Islamic Education as ‘Drawing-Out’

Islamic Education as ‘Drawing-Out’

Islamic Education as ‘Drawing-Out’ – Summary of a talk delivered by Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad

I have just finished watching a video by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (AHM) titled ‘Rethinking Islamic Education.’ (youtube link below). In line with his characteristic  erudition, breath and depth of knowledge, he discusses the question of whether Islam ought to be seen by educational theorists as a religion of reason or of inspiration. This is an important question, since it has significant implications for pedagogy and curriculum design in the modern context. Recent Muslim discourse as seeing Islam as a religion based on reason can be seen as a reaction to the European belief in the ‘Oriental unreason.’ Of course, this view has not gone unchallenged. The fundamentalists who trace their ancestry back to Ibn Taymiyyah rejected systematic dialectics and were particularly skeptical about the formal claims of reason in religion. Both camps nevertheless root themselves in scripture. So who is normative? A way to answering this question is to look back at history. In the madrassa curricula, before modern apologetics, we do find a favouring of reason; based on the sciences of nazr, formal theology and legal theory with all of them being sustained by a logical armature. Kalam, in later expressions, was inductive and rationalistic. However, this is not the entire story; one needs to scrutinise the Qur’an itself. AHM goes on to argue that for Muslims, the Qur’an is experienced not as a set of integrated cumulative arguments, but as a ‘dithyramb’ that transforms the soul. The power of scripture lies in its aurality. Its language and imagery are anagogic; ‘it educates through the divine presence actualised in God’s uncreated speech.’ Therefore, Qur’anic cantillation comes across as a purely non-rational mode of education, of ‘drawing-out.’ This passage is striking:

“The ascent to the One, therefore, is not through logic-chopping powers of our ‘dingy clay’ but through acquiring a true and loving ear that can properly hear this music. True learning is, as Suhrawardi put it, an escape from the city of reason to the wilderness where God can be found. This is education not by the accumulation of premises and proofs, but through the deepening of our ontological consciousness.”

Having said so much, though the madrassa curriculum appears dialectical rather than inspirational, AHM states that the Qur’an finds its root in two mutual yet controversial disciplines: kalam and Sufism. Hence, we find that there existed a symbiosis and synthesis between the two; a dual epistemology which was eroded in the modern period and eventually, shattered. Herein lies the consequence:

“Deprived of access to a serious theological education, but having no access to the Sufi illuminations, which was its traditional counterpoint, Muslims pupils and students increasingly incline either to secular lifestyles, or to non mystical readings of Ibn Taymiyyah.”

In order to revive the collapse of this binary arrangement, AHM argues (as does Fazlur Rehman in his book ‘Islam’) one needs to recall that in early Islam such a dichotomy did not exist. For them at least, all knowledge was one. AHM provides the essence of Islamic education:

“…We are required to exist in a harmonious balance that incorporates body, intellect, and soul into a single human subject, an omnium, al-insan al kamil. Only such a being, dialectically regulated by kalam, and emotionally disciplined by Sufism, is capable of true reason, of aql, and thus of being ‘drawn-out.’”

And only God knows best.


Link for the video: