Education in Islam refers to knowledge which makes the soul alive, drawing together all good disciplines so man is led to excellent intellectual and moral qualities.
WILLIAM Godwin, a renown English political philosopher, once declared that man’s “moral improvements will keep pace with his intellectual” progress, as long as “sound reasoning and truth (are) adequately communicated” to him.
Godwin’s statement is remarkably parallel to some aspects of Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas’ definition of education in Islam.
In the latter’s The Concept of Education in Islam, we have the famous definition:
“education is adab progressively instilled into man”; disciplinary, in regard to human potentialities; selective, in regard to his intellectual and spiritual attributes; corrective, in regard to his action; and qualitative, in regard to his preservation from judgemental errors.
Instilling adab first and foremost refers to “the disciplinary action”, as it involves action to discipline the body, mind and soul of the education-recipient.
This definition found support in the past by the author of al-‘Inayah, who referred to education’s content as “the drawing together of all good disciplines whereby man is led to excellent intellectual and moral qualities (kull riyadah mahmudah fa-yakhruju bi-ha al-insan ila fadilah min al-fada’il)”.
That the author employed the term “man” rather than “Muslim” in that definition is reflective of the fact that Islamic education draws out our common humanity more than its superficial differences.
Second, adab also refers to “the selective acquisition”, as it involves acquisition of the good qualities and attributes of mind and soul of the education-recipient.
That proposition concisely formulates various descriptions given by authoritative works like Fath al-Qadir, which stated that adab is “al-khisal al-hamidah”; or like Bahr al-Jawahir, which defined it more comprehensively as “husn al-ahwal wa husn al-akhlaq wa ijtima‘ al-khisal al-hamidah”.
That the aim of Islamic education is to put the student in full possession of all his physical, intellectual and spiritual potential has also been emphasised by Abu Zayd as well as the author of al-Bahr al-Ra’iq, both of whom identified adab as “malakah”, viz., trait of character.
Both authorities also described adab as “al-sifah al-rasikhah li al-nafs (the stable, firmly established attribute of the self)”.
Third, adab means “the correct performance”, as it is to perform the correct as against the erroneous action, right or proper as against wrong.
For Shah ‘Abd al-Haqq al-Dihlawi (d. 1052/1642), in his Risalah Hilyat al-Nabi, adab in this context refers to “the path which is approved by God and is good” (al-tariqah al-maqbulah wa al-salihah), values of which were taught by Him to the Prophet, in order to be emulated by humanity in general and Muslims in particular.
Fourth, adab requires “the qualitative preservation”, as it is the preserving from disgrace in terms of errors of judgement and subsequently wrong action.
Al-Tahanawi has reported that for ahl al-hikmah or sage, adab refers to “the preserving of the self (siyanat al-nafs)”, while for Abu Zayd, adab is “an aptitude which protects its owner from what that disgraces him (malakah ta‘sumu man qamat bi-hi ‘amma yushinu-hu)”.
Sharif al-Jurjani (d. 843/1413) formulated the definition of adab as “special knowledge that preserves one against all types of errors (ma‘rifatun ma yuhtaraz bi-hi ‘an jami‘ anwa‘ al-khata’)”.
As there are limits which have been prescribed through revelation by God (hududullah), the same Shah Abd al-Haqq al-Dihlawi’s Risalah Hilyat al-Nabi also defined adab as ri‘ayah hadd kull shay’: “guarding the limit of each and every thing”.
Adab, as special knowledge, as the food and life of the soul, is to be approached by means of lofty conduct. This knowledge, which makes the soul alive, is the content of education.
If education is a process of civilization, ta’dib is more than qualified to play the civilizing role among the people. As mentioned in al-Talwih, instilling adab refers to “refinement of ethics and amelioration of habits (tahdhib al-akhlaq wa islah al-‘adat)”.
Tuesday January 5 2010
By DR MOHD SANI BADRON