Articles From the April 1994 Unification News
An Islamic Unificationist perspective on Religious Education
Mr Mesbah has just finished the course : "Foundations of Religious Education" taught by Dr. Kieran Scott at UTS. The revised content of his research paper presented at the end of the class will be publised here in two parts. This is the first.
The focus of this article is the various aspects of Religious Education, particularly its importance and its perspective from an Islamic Unificationist viewpoint.
I was born and raised in an Islamic tradition, where An Islamic Unification perspect on RE is part of daily life and an expression of faith.
At the age of four I first became aware of religion. It was the day after my circumcision , when my mother told me , "I am grateful to Allah because today I brought my sons (my brother and myself) to Islam." More than thirty years later, I'm still asking myself whether I was born a Muslim or I absolutely needed that physical act, namely, circumcision, in order to become a Muslim . No matter what the answer is, for my mother it was obvious that I had to go through that ritual in order to purify myself and to become "officially" a Muslim. That was my first lesson in An Islamic Unification perspect on RE.
My mother was my real first religious teacher and educator. From her I learned how to be a good Muslim at home. She taught me how to keep my body and clothes clean for religious purposes, to be grateful to Allah, remembering him before eating and sleeping and to show compassion to poor people by sharing food and clothes with them. She religiously educated my deeper heart.
This reminds me of the following Hadith:
One companion of the Prophet Mohammed asked him, "O Apostle of God! Who is the person worthiest of my consideration? He replied, "Your mother." Again he asked, "And second to my mother." The Prophet said, "Your mother." The companion insisted, "And then?" The Messenger of God said, "After your mother, your father."
Islamic tradition is aware of the ultimate importance of the education in childhood. It compares it to the importance of the foundation in a building. The more stronger the foundation, the stronger and safer the building will be andthe longer it will last. We all know by experience that we reap in our old age what we had sown in our childhood. But then, the question arises: Did we really have the choice to sow the best seed in our childhood ? If the answer is no then, who is responsible ?
This question makes us reflect upon how important and decisive the role played by parents and educators is in shaping the child's whole life. Educating parents and educators, especially religiously, is as important as educating the children themselves.
Ayatullah Murtaza Mutahhari wrote in his book Fundamentals of Islamic Thought that This world and the next are related in the way the stage of sowing and the stage of harvest are related, in that each finally reaps what he sows. It is like the relation between childhood and old age in that one's old age is formed in one's childhood and youth. By taking me with him to the mosque for prayer, to the religious meeting to listen to Qur'an and Hadith and by teaching me the alphabet, my father religiously educated my intellectual side .
As my father did with me, the Qur'an says in Surah 31, verses 13 to 19, so did the sage Luqman with his own son, educating him with this precious teaching:"
Behold Luqman said to his son by way of Instruction: "O my son ! Join not in worship (others ) with Allah: for false worship is indeed the highest wrongdoing," And we have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear the command), "Show gratitude to me and to thy parents: to me is (thy final) goal. But if they strive to make thee join in worship with me things of which thou hast no knowledge, obey them not; yet bear them company in this life with justice (and consideration), and follow the way of those who turn to me (in love): In the end the return of you all is to me, and I will tell you the truth (and meaning) of that ye did. "O my son! (said Luqman), if there be (but) the weight of a mustard seed and it were (hidden) in a rock, or (any-where) in the heavens or on earth, Allah will bring it forth: for Allah understands the finer mysteries, (and) is well acquainted (with them). O my son! Establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just and forbid what is wrong; and bear with patient constancy whate'er betide thee; for this is firmness (of purpose)in (the conduct of) affairs. And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth: for Allah loveth not any arrogant boaster. And be moderate in the pace, and lower thy voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass."
The Unificationist viewpoint
From the Unification Movement viewpoint, children's education takes place first and foremost within the family. God dwells within the ideal family, where Ideal Parent educate their children according to God's desire. There are three forms of Education: 1) Education of Heart, which is the Education for the perfection of the Individual; 2) Education of Norm, which is Education for the perfection of the Family; 3) Education of Dominion, which is Education for the perfection of the nature of Dominion.
The Unificationist viewpoint concerning Education is given in the book Essentials of Unification Thought:: "Therefore, in its most fundamental form, education is the guidance that parents give to their children so that the children may fulfill the Three Great Blessings. Hence, the original form of education is family education. In fact, aboriginal types of education seem to have been primarily family education. Yet, as civilization developed, the amount of learning and information increased, and life styles became diversified. Thus, education took the form of private classes, and later adopted the educational system of public schools. Such is the situation today. Since it is difficult for parents to provide education to their children, this task is left to teachers, who impart education in schools on behalf of parents. Therefore, teachers must instruct students as the representatives of parents, with parental heart. This is the original way of education."
In his book Religious Education Development, Gabriel Moran highlighted the importance of the care of a child's physical body. For Moran, the care of child's body is very important in his education as a whole:
"Educational language has to include the preservation of the physical organism in infancy. Most obviously, the verb to teach should include what parents do with infants; all the elements of feedings, clothing, and conversing are educative for the child.
The Islamic Unification perspect on RE principle, once again, is to destroy the destroyer. In this case, that means being attentive to environmental conditions that harm family life and lessen the infant's chances of physical health."
Education and Indoctrination
All parents naturally educate their offspring in their own belief or religion. Likewise, Muslim parents educate their children by transmitting to them the Islamic tradition. Someone may pejoratively call it indoctrination, but does not a child need to connect his roots to a tree somewhere? Would there be any problem or harm for a child, as long as the soil to which he is connected is pure and good?
The ultimate purpose of any An Islamic Unification perspect on RE is to strenghten the child's faith in his parent's religion. Religious parents would consider their child's education a great success if their child had even more faith than education. In his book Religious Educaion As a second language, Gabriel Moran points out the relation between Religious Education and Faith: "While Christians, Jews, and Muslims may think that faith is ultimately more important than religion, it is the visible, tangible, socially available elements called religion that can be dealt with educationally. A Christian, Muslim, or Jew, may believe that education is successful when it has reached a formation in faith.
The Qur'anic School
Going back to my childhood, I still clearly remember my experience in the Qur'anic School. It was a small room , where the religious educator (Fquih) and the students (Toulab) were sitting on a very simple mat on the floor. Fquih was like Father for Toulab. He was a "professional" religious educator and was greatly loved and esteemed by the community. Beside teaching, he was also available to hold different religious ceremonies.
For instance, the seven and hundred day dedication ceremony for the new born , circumcision, marriage, and the burial ceremony. He was appointed and paid by the community according to the number of students he had. Because his "salary" was often not enough, Fquih would live off any extra money he made from tailoring traditional clothes (Djellaba). In Islamic tradition , a "teacher" is venerated almost like a" prophet". A Muslim feels in debt of gratitude toward the person who teaches him or her even just one word. Islam also encourages and recommends strongly the seeking of any kind of good knowledge in any place of the world.
Ayatullah Murtaza Mutahhari explains in the same book above the importance and the necessity of Education for Muslims.
"The real Muslim, man or woman, according to his spirit of search after truth, adopts and integrates wisdom and truth wherever and from whomever he finds it. In searching for truth and knowledge, he does not display the least fanaticism, but instead hastens to find it in the farthest parts of the world. The real Muslim does not confine this search for truth to a certain period of his life, a certain area, or certain persons because the great leader of Islam has ordered that the search for knowledge is incumbent upon all Muslims (men and women alike). He likewise has ordered, "Assimilate wisdom wherever and through whomever you find it, even through a mushrik (unbeliever)". He has further ordered, "Seek know-ledge, even if you must travel to China." This also has been attributed to him : "Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave."
It is obvious that through this recommendation, Prophet Mohammed would not expect a Muslim to study Islam, neither Arabic language and culture in China. He certainly was talking about the necessity of a "second language" that could make communicating and understanding possible between Muslims and non -Muslims. By learning Chinese (or others) language, culture and religion, Muslims are most likely to understand correctly these people and to live with them in peace.
For Gabriel Moran "second language" is "Religious Education ": Consider how hostility may arise. Two communities of people who do not share a common language cannot be close friends. If for some reason they come to have regular interactions, hostility is likely to arise because of misinterpretation of gestures, tone, and movement. If the situation is not to degenerate into warfare, community "A" must learn the language of community "B" or community "B" must learn the language of community "A" or both communities must learn a mediating language "X". A truly mediating language would not do violence either to "A" or to "B". I am proposing that one way to imagine An Islamic Unification perspect on RE is as a second language for people in communities "A" and "B". This language would be grounded in experiences broad enough to offer a bridge between "A" and "B", but it would not substitute for the languages of either "A" or "B".
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