In the first Saturday Night Lecture, Prof. Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud gave us an overview of the crisis of authority as it manifested in major world religions like Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism. While the second Saturday Night Lecture was a look into the crisis within the Muslim Civilization, today’s lecture marked the start of how do we go about responding to the crisis. And thus began the third Saturday Night Lecture on the topic of Revitalization of Education.
Prof Wan Mohd Nor started the lecture by recapping some of the major points of the previous lectures and bringing to the audience’s attention significant findings on the survey of Muslims’ opinion on fundamental beliefs of Islam as well as their stand on contemporary issues. There are certain percentages of Muslims who no longer believe in God or the Prophet, and there are Muslims who accept what is traditionally seen as social vices and ills. Although the numbers are small, this is enough indication that points to some problems in the minds of the Muslims. It is bad enough to accept what is wrong to be right, but to want society to accede to this inversion of right and wrong is even worse.
On the belief in the theory of evolution, Prof Wan cautioned that believing in it is not a simple matter without consequences. Evolution is a concept which is accepted as truth, will alter the way we understand the Quran, the Prophet, his family, and companions, as well as the shariah. If we believe that humanity always evolves to be better, then the past is to be seen as something of lesser value. However, Muslims believe that the Prophet’s generation is the best of all generations. A mind that accepts the evolutionary theory may fall into the trap that suggests the generations which existed in the past as somewhat primitive. Therefore, it is not surprising that with the evolutionary theory in mind, many would consider the golden age of Islam was actually materialized during the Abbasid period, and not during the Prophet’s time where the spiritual and moral standard was at its highest peak. But the worldview of Islam does not uphold material achievement in highest regards; it is the ethical and the spiritual aspects that should be made the most superior standard by which any civilization is measured.
Prof Wan asserted that the way to overcome this is via education. He reiterated that we are not the first to realize this, as previous generations of Muslims did too. For example, the Ottoman rulers saw that it was through education that their society can be transformed. However, they only saw this possible transformation through the military and technology aspects of education, something that they lacked. So many of their best students are were sent to Europe to study in these areas. The same happened in Egypt, where Ali Pasha sent hundreds of young Egyptians to France to study modern science and technology. Both these efforts, though realized the importance of education somehow failed to work. Other examples put forward by Prof Wan are were the efforts of Muhammad Abduh in Al-Azhar University and Sayyid Ahmad Khan in the Aligarh Muslim College which was modeled after Cambridge and Oxford. Prof Wan remarked that these efforts worked to some extent but what is really needed is a framework that will reflect the true understanding of Islam. This is because modern subjects have, inherent in them, certain frameworks, values, and biases that had seeped into them so it is not enough to only study modern subjects alongside traditional subjects in revitalizing education. Prof Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas played an important role in pointing this out, and Prof Wan promised the audience that this will be further elaborated in the next lecture. Many would also bring up the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. that every child is born untainted on fitrah and it is the parents who make them a Jew, Christian or Zoroastrian. These two would often be cited to support the approach in education that put a focus on the childhood or primary level. However, to Prof Wan, no doubt the proverb and the hadith talked about children, but neither do the two put the emphasis on children nor childhood education. On the contrary, it is the role of the parents and teachers that is highlighted instead. In the model of the shoot, if the parents are rough in ‘bending the bamboo’, in all likelihood the shoot will be spoilt because it is the nature of the shoot that they are passive and will respond to whatever mold that is nurtured to them.
That is why according to Prof. Al-Attas, education reform must start from a higher level. He stresses that Allah transforms communities by converting the adults first for the Prophet’s immediate audience was mostly adults. Likewise, the transformation that is needed now must focus on them. Even though to reform we naturally start with children, but the adults will become their teachers, their parents, and the ones who will write their textbooks, as well as those who will bear influence on their learning outside of the class, i.e, those who write their TV programs and other kinds of children entertainment. Therefore, Prof Al-Attas’s approach had been to effect changes at the level of higher education, and it is from this that excellent teachers and leaders will be produced.
Having identified the starting point, the second aspect of revitalization of education is to re-orientate the purpose of education from merely producing good citizen to producing good men and women, for this is the right purpose of education in Islam. The difference between good citizens and good men and women is that in the former, the ‘good’ criteria is bounded by time and place whereas the latter has a more universal character. In a highly globalized world of today, where the interactions between people take place across the nation-state borders, it is the making of good men and women regardless of their place of birth that is more relevant. In modern discourse too people are talking on producing cosmopolitan citizenship, therefore, what was stated in the purpose of education by our Prophet centuries ago even more apt to be restated.
The third aspect that Prof. Wan highlighted in revitalizing education is on the content of this education. We should no longer stress on the quantity of subjects but on the quality instead. And the quality of the content also depends on how it was taught too, and that these subjects must be taught properly in the correct way. Prof Wan reminded us that by revitalizing education, what our scholars meant is that we let the students inculcate Islam based on their understanding, and their love towards the values of our law.
Prof Wan then talked about the correct understanding of fardu ‘ayn and fardu kifayah. One mistake that our society often makes regarding these two is that we look at them as two static disciplines. Fardhu ‘ayn is what every muslim has to acquire by certain age or stage in education, and after that, he/she moves on to master the sciences of fardu kifayah. As a result, the knowledge of fardu ‘ayn remains stultified at primary age level only even though they have grown up older. One of the implications of this can be seen in cases of corruption or betrayal of trust that goes on in the professional lives of Muslims. Prof Wan pointed out that corruption cases do not happen because the doers lack expertise in their discipline. On the contrary, they know their discipline very well to be able to exploit it. What they lack then is the proper sense of fear of God, resulting from their very preliminary understanding of God. To them, God is a Being that can be easily appeased by simply going to Friday prayers, or performing the umrah/pilgrimage or giving to charity. Prof Al-Attas said that most people understand the concept of taqwa as simply a fear of Allah, or to do what He commands and to refrain from what He forbids. But the deeper understanding of taqwa is to be constantly aware of His presence. And this is the understanding that they lack, due to their level of fardu ‘ayn knowledge that is not progressing beyond the primary school level.
Prof Wan deliberated further that Fardhu ‘ayn and Fardu kifayah are two interrelated categories. On fardu kifayah, it is not required for everybody to study each science, but we must have enough people in society to have mastery over certain sciences. For those who are studying the sciences that fall under fardu kifayah, it becomes their fardu ‘ayn to have good command or mastery over their field specializations of study. Once we have qualified masters in those disciplines, then it becomes incumbent upon the leaders to listen to them due to their expertise. For what use is there to produce excellent scholars only for their righteous advice and informed opinion be ignored?
On knowledge, Prof Wan reaffirmed the definition of knowledge, in that knowledge is the meaning that arrives at your soul such that it leads us to know Allah and to make us closer to Him. Knowledge that does not do this is meaningless, even though this knowledge gives you a set of skills or an accumulation of facts. In fact, some knowledge can become dangerous if it leads you to oppose and disobey God. He reiterated that knowledge is not about quantity but about quality.
Prof Wan concluded his lecture by emphasizing that in revitalizing education, we must inculcate meaninG by reconnecting ourselves to the best minds in the tradition of this religion. And we must also return to the original purpose of education which is to produce good men and women. On the content of education, we need to re-dynamize our understanding of fardu ‘ayn. It is not just for primary school but it ought to also be taught at a higher level, and particularly so. And ultimately, a transformed education needs its highly qualified teachers whose worldview of Islam is sound as to impart the correct understanding and knowledge to the Muslim students.
As a tradition of this lecture series, the question and answer sessions followed after the deliberation. There are interesting questions posed but only a few will be highlighted here. On the clarification of rivalry between us and the West, Prof Wan said that we can compete with anybody but the purpose should not be mere competition just for the sake of outdoing one another. Competition is not wrong, but it is not a must. It is cooperation that is a must and commanded by Allah in that we need to cooperate with one another in things that bring us close to Him. On the question of the place of taqlid in education, Prof Wan responded that taqlid, apart from adab is very important in education. However, in recent times, taqlid has received much criticism. In some levels in certain disciplines, taqlid is ever present, in the field of medicine and law for example. Likewise in religion, we must follow taqlid to a certain point, when we are still beginners in the religious sciences. Taqlid is only negative if people do not want to progress and remains at the same level all the time.
The end of the question and answer session marked the end of the third Saturday Night Lecture. The next one promises to bring a better understanding to other aspects that are needed in rectifying the crisis of authority among the Muslims.
The fourth Saturday Night Lecture will continue on the 26th of January, 2019.
 It’s equivalent is the English saying, “strike the iron while it’s hot.”