Sunday,18 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)
Sunday,18 February, 2018
Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The pen as a source of education in Islam

Education, not bombs, is what will defeat radical Islamic militants, writes Ahmed Naguib Roushdy

Al-Ahram Weekly

No one can deny that Islam has been at a crossroads for a while, imperiled by the activities of militant groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other Islamic extremists who have resorted to mass killings of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is not enough to use military forces to eradicate and defeat those groups, as the US-led coalition has been doing to the Islamic State, or even to heed the recent reported call by the top UN human rights official on Muslims to denounce the “monstrous crimes” that the Islamic State has been committing in violation of international law and Islamic tenets. It is very important restore those tenets, as revealed to the Prophet Mohamed, in the minds of all Muslims.

In this regard it was remarkable that the Quran, the Islamic holy book, directed Muslims to educate themselves about their faith and learn aspects of life. Education makes the human mind think and explore the universe and beyond. In the Arabic month of Ramadan, The Holy Angel, Gabriel, appeared to the Prophet Mohamed and revealed to him the first verses of the Quran, which started as such: “Read in the name of your God who created. He created man from coagulated blood. Read, and the generosity of your God has no limits, He who taught with the pen. He taught man what he did not know … ”

From that time the Prophet realised that he became God’s messenger and that his first duty was to tell his people in Mecca, Al-Hijaz (now Saudi Arabia) to use the pen, which is a way to education and a key to learning. The people in Mecca used to worship stone idols following what their ancestors were doing. According to the Quran, they were directed to learn the principles of Islam and learn about other faiths and people who preceded them, even as far away a China, as the Prophet had directed them. Education makes the mind to think, and to reflect that thinking by using the pen. Thus thinking became a religious duty for all Muslims as Abbas Mahmoud Al-Aqad, the renowned Egyptian historian and leader in Arabic literature, said in his book, Thinking is a Religious Obligation, published in its 12th edition in November 2012.

As education became available by the pen, Muslims communicated with other nations, such as Greece, Egypt, Persia and Rome and were instructed by the Quran and the Prophet to accept and respect the other divine religions, Judaism and Christianity, and even other non-divine faiths. Muslims from many Islamic countries were credited for their achievements in medicine, science, economy, mathematics, philosophy, history, trade, literature, principles of governance and protection of human rights, which helped pull Europe out of the Dark Ages and reach the Renaissance. Prophet Mohamed was the first to establish a civil government based on democratic principles, and also rules regarding the treatment of prisoners of war that were later included in the 1907 Hague Conventions and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 on rules of warfare. Muslims have succeeded to comprehend the essence and principles of their faith and other faiths and what they did not know about life. But things have changed.

Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, spread among people different in origin, race and language, while each had its own traditions, usages and ideas that influenced their interpretations of the Quran an the Sunna (the Prophet’s sayings and deeds). Ibn Taymia, a great Islamic scholar, resorted to conservatism to protect Islam, but his followers of the Salafi Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia, and in other countries who misunderstood him, resorted to misguided interpretations that deviated from the real teachings of the Quran and the Prophet’s Sunna. The Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and lately Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) groups in Egypt, Al-Shabab in Somalia and Al-Qaeda have underlined the duty of Muslims to conduct jihad against non-Muslims and Muslims of other sects, meaning fighting them and beheading them, as ISIS has been doing.

Probably the sectarian conflicts that I referred to in my latest article in Al-Ahram Weekly would not have taken place if the Sunni and Shia sects weren’t established after the death of the Prophet Mohamed in 632AD (11 Higriya, in the Islamic calendar). At that time Muslims’ knowledge about Islam was not complete. They relied on the Prophet’s interpretation during his life. Some of the Quran’s verses — such as those related to usury — were revealed shortly before the Prophet’s death and he could not offer an interpretation of them. Muslims had the duty to use their minds to interpret the Quran and to know more about their religion and other aspects of life. Actually, there have been many Muslim countries and Muslim scholars that consider banking interest as reba (usury), and they prohibited some contracts, such as selling wheat before the harvest, as I have demonstrated in a previous article in the Weekly. The reason is that those countries and scholars did not learn how banks perform and how deals needed in modern times should be concluded.

Sectarian violence in Iraq had increased after the killing of Ali who became the fourth caliph. He was challenged by rebellion and assassinated by a mob, and seared after the killing and beheading of his son Al-Hussein by the forces of the Sunni caliph Yazeed Ibn Moawia who inherited his post after the death of his father, Moawia Ibn Abi-Sufian. The latter established the Umayed Dynasty where the caliph became a tyrant-king and the caliphate post was inherited, instead of being chosen by the people.

The Abbasid and Fatimid and other dynasties that followed changed the caliphate into pageantry. The Islamic world became a stage for many wars among Muslims, and coup d’état or killing the ruler by his son or wife became the fashion as a means to take over the government. Now the Sunni Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is attacking the Shias and Yazidis in Iraq and has been the main force against President Bashar Al-Assad, killing people and beheading Muslims and non-Muslims. The real Islamic teachings became history and many men were killed and women were demeaned and raped in the name of God.

We have to do something to protect future Muslim generations from the misinterpretation of Sharia. Many writers, including myself, have called for a dialogue among Islamic ulema (scholars) to study the real teachings of the Quran and the Sunna and to try unifying them. That may require a codification of Sharia after reaching a consensus among Islamic scholars. Since Islam instructs Muslims to learn and seek new knowledge, as I have demonstrated above, drastic changes are required in the education curriculum and methods of teaching at Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt, the first Islamic university, and in sermons in mosques, and at secular universities and high schools in Islamic countries, where textbooks should be revised to allow students to learn all aspects of knowledge, they being free to ask their professors and teachers questions, while not taking any answer as definite. Education will also help governments improve the standard of living of their people and grant them freedom of speech and of the press. One reason ISIS succeeded to recruit thousands of young people was that it offered them good salaries.

Education is the key to stop sectarian conflicts. Nicolas Kristof, in his column in The New York Times last October, believes that education and not bombs can beat ISIS. He is absolutely right. Actually, education will change the mind of young Muslims to realise that ISIS and other Muslim extremist groups are trying to exploit them for their purposes and accordingly those groups will fail to get new recruits and lose sources of funding. The effect will also be apparent when those young jihadists return back home. In fact, many countries like Tunisia, England, France, Belgium and India, from where ISIS gained some recruits, have been grappling with a surge of returning young jihadists. Education will help changing individuals and also governments. This was why the All Mighty God revealed to the Prophet Mohammed through the Angel Gabriel the injunctive, “Read” and use the pen.


The writer is an international lawyer.


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