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October 2004
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Isolation or Islamic Learning?
By M. Hanif Lakdawala
Our Islamic schools should concentrate more on mentoring the students and strengthening their faith, instead of imposing mechanical subjects such as learning certain Hadiths and Ayats by-heart.

In a city like Mumbai, a trend is discernable about few parents preferring exclusive Muslim-managed schools termed as ‘Islamic schools’. On last count, last couple of years at least five schools opened up exclusively for Muslim students claiming to teach Islam along with the Secular education.

It is no one’s contention that Islam must be taught in the proper environment and in its true form. But it is debatable that in a country like India, we need to establish a separate institution for teaching our children Islam.

Just providing an artificial environment or pseudo-ambience by such Islamic schools is not going to inculcate the Islamic ethos and spirit, which is the basic objective of Islam. Imitating secular model of education and teaching certain Islamic subjects such as Islamic History, Quran and Hadith related subjects is not going to make much changes in the personality of the students and inculcate the values which Islam wants to imbibe in its followers.

The basic shortcoming of such Islamic schools is that although they focus on the Islamic subjects, what they neglect is the basic Islamic approach to coaching and learning. Islam gives more importance to Mentoring, rather than the quantity of learning.

Even the corporate world has accepted that Mentoring is a comprehensive and effective method of coaching and training. Ironically, Islamic schools lack the individuals to take the responsibility of Mentoring. Even the Prophet (Pbuh) adopted Mentoring as a tool for training and learning.

To teach Islam, there cannot be a substitute for Mentoring. These Islamic schools find it difficult to get good teachers who can impress upon today’s generation with their immaculate character.

One more thing that Islamic schools management failed to realise is that Islamic teaching is not just imparting knowledge about Islam, but inculcating in students, the Islamic spirit, values and ethos in a way, which becomes a precursor for a civilised society.

Instead of isolating the Muslim students in the name of Islamic education it will be more beneficial if the Muslim-managed educational institutions concentrate on the curriculum which should include matter that would increase student emotional intelligence and promote self-development, and educate them about human rights, especially women’s and minorities’ rights. In addition, numerous libraries should be set up which encourage students to study various cultures and civilizations.

Befriending people regardless of their race or religion, and learning about their countries and cultures (besides trying their cuisine), thereby developing a global perspective, was a wonderful method, as was mentoring. These were successful methods adopted by many great Sufis who imparted Islamic teaching not only to the Muslims but also to the non-Muslims of this great country. So they were neither “too westernized” nor a “religious fanatic”.

For the students it is essential that teachers act as Mentors not only taking care of their course/syllabus related problems, but also taking care of their emotional and other needs. This would lead to a strengthening of their faith and a positive motivation to study their subjects with greater zeal, and also to utilize their minds to the fullest. The faith comes not from just learning about the subject, but by believing in it from the depth of the heart. Thus for the firm belief, Mentors are essential.

If the faith is built stronger through mentoring, then even the alien conditions do not shake the faith. The noted American psychologist Daniel Goleman writes in his celebrated book, Emotional Intelligence: “The added payoff for life’s success from motivation (emphasis added), apart from other innate abilities, can be seen in the remarkable performance of Asian students in American schools and professions.” Thus, the degree to which we are motivated propels us to accomplish more.

Talking of faith, any number of western quotations can be provided, but two should suffice. That breathtakingly refreshing writer and sage Ralph Waldo Emerson had observed, “The whole course of things goes to teach us faith.” Dr Wayne W. Dyer, the American psychiatrist, writer and a leading figure of the self-development movement, has written a whole book with the theme and title, You’ll See It When You Believe It.

From these it should be apparent that a stronger faith and a higher motivational level of our children is only possible through mentoring and it will definitely result in more competent, successful and morally responsible physicians and other medical professionals, scientists and engineers.

In a recent interview, Dr Edward de Bono, “the father of thinking about thinking”, had made some very interesting observations. In the world today, there is a perception that Islam is full of fundamentalists and terrorists, but if you read the Quran and Hadith, Islam is more about thinking. And there are 130 verses in the Quran specifically about thinking.

Thus our Islamic schools should concentrate more on mentoring the students and strengthening their faith instead of introducing mechanical subjects such as learning certain Hadith and Ayats by-heart.