Tahirah Amatullah found secrets in the pages of Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, which has started a journey to understand what “education” and “knowledge” is, and how we can share it with those around us and under us in a meaningful and beneficial way.
A noble leadership earns the loyalty of its people because it is aware of the enlightening quality of Islam and encourages an environment where all can find ways to experience it. This is fundamentally empowering, and it is the sole purpose of any form of Islamic leadership. The outcome is survival – of people and earth – through sound social organisation.
In the political sense, society is organised according to Islamic law in every aspect of life, in line with tawhid [the belief in one God and the unity of God]. This demands that we see everything from Allah, and thus all dealings in existence are subject to His Laws. Ibn Khaldun describes this in his Muqaddimah when he argues against the secularisation of Islam, and for the necessity for just religious law to be in place for the correct governance of all things. His words hold lessons for those who are leading a home or sharing in the caring for and teaching of children;
“Things that come into being in the world of existing things, whether they belong to essences or to either human or animal actions, require appropriate causes (which are prior to their coming into being). They introduce the things that come into being into the realm dominated by custom and effect their coming into being. Each one of these causes, in turn, comes int o being and, thus, requires, other causes. Causes continue to follow upon causes in an ascending order, until they reach the Causer of causes, Him who brings into existence and creates them. Praised be He, there is no God but Him.”*
Part of Islamic leadership and education is restraining, part of it is cultivating. Ideally, a Muslim leader teaches people within the bounds of Allah’s laws, and facilitates an environment where those they are leading are able to cultivate their gifts and aspirations, and then understand how to profit from them in a just manner.
In this dynamic manner, a leader or leadership itself is humble under Allah. It is through this humility – the love balanced with the fear – that people understand nobility, and respect for leadership comes from the believers through this understanding. As leaders of our children, we must understand this is the root of good discipline.
What Is “Knowledge” and “Enlightenment”?
The root of this humility is that a Muslim leader does not assume that “enlightenment” is linked to privilege and position, or a degree from some or other place that costs thousands. Rather “enlightenment” is realising one’s gifts, realising Allah, and being able to put both together in action for the service of Islam, and thus for humanity. This is a process of constant rectification and discovery that is endless.
Enlightenment in Islam comes with obedience to Allah and movement towards Him. It is thus linked to, and in fact deeply dependent on taqwa, which in turn radiates humanity. Understanding this is essential if we are to change and improve education systems, and encourage our children to nurture a new, and radically different world.
Conveying Islamic Knowledge with Meaningful Language and Examples
This is the difference between the Islamic concept of “enlightenment”, and what we are told is “enlightenment” living inside the Western paradigm, which interprets “enlightenment” as a privileged “intellectual” road, highly competitive, and ultimately spiritually treacherous.
Western knowledge systems can be deeply seductive, and much of this has to do with language that is employed (and deployed) and the delivery of this knowledge, which is perceived by many as “eloquence” and “intellectuality”, which can lead to one assuming it is too “complex”, “intellectual” and “advanced” to understand. This can intrinsically affect one’s ideologies; the assumption is that the misunderstanding is due to one’s inferiority, and they, the “enlightened”, are superior.
Thus reinforcing the conscious Western hegemonic knowledge experiment. The purpose of this is centred on maintaining the secularist and materialist view as superior, through a language and delivery that can often stun us into acceptance. It has also resulted in the inability of the Muslims to mount a coherent argument, for fear of being labelled “irrational”, “superstitious” or “primitive”, frames of derision put around Islam that are often assisted by nefarious or misled people.
But What is “Eloquence” in Islamic Terms Exactly?
Here’s a word from Ibn Khaldun again, who states that “eloquence” denotes mastery of the purpose of language, which is to convey meaning – in contrast to modern perceptions of eloquence which are associated with someone sounding “intellectual”, “impressive” or “persuasive”:
“A speaker who possesses perfect linguistic habit and is thus able to combine individual words so as to express the ideas he want so express, and who is able to observe the form of composition that makes his speech conform to the requirements of the situations, is as well qualified as is (humanly) possible to convey to the listener what he wants to convey. This is what is meant by eloquence.”
It is important that Muslim scholars such as Ibn Khaldun are taught and their works discussed, especially to younger generations. Such knowledge can be understood and embodied at many different levels. For instance, one’s language can improve; words and concepts will have meaning in the outward and inward senses, which in turn can influence the acquiring of good habits and character. Furthermore, anxiety around learning can decrease, as the works are relatable and have a language that resonates with one’s being; it will feel natural. This combination between language and actions facilitates sound learning.
Such learning is at the root of Islam, evident because its greatest time was when there were no books of study for it. The Prophet ﷺ (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said: “I was given the most comprehensive words, and speech was made short for me.”‡ It was with this simplicity, sincerity, and clarity – and fine example – that Islam was best understood and embodied. In teaching children, one must first understand what Islam actually is, then it must be embodied, lived and transmitted. This is because children understand by seeing, and not by being told. The Prophet ﷺ showed us meaning in every word.
Acknowledging the Role of the Unseen
Modern “education” in its materialist bent – that is, by insisting beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the only acceptable “knowledge” is that which can be seen or proven through the senses, logic and reason – ensure that Western curricula step around or scoff at the spiritual realm. Far from being advanced” and “enlightened”, this has resulted in our knowledge systems (what we transmit and show and often force upon our children), are not “enlightened”. In fact, they are bereft.
Ibn Khaldun defines knowledge as being of different types of levels awareness. The higher perceptions of which are accessed only through Islamic obligation and spiritual practices:
“We observe in ourselves through sound intuition, the existence of three worlds. The first of them is the world of sensual perception. We become aware of it by means of the perception of the senses, which the animals share with us.
Then, we become aware of the ability to think, which is a special quality of human beings. We learn from it that the human soul exists. This knowledge is necessitated by the fact that we have in us scientific perceptions which are above the perception of the senses. They must thus be considered as another world, above the perception of the senses.
Then, we deduce the existence of a third world, above us, from the influences that we find it leaves on our hearts, such as volition, and an inclination toward active motions. Thus, we know that there exists an agent there who directs us towards those things from a world above our world. That world is the world of spirits and angels. It contains essences that can be perceived because of the existence of influences they exercise upon us, despite the gap between us and them.
… Our only means of perceiving something of the details of these worlds are what we may glean from matters of religious law, as explained and established by religious faith.”
Secular knowledge systems – that “education” we pay so much for – defines “knowing” as simply being aware of the material world, which is set up as all that exists and therefore all that is worth bothering about. “Religion” is put away in a nice, clean, zippy (and narrow) plastic sleeve.
Consciously or unconsciously, we buy into this, or tolerate it, because we understand that we simply must and there is no other option. We then wonder why our children grow up believing that the earth and all creation is not at the service of Allah, and the main purpose is to reap as much profit as possible in one’s lifespan. Hence Education must not only acknowledge the spiritual as per the Islamic teachings – it must be rooted in it.
Leading Our Children is Leading Humanity
Things are changing. Some open-minded Western scholars – especially those who have researched education – are beginning to begrudgingly admit that secular scholarship is a rather closed sphere (despite research grants still being deeply tied to the secular agenda).Many people are trying different experiments with education, and are taking courageous steps, sometimes even in negotiation with laws, to set children free and allow them to operate around a spiritual axis, as opposed to a secular, materialist one.
Adding further to the question of “What is enlightenment?” – one must remember that in Islam “enlightenment” is not confined to a period of history or a certain people or culture. Really, it isn’t. It is available to everyone at any time, in any place, who sincerely seeks the Truth. It is a in a state of constant renewal and flux. The Muslim who strives is an intellectual, and your child – if they read and are curious and strive to be who they were meant to be in Allah’s terms – will be a success. So, perhaps we can stop stressing?
Taking this baseline, the Islamic leader’s role is to maintain the balance between restraint (setting the boundaries of the religious law) and cultivation, which is about facilitating obedience in a joyful way. Much of this is achieved simply by acknowledging and fostering young people’s unique gifts in His service – and sometimes, often, in the process we find ours. It doesn’t matter if those gifts are a craft, or ongoing scholarship, the sciences or the arts, or commerce. What matters is the direction of it in relation to the Sunnah (which is indeed wide and expansive), and the effect on humanity at this crucial time.
A good educational environment is where a child feels he/she is valued and where he/she feels most flowing and purposeful, for the only reason that they are needed in the perfect balance created in the fitra [an innate disposition] of people before the Earth was born. They also need to know they have a decreed relationship with, and important role inside, an ultimately civilising system. For this, they must understand what Islam is, by living it and seeing it.
The Time is Now
This “great pause” (Covid-19), we have had has perhaps as its greatest casualty “education” in the mainstream sense. This surely must indicate that the way we transmit knowledge, and indeed the notion of knowledge itself, needs to be redefined.
As a start, the environment where learning takes place must be redefined in line with the two defining qualities of Islamic leadership: restraint under Allah’s Laws, and a sincere effort at the individual, and group cultivation, for our shared benefit. There must also be a reinstatement of spiritual knowledge in its proper, crucial place, and an understanding that Islam is a civilising system.
Ibn Khaldun defines the quality of knowledge, the meaningfulness of language, and the depth of scholarly rigour under the law of Allah, as an indication of the success of humanity. There is no better reason than this for us, as leaders of children, to step up to the frontlines, under Allah, and become trusted leaders of ourselves and those that depend on us.
*Muqaddimah, Vol. 3, p. 34