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Saudi Arabia: Austrian Religious Education

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday urged Israel and Hamas to respect their cease-fire but said only mutual recognition of Israel’s right to exist and an independent Palestine could ensure permanent peace in the region.

Ban commented during ceremonies launching a Saudi-sponsored and funded center in Vienna meant to promote dialogue between the world’s main religions. Ban’s pointed remarks were in contrast with other speakers who spoke in general terms about the need for religious understanding.

“I am determined to ensure that the cease-fire is sustained,” he said about last week’s agreement between Israel and Hamas committing both sides to stop hostilities and easing concerns of an Israeli invasion of Gaza.

Ban said that while both sides must adhere to the cease-fire, the ultimate goal in the region had to be a “two-state solution ending the (Israeli) occupation and the conflict,” adding: “This is critical to regional stability.”

The U.N. chief also said he is concerned about the destruction of religious artifacts by extremists in Mali, citing it as an example of the need to “promote long-term mutual understanding that transcends religious, national, cultural and ethnic boundaries.”

More here.

Malaysia: Educating Future Scholars

Permata Negara is set to add a secondary school aimed at producing future Islamic scholars into its fold.

Its patron Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor said the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) has approved funds to establish a boarding school for the participants of the Permata Insan – an Islamic religious education programme developed by Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM).

“It has been my wish for a secondary school to be built for participants of the Permata Insan programme so they could continue their studies there,” said Rosmah during her visit to the camp at SM Sains Banting here Wednesday.

Permata Insan coordinator Dr Mohd Rushdan Mohd Jailani said the school will be located in the USIM campus at Nilai, and is expected to be completed within two years. “USIM will be developing the school syllabus next year. The syllabus will be similar to normal schools but with additional emphasis on the understanding of Al Quran and Islamic science,” he said.

The Permata Insan programme is for selected children between eight to 12 years. Children are picked based on their IQ and Islamic knowledge.

It has enrolled 127 participants since it started in 2010.

Source here.

Effective Education

Dr. Haifa Reda Jamal Al-Lail And Dr. Richard A. Detweiler

An effective education system is vital to the success of a nation and the well-being of its people. The Kingdom’s great commitment to education cannot be questioned: over the past 30 years there has been a 250 percent increase in literacy and more than a 2500 percent increase in enrollment in Saudi universities and colleges.

What kind of educational experience should a student who earns a first university degree have? In the past few years a number of systems have been developed to rate universities internationally – to assess whether they are “world class.”

Many nations in this region are now involved in an expensive race to ensure that their universities are among the best in the world according to standards set by these Western groups. The rankings are based on criteria such as amount of money spent, number of publications by professors, and other variables which have little to do with the student’s actual education – at least at the level of the first, four year, university degree. Yet it is this first university degree that most students are seeking.

How should we judge what makes a quality higher education? To be successful in today’s globally competitive environment many people think specialized or technical study is essential – that narrowly focused knowledge is what best prepares a person. Yet this kind of thinking is misplaced, for the essential and consistent characteristic of this global era is not a fixed body of knowledge but continual change. Estimates of the “half life” of knowledge – the time the information one has learned remains up-to-date – ranges from less than a year in computing to a few years in engineering. For Saudi society the rate of change seems even faster, with new kinds of business, new ideas, and new political and social pressures a daily occurrence.

So the most essential need today is to educate people who know how to continuously learn; who seek good information; who can think, imagine, and invent; who see the opportunities which can come with change. At the same time we need educated people to be equally committed to the betterment of the human condition, for if individual economic motivation is not balanced with a commitment to the betterment of humanity, then society will fail.

People who have active minds and a commitment to society will become leaders in their professions, be successful themselves, and will contribute to both the economic and social vitality of their nation.

How can we provide an education that creates both the learning person and the caring person? One need look no further than the first word of the Holy Qur’an – Iqra (“read”) – to know that being educated is a fundamental precept of Islam. The words of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) saying “He who leaves his home in search of knowledge walks into the path of God” has led to intense educational activity and a rich Islamic intellectual tradition. The Golden Age of Islam involved major advances in human knowledge in science, mathematics, astronomy, and other fields at a time when Europe was in disarray and much of its accumulated knowledge lost.

Indeed, without the actions of the Islamic scholars of that era who preserved and advanced the works of antiquity, most of the writings related to classical Greece and the early Romans would have been forever lost.

Islam’s commitment to the ideal of the educated, informed, thinking and humanity-serving person has deep roots.

Modern conceptions about what makes an effective education follow this history. Early ideas developed in Ancient Greece, with an emphasis on the development of breadth of knowledge, the ability to think analytically, an understanding of the human implications of decisions, and a focus on the development of these attributes in each educated person. The fundamentals of this approach were formalized in the fourth century by the North African Capella who described seven fundamental areas of study. These Ancient Greece-based ideals were then preserved and integrated by Islamic scholars, whose knowledge was later transferred back to Europe, leading to the development of the first European universities many hundreds of years ago.

About 250 years ago European settlers to the American continent brought these ideals to their new land, where in the early 1800s they further refined these concepts into what has become the modern American conception of higher education. Called education in the tradition of the “liberal arts,” it is neither liberal in a political sense nor an art, but an approach to learning which has the goal of liberating the mind.

It focuses on two things: what students should learn and how they should learn it. It is sometimes called an “American style” higher education because it is practiced at almost every US university, and is very different from the European approach used in most universities around the world, including in Saudi Arabia, where the emphasis is on specialized knowledge.

According to this mind-liberating approach, what should be learned? For a first university degree this approach to education believes what is most important is not the exclusive study of a particular technical or professional area of knowledge, but a study of the knowledge underlying all domains of learning. Students should study broadly in the social sciences, sciences, and arts.

In doing this they learn to be analytical thinkers and information seekers, to clarify their own beliefs, to have the ability to learn in many areas of inquiry, along with gaining an awareness of the implications of their actions. It is this type of education which prepares people for a rapidly changing world, because with this kind of understanding people are able to keep learning new things as the world of knowledge changes, and to develop creative, constructive, and values-based ways of responding to challenge.

While depth of study in a particular area of study is included, this happens within the context of the development of a broader understanding.

Specialized professional knowledge comes later, in the form of a graduate degree after this bachelor’s level study is complete.

How should learning occur according to the mind-liberating approach?

This approach to education focuses on the development of knowledge in the individual by the method found to be most effective: individual engagement in learning. This happens not through memorization or by students listening quietly while the professor lectures, but by a direct intellectual relationship of professor and student in which the professor knows what each student understands and can, in a very personalized way, advance the thinking of each student. Students are respected for what they know; the professor sees the limits of their knowledge not as a deficit but as an opportunity to assist them to increase their knowledge. And, based on many years of experience, these collaborative approaches to learning — students working to solve problems with each other or with the professor – have been found to be most effective and have a lasting impact on learning.

There are several dozen universities outside the United States that have been taking the lead in changing first university degree education from the narrow, specialized approach, to this kind of education that better prepares students to be contributing citizens to the rapidly changing global environment in ways appropriate within their own national and cultural context. Effat University in Jeddah is recognized internationally as a leader in this approach to education, ensuring that every student’s knowledge is developed in a respectful way through breadth of study, small classes, and the use of collaborative methods of teaching and learning.

Indeed, Effat invited a group of respected small universities from the United States to come to Jeddah on November 12 to talk with students and parents about this mind-liberating approach to higher education, and to explore options for such study in the US as well as at Effat.

So as you think about preparing Saudi youth for the rapidly changing world of the future – a world they will not only live in but we all want them to be successful in – think not of universities with professors who publish many articles, nor of specialized degree programs, but think of universities that develop people who can continually learn, are capable of thinking analytically in many important areas of human activity, can conceive creative approaches to new challenges, and are motivated to serve humanity in all they do.

Source here.

Islamic Values

(APP): Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira said Friday those killing innocent people and destroying schools were neither deserved to be called Muslims nor even human-beings. He said this while addressing Iqbal Conference arranged by Darul uloom Muhammadia Ghausia Boken Sharif. “We love peace and the teachings of Hazrat Muhammad(PBUH) and want to win heart of the world through love and dialogue.” He said that Malala was attacked because she raised voice for imparting education to girls.

The minister stressed the need for promoting the true Islamic values of peace, tolerance and religious harmony in the country.

He said that in the era of the Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) non-Muslims were safe and secure in the Islamic state.

He said that today some elements were trying to impose their creeds on the others by the force of power, instead of the power of the logic. He said Islam spread through love and dialogue instead of force.
Kaira clarified that seminaries were not a problem, but some people were misusing the seminaries and it was the responsibility of the society to expose them and bring them to book.

We as a nation will have to overcome our weaknesses as we have left the path of Allah Almighty and the Holy Prophet (SAW), he added.

He said we have a glorious past as we enjoyed respect in the comity of the nations but now we have lost the same due to our own mistakes.

“We will have to work hard and overcome our weaknesses and earn respect in the world.”

More here.

Islam & Education

Muslim women and their rights to education is one of the most hotly debated topics when it comes to the religion; from both sides, from within, and almost always from those who are less informed.

Sometimes I become quite cut off from the realities of these debates, because I was raised in several communities (both Muslim and non-Muslim) that did not discriminate between boys and girls when it came to education.

Even now, I live in a Muslim-majority country where Muslim girls are encouraged to work towards tertiary education as much as Muslim boys.

In fact, girls outnumber boys at tertiary level and many women hold high positions in public and private offices. The plight for education is also highly competitive and in our pluralistic, multi-cultural, multi-faith country, all children, girls and boys (regardless of their religion or race), are encouraged to study hard in school and do well at university level in order to be successful.

I don’t think there is much discrimination between boys and girls from the society as a whole and even if there is, it would be based on individual families’ preferences and opinions about whether their daughters are as deserving as their sons when it comes to being provided the opportunities for education.

So when I come across the odd article or comment that blatantly talks about Muslim girls being oppressed, left unlearned and forced to be slaves in the kitchen, I often find that it is written by someone who dislikes Islam enough to associate such beliefs or practices with the religion. And I normally have to take a step back in order to understand where the writer is coming from. Is it really true that this person has studied Islam enough to unravel such strong viewpoints, or is this based on observation of a certain culture, community or country that he or she has immediately associated with the religion, without it being substantiated by Islam in any way?

Islam has sanctioned the right for education for all Muslim women. If some Muslims don’t believe in allowing their daughters to go to school, to learn to read, to participate in debates, to pursue their Master degrees, to succeed in their respective careers, then it’s the beliefs and practices of such Muslims and not Islam. It can be confusing, but it is important to remember that Islam has honored women in ways that society can’t – and Islam is a comprehensive way of life, that is not necessarily followed by Muslims.

More here.

Australia & Malaysia: Muslim Understanding

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.”

More here.

Afghanistan: Education


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.

More here.