Home / Analysis / Islamic Education Pt 5: The Concept of Education in Islam

Islamic Education Pt 5: The Concept of Education in Islam

This is the fifth article in the Islamic Education Series.Click hereto read part four.

The term ‘education’ in Islam is understood and comprehended in a totally different manner to what is understood within Western societies.  As we explored, the general understanding of an educated individual within Western societies is someone who possesses critical faculties and is perceived as being autonomouswith aesthetic sensitivity. From an Islamic perspective an educated individual might possess similar attributes; however the necessary component that is required is belief and knowledge of how to worship God and how to live life in accordance to the Islamic laws. There is no one word that describes ‘education’ within the Arabic language, however scholars generally tend to use three different words.  Tarbiyah comes from the root word raba (to grow, to increase, to rear, spiritual nurturing), which implies a state of ethical and spiritual nurturing in developing the individuals potential and guidance of the child to the state of complete maturity. Ta’dib is derived from the root word aduba (to be refined, disciplined, cultured, well mannered), which suggests the social aspects of a human being including the process of character development and good social behavior. Ta’lim stems from the root word of ‘alima (to know, to be informed, to perceive, to learn, to discern), this refers to knowledge, the imparting and receiving of it through instruction and teaching.[1]

Halstead concludes that these three terms suggests a possible analysis in three areas of Muslim education; ‘(i) aiding individual development, (ii) increasing understanding of society and its social and moral rules and (iii) transmitting knowledge.’[2] It can be said that these three dimensions offer the fundamental objectives of Islamic education.  In order to acquire a better understanding these three areas need to be explored further.

Tarbiyah (Individual development)

Sheikh Ahmed Aways explains Tarbiyah as,

“…very important, for indeed all of the deen (religion) is based upon tarbiyah. This starts first of all with the education and training of our own selves, then of our families, and then of the community at large. But this tarbiyah is most important with respect to our children…”

Tarbiyah could be understood as the type of education that addresses the heart, body, mind and soul of an individual. Tarbiyah places God at the centre of the individual’s learning experience. The main aim of tarbiyah could be summed up as providing Muslims with positive guidance in accordance with the Islamic tradition that will result in them developing into ‘good adults’ who lead fruitful lives in this world and the hereafter. Halstead explains that ‘good adults’ within an Islamic understanding implies adults who accept the obligations of the divine and ‘seek to take on the divine attributes such as hikma (wisdom) and ‘adl (justice).’[3] They strive to adopt a balanced approach with regards to their ‘integrated personality’ comprising heart, spirit and intellect; they strive to become insan kamil (the perfect human being) and live their lives according to the teachings of the Islamic principles.

Ta’dib (Social and moral education)

A fundamental component of the Islamic faith is the concept of the ummah (the worldwide family of fellow believers) that binds believers by transcending the barriers of nationality, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic status, languages, and cultural variances. Bearing this in mind Islamic education can never be an individual affair because the Muslim belongs to a worldwide family where ta’dib ensures that they can live together in a state of peace and happiness with high moral and ethical values defined by the Sharia (divine law). Education therefore, it can be said, is used as the means to transmit and preserve a ‘community’s or society’s cultural heritage and traditional values.’[4] Halstead confirms, ‘In Islam, social existence has exactly the same goal as the individual existence: the realization on earth of divinely ordained moral imperatives.’[5] The Sharia integrates all aspects of human life such as political, social and economic into a single worldview and in doing so eliminates the concept of the separation between religion and state. Halstead points out that compared to a ‘liberal perspective, the notion of free will in Islam is thus an unsophisticated one.’[6] What Halstead is pointing out is that there is a simple choice of whether one accepts Islam or completely rejects it. A ‘pick-and-choose’ concept does not exist where one might decide to accept a certain part of the belief and reject another part due to social changes or any other reason. This is a very important principle for if one rejects a part they have in fact rejected the entirety and have undermined the credibility of it. The Qur’an addresses this matter in a firm tone,

“Then do you believe in a part of the Scripture and reject the rest?  Then what is the recompense of those who do so among you, except disgrace in the life of this world, and on the Day of Resurrection they shall be consigned to the most grievous torment.”[7]

An important and relevant point to mention here within the British context is with regards to teaching and learning of citizenship in schools.  Muslims believe religious education comes prior to any teaching of citizenship; the approach to social education needs to be compatible with Islamic principle.  Al-Attas states that it is more important in Islam to produce a ‘good man’ than a ‘good citizen’, ‘for the good man will be a good citizen, but the good citizen will not necessarily also be a good man.’[8]

Ta’lim (Transmission and acquisition of knowledge)

It needs to be pointed out that there is no notion in Islam of the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake; knowledge is not valued in itself without an attached condition being met. Eaton (1982) states that Seyyed Hossein Nasr points to the fact that in the Arabic language ‘to know’ ultimately means ‘to be transformed by the very process of knowing’[9]al-Taftazani presents a quote by a famous Islamic philosopher Al-Ghazali regarding this issue,

Be sure that knowledge alone is no support…If a man reads a hundred thousand scientific subjects and learns them but does not act upon them, his knowledge is of no use to him, for its benefit lies only in being used.[10]

This understanding also applies to wealth where the accumulation of it for its own sake is not permissible unless there is a cause intended in the accumulation.  Knowledge in the same way must be acquired in order to benefit from it and then to pass it on or make good use of it by helping others in acknowledging God. The objective of seeking knowledge should initiate in the learner a spiritual and moral consciousness which leads to an increase in imaan (faith) which manifests itself as ’amal salih (virtuous actions) leading to yaqeen (certainty) which are all constantly emphasized in the Qur’an.[11] In fact the Qur’an states in numerous places that one must possess imaan coupled with ’amal salih.[12]

Teachers of knowledge have a noble role within Muslim society as they are responsible for the spiritual and moral nurturing of the next generation. Their personal lives are equally important as their profession. Ibn Khaldun, a classical Muslim philosopher and sociologist recognized that Muslim children learn ‘through imitation of a teacher and personal contact with him.’[13] It would be fair to say that there is a similar concept in liberal societies where parents would generally prefer their children being taught by a teacher who holds ‘good morals’ and adheres to ‘ethical values’. However there is generally no fixed definition of what ‘good morals’ and ‘ethical values’ are. 

All forms of seeking knowledge can be taken as worship so long as it is undertaken within the realms of the Sharia. The implications of this are apparent, that religion is at the centre of all aspects of education, ‘acting as glue which holds together the entire curriculum.’[14] This can also be known as an integrated curriculum. The liberal notion of education would have a problem here, as this integrated approach with religion at the heart of it would undermine the concept of autonomy as it would appear to curtail individual thinking along a certain path.


Notes: This is the fifth article in the Islamic Education Series. Click here to read part four.
Sources: www.islam21c.com
Islam21c requests all the readers of this article, and others, to share it on your facebook, twitter, and other platforms to further spread our efforts.

[1] Cook, 1999
[2] Halstead, 2004, p. 522
[3] Halstead, 2004, p. 523
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] Ibid, p. 524
[7] Al-Quran 2:85
[8] Al-Attas, 1979, p. 32
[9] p. 141
[10] Quoted in al-Taftazani, 1986, p. 70
[11] Halstead, 2004
[12] See: Ch. 5:93; Ch. 18:107; Ch. 24:55; Ch. 103:3.
[13] 1967, p. 426
[14] Halstead 2004, p. 525


About Faisal Siddique


  1. Your writer Faisal Siddique says: “Teachers of knowledge have a noble role within Muslim society….”

    I agree that all teachers have a noble role within society. They have a position of trust within communities, and with this trust comes the duty to TELL THE TRUTH. In the context of history and anthropology it means teaching the objective, internationally, unanimously agreed scientific convention on palaeoanthropology (the branch of anthropology concerned with fossil homonids) that dates the creation of the Earth as being formed about four and a half billion years ago, from accretions from Solar nebula (clouds).
    Earth’s age is about one third that of the Universe.

    Later primitive organisms of life evolved, then after some time the Dinosaurs, which children are always interested in. With the Cenozoic period came the appearance of the dominant mammals. Do Muslim teachers ever teach about evolution? Have they heard of Charles Darwin?
    Teach them that hominins, the earliest direct ancestors of the Human clade, left fossils dating back six million years.

    Not until the Quarternary period were the first recognisable humans found, as proved by fossils.
    Muslim teachers should teach these objective paleoanthropological (the branch of anthropology concerned with fossil homonids) FACTS to children, and then discuss this in relation to the origins of species according to God-based religions. This would be the “noble” and honest thing to do.

  2. Karim Aslamzadeh

    Hi. this is Karim Aslamzadeh from Afghanistan.
    i read your topic based on concept of education in Islam. it is good but still needs to be completed. your proves are little inside the topic. while you are talking about a very important Islamic subject, you should address the reference such as verses of holy Qur’an and Hadith.
    try to mention pertinent verse of holy Qur’an with translation for more validity. thanks,
    you have been a big help for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Send this to a friend