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January 28, 2015

Soul of education


January 28, 2015


The education system in Pakistan is deeply flawed. It produces graduates who are either incapable of representing our socio-cultural ideals or incompetent to do anything worthwhile in the field of science and technology. This problem has historical roots and needs to be properly addressed without losing sight of emerging challenges.
The prevailing madressah system in Pakistan reflects two different models – Deoband and Aligarh. Madressah Deoband was founded in 1866 – nine years after Muslims had lost the War of Independence in 1857. Maulana Qasim Nanothwi (the founder of Madressah Deoband) and other like-minded religious scholars were convinced that the prime cause of the Muslims’ downfall in the Indian subcontinent was the apathy of Muslims towards Islam. The curriculum taught in Deoband was designed to serve three main objectives: to revive the glory of Islam, to resist British colonialism, and to purify Islamic teachings from distortions.
A multi-pronged strategy was followed to achieve those objectives. In the initial phase, the founders of Deoband focused on teaching basic skills in logic, Arabic and Persian language, and Islamic history in addition to the exegesis of Quran and Hadith. The majority of madressahs are still teaching the same subjects with a little window dressing in the form of introducing English and computer science. This was followed by spreading the message of Islam through sermons in Friday prayers and sending delegates to remote areas for preaching (the Tablighi Jamaat is doing this work today).
In the second phase, political struggle was started with the creation of a political party, Jamiat Ulemai Hind, in addition to motivating Muslims to wage jihad against the British. No doubt all this was necessary in the given circumstances but after Partition there was a need for some reforms in madressah education as well as a reorientation of jihad.
In the newly-created Pakistan, madressah education should have focused more

on developing the economy and state infrastructure in line with Islamic teachings than blindly sticking to the old curriculum followed during the British rule. Unfortunately, we have madressah graduates who offer solutions to problems that do not exist and often fail to understand, let alone offer solutions to, problems we face in the real world.
In sharp contrast to Deoband, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan established Aligarh College initially as a madressah in 1875, to emancipate Muslims from slavery to the British, and Hindu domination. He was convinced that the degeneration of Muslims was due to their backwardness in modern sciences. He strongly advocated learning English as a gateway to the use of science and technology in all fields of human life. Moreover, he tried to reconcile Islamic teachings with modern science by giving a preeminent role to reason.
Sir Syed argued that the Word of God (the scripture) can and should not contradict the Work of God (the universe). The majority of contemporary educational institutions in Pakistan (both public and private) were founded on the Aligarh model prior to Gen Zia’s Islamisation drive. This education system produced professionals who happened to be aliens in their own country. They occupied prestigious jobs in military and civil bureaucracy with a visible distance from the general public. Their superiority complex, coupled with moral shortcomings, made them selfish and lethargic.
What is the way forward to redefine our education system and make it more robust and relevant? One way is to introduce subjects like mathematics, computer science, sociology etc in madressahs in order to equip graduates with job-oriented skills on the one hand and open up their minds to diverse perspectives on the other. This has so far not worked and will never work simply because the dominant mindset in madressahs is conservative in nature and treats modernity as anathema to tradition.
Another approach, which Zia introduced, was to Islamise modern sciences by attempting to prove every scientific fact from the Holy Quran. This too has not worked because of the fact that the Holy Quran, as they say, is not a book of science but a scripture of signs.
A more pragmatic and viable approach to redefining our education system is to integrate Islamic teachings with modern sciences in one stream. During their formative years, students can be taught basic Islamic sources of knowledge including the Holy Quran, Hadith, Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and Islamic history for about four consecutive years followed by modern sciences including computer science, medicine, engineering, and business administration etc depending on their aptitude and public demand.
This integrated system will produce graduates with requisite skills embedded in the Islamic spirit. It will be truly a marriage of sense and soul for the betterment of Pakistan as well as all of humanity.
The writer teaches at FAST-NU, Peshawar.
Email: [email protected]




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