Islamic Education: Duties of Parents, Teachers

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

We thank and praise Allah SWT, the Compassionate, the Wise. We bear witness that there is no one worthy of worship except Allah — Who has entrusted mankind with the responsibility of caring for and enhancing His creation.

We bear witness that our Nabi Muhammad SAWS is the true Messenger of Allah, who reminded us of our duties and responsibilities as teachers and the proper behaviour accorded to teachers by the those who are being taught. O Allah, shower Thy choicest blessings on him, his friends and relatives — all those who committed themselves to his teachings and spent the rest of their lives teaching others. Allah SWT reminds us in the Holy Qur’an:

“It is He Who has sent amongst the Unlettered

an apostle from amongst themselves to rehearse

to them His Signs, to sanctify them, and to

instruct them in Scripture and Wisdom, — although

they had been, before, in manifest error;–…”

(Q.LXII: 2)

My dear Brothers and Sisters

In our previous two khutbahs we tried to understand the concept, education, from a Muslim’s point of view. We see it as the process of learning how to live a full life as good Muslims. We realised that we need a comprehensive, all-embracing education to achieve this end. In the process we became aware of the weaknesses in both the so-called secular and religious systems and considered ways of bridging the gap between the two. One way is to become directly involved in our children’s education such as to communicate closely with the teachers and to serve on school committees in order to give guidance to those who educate our children.

What is the duty of the teacher in the educational experience ?

In the ayah I have quoted “It is He (Allah) Who has sent…..” Allah SWT gives us an indication of what He expects of a Prophet as the Teacher of mankind: not only must a teacher “instruct…in Scripture and Wisdom” , but to “rehearse to them His Signs and sanctify them”. In other words, the teacher must be the LIVING EXAMPLE of his subject-matter. He must be committed to and BELIEVE in what he teaches. This Allah further emphasises in the Holy Qur’an:

“Do ye enjoin right conduct on the people,

and forget to practise it yourselves, and

yet ye study the Scripture ? Will ye not

understand ? (Q.II: 44)

Imam Al-Ghazzali, one of the most outstanding Muslim scholars and teachers of all time, regards the first duty of a teacher to accept the child unconditionally as his own. He quotes the saying of our Nabi Muhammad SAWS:

“I am to you like a father who desires to save his child from the fires of hell, which is more important than any of the efforts of parents to save their children from the fires of earth.”

From this statement we can further see that a teacher’s concern is not only to achieve immediate and short-term success, such as good examination results, but to inculcate values which are formative, more permanent and would help his student to meet Allah SWT. Al-Ghazzali explains that the teacher and child are travellers journeying to Allah, and starting from this world, they follow the path to Allah. Education is a journey to Allah!

Another important duty is that the teacher should adjust his teaching to the level of intelligence and needs of the child. This is a basic principle of modern education. Our Nabi Muhammad SAWS said: “No one ever relates a tradition to a people which is beyond their minds to understand without being the cause of perplexity to some of them.” In another Hadith he said: “We prophets have been commanded to give every man his rightful place and to communicate with everyone according to his own ability to understand.” Let me appeal to our teachers, do not neglect this basic duty and leave our innocent little children to grope helplessly as they struggle to understand the work which is obviously above them ? Do not allow yourselves to become the cause of your pupils suffering untold frustration and misery which may even leave permanent scars on their personalities. Allah has created them with dignity. Let us not deny them the right to express that dignity and self-respect.

This duty further implies that the teacher must KNOW his children intimately and understand their problems so that he can help them overcome or cope with these problems. He is duty-bound to point out any wrong action or form of behaviour in them. Sufyan al-Thawri, a teacher, was once found sitting so depressed and when his friend asked him the cause of his sadness he said: “We have become a traffic for the children of this world. One after another would attach himself to us until he had acquired a measure of learning; whereupon he would be appointed a judge, or a governor, or a mayor of the place.”

Closely related to this duty is the teacher’s duty to teach in a manner that befits his dignity, authority and honour that we , the parents and children bestow on him. Allah SWT warns us to “invite to all that is good.” Let us remember that often it is not WHAT we teach our children that will influence them, but HOW we teach it. Your patience when you wait for the slowest child to arrive at an answer. Your humility when you say to the child, “I don’t know the answer, let us look it up!” The encouragement that you offer the slower child and the generous praise when he can master even a small part of the work! The child (not to mention the parents) appreciates your readiness to persevere with him and this quality he is bound to emulate and express in his life perhaps twenty years later. We, as parents and teachers, are the mirrors to our children. The dedicated teacher, according to Imam Al-Ghazzali, is like the wick of a lamp which burns itself out in giving light for others.

If so much is expected of the teacher in the educational situation, how much more is not expected of the student? Like teaching, learning is part of a Muslim’s ‘ibaadah (his worship). Our first duty as students is to develop such noble qualities as truthfulness, sincerity, piety and humility. This Imam Ghazzali calls “the adornment and beautification of the inner self”. With a “beautiful inner self”, with a pure heart, with noble intentions, we approach our learning. We must constantly be aware of WHY we seek education: not just to get a good job or to be respected by our friends. These are important goals, but they form part of the main reason, which is to serve Allah through His creation, and ultimately to move closer to Allah SWT. With this in mind, our studies at high school or university, whether we study medicine or ghifz, become so much more meaningful. In other words, we can see where we are heading for. At the same time we cannot ignore our other forms of ‘ibaadah such as our salaah, for these give direction to our studies.

Like the teacher, we must at all times be humble. We are NOT the owners, but merely the trustees of the knowledge we gain from Allah. As long as we are proud and arrogant, and as long as we are filled with self-glory, we do not hear or see anything else. Even the teacher’s guidance means nothing to us: we did not learn true knowledge, for:

“Knowledge humbleth the haughty youth,

As the flood washeth away the hill.”

It is related by Al-Sha’bi that one day when Zayd ibn-Thabit was leaving a janaaza at which he officiated, his mule was brought to him and as he was about to mount it, Ibn-‘Abbas (the cousin of the Prophet) rushed and held the stirrup for him. Zayd was so taken aback by this honour that he said: “O, no, don’t bother yourself, o Cousin of the Prophet of Allah! Ibn ‘Abbas replied: This is how we are taught to treat the learned and the illustrious.” Zayd bent over and kissed Ibn ‘Abbas’s hand, saying: “This is how we are taught to honour the household of our Prophet.”

Humility is the key to successful learning. Yes, but don’t become so submissive to your teachers that you are too meek to ask questions to improve your understanding. Your teachers would expect you to question them, to participate actively and to contribute to the lessons. In fact, Allah SWT enjoins us to ask questions to arrive at the Truth:

“And before thee also the apostles We sent

were but men, to whom We granted inspiration:

if ye realise this not, ask of those who

possess the Message.” (Q. XVI: 43)

It is your right to get up in the classroom and be heard! It is your right to contribute to the organisation of the school through student councils and other such bodies. It is your right to help decide what you need to know. This no one can deny you. Similarly, it is your duty to respect the authority and dignity of the teacher as representative of your parents! Sayiddina ‘Ali went so far as to say: “Among the obligations which you owe the teacher are: not to pester him with too many questions nor expect him to reply to all your inquiries… Furthermore, do not seek to trap him; whenever he commits a mistake, be ready to excuse him. In obedience to Allah, it is your duty to respect and honour him as long as he himself continues to obey Allah. Remain standing in his presence and whenever he needs something, be the first to wait on him.”

Such were the students, the calibre of men who followed our Nabi Muhammad SAWS. They committed themselves fully to the task of being a seeker after Truth and Allah SWT in His Infinite Mercy inspired them with the true knowledge of His Deen. One Muslim scholar puts it this way: “Knowledge will surrender nothing to man unless man surrenders his all to it.” If anything needs to be studied, strive to know everything about it (although this may be impossible): a good student is not just satisfied with what he learns from his teacher, but also what he gains through his own research. Allah SWT enjoins him to persevere in his observation and research:

“He Who created the seven heavens one above

another: no want of proportion wilt thou see

in the creation of Allah Most Gracious. So

turn thy vision again: seest thou any flaw ?

Again turn thy vision a second time: thy vision

will come back to thee dull and discomfited, in

a state worn out.” (Q.LXVII: 3 -4)

In this ayah Allah SWT asks us to observe and study creation (plants, animals, natural phenomena, and so on, over and over again and as closely as our powers will allow. How many thousands of scholars in the Muslim world were not inspired by this and other verses of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of our Nabi Muhammad SAWS to research the different parts of creation and make a positive contribution to human progress? No wonder Allah SWT rewarded the Muslim Ummah with such brilliant scholars as Al-Ghazzali (Philosophy and education), Ibn Sina (Medicine), Zakariya Razi (Chemistry), Al-Jahiz (Biology), Ibn Khaldoun (History), Ibn Rushd (Theology), Ibn Arabi (Literature and Philosophy), and so on. These scholars had one ambition…to serve Allah and perpetuate His Deen, not merely through preaching, but through building a body of knowledge of Allah’s creation and prove themselves worthy of the honour with which Allah has created them as “Fee agsani taqweem” (the best of creation).

Like these great scholars of the 11th, 12th and 13th century, we also have the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Nabi Muhammad SAWS. We, too, are agsani taqweem”. What is there to prevent our young students to become like them and exemplary leaders of tomorrow ? Nothing. Allah SWT has promised us in the Qur’an:

“Verily man shall have nothing but what he strives for.”

If we dedicate ourselves to the task of studying Allah’s creation with a view to serving Him; if our search for Truth is accompanied by a search for Taqwa (piety); if our knowledge becomes our tools rather than our adornment, then, Insha-Allah, Allah will open our minds and our hearts to His Secrets.

May Allah SWT in His Infinite Mercy, place teachers among us who are fired with Taqwa;

who accept our children as their own without preconditions;

who care for and selflessly lead our children on the Straight Path.

May Allah SWT endow our students with an intimate knowledge of themselves and help them to gain fulfilment according to their abilities.

O Allah, in these trying times, let us, through education, become a creative and vibrant Ummah. Help us to regain our self-respect and assert our identity in this land. Ameen.


Ibn ‘Abbas reported that the Messenger of Allah said:

“The nearest of men in the rank of Prophethood are the learned and the fighters for religion.”

Ameen! Aqeemus salaah!

* This khutbah is delivered at Cape Town, South Africa