Amongst the many Muslim scholars who wrote on the education of children, are Ibn Sina, Ibn Khaldun and Al-Ghazali. Here focus is placed on the latter.
Al-Ghazali, known in Europe as Algazel, is one of the most illustrious Muslim scholars, who wrote many works, and became renowned for his learning. In his thirties, he became the principal teacher at Madrasah Nizamiyyah of Baghdad, the most renowned institution of learning in eastern Islam (Cordova in the West). His ideas on education dominated Islamic educational thought for centuries after his death. Here, the focus is how he saw the education of the child and the role of the master. The sources for this brief account, other than the original source itself, are C. Bouamrane-L. Gardet; A. Tritton, and A. Tibawi.
According to Al-Ghazali, “knowledge exists potentially in the human soul like the seed in the soil; by learning the potential becomes actual.”
The child, Al-Ghazali also wrote, “is a trust (placed by God) in the hands of his parents, and his innocent heart is a precious element capable of taking impressions”.
If the parents, and later the teachers, brought him up in righteousness he would live happily in this world and the next and they would be rewarded by God for their good deed. If they neglected the child’s upbringing and education he would lead a life of unhappiness in both worlds and they would bear the burden of the sin of neglect.
One of the elements Al-Ghazali insists upon is that a child should be taught the words of the Creed in his earliest days and be taught the meaning gradually as he grew older; corresponding to the three stages of memorising, understanding and conviction.
The way the child relates to the world at large occupies a large concern in Al-Ghazali’s mind. In concert with Ibn Al-Hajj, he stresses amongst others that a child must not boast about his father’s wealth, and must be polite and attentive to all. He should be taught not to love money for love of it is a deadly poison. He must not spit nor clean his nose in public. He must learn to respect and obey his parents, teachers and elders. As he grows older, he must observe the rules of cleanliness, fast a few days in Ramadhan, avoid the wearing of silk, gold and silver, learn the prescriptions of the scared law, fear thieving, wealth from unclean sources, lying, treachery, vice and violent language. The pupil must not be excessively proud, or jealous. He should not tell off others. He must avoid the company of the great of this world, or to receive gifts from them. He must act towards God as he would wish his servant acted towards him. He should treat every human as he would like to be treated himself.
The perspective of Al-Ghazali is centered upon personal effort in the search for truth; and this presupposes, he insists, a received education and the direction of a master. Education (tarbiya), Al-Ghazali states in Ayyuha l-walad is like “the labour of the farmer, who uproots the weeds, trims wheat so as it grows better and gives a better harvest.” Every man needs a teacher to guide him in the right direction. To try and do without leads to worst illusions. In Ayyuha l-walad the pupil’s outward respect for his teacher is evidence of esteem for such in one’s heart.
He who undertakes the instructions of the young, points Al-Ghazali, “undertakes great responsibility”. He must therefore be as tender to his pupils as if they were his own children. He must correct moral lapses through hinting… above all he himself must set an example so that his action accords with his precepts. The teacher should never criticise the subject taught by another. He must adapt his teaching to the pupil’s capacity and ability, and not to overburden the pupil’s capacity, nor give him fright. He must respect the less gifted pupil, who might if lost, leave safe foundations for standards he would never reach. And after school, Al-Ghazali insists, the pupil must be allowed to have recreation. To prevent play and insist on continuous study leads to dullness in the heart, diminution in intelligence and unhappiness. Even more on this matter, in ‘Ihya ulum al-din’, the teacher, Al-Ghazali holds, carries eight duties. First and foremost he is a father for his pupils. He must teach for the sake of God. He would advise the student with prudence, fight the excessive urge to learn too quickly, and to overtake his peers. He would reprimand with moderation, in private, discreetly, not in public. To blame too much is to make the pupil too stubborn in his way of seeing and doing things. And one other duty of the teacher is to make sure that what he teaches he pursues in his life, and that his own acts do not contradict what he is trying to inculcate.
Panorama de la pensee Islamique by: C. Bouamrane, L. Gardet
Sindbad; 1-3 Rue Feutrier; Paris 18 (1984) , principally chapter 10, by Louis Gardet (Notion et principe de l’education en Islam: pp 205-226)
Ihya ul’Ulum by: Al-Ghazali
Al-Ghazali, Ihya ul’Ulum, part I, book 2, section 2.
Ayyuha l’walad by: Al-Ghazali
Al-Ghazali, Ayyuha l’walad: UNESCO, Beyrouth 1951 (Arabic text).
Islamic Education by: A.Tibawi
A.Tibawi: Islamic Education, Luzac and Company Ltd, London, 1972
Materials on Muslim Education in the Middle Ages by: A.S. Tritton
Materials on Muslim Education in the Middle Ages; Luzac and Company, London, 1957.