With the rise of the dreaded extremist/terrorist group Boko Haram, the meaning of whose name and major motto translates to “western education is forbidden”, the role of education in Islam has come into question. The group has carried out brazen attacks on government establishments and schools in defiance of any form of education or government activity. Also, the fact that Northern Nigeria has a very high concentration of out of school children popularly known as “Almajiris” has further strengthened the doubts of skeptics, as many non-Muslims argue that Islam forbids any form of education whatsoever.
It is natural as humans for us to focus more on the negatives of any situation as it is said that “no news sells faster than bad news”. As a result, the combined actions of Boko Haram as well as the high population of Almajiris in Northern Nigeria, has lent credence to the belief that western education is forbidden. This assertion is untrue as the role and importance of education in Islam is of paramount importance. To seek knowledge is a sacred duty, it is obligatory on every Muslim, male and female. The first word revealed of the Qur’an was “Iqra” READ! Seek knowledge! Educate yourselves! Be educated.
Surah Al-Zumr, verse 9 reveals: “Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?” Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 269 reveals: “Allah grants wisdom to whom He pleases and to whom wisdom is granted indeed he receives an overflowing benefit.“
This importance of education is basically for two reasons. Education makes man a right thinker. Without education, no one can think properly in an appropriate context. It tells man how to think and how to make decision. The second reason for the importance of education is that only through the attainment of education; man is enabled to receive information from the external world. It is well said that “Without education, man is as though in a closed room and with education he finds himself in a room with all its windows open towards outside world.” This is why Islam attaches such great importance to knowledge and education.
Our Holy Prophet (SAW), said,“Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”In another Hadith, he also said: “Seek knowledge even [if it is to be found in a place as distant as China.”
At the battle of Badr, in which the Holy Prophet (SAW) gained victory over his foes, seventy people of the enemy rank were taken to prison. These prisoners were literate people. In order to benefit from their education the Prophet declared that if one prisoner teaches ten Muslim children how to read and write, this will serve as his ransom and he will be set free. This was the first school in the history of Islam established by the Prophet himself with all its teachers being non-Muslims. The Sunnah of the Prophet shows that education is to be received whatever the risk involved.
It seems highly farfetched for any Muslim to proclaim education of any kind as being forbidden especially when we consider the fact that when the Prophet (SAW) sent Mu’adh Bin Jabal to Jerusalem as an envoy, he encouraged him to seek knowledge so that he may understand his functions and thus be able to relate well with the Jews.
As final proof that education is not forbidden in Islam, some of the greatest mathematicians in history were of Islamic origin.
Muhammad Ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, the father of algebra, was a mathematician and astronomer. It is generally assumed that Al-Khwarizmi was born around 780 CE in the town of Kath in the oasis of Khorzen. Kath is now buried in the sand. Al-Khwarizmi was summoned to Baghdad by Al-Mamun and appointed court astronomer. From the title of his work, Hisab Al-Jabr wal Mugabalah (Book of Calculations, Restoration and Reduction), Algebra (Al-Jabr) derived its name.
A Latin translation of a Muslim arithmetic text was discovered in 1857 CE at the University of Cambridge library. Entitled ‘Algoritimi de Numero Indorum’, the work opens with the words: ‘Spoken has Algoritimi. Let us give deserved praise to God, our Leader and Defender’. It is believed that this is a copy of Al-Khowarizmi’s arithmetic text which was translated into Latin in the twelfth century by an English scholar. Al-Khowarizmi left his name to the history of mathematics in the form of Algorism (the old name for arithmetic).
Al-Khowarizmi emphasised that he wrote his algebra book to serve the practical needs of the people concerning matters of inheritance, legacies, partition, lawsuits and commerce.
In the twelfth century Gerard of Cremona and Roberts of Chester translated the algebra of Al-Khowarizmi into Latin. Mathematicians used it all over the world until the sixteenth century.
Abu Yusuf Yaqub Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi, was born around 801 CE in Kufa during the governership of his father.
The surname indicates ancestry in the royal tribe of Kindah of Yemenite origin. To his people he became known as Faylasuf Al-Arab (the philosopher of the Arabs) the first one in Islam.
Among his contributions to arithmetic, Al-Kindi wrote eleven texts on numbers and numerical analysis.
I could go on and on giving the names and histories of various scholars who made great contributions to education as proof that education is not forbidden but no proof is greater than the first words that were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW): “Read in the name of your Lord.”
So, is education really forbidden in Islam? The answer is a resounding NO!
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