OUT OF THE BOX: Boko Halal: Education Is Not Western But Universal, By Majeed Dahiru

Clearly, the brand of Islam practiced in northern Nigeria that holds back universal education because it is perceived as Western has no parallel in Islamic history. Boko Haram is not only un-Islamic but also a Muslim belief peculiar to Northern Nigeria. By embracing education, Northern Nigerian Muslims are not accepting a Western invention but a universal God given embodiment of knowledge…

The compatibility of education and the Islamic faith is clearly elucidated in the holy Quran: “Read, in the name of God, who created man from a clot of blood. Read in the name of God, who is generous and taught man by the pen what he knew not” [Surat Al-Alaqvs 1-5], were the beautiful words of God as first delivered by Arch Angel Gabriel to forty year old Muhammad, the son of Abdullah, who was meditating in a cave on mount Hirah on the outskirts of the Arab city of Mecca in 610 AD. The most fundamental tool of learning, the pen is clearly mentioned in the very first revelation to the Holy Prophet Muhammad PBUH. Of significance is also the emphasis on reading, as “Read” was the very first word that was revealed to the unlettered Prophet. In this verse, Allah SWT is portrayed as a teacher who generously taught mankind by the pen, to rid the world of ignorance. Reading, teaching and writing are all processes of education. Therefore, Allah SWT established fundamentally, by his first revealed words to his apostle and messenger Muhammad PBUH, that education was the basis of faith and human existence. The difference between believers (Jews, Christians and Muslims) and unbelievers is that the former attribute all knowledge to God and acknowledge Him as the architect of the universe, while the latter do not.

Throughout the history of the Muslim world, beginning from the era of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through to the period of the Rashidun and non-Rashidun Caliphacy into the contemporary times of the modern independent Muslim nation states of the Middle-East, North Africa, Turkey and the Balkans, there has never been a conflict between faith and education. The Muslim world was renowned throughout history as a leading light in rapid advancement and improvement of all aspects of life through education. Practical application of knowledge in the day-to-day life of the Muslim community of Medina, under the leadership of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, is best recorded in history when the services of a highly educated Persian strategist, Salman al-Farsi, was engaged in various aspects of administration and defence of the emerging state. He was clearly distinguished for his military advice in what is recorded as the Battle of the Trench, which turned the tide of imminent defeat to a decisive victory for the Muslim state of Medina, against a mammoth coalition of enemies who wanted to destroy the fledgling state.

Similarly, in 651AD when the Muslim army under the command of Amir-al Mumineen, Umar Ibn Khattab conquered the Sasanian Empire of Persia, they did not destroy its ancient civilisation. The conquest of Persia triggered the first Arab-Muslim renaissance. The Arabs realised their own backward culture in comparison to Persia, which was one of the greatest ancient civilisations. The conqueror would learn from the conquered. The advanced iron smelting skills of Persian blacksmiths were deployed in making the Muslim army the most sophisticated in terms of equipment in the contemporary world. The conquest of the vast Persian empire and the mass incorporation of the non-Arab world into the rapidly expanding Muslim state was the beginning of the golden age of Muslim history – an age in which centres of learning throughout the Islamic world, from Damascus to Baghdad and Andalusia [Muslim Spain], flourished in the splendour of education. These centres were relatively open societies and hubs of learning, attracting scholars of all religious faiths and races from all over the known world.

In contemporary times, leading Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, have continued the legacy of the pursuit of knowledge as a means of improvement in the quality of life in all aspects. For these countries, the Islamic faith is not in conflict with education but is perfectly compatible and seamlessly complimentary to it…

Knowledge and learning were the yardsticks and there was generally no discrimination of scholars on the basis of religion or race and their works were similarly not limited in application. With the inauguration of the house of wisdom by Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the 8th century, where important Hellenistic works of Aristotle and Socrates were studied and revised and translated into Arabic and later Latin, which formed the basis of European philosophy, the Muslim world would then go on to make invaluable contributions to universal education in all fields of study through the efforts Ibn Sina and Ibn Rashd.

In contemporary times, leading Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, have continued the legacy of the pursuit of knowledge as a means of improvement in the quality of life in all aspects. For these countries, the Islamic faith is not in conflict with education but is perfectly compatible and seamlessly complimentary to it, because education is neither Western nor Christian but universal. Realising the universal nature of education, these Muslim countries are not limited in their socio-economic development by embracing useful knowledge in public/business administration, art, science and technology from all parts of the world. The literacy rate in the world’s most ultra conservative Muslim state, Saudi Arabia is put at 75 percent. The direct result of this educated population is a country whose resources are efficiently managed for the benefit of all its citizens.

Today, Saudi Arabia is an affluent state with a per capita income of about $55,000 USD, and a life expectancy put at the age of 80. Saudi Arabia ranks very high on the Human Development Index HDI at the 39th position. The quality of Saudi human resources and sound management capabilities has imparted positively on matters of faith. A low crime rate and high moral uprightness in obedience to Allah (SWT) is a common feature of the Saudi society. Also, the government has been able to organise and efficiently manage the yearly pilgrimage by Muslims from every part of the globe to Mecca and Medina, thereby making the Hajj, which is one of the pillars of Islam, easy and spiritually fulfilling for the global Muslim community. The annual ritual of Hajj is the largest gathering of mankind in a specific geographic space. This comes with enormous challenges in managing such large mass of people. Thanks to technology, the Saudi government has been able contain, with a measure of reasonable success, the challenges posed on each occasion.

That the West introduced universal education to Nigeria and continues to lead the way does not make it a wholly Judeo-Christian Western heritage. This is so because what is generally referred to as Western civilisation is the product of a society that had embraced pluralism and racial diversity to the extent that the West today is a microcosm of the entire universe…

However, the case among some Nigerian Muslims and, in particular, among a broad section of the North of the country is markedly different. The violent Boko Haram insurgency that seeks to destroy all vestiges of Western influence in Nigeria is the result of a pre-existing anti-Western education and culture because of the Judeo-Christian heritage of the Western world. This impression of education being a Judeo-Christian Western exclusive preserve, has led to a total rejection of enlightenment and modernity. When education was eventually accepted, it was with reluctance and deep reservations. The quality of education in the North was considerably watered down on the basis of a compromise arising from the insistence on a curricula that will fuse Islamic and Western education by the Northern leadership establishment.

Whereas Islam is a faith, education is neither Islamic nor Judeo-Christian. Education is a universal media for the acquisition of knowledge, which God the creator has endowed mankind with. Western education is, in reality, a hybridisation of knowledge forms from all the ancient and modern civilisations. Beginning with the Hellenistic influence of Rome to the early developments of mathematical concepts from the Indus valley civilisation and the later influence of Muslim scholars of the golden Age, who translated works of earlier civilisations into Arabic and subsequently into Latin for the benefit of Western Europe, the process of universal contribution to education continues till this day.

That the West introduced universal education to Nigeria and continues to lead the way does not make it a wholly Judeo-Christian Western heritage. This is so because what is generally referred to as Western civilisation is the product of a society that had embraced pluralism and racial diversity to the extent that the West today is a microcosm of the entire universe domiciled within a geographic space. The openness of Western societies, much like the Muslim societies of the golden age, makes it possible for the absorption and diffusion of knowledge from the four corners of the globe. The best of Arabs, Persians, Asians, Africans and Indians are not in their continents of origin but in the West, where their talents are nurtured to fruition for the prosperous benefits of the Western world. Western civilisation through education is actually a collection of the best of universal values, norms and learning, which should be embraced by all without reservations arising from religious sentiments or prejudice.

Clearly, the brand of Islam practiced in northern Nigeria that holds back universal education because it is perceived as Western has no parallel in Islamic history. Boko Haram is not only un-Islamic but also a Muslim belief peculiar to Northern Nigeria. By embracing education, Northern Nigerian Muslims are not accepting a Western invention but a universal God given embodiment of knowledge that was enriched and is still being advanced by Muslim scholars throughout the ages.

Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through dahirumajeed@gmail.com.

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