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Faith-based education

Updated Aug 15, 2013 05:28pm


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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.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (49) Closed

raika45 Jul 27, 2012 01:41pm
Religious knowledge alone is not going to feed you.The modern world needs knowledge in other aspects and field of study.The world does not run on religion.You need to have knowledge in a myriad of subjects according to the choice of your job.That is where scientists, engineers,doctors and the whole other professions are produced.Your whole madarasa system is flawed.Yet your government has no guts to correct it.As I said, religion alone is not going to feed you
Muhammad Jul 27, 2012 11:15am
BTW it was Karl Marx who said that religion was the opium of the masses.
waqar Jul 27, 2012 10:09am
if u are a muslim .....then religion and ur faith shd and must b with u no matter u r in school,college or work place
Shubs Jul 27, 2012 11:37am
I believe that religious education stops expanding the mind and in fact confines it to very narrow perspectives as soon as it starts differentiating between us (the good ones) and them (the bad ones). All religions started out with good intentions, but they were products of their times. Soon they degenerated into tribal groupism, especially the three largest Abrahamic faiths. Identification with one was based on 'not being the other'. When this becomes such an integral part of faith based education, it becomes almost impossible to let the mind free for creative thought, to imbibe knowledge based on inquisitiveness, as opposed to forcing the mind to 'believe' things because that's the way things 'have been told'. Religion has been the biggest drag on realizing the creative potential of billions of people in the world.
@ImranAslamCh Jul 27, 2012 11:41am
very good article and the need of time.......
Yousuf Ahmad Jul 27, 2012 11:42am
If you read the article, that is exactly the question the author was attempting to address. The author's point is that ever since our religious education became separated from our non-religious education, our progress and advancement in both realms stalled. This happened over the period of the last few centuries. The notion of realigning both streams of education is well-worth examining.
Shubs Jul 27, 2012 11:42am
US and Japan may have religiosity as part of national life, but they have a very strong understanding that it needs to be kept apart from scientific and social progress. When it does creep into the scientific realm, the result is always negative. Take the case of regressive faith based limits on stem-cell research in the US. The result is that contries in Asia and Europe are racing ahead by leaps and bounds in this domain, which was not too long ago pioneered and led by the US.
Yousuf Ahmad Jul 27, 2012 11:45am
Agreed. Tolerance is the key.
Muhammad Panah Jul 27, 2012 11:45am
Great dear Muhammad Ali! I agreed yours with topic
Indian Jul 27, 2012 07:21am
Humans generally learn by seeing others. In this context it would be wise to study the experience of " Christian Europe" during the so called Dark ages of Europe when the Christiandome was going through a revolution. It threatended scientists and burned witches in town sqaures. Not learning from others experience can come at some cost. It is not for no reason that the West has secularised their institutions. It is not for love of Hindus or Muslims or Jews that USA and UK do not differentiate based on religion , it is a love for themselves!!!! That is why they keep religion in churches and only scular knowledge in schools.
Ammar Ahmed Jul 27, 2012 05:35pm
I think its not too much religion its the wrong and senseless application of religion which we are suffering from. Need to use the religion is all aspects of life as Islam is the complete code of life.
Aimal Jul 27, 2012 06:53am
Religion is a very private matter - should be left at home never to bring it in schools, colleges or in work places. Blind faith can be killing and that is the reason why a Chinese Staesman once said that religion can be opium for the folks.
toti34 Jul 27, 2012 10:41am
The problem is not faith education but obsession with it. Tolerance demands to accept criticism and other viewpoints. Those who are not allowed other views remain blind with obsession. That is not healthy. Here in Europe sometimes I contradict Christians about certain irrelevant teachings in this 21st century. I do that with Hindus also without fear of life. Some in fact agree with me. That s healthy.
Shubs Jul 27, 2012 11:28am
Beautifully put! I think this post puts the debate about religious and secular education to rest. "Where there is no doubt, there is no learning." - priceless!
Prakash Jul 27, 2012 06:55am
Cyrus Howell Jul 27, 2012 08:09am
We have inherited certain clichés about our history and the history of other nations without reading our history critically and without reading the history of others fairly and objectively. The luminous Greek civilization emerged in the sixth century BC and reached the peak of its flourishing in the fifth century BC. In other words, Greek civilization emerged many generations before the Islamic one, and Greek philosophy was the source from which Muslim philosophers derived their philosophy. Those individuals in whom we sometimes take pride, such as Ibn Rushd, Ibn Al-Haytham, Al-Razi, Al-Qindi, Al-Khawarizmi, and Al-Farabi were all pupils of Greek thought. As for our civilization, it is a religious one, concerned with religious law, totally absorbed in the details of what Muslims should do and shouldn't do in their relations with Allah and in their relations with others. This is a huge task worthy of admiration, because religion is the pivot of life. We must however recognize that our achievements are all confined to this great area. Let us not claim then that the West has borrowed from us its secular lights. Our culture has been and continues to be absorbed with questions of the forbidden and the permitted, belief and disbelief, because it is a religious civilization… Ibrahim Al-Buleihi
Indian Jul 27, 2012 09:36am
No doubt. No one can raise aspersions on Islam. It is great religion. However the way it has been interpreted is very human. After all those who read the books and tell us what to do and what not are humans and are guided by the same instincts as the rest of us. So the blame lies not with Islam but with the parochial interpretation of islam. Sadly atleast for the Subcontinent it is not feasible for common Muslim to learn old Arabic and read Quran in its original and understand it so we are left on others mercy to tell us what to do.Otherwise how do you explain so many sects in Islam? The fact that humans differ in their thoughts have made these varied interpetatins possible.
Murtaza Jul 27, 2012 05:31pm
I am agree with the writer that religious education is not just for memorisation of holy books and Hadith deep understanding, practical implementation is also necessary and for that purpose religious scholars should play their role.
vin Jul 27, 2012 05:54pm
Religion teaches to be nice to each other, and not kill each other. That's all. Hospital has purpose of treating people. School has purpose of teaching people. Cinema hall provides entertainment. Work place provides work and money. School is mater of State and religion is mater of person, community not State.
Skeptic Jul 28, 2012 02:04pm
Absolutely spot on !
Muhammad Jul 27, 2012 11:49am
The Islamic world has been dead scientifically because the very spirit of inquiry, rationality and philosophy that was witnessed in Islam almost 600 years ago, was stampted out by dogma and diktat. In a nutshell, the "rationalists" in Islam (the Mutazilites) lost out to the fundamentalists (Asharites). Hence we saw the rise of Deobandism, Wahibiism, Salafisim etc. All quest for knowledge was subsumed by a strict interpretation of the Koranic texts which resulted in all other scientific and rationalist knowlege being largely ignored.
Eddied Jul 27, 2012 12:46pm
To help explain, the public funds for catholic schools only go to them when they can demonstrate that the largest part of their curriculum is secular educational subjects. The state does not pay for religious teaching...
pankaj Jul 27, 2012 12:20pm
Why do we need such a high dose of religion daily? Religion is a concept which should be treated the way we treate other concepts like science, spirituality , philosophy etc. very heavy dose of one concept "especialy religion" since childhood leads to conflicts on conscience of an adult. Because he is made to believe since his childhood only one concept and when his reasoning starts working at an adult age he sees other concepts equally prevelant in the world and hence makes him either radical ( to go his comfort zone) or insane as he starts questioning the system. young guys in pakistan are going through this situation which has resulted in radicalisation for one section of society and indefferent attitude to other section. Education system should be impartial and balanced while imparting knowledge to a child.
smsnaqvi Jul 27, 2012 06:50am
MashaAllah brilliant analysis. Very well carved piece of essay that gives a bird's eye view on the contemporary and cosmic issues especially faced by muslims. Islam urges its followers to critically analyze and review and keep searching till they find the truth. JazakAllah khair
Pradip Jul 28, 2012 07:24am
I would invite you to read Kapuscinski, especially "Travels with Herodotus'. What actually blew me away was his contention that the Greek civilization inherited from the Egyptian civilization (obviously pre-islamic) across the Mediterranean and that knowledge was subsequently passed on to Rome.
Shafi Jul 27, 2012 10:20am
Can someone tell me why Islamic world had been dead scientifically during the last 500 years? What have been the scientific achievements by the Islamic world during this period? Why did the Islamic world make great advances in science etc before the 15 century? Was it religious education or quest for 'other' knowledge?
shankar Jul 27, 2012 10:16am
Wonderful article! Irrespective ones faith/religion, one constantly keeps wondering about the relevance and adequacy of education to meet the challenges modern day life. That religious teachings are the most important ingredient in developing moral values is unquestionable. On the other hand, the world is shrinking and national boundaries are blurring and we are required to live in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-faith world harmoniously. Our religions need to teach us to cope with this reality and become world citizens! Religion is like the love and fresh air of our lives but we know we cannot live by them alone. We need science & technology to keep our creature comforts going.
Sarfaraj Jul 27, 2012 08:07am
Nobody in Western or Eastern Culture do Religious Education in Schools. Its a personal thing.
sharifullah Jul 27, 2012 07:01am
A good and new prospect given by you on religious education. As you described about the decline in intellectual , social and in science in Muslim societies it was due to ban on intellectuals usage. When in the societies the intellectuals made questions then they instead to go in depth or research and find new approach of learning idea but in our Muslim Societies it created new thoughts of school. AS a result the Islamic thinkers thought that if this system continued then the religion will be broke into pieces, so they completely banned on intellectual questioning. Thus the Muslim World backed in Science and new technology as well in Religion thought from many centuries. This fear still prevails in our societies about intellectual questioning. The human being is superior creations in the World being for the intellectual base and it described also in Quran. As Quran also says we have given you Hikmaat and Quran. Quran furthers says that think and observe in the cosmos, but how we think , of course through our intellectual, but we banned on the usage of Intellectual. Quran in another place says that those who know ( understand )are not be equal to those who do not know (understand). but how differentiate this, only on the intellectual base. So the Muslim thinkers should not be afraid to open the horizons, otherwise we can not act on the Quranic motions. Quran also appreciates and encourages to think , observe on universe because there are many signs for learning , therefore we open the window to see new horizons of Allah's creation and much more knowledge and wisdom. Dr. Allama Iqbal says Ayeen now say derna, Taraz kohan pa adana Manzil yahee katan ha Qomoon ki Zindage may You presented a good analytical observation on Religious education and overall a Muslim culture in perspective of religious education. A appreciative struggle did by you and should be continue.
ali Jul 27, 2012 04:17am
We already are suffering from too much religion. We dont need more religious education. Leave people alone.
BRR Jul 27, 2012 04:40am
The writer makes a lot of assumptions that are not necessarily correct and have no references "Scholars are agreed that an encompassing and inclusive kind of religious education leads toward broader perspectives and a harmonious society." Which scholars? Who are they? In addition, the writer uses terms which are artificial and meaningless, such as "meaning-making". The writer seems to want religious teaching to be done using a rational approach - which is silly as there is no reason in religion - only blind faith.
Prashant Jul 27, 2012 09:51pm
I hope you will agree with me that what you said is your personal opinion and if someone does not agree with you, that person does not have to be apologetic or defensive in any society.
lubna Jul 27, 2012 08:39am
Your knowledge is lacking.there are publicly funded catholic schools in western countries
EQ8Rhomes Jul 27, 2012 05:14am
Dare I be the first to post? Not going to be popular! However, education has an inalienable component beyond knowledge. It is CRITICAL THINKING. Now we know what critical thinking does. It encourages independence of thought , and therefore, influences attitudes, behaviour, and CHOICE in a very personal way. Education in faith is based on examplum--the wisdom of great messengers of the Creator. Such wisdom, unfortunately, becomes ossified because people who receive no other education depend mostly on received wisdom to conduct their lives. In times past, it was often enough for ordinary people. But not anymore --esp. with the explosion in knowledge and critical thinking. Independent thought is often frightening to many when conformity provides safety and inclusion. Independent thought rattles the status quo. Real education demands that we pay attention to what those who disagree with us hold to be true. Case in point: It is critical that we know what our "opponents" think so we can test our own thinking on reflection/introspection. If we think that we already know absolutely what we need to know, than there is no need for further education. Where there is no doubt, there is no learning. If any one has read up to this point, then s/he is already an independent/critical thinker. Let me stop here. Thank you, Muhammad.alio75.
lubna Jul 27, 2012 08:56am
Simple Islam is not like other religions,it is the way of life encompassing mundane issues such as economic,political,social,collective,individual and so called secular as quran emphasize on scientific signs to explore but with a purpose to know. Your creator better and reassuring that the creator who created scientific laws without blemish is also giving humans other laws of spending life which are also without fault and they are in quran so if one follow. All laws given by the creator he or she or society will not only survive but will thrive and this will also please the creator because this society by following the holistic Islamic approach will format a just society and that is the purpose of Science in terms of quranic education
Mehdi Jul 27, 2012 12:58pm
Faith based education. Everybody gets an education in the context of their own faith? Or are we talking about only the author's faith which will be forced on everybody wanting to get an education? Keeping in mind that we're living in a globalized world - the author mentioned it himself - there is no place for faith-based education. Education should be based on critical thinking and free inquiry alone. Faith is a personal matter. Good that you have it, but please don't impose it on others.
Ali Sadozai Jul 27, 2012 09:27am
Very fine poinst raised. I would encourage you to write an essay to address these more comprehensively. Unfortunately, im very rapidly forming the view that a self proclaimed believer and ``independant thought`` are mutually exclusive in Pakistan. And if thats the case then this could be the main reason for our eventual undoing as a civilization unless we reverse the course.
Fahad Javed Jul 27, 2012 09:33am
@ Aimal: The statement was by Karl Marx and not by Chinese and the correct qoute is "Religion is he opium of masses" @BRR: Fazl-ur-Rehman in his book Islam and modernity stated this although I am not sure if the author was refering to this. @Sarfaraj: There are numerious universities (and schools) dedicated to education with a religious twist in US. Have a look at @Indian: US and Japan are at the pinnacle of scientific research both have religiousity as part of national life
citizen Jul 27, 2012 11:17am
unfortunately the muslims of today have completely lost their connection to their own tradition of learning and inquiry, which existed in the earlier centuries. They lack the sophistication and the erudition that the earlier generation had. The irony is that most muslims of today would readily point out their 'glorious past' but have no deeper understanding of how that came about.
zafar Jul 27, 2012 09:41am
religion is full of reason. the quran provides us with reason. the only problem is that we do not study it.
Shoyeb Irfan Jul 27, 2012 02:58pm
I think Quran should be made compulsry in all the schools. By the time kid be in fifth standard the quran verses should have been ion his/her tips. We need to save Islam.
EQ8Rhomes Jul 27, 2012 03:10pm
Mine is the ONLY comment on this article and still no show. i do protest Dawn's censorship habits.That is one of Pakistan's problems. No one can say anything unless it is approved by the Thekedaars. I just wanted to see response to my post, so I could learn what people are thinking.
Amir Jul 27, 2012 06:37pm
Yeah it should be with you and this is your right.However, you are not supposed to enforce your believes on others and if you decide to do so you must be asked to leave.
Amir Jul 27, 2012 06:47pm
There are publicly funded Islamic schools in USA at least in NY and NJ. All Islamic schools receive funding from US Department of Education.
aaa Jul 27, 2012 07:14pm
yes, i agreed with you in religion there is no reason, it is not like science which can be proved scientifically. Religion consist of belief that can not be proved.But the problem is, in order to give quality religious education to our childern, modern approaches should be applied because it has been done in the histroy. Ibnal Haitham explained nature of light which is still accepted today and he was working in Muslims Institution. ____
Hassan Parvez Jul 27, 2012 08:14pm
100% true.
Hassan Parvez Jul 27, 2012 08:18pm
Ver well said.
Ravi Jul 28, 2012 04:34am
Too much of religion promtes intolerance among different religions as well as differences in different branches in same religion. and promotes dangerous attitude of only my way is highway.
Hahahaha Jul 28, 2012 06:22am
Yes, I agree Taliban are good with their reason.