“Truly with every difficulty there comes relief” (Qur’ān: 94:5-6)

The joy, the feeling of fulfilment, is in the relief you experience not only on the completion of your studies, but after every assignment, after every test or self-assessment and reassertion. That is Allah’s gift to those who strive in His Path: the little boy at school enjoys it no less than the student working on his PhD or the scientist working on a new cure …just the possibility of a breakthrough is in itself, relief!

A week or two ago I heard a Maulana in Cape Town relate his experiences climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. As he approached the summit, he felt tired and it was difficult to breathe. Something or someone was pulling him to the top. The relief he felt when he looked down was a joy he had never experienced before. He experienced so much pleasure that he forgot to thank Allah. It was only later when he looked at the beauty of nature from the top of a high mountain, that he realized the extent of Allah’s mercy and compassion towards all creation. When this profound truth sank in, he performed his prayer of thanks. That relief is further proof of Allah’s reassurance in Surah al-Baqara: 286:

“Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope…”

You have qualified and have started with your first adventure into the health service. Sure there will be a mixture of excitement and disappointment and even frustration in with your daily tasks or service conditions. Some of the conditions you are bound to encounter may even militate against your principles as a Muslim. What are you to do? As health workers you are fortunate to have a committed band of professionals, health workers like yourselves in your midst. My first advice to any Muslim healthcare-giver, whether medical doctor, nurse, dentist physio- or occupational therapist and so on, is to link up with your local IMA, in this case, the IMA Klerksdorp Branch, where you are sure to meet someone with similar problems or someone more experienced to guide you.

As a family they care, enough to ease your frustrations and share certain sensitivities as Muslim care-givers.

Whatever direction your first experiences take you, don’t lose hope. Don’t even ask, as people so often do: “I wonder what the future has in store for me?”

If I should overhear you, my answer would be: “Nothing!” Remember what Qur’an promises us: “And man shall have nothing but what he strives for!” Go out and add value to your task; make a difference. Creativity in any undertaking is infectious or is it contagious? There is bound to be somebody who would notice, who cares enough to help you change the situation.

Those of us who have seen many years pass by, are living in the future of our youth! Yes, we are reaping the fruits of some seeds we sowed in the past! We are able to judge the effectiveness of our education to deal with our future which is the PRESENT, TODAY!

If you ask me whether my education at school, in the madrasah or in the community prepared me adequately for the future, then, sadly, I must reply with an emphatic NO! 50 years ago, when the whole world marvelled at the great feat of the Russians to send a satellite, Sputnik into space, in my first teaching post, I was excited and shared my enthusiasm with my students. We visualized the future with man going to the moon and the planets beyond, and my whole class could draw the Sputnik and the Soyuz rocket.

But I did not realize that their parents were experiencing a future shock: their religious orientation did not make provision for such an event. The next day the teacher was castigated by the parents and the ‘alim of that state-aided Muslim School for supporting idolatrous actions of people who meddled in the affairs of Allah, upsetting Allah’s creation! Astaghfirullah! In the same year (1958) the youth of Cape Town involved in tertiary education established the Muslim Youth Movement (MYM).

After 911 and attacks on Islam by Bush and his cronies in the West, the entire Muslim ummah became painfully aware of our material, economic, military and political inadequacy to meet the challenges of the present times. We stood helpless when the West threatened the entire ummah , more than a billion of us…and we stood helpless: our education, even our Muslim education did not prepare us for the present: yesterday’s future! Even our Muslim governments with massive economic resources did not use their Allah-given resources to prepare their citizens and create infrastructures for meaningful change. Instead the rulers amassed billions of dollars for their personal self-aggrandizement.

Since their status quo and woes are not the purpose of this talk, we need to look at our own future shock we are likely to experience 10 -15 years from now when these innocent children find that they are ill-prepared to meet the socio-economic and ideological challenges of their day. Often the problems originate in our very homes: Our children’s education starts with us.

Where do we start? Unfortunately we often cannot change the policies and nature of education in our state schools. But it does not mean that we should not remain vigilant of their effects/influence on our children. Even in our community-based Muslim schools our educationists often delude ourselves by claiming that we have integrated the so-called religious and secular aspects of our education into an Islamic educational model. We concentrated on the content to produce learning material that would produce a Muslim student equipped with so-called integrated Islamic knowledge. But have we?

It is not the learning material that would produce the committed Muslim student equipped with the life skills to live and become contributive to the wellbeing of the Muslim ummah. The curriculum includes such aspects as the student, text books, syllabi, the teacher and his/her teaching style/methodology, the physical conditions/facilities, the school management & administration, the role of parents and student bodies and liaison with other schools/institutions. Collectively these factors contribute to the nature of the school atmosphere, which reflects the nature.

We have sat through numerous workshops and meetings and have even written texts for teachers and their students. But, in retrospect, as I am in the future of those years, I can say with conviction that we have failed simply because we did not project our vision beyond the present day needs and facilitated progressive scholarship in our schools.

Alhamdulillah! There is always hope: To reduce the possibility of a future shock, we need to be guided by the advice of our Prophet Muhammad saw: “Teach your children to live in an age different to yours.” Become fully involved in our children’s education to the extent that our efforts reinforce those of the teacher or vice versa. I see at least 5 options open to us as parents:

  1. Get onto the school’s governing body and be part of the policy-making processes of the school
  2. Establish Muslim schools but do not compromise their effectiveness i.t.o. quality of education
  3. Home-schooling: if you can form a group of families working together, but there are many pitfalls (see Gatto on the internet) c/f Mpumalanga
  4. Madāris: This is a valuable asset and educational resource of the community, but please look beyond the traditional curriculum and offer compensatory/complementary education in these educational institutions
  5. Masājid: non-formal / informal classes for parents to empower them as co-educators
  6. Liaison with the Broader Community: Klerksdorp displays a healthy camaraderie of communal co-operation
  7. Do not confuse religion education with religious education (not allowed in secular schools)

Our time is limited, even for our country and if Muslim education has something to offer, the administrators of education in our country and abroad will embrace it. I have deliberately stayed clear of the term, Islamic Education, since I associate Islam with perfection. Our education which is our proposed plan of action for Muslims, may not meet the criteria of Islamic.

Finally, Mr MC, I have seen the progress of this community and as I received news reports from my friends I am amazed at their unity of purpose and willingness to reach out to those in need of help, through sheer love for humankind. May Allah accept your efforts fee sabeelillah! I don’t need to visit your museum to believe that civilization may have started in this region! Once again, my good wishes to the parents and their children. Remember, go out fearlessly to create your future. To the new boys and girls round the block: you’re not alone in your struggle, but continue with your education.

Imam Shafi’I was once asked: “When will a man become learned?” He replied: “When he concentrates on one science until he masters it and at the same time addresses himself to the other sciences, and surveys what he does not know; then he would become learned”.

To our hosts, the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa, Klerksdorp Branch, I have travelled this far to say to you personally what I have said so many times on the IMA website, “You may be one of the smallest branches in the country, but dynamic enough to be an example of commitment to many of the larger ones.” May Allah SWT bless your members and your families to continue with your work in the Path of Allah SWT.


* Although this article addresses Medical graduates in the small town of Klerksdorp in South Africa, the message is so universal and so potent that we felt it deserves wider attention. We know that visitors to khutbahbank will benefit from it. Brother Rashard Jedaar has served his professional lifetime in Education, first as a teacher, then as a Head Teacher/Principal and finally as a Rector of the Islamic College of South Africa: ICOSA