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Madaar: The point upon which we can revolve for refining Islamic Education
SYDNEY: Australia has announced that they will begin a Muslim youth exchange program with Malaysia in an effort officials hope will help be the beginning of a new partnership between the two countries in order to enhance relations and curtail immigrations concerns in Canberra.
The program, which was announced by Foreign Minister Bob Carr, will see 6 Australians from Islamic backgrounds head to Malaysia to boost their leadership skills in the exchange program.
Australian Muslims are excited about the potential of the program and say it could help alleviate much of the misunderstandings that exist.
“I think we have a duty to promote this idea and get the Australians to speak out about what they learn in Malaysia upon returning,” Muslim student Jamal Tayeb in Sydney told Bikyamasr.com. The 18-year-old high school senior said he hopes to apply for the opportunity in order to “bring together Muslims from all parts of the world in understanding multiple cultures.”
Carr and his Malaysian counterpart, Anifah Aman, inked the Australia-Malaysia Young Muslim Exchange Programme after recent talks in the Malaysian state of Sabah.
The program, based on a model Australia has run with Indonesia and Thailand, will see youth from Malaysia also traveling to Australia.
Carr said fostering cultural understanding is important for the future of both countries.
“I think it’s one of the most important challenges we face today – getting a dialogue with the forces of moderate Islam,” he said.
“To a large extent, the clash we see in the world today reflected in the forces of terrorism and unrest is a clash within Islam and we want to be engaging with the forces of moderate Islam.”
Saudi Arabia is funding a $100m mosque and Islamic education centre in Kabul that will teach thousands of students a year and help bolster Saudi influence in Afghanistan as the west withdraws.
Work on the sprawling 30-hectare (75-acre) hilltop complex is due to be completed by early 2016, when Afghan security forces will likely be trying to hold off the Taliban with little Nato support.
“This Islamic centre has several aims, one is to ensure good relations between Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia,” said the acting Saudi minister of hajj and Islamic affairs, Dr Dayi al-Haq Abed.
Afghanistan’s neighbours and allies have been jostling for power in the country for years; spending millions of dollars on aid, education, TV and radio channels.
Efforts to secure a stake in Afghanistan’s future are intensifying with the 2014 Nato withdrawal deadline looming, and a presidential election to chose the first new leader in more than a decade set for April that year.
But Abed said the centre was a decade-old project conceived by Saudi Arabia’s late King Fahd, not a hasty effort to bolster the Gulf state’s role in Afghan affairs.
“It’s not a political centre, its an independent centre,” he told the Guardian. “This centre will never try to work against the interests of Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. It is firstly a place for prayer and secondly for education.”
A university with a library, lecture halls, gym and dormitories for 5,000 students will sit on a hill overlooking Kabul, next to the tomb of the last Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah. The nearby mosque will hold up to 15,000 worshippers, making it one of the largest in the country.
Saudi Arabia has been one of the key players in the turbulent decades since the Soviet invasion at the end of 1979, influencing both religion and politics in Afghanistan.
(Reuters) – At school No. 20 in Russia’s troubled region of Chechnya, boys sit on one side of the classroom and girls in headscarves on the other. All are silent as the new teacher rises to speak.
“Do you say your morning prayers?” Islam Dzhabrailov, 21, asks, wearing a green prayer cap and a plain tunic, religious dress that is increasingly popular in the mountainous province in southern Russia’s mostly Muslim Caucasus region.
“It’s just as important as doing your homework,” he tells the students aged 14-15.
One of 420 teachers employed from madrasas to teach history of religion, Dzhabrailov is driving efforts by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to combat Islamist insurgency by implementing his own brand of Islam. In this Kadyrov has the backing of President Vladimir Putin, though some may harbor doubts about the man.
Against a background of stricter guidance on women’s dress and wider acceptance of polygamy, critics say Kadyrov is defying Russian separation of religion and state and pushing Chechnya further from Moscow only a decade after federal troops ousted a separatist leadership there to reinstate Kremlin rule.
In nearby Stavropol, part of the Russian Orthodox heartland, a school principal set off a storm when she forbade a small group of Muslim girls from wearing the hijab to class. Putin weighed in, stressing the need for secular standards in schools.
This year, Russian schools started offering courses in the history of world religions, like Orthodox Christianity and Buddhism; a course on secularism is also offered, reflecting attitudes fostered during the era of the communist Soviet Union.
In Chechnya the lines between history of religion and religious education are being blurred. Dzhabrailov, who says he is deputy director of his school’s spiritual-moral department, says the programme is implemented in Chechnya with materials prepared by local religious leaders.
Although officially not mandatory, students and teachers say all pupils are obliged to take the course on Islam, which focuses on the history of Islam and how to behave as a Muslim. Russian media reported that between 99 percent and 100 percent of Chechen students are taking the class.
“A school should provide a secular education, that is what a school is for, and all the more Russian schools,” said one teacher at the school who declined to give her name for fear of retribution for speaking out against Kadyrov’s policies.
“We have enough madrasas open for those who want a spiritual education,” she said.
Critics say the Kremlin has given Kadyrov freedom to enforce Islam as he sees fit and build up his authority in Chechnya in exchange for a clamp-down on insurgents seeking to carve an Islamic state out of the North Caucasus.
Education is accorded top priority in all countries. In western countries a lot of money is spent on its practical application. Unfortunately, we lag behind. All historic facts and teachings have reached us through education – first the Torah and the Bible and then the Holy Quran, the word of God. Through these sources we have learnt what our duties are to the Almighty and to our fellow human beings. Islam has emphasised the importance of acquiring knowledge and our Holy Prophet (pbuh), advised us to seek it, even if this meant travelling to a far-off place like China. Geo TV is currently broadcasting an excellent programme in which old, invaluable facts – and our failure to act on them – are revealed.
While the Mughal Emperor Akbar was spending huge amounts on building a town at Fatehpur Sikri, the west was investing in such institutions as Oxford, Leiden and Leuven Universities. In India, Mughul rulers were mostly interested in building palaces, forts, parks, mausoleums, etc, thus laying the foundation for their decadence. At one time, Muslim scientists were famous for their excellent, innovative research and work. Who has not heard of Bu Alicenna, Ibn Hasham, Khwarzmi, Omar Khyyam, etc? Western scholars used to learn from their work. As soon as Muslims lost interest in intrinsic learning, they lost their edge and became backward nations. Meanwhile, in the west, knowledge was not only acquired but also used in practical applications such as shipbuilding, making gunpowder, heavy cannons, guns, etc. Thus they became the masters of the world, while we had to accept slavery.
Centuries ago India was the hub of education and knowledge, and Taxila and Nalinda Universities functioned even before the Christian era. At that time it was mainly the Brahmans who excelled. They advised the rulers and commanded great respect. Raja Chandragupta Maurya had a world-famous minister, Chanakya, and Sher Shah Suri had Raja Todar Mal as minister for revenue, who later did an excellent job for Emperor Akbar.
During the Abbasid Caliphate, Muslims made great strides in acquiring and disseminating knowledge. Universities in Muslim Spain were attracting European scholars at about the same time. Right from the time of the great Caliphs, Quranic verses and their explanations and the sayings of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) were meticulously preserved, thus reaching us unchanged. Translations of many invaluable works made it possible for non-Arabs to acquire knowledge from them. Baghdad was another cradle of education and knowledge, but the Mongol hordes not only murdered all learned people, but also destroyed many precious libraries, thus depriving the world of treasures of knowledge. At that time people excelled not only in religious knowledge, but also in its practical application, which made religion a formidable force.
In India, during the British rule, Hindus realised the importance of education, made rapid progress and secured important posts. Their leaders stressed the fact that education meant progress. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, influenced by the teachings of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, established Benaras Hindu University and Sir Hari Singh Gaur established Sagar University. It took almost a hundred years before Muslims were able to produce a genius, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, to beg and borrow in order to set up Aligarh Muslim University, which laid a solid foundation for the Pakistan Movement followed by the creation of Pakistan. Even today, Indians benefit from these old educational institutions. In the recent past, Muslim nawabs, rajas etc spent most of their time hunting, drinking, listening to music, kite flying and in animal fights.
Slowly but surely their wealth drained away. After the War of 1857, Muslims realised their mistake and Muslim rulers hired British and British-trained officers to run state affairs. Notable amongst those who did so were Hyderabad Deccan and Bhopal, where educationists, engineers, police, customs and administrative officers were either British or British-trained. There was no corruption, no maladministration and no lame excuses. No criminal could escape accountability and punishment.
In the Pakistan of today we see the old Mughul era trend of decadence. Money earned by any and all means is being squandered by the young generation. Educational degrees are often obtained, not through hard work, but by cheating and paying people off. The results are obvious. Many so-called “educated” people are good-for-nothing in practical terms.
The rich spoil the young generation by giving them everything they desire and sending them to expensive English-medium institutions. The poor and middle class, on the other hand, are hardly able to afford a university education. We are creating a generation of rote learners, incapable of delivering anything. Ghost schools thrive and are being used as cattle pens and/or forage storage. These evils can be eradicated without any additional expenses. But for that honesty and good intentions are required, which are scarce commodities here.
Religious schools were playing a somewhat positive role, since they were at least making youngsters aware of what was good and what was bad and teaching them the Quran. This good was undone by Musharraf who destroyed the system, sending many youngsters on to the streets as beggars or criminals. A slight reform programme could do wonders with these religious schools.
We should realise that education encompasses not only subject-related knowledge, but also learning about the world in general, about other civilisations, technologies and inventions, etc. Even more important is the practical training it imparts in using the acquired knowledge to everyday applications and to becoming a better human being. However, manners are learnt by guidance and following the examples set by elders. It helps in character building and it is this ability that makes each of us someone unique. Long ago the late US President, Calvin Coolidge, said: “If you want to buy an expensive building, you can. You can buy an expensive car or get a degree from the best university, but what you cannot buy is good manners”. Manners are acquired only through what we inherit, guidance and training.
Our decadence is due to neglecting our rich cultural heritage and disenchantment with our religious values. Hazrat Ali so aptly pointed out: “There are many educated people who have ruined their future on account of their ignorance of religion. Their knowledge did not prove of any avail to them”. Our young generation should be taught about our rich cultural heritage and pure, golden religious knowledge, but it should be remembered that education alone does not turn one into a good, exemplary person. Good manners are equally important.
NOTE: In my column dated 15 October, 2012 I mistakenly attributed the first verse to the poet Mushafi. Mr Syed Mohammad Saeed kindly pointed out that the said verse was written by Momin. I am grateful for his correction.
Could an old religious tradition from China help solve one of the world’s most pressing problems — violence committed in the name of Islam?
The irony of an officially atheist country possibly offering a way out of an international religious problem is intense. Yet that is what some Islamic scholars in China and elsewhere hope may happen as they point to a quietly liberal tradition among China’s 10 million Hui Muslims, where female imams and mosques for women are flourishing in a globally unique phenomenon.
Female imams and women’s mosques are important because their endurance in China offers a vision of an older form of Islam that has inclusiveness and tolerance, not marginalization and extremism, at its core, the scholars say.
Exact numbers are not available, but Shui Jingjun, a leading scholar of women in Hui Islam (the Hui are scattered across China and are distinct from the Uighur Muslims of the far western region of Xinjiang) estimates there are hundreds of female imams leading mosques around the country, educating boys and girls, and organizing social services in their communities.
Female imams and women’s mosques are not “a new thing here. It’s just a cultural tradition that was never interfered with,” Ms. Shui, an author and researcher at the Henan Academy of Social Sciences in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, said in an interview.
That is what makes it so important, said Khaled Abou El Fadl, a prominent Islamic legal scholar.
“The Chinese tradition of women’s mosques is rooted in Islamic history. It is not novel, a corruption or innovation or some type of heretical practice,” Mr. Abou El Fadl, a professor of Islamic law at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a recorded interview.
China’s liberal Hui tradition therefore challenges the power of Wahhabism, a puritanical, patriarchal sect dominant in Saudi Arabia today that is behind much Islamic extremism, he said.
“The Chinese example preserves and reminds Muslims of an important jurisprudential and historical phenomenon that Wahhabism tried to wipe out,” he said.
“Contemporary fundamentalist movements use the space provided by the mosque to affirm all types of patriarchy and male power over women,” he said. “When you have something like the Chinese example, which ultimately empowers women to work within their own space and lead prayer and manage that space on their own, it’s a significant form of women asserting themselves in the Islamic tradition, helping in constructing it and perpetuating it.”
“I always see Islam in places in China as reminding Muslims of their authentic tradition before it was impacted by petrol dollars and this very gruff and dry form of Bedouin Islam that came out of Saudi Arabia,” said Mr. Abou El Fadl. “So the point is there’s an old, historically rooted tradition, and the Chinese, if they tap into this tradition, they can effectively provide resistance or examples of resistance to puritanical Islam.”
Muslims arrived in China during the Tang dynasty, more than 1,000 years ago, and their numbers swelled during the Yuan dynasty in the 13th century. Mostly from Persia and Central Asia, though some were Arabs, they brought with them traditions that had always emphasized women’s education, said Ms. Shui. But women’s status really took off in the early Qing dynasty, more than 300 years ago, when the numbers of Hui declined as they were absorbed into the majority Han Chinese culture, she said.
By then, she said, “most Muslims couldn’t read or speak Arabic. So they relied on women to spread the word, to educate. It wasn’t possible to rely just on the men. There weren’t enough of them.”
Far away, in the Arab world, Wahhabism began spreading.
“About 300 years ago, there were changes in Islamic education” in the Middle East, said Ms. Shui. “In other Islamic nations, what men said was decisive. But that wasn’t going to work here.”
Over the past decade, Hui Muslim women’s role in offering both religious and secular education in their communities has grown, said Jackie Armijo, a professor at Qatar University.
Young Hui women, seeing the need for education among their people, are choosing to travel far from home to teach, often in small villages, she said. While conducting doctoral research in China, “I was continually struck by these young women,” Ms. Armijo said.
“They know instinctively, and they say it: ‘To teach a man is to teach one person. To teach a woman is to teach everyone,”’ she said.
Slowly, awareness is spreading in China of how valuable this tradition might be.
During a recent meeting in Gansu Province of mostly female Muslim educators, researchers, writers and local Han Chinese officials — there were also some non-Chinese Muslims from Pakistan and Taiwan, according to online reports — “some people argued privately that China should ‘go out into the world’ with this good tradition,” spreading the word, said Ms. Shui, who was among the participants.
That, Ms. Armijo said, would resonate among women elsewhere in the Muslim world, who are increasingly gathering to study texts independently of men.
At the meeting, many people said they wanted the biennial event, happening for just the second time, to become a permanent research facility in Gansu. “We talked about turning it into an international meeting for all Muslim women,” said Ms. Shui. “Everyone was in favor of that.”
“Education is a fundamental right of women” – said Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict. But 1,400 years ago in Islamic history, someone stated, “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim man and woman.” Islam, therefore, presents education as a duty, not a mere right, for all.
“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world,” said novelist Jane Austen. But someone 1,400 years ago went a step further, “If a daughter is born to a person and he brings her up, gives her a good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall myself stand between him and hell-fire.”
The word “rabbi” means a teacher. Going by this definition, Islam gave women the rabbinical status centuries before any other faith. The first female rabbi, Regina Jonas was ordained on Dec. 25, 1935 in Germany; an atypical practice, which even today is limited to the non-orthodox sects of Judaism. But 1,400 years ago someone elevated, Ayesha, the daughter of the Prophet’s companion, to the status of a teacher and jurist.
Where the first Western University in Bologna, Italy, spontaneously emerged due to the efforts of male foreign students groups in 1088 A.D., it was the singular effort of a Muslim woman, Fatima-al-Fihri in 859 A.D. that helped found the University of Karueein in Fez, Morocco. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the University of Karueein is the oldest existing, and continually operating university in the world.
Why would the Taliban shatter the dreams of young Malala to become a student, a teacher, or a scholar? It was fear, not faith, which drove them to attack this gallant girl. After all, she was writing a blog for BBC about her life under the Taliban and was the recipient of the national peace prize in 2011. You could see the leader in her. So the Taliban used the old ploy: hide your rotten fears and cultural dogmas in the shopping bag of Islam.
Malala wanted to be a doctor. But her father knew – Pakistan needed a change agent. So he inspired her to become a politician. What if she became Pakistan’s next president? Taliban have reasons to fear that thought; the three most populous Muslim countries (Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh) have all elected female presidents and prime ministers in the recent past.
In yet another shot across the bow to the ailing Malala – who must be considering whether to bow to Taliban pressure or pursue her dreams – the Taliban have threatened to fatally attack her again if she survives.
It would be galling to see the Pakistani government’s ineptness in protecting this young hero. That someone in the Muslim history would never have allowed such a travesty of Islamic values. That someone would have ensured that Malala gets her education and fulfills her dreams.
So here is my message to Malala: You are not alone. Millions of voices, including Americans, are with you. In this war of love and passion against hate and aggression, the Taliban will never win. That someone will win. That someone who enshrined the right of a girl’s education in the Muslim faith. That someone whose name is prophet Muhammad.
The terms “sex” and “education” are a mismatch in Pakistan: The subject simply is not taught in schools. Traditional cultural values have prevented any formal integration of the basics of the birds and the bees into the Islam-based education system.
Here, young people mainly learn about sex from whispered conversations with their schoolyard friends, or by experience. Many Pakistanis say their parents were loath to give them the facts about reproduction.
That leaves great room for misinformation, unsafe practices, uncontrolled family size, and abortion as a method of birth control, health advocates say.
The Holy Quran strictly prohibits sex outside marriage. Many institutions here take that mandate so seriously that the very topic of sex has become taboo with teachers, and even family physicians shy away from broaching the subject with patients (including married ones).
The prohibition extends from primary schools to colleges. And, until now, no comprehensive sexuality courses have been taught in undergraduate medical colleges. According to a report in the Washington Post, Dow University of Health Sciences, based in Karachi, announced that it will integrate reproductive health education into its curriculum beginning next academic year. The medical college said its future doctors will become prepared to treat patients for sexual and reproductive-related problems.
“So when we talk of infections, we will talk of reproductive infections,” said Sikander Sohani of the non-profit organisation Aahung, which collaborated with Dow University on developing the curriculum. “When we talk of [medical] history-taking, we will talk about taking reproductive health history as well. So it is a holistic approach.” The Dow University sex-ed program will be taught to male and female students every semester. The group also developed a reproductive health guide for faculty and students that comports with the country’s cultural values.
Past attempts to teach sex-ed have met with fierce resistance from conservative religious leaders and parents wishing to protect their children from secular influences.