Islamic Education

ITEP Week #10: Islamic Education vs Muslim Education

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This week, we are required to read Farid Panjwani’s  “The” Islamic” in Islamic Education: Assessing the Discourse.”Current Issues in Comparative Education 7, no. 1 (2004): 19-29.  The article is available at

Assalamualaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh.

Brothers, sisters and teachers,

I believe that Farid Panjwani in his article title ‘The ‘Islamic’ in Islamic Education: Assessing the Discourse’ raised a very important issue which is not limited only to education, but to the whole discussion about Islam.

For instance, Dr. Solāh ‘Abd al-Fattāh al-Khālidī in his book al-Khulafā’ al-Raāshidūn Bayna al-Istikhlāf wa al-Istishhād also mentioned in the introduction that we as Muslims, should distinguish between the history of Islam and the history of Muslim. Islam is sacred but Muslims aren’t. The history of Islam is not sacred, and therefore we must present and study our history, both the ‘white’ and the ‘black’ version of it. We appreciate the  achievements, we learn from the mistakes. To distinguish between the ‘meta’ Islam (theoretical Islam) and the practiced Islam is important to abstain us from mistakenly adopt the sacredness of our ‘text’ to the interpretation of the text.  In other word, to avoid from the fallacy of ‘I am authentic because my reference is authentic, going against me, is to go against the reference, and against the authentic me, is against the truth’.

This can lead to many forms of aggressiveness and even terror. In modern European history, the Jacobins led by Maximilian de Robespierre (1758–1794) believed that their rule represented the virtue of the Social Contract, but then thought that anyone against them, was against the Social Contract. Their Republic of Virtue, turned into the Reign of Terror!

Back to our discussion, my only concern with Farid Panjwani’s article is, the problem statement is presented in length but the conclusion did not reach the depth needed and it could possibly ended with some problematic assumptions. One of them is, Panjawani seems like conflicting between the theoretical Islam versus the practiced Islam, as if nothing is absolute when Islam is discussed at theoretical level. Only the practiced Islam is real, and therefore we should limit our discussion about ‘Islamic education’ to Muslim education, the education practiced by Muslims.

Both the theoretical Islam and the practiced Islam have their own theory. Even the practiced Islam is divided into several different versions.  Ekmelettin Ihsanoğlu in History of the Ottoman State, Society & Civilisation. Vol. 2 emphasized that relationship between Islam and the Ottoman can only properly understood if we distinguish between 4 versions of Islam as perceived and practiced by the Ottoman Muslims:

  1. Official Islam
  2. Popular Islam
  3. Medrese Islam (High Islam, Islam of the Book)
  4. Mystical Islam (Tekke Islam)

 Therefore, when we discuss about Islam and the Ottoman, we cannot singularize the word Islam into one simplistic notion. This apply to other Muslim nations too (Islamic nations?).

I found that al-Qaradhawi’s suggestion in his book Tsaqāfah al-Dā’iyah (which I shared in one of my entries in Café Corner), has some important points to ponder. Among the six categories of subjects he suggested all Muslims should learn, he gave his specific attention to the ‘Human Sciences’. Al-Qaradhawi said, when a Muslim learned the al-Tsaqāfah al-Islāmiyyah, they learned and understood Islam as how it should be (the ideal Islam). But the practised Islam might and might not be similar to the ideal Islam. The gap between the theoretical Islam and the practiced Islam is where Muslims preachers (not to mention educators and teachers) could fail to play their role. The gap can be understood by understanding human. Sheikh al-Qaradhawi suggested six subjects Muslims should learn to manage the ‘gap’ between the theoretical Islam and the practiced Islam:

  1. ‘Ilm al-Nafs (Psychology)
  2. ‘Ilm al-Ijtimā’ (Sociology)
  3. ‘Ilm al-Iqtisād (Economics)
  4. ‘Ilm al-Tārikh (History)
  5. ‘Ilm al-Akhlāq (Ethics)
  6. ‘Ilm al-Falsafah (Philosophy)


For example:

We learn from the authentic Sunnah, Ja’far ibn Abi Thalib died as shahīd in the Battle of Mu’tah, and when the news reached Medina, the Prophet PBUH instructed the sahabah to prepare food for his family. But at the practical level of Islam in our current society, the family of the deceased is the one who cooks for the guests. We tell the people it is against the Sunnah to do that, and we should follow the Sunnah. Therefore whenever there is a death in our community, we should prepare food for the family of the deceased to help them, and not the other way round. The question now, can they do that like the Sahabah did? If they can’t, then why? Was it because they didn’t understand the Sunnah? Or they are just stubborn enough not to change their habits?

The answer might not be found in the al-Tsaqāfah al-Islāmiyyah The answer can be found in al-Tsaqāfah al-Insāniyyah (The Human Science). What was the psychology of Sahabah, and what was the sociological setting of the Medina’s community? What or how was the altruistic background of the Sahabah and why prioritizing others’ need was so easy for them? By exploring these hypotheses, we might understand why Muslims fail to practise the ideal Islam, and not simply blaming them for not doing the right thing.

Education needs this point the most.

Education has a lot to do with all those six subjects. We teach Islam; Islam is the theoretical Islam, but our process of teaching is the practiced education done by Muslims. When we as Muslims, teach Islam to Muslims, there is a mix between theory and practice took place. Both have their own specific theory and knowledge. To mix them both, or to put them both against one another, will create another possible conflicts.

I suggest that Farid Panjwani is concern with the attitude of exclusivity demonstrated by some Muslims at the academic level. He said in his conclusion, “… It may show that while retaining their ideals, Muslims have worked with people of other faiths to engage with problems of their times– be they in practical matters such as medicine or irrigation, in governance and administration, or in intellectual matters.” Meaning, even if we switch our discussion from Islamic education to Muslim education, Muslim education also did not take place exclusively among Muslim, without acknowledging the participation of ‘the others’ in the process.

Revisiting my version of school philosophy, I  maintain not to coin anything ‘Islamic’, except the ‘Islamic way of life’. But that is also open to revision. By not using the ‘term’ Islamic to describe our school, what is the impact to the prospect parents and students? Would they understand what type of school is this school? Or is it not necessary for our school to be perceived as Islamic, to offer the right education for Muslim children?

Substance over form, the education is Islamic when it is functioning as an education should be. In an environment where ‘how to teach’ and ‘what to teach’ are equally important, the ‘where to teach’ will naturally become and ‘Islamic school’.