Muslims & Education

By Iftikhar Ashraf & Sara Ataya

IQRA (meaning to read), was the first word of The Qur’an to be revealed upon the Prophet Mohammad (SAW). This word was revealed as a form of a command rather than a simple statement. Over the years many scholars have come to use this revelation in combination with the prophetic command (Prophetic saying / hadith) which says that it is obligatory on every Muslim (man & woman) to seek knowledge even if he/she has to go to China or travel long distances, so as to highlight the importance of education in Islam. With so much importance being given on education, observation & research, the Islamic civilization rose to its pinnacle and people were no longer afraid to fall off the edge of the world, but instead were intrigued to investigate the unknown(1).

Currently, Muslims form the bottom of the pyramid of enlightenment. We are considered arrogantly ignorant and beyond reason. When people of other faiths talk about us, we are mentioned as the barbaric ones and not as the enlightened nation who introduced significant inventions to the West. We are talked about as the nation with stone-age mentality and not as the ones who shook the West from its intoxicated slumber by introducing coffee to them (2) . We are the ones who discovered and explored Astronomy, Architecture, Chemistry, Biology…. And yet we collectively form the current world’s poorest, most backward & ignorant people!

The present generations have been longing for the past glory to return, but it will not return by just brooding on the past. The glory will be ours once again when we work towards it. We will be the masters of the sea & winds when we strive for it. For any nation to rise, it has to improve its education system, and as such, research has to be encouraged. If a person knows how to read or write – this does not mean that they are ‘educated’ or that this is ‘enough’, rather they should be able to analyze different opinions and viewpoints and then form an independent opinion. If being able to read and write would do any good for a nation, then Pakistan wouldn’t have been in such a chaos, the Middle East wouldn’t be ruled by the West through stooges & proxy, Africa wouldn’t be forever hungry with its immense natural resources, the descendants of the rulers of the Indian subcontinent wouldn’t live in ghettos or pull rickshaws, and Kashmiris wouldn’t had been fooled by a piece of rock-salt or by the sign of a pen & ink-pot (3).

As humans, we have immense power to influence others through our actions, as the famous saying goes, “Action speaks louder than words.” Islam gives immense stress on cleanliness and Prophet has even gone to the extend of saying that “Cleanliness is half the faith” (faith or iman, in Arabic) and still we see Muslims in the developing countries living in filthy conditions. Non-Muslims have begun to associate filthiness with Muslims. Once I was attending a birthday party of a friend, her mother while discussing her ‘social-work’ in areas around Jaipur (India) referred to Muslim majority localities as ‘Muslim infested localities’! We can’t blame her for having such a perception, it is we who are to blame. We have been reduced to namesake Muslims. Without education (knowledge) people can’t know what being a Muslim means.

In 2013, I visited Rwanda and had the privilege of speaking with many different members of the Muslim community and the general population. In Rwanda the Muslims are in minority, comprising just under 5% of the population. During the Rwandan genocide Muslims displayed bravery and highest character . Muslim minority impressed (influenced) the majority by offering shelter, safety and directly helping others by extending a helping hand during the genocide. Although the general population’s view of Muslims was that of mystery, since the majority, Christians, did not interact much with Muslims (this view changed after the genocide). Thousands sought refuge in mosques, hid in Muslim households and as a result many Rwandans converted to Islam after the genocide. The number of Muslims grew and people had more positive experiences to recall about their Muslim neighbours. What struck me most was how influential this tiny Muslim community had been in Rwanda, a small landlocked country in East Africa. It made me realize just how we can influence others, and teach them, just by our actions and the way we conduct ourselves. Education then becomes the central part of our life, we learn, influence, inspire and grow together(4).

We tend to take it as a universal truth that the western education system is the best, yes it is superior but it can’t always suit our needs, at times there is a need to modify it. We have simply shoved into oblivion the fact that it was a Muslim lady, Fatima al-Fihri, who founded the first university (which awarded formal degrees) and that too when woman in west didn’t even have property rights instead they themselves were treated as property (either of the farther or the husband) (5) . I grew up in Canada, constantly surrounded and influenced by the local Muslim community in London, Ontario. It was through social gatherings, fundraisers, Eid festivities that I got to interact and learn about the local community and about my identity as a Muslim living in the West. The local mosque ran an elementary school and parents had the option of placing their children in these private Islamic schools (with the aim to further ingrain Islamic concepts and etiquette into their children’s’ lives). Although the concept of an Islamic school in the West might seem alienating to some, the local Muslim population embraced this concept of having a local school. Many signed their children up, even for a year or two, to learn some Islamic history and learn the teachings of the Qur’an and relevant scriptures. Since this community was adamant on educating its growing Muslim population, in more than what regular province-run schools had offered, it stood out. The London Islamic School was recently ranked at the top of the list in the province, which included a list of the top 25 schools in Ontario. The ranking is based on academic indicators and tests in the school (especially reading, writing and math), and this small local school in London had made it to the top of the list (6).

The ranking of Islamic school as the top school has brought focus on the importance of religious studies and how this school transformed its learning module to produce high academic standing for its students. We see the power in community achievement, and this reminds us to continually strive to learn and grow, together, as one big global community. These people in London took control of the education system and set an example.

The people, and more specifically Muslims all over the world, have to influence their respective governments to improve the education system and research facilities, if they wish to reclaim the pinnacle they have fallen from. If the government is not fulfilling its duties, then the people are under sacred obligation to bring in the alternate system. When our desire for knowledge reaches such height that even in the darkest dungeon we long for it than even darkness will help in revealing the laws of optics to us (7).

Seek Knowledge

Seek the enlightenment

Seek knowledge even in the dungeons and

The laws of optics will reveal themselves in darkness

Observe & ask questions and

the night sky will guide you in your voyage.


1. Discovery of America before Columbus.

2.  How Muslim scientists changed the world; ; Role (importance) of Coffee, Muslim Drink, in Renaissance .

3. Muslims ruled over Indian subcontinent for about 600 years and formed the elite class. After the British occupied India, began the gradual downfall of Muslims. The downfall of Muslims in India expedited after its independence. ; Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, a Kashmiri leader, used rock-Salt (representing Pakistan) to usher support of general Kashmiri public ; pen & ink-pot was used as election symbol by Jamat-e-Islami when they fought elections in Kashmir and later this symbol was (is being) used by people’s democratic party.

4. Growth of Muslim community in Rwandan .

5. Education in Islam

6. Canada’s experiment with Islamic School

7. How laws of optics were discovered by a Muslim scientist in prison  .