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Islamic Education Pt 9: The Concept of Indoctrination

The next few articles will address the charge of indoctrination that has been made against Islamic education. They will attempt to investigate and explore what indoctrination really is and why (and how) Islamic education is perceived by some to be equated with this concept.

Previously we looked at the concept of ‘liberalism’ and how most things were re-written during the Reformation period.  It could be said that at that time, Europe was fighting an internal war against the Church in order to free itself and acquire the freedom to legislate according to what man perceived as best for himself.  This struggle would have been present in most aspects including the realms of education.  It would have made sense to oppose the way in which the Church understood education and adopted an alternative methodology.  It could also be argued that it would have been suitable to attach a negative label and stigma to what the Church taught. Using this understanding, indoctrination as we perceive it in the contemporary context equates to something unpleasant, derogatory, unjust and backwards.

Many objections are raised against faith-based education especially within the context of Islamic education whether in Islamic schools or the traditional madrassa.  A central objection is that these religious institutes do not provide education but rather indoctrinate. The charge of indoctrination is very serious because it is considered the very antithesis of what education is intrinsically about.[1]  It implies that Islamic education violates the principles of respect for individuals’ autonomy, freedom and rationality, and carries with it a pejorative and immoral connotation.  These allegations make it incumbent upon religious educators to respond and attempt to invalidate these accusations.

Pring (2005) suggests that justification of faith schools teaching religious beliefs has been concentrated upon ‘parental rights, ethos or academic results.[2] Therefore it has ‘neglected the more important but exceedingly difficult philosophical issues which need to be addressed’.  One of the points Pring indicates is the need for an argument that will defend the ideal of autonomy compatible with religious tradition.

It can be said that ‘autonomy’ is synonymous with ‘education’ and therefore, an autonomous individual will be understood to be educated.  It is important to discuss briefly what ‘autonomy’ is and what part it plays in the argument against indoctrination. Autonomy is a vast subject and we could easily plunge into lengthy philosophical discussions. However, it will be discussed only briefly providing enough information to allow the reader to understand the arguments.

The next few articles attempt to unravel what indoctrination is by first shedding some light on autonomy. I will attempt to explore the evolution of the term ‘indoctrination’ in order to put it into some sort of context as well as unpick the concept of indoctrination, attempting to establish what the components of this term are and how they affect certain types of knowledge, be it moral or religious as well as what criterion is employed to classify whether certain types of knowledge are indoctrinatory or educative. Towards the end of the series I will attempt to argue on behalf of Islamic education, defending it from this charge whilst presenting an alternative understanding of indoctrination.



 Notes: This is the ninth article in the Islamic Education Series. Click here to read part eight.

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Gatchel, H. (1972).  The Evolution of the Concept.  In: I A Snook (Ed.), Concepts of Indoctrination: Philosophical essays. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 9-16.

Pring, R. (2005). Faith Schools: Can they be justified? In R. Gardner, J. Cairns, D. Lawton (Eds.), Faith Schools: Consensus or Conflict? Oxon: RoutledgeFalmer, 51-60.

[1] Gatchel, 1972
[2] Pring (2005), p.59


About Faisal Siddique


  1. Indoctrination vs Autonomy
    Firstly I am very impressed with this article. However, the concept of Indoctrination amongst Islamic education is an extremely ambiguous statement as it seems to be a response to western interpretations of indoctrination and does nothing to improve the standards of teaching amongst Muslim education. In effect we are saying that ‘we’ are right and ‘they’ are wrong. This is not the method that we shuld be taking but rather what can we learn from western teaching methods, if anything, and then incorporate that into scholarly circles first, and then the students.

    What I am trying to convey is that as Muslims we need to promote autonomy and inclusivity in scholarly circles so that our next generation of Islamic students are ready for culturally and ethically sensitive practice. We also need to be clear about where the line between autonomy and submission is drawn. This is often not clear and the main principle in Islamic education is often ‘Submission to your Creator’, whilst really you are being told to submit to that scholar/group etc. Therefore how can we accurately inculcate autonomy and submission TOGETHER so that the individual is a servant to his Lord whilst being a man of the people.

    There is also a huge gap between scholarly ability to engage and discuss Islamic theory yet practically they may not really understand the world they live in and the problems Muslims are facing on a day to day basis ie. No ability to empathise with their students or the world. Often, they lack the ability to converse with more modern westernised youth. There is a clash, it seems, between Islamic theory and Practical reality. I have worked with Muslim youth and ironically they refuse to go to their local Imams / scholars when faced with a problem or require a solution. Consequently who can they turn to? Islamic education must consequently start with our scholars who need to be more astute, open and have an ability to deal with everything, from everyday Fiqh to issues such as homosexuality. After all, they need to have autonomy aswell – the autonomy to excercise their judgment for the best interests of the community. In short, any failings in Islamic education is a weakness amongst our Islamic scholars to accurately teach and convery Islam in the best possible manner. After all, these are the inheritors of Prophet SAW and in the absence of Islamic political power, these people are still the leaders in the wider sense.

    • An excellent and honest article setting out the problem, not just with Islamic education, but with any education overlaid with religious dogma and claims. Education does not need strict adherence to the religious beliefs, or multi-beliefs, or no beliefs, of any given society, as long as that society has a democratic government which decides the minimum, common rights and responsibilities of all of that society, including groups who have been discriminated against.
      There cannot be a pick-and-mix legal and educational system outside of the national legal framework.
      For example the use of contraception is a contentious issue for Roman Catholics, attitudes and treatment of homosexuals within the Muslim faith, and humane treatment of animals being slaughtered amongst several religions.
      It is incumbent upon the faith leaders to come to civilised compromises on these issues, and upon people of no faith to respect religious sensibilities, even if they think they are based upon faulty bases.
      It is especially important to tread carefully with young people, who will find it impossible to find their place in wider society if they are indoctrinated with incompatible attitudes.

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