GENERALLY, faith-based communities have been conscious in educating their young generation in their faith, values and practices. Like many other communities, the Muslims also have a long and diverse tradition of educating their children in their faith and values.
Today, rapid changes in human knowledge and society have posed critical questions about various aspects of religious education such as its scope, approach and relevancy. Keeping the emerging challenges in view, a serious reflection is needed on the practices of religious education in order to forward educative responses.
Historically, in Muslim societies diverse traditions and practices of religious education can be traced. For the Muslims, the Holy Quran and the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him) have been the major impetus for acquiring knowledge and for intellectual discourse. It was because of this motivation that Muslim societies started striving for education in the formative period and created a comparatively encompassing education system by balancing between faith and the world.
This process of encompassing education reached its climax in the 9th-10th century, when Muslim societies excelled in different fields of knowledge by nurturing highly dynamic individuals such as Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and many more. These personalities were not only well-educated in their faith but were also authorities in philosophy, science and social issues. During this period, Muslim societies established some highly vibrant learning centres like the Bayt-ul-Hikma in Baghdad, Jami Al-Azhar in Cairo and institutions in Cordoba.
However, in the later centuries a decline was observed in the intellectual and social aspects of Muslim societies. The education system continued through madressahs and other institutions without a sharp dichotomy between religious and secular education. Yet such a dichotomy was observed in the colonial period, particularly with the Muslims of the subcontinent. It was then that the notion of scientific education was introduced with a secular outlook.
As a result, the gap between the concept of religious and secular education started widening. Today, as a legacy, it is evident in our country that schools, colleges and universities are considered responsible for secular education and on the other hand madressahs and other religious institutions are viewed as responsible for religious education.
Scholars are agreed that an encompassing and inclusive kind of religious education leads toward broader perspectives and a harmonious society. On the other hand, a stiff and exclusive approach towards religious education leads to rigid perspectives and conflict.
A number of scholars believe that meaningful religious education is significant for different reasons. Firstly, religious education is viewed as helpful in the process of meaning-making for a human being. This process helps a person to connect himself/herself with the Creator, their fellow human beings and with the environment. Secondly, identity crisis has become one of the major challenges of modern society. In this regard faith-based education is seen as helpful in developing self as well a communal identity.
Thirdly, a moderate religious education helps people to develop a positive attitude towards others and the environment created by God. Finally, the ethical principles of faith help followers to choose and decide in their personal as well as social life. Hence, religious education is viewed as fruitful in terms of meaning-making, living a purposeful life, identity development and for ethical guidance.
On the other hand, faith-based education has been critiqued for different reasons. First, some have viewed it as a cause of division in society. It has been criticised for increasing the gap between different communities that leads towards disharmony and intolerance in society.
Second, according to some educators religious education is difficult to define and set educational goals. It is, therefore, complex to assess the outcome of such education. Third, faith-based education is considered incompatible with modern scientific development. Therefore, its relevancy has been questioned by many scholars.
Furthermore, the teaching-learning approach of religious education is criticised for promoting rote learning which does not help students develop in various areas of life. Finally, the curriculum of religious education is considered less capable to address contemporary issues.
Keeping the challenges and demands of the times in view, serious steps need to be taken by educators and scholars to move towards balanced and encompassing religious education.
First of all, serious reflection is needed on determining the scope and purpose of religious education. Today, we are living in a global, diverse society. Therefore, the scope and purpose of religious education should have the potential to enable followers to maintain their identity as well as to be able to live harmoniously with diverse people.
Secondly, the curriculum needs to be designed in such a way that it can address different aspects of faith. Along with the theological aspect, the cultural and social aspects need to be incorporated in the curriculum in order to address different dimensions of human life.
Finally, there is a need to reflect on the teaching approaches of the institutions which provide religious education. Memorisation should not be the only focus. Rather, understanding, application, analysis and evaluative approaches should be encouraged during the teaching-learning process by incorporating a variety of teaching methods.
In short, religious education has serious implications for society. Therefore, rigorous studies are needed on different aspects of religious education such as curriculum, teaching approaches and assessment etc. to make it more relevant and meaningful for individuals as well as for society.
The writer is an educator.