Muslim World education ‘falling behind’

 February 2008 saw the culmination of a study by the World Bank which analysed education in the Muslim world. The World Bank report on education reform in North Africa and the Middle East concluded that the quality of education in the Arab world is falling behind other regions and needs urgent reform if it is to tackle unemployment. The report said unemployment in the Arab world averaged 14%, which is higher than other areas in the world, except Sub-Saharan Africa, with the Palestinian territories coming highest with nearly 26%.

A senior World Bank official, Marwan Muasher who contributed to the report said educational reform went hand in hand with economic development, especially given the region's extremely high youth population. "It's a very youthful region – 60% of the region's population is under 30 years of age, close to 100m new jobs will need to be created over the next 10 to 15 years in the Arab world," he explained. "If we are to create such jobs, then we have to start with education."

Another study carried out in January by the Tunis-based Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organisation found that 30% of the approximately 300 million people in the Arab World were illiterate.

The Muslim World has made no contribution to science or contributed anything substantial to technology. It remains today in a state of gloom and anarchy where leaders inherit their thrones for life and ensure the population remains in poverty with little care for the educational needs of the people.

The report confirmed that the region has only invested about 5% of GDP and 20% of government budgets in education over the past 40 years. Some developments have occurred in countries such as the Gulf States and Egypt, where many children have benefited from compulsory schooling, and opportunities to continue their formal education. Learning outcomes in these countries have improved from what they were previously.

However, the region as a whole has not made the best use of its accumulated human capital. Unemployment is particularly high among graduates, and a large segment of the educated labour force is employed by governments. Not surprisingly, the link between human capital accumulation and economic growth, income distribution, and poverty reduction in the region is weak.

What is very clear is that the Muslim rulers are intellectually bankrupt without any vision for the Muslim world and have in fact implemented policies that have contributed to the multitude of problems in the Muslim lands.

The royal family in Saudi Arabia spends millions every year on shopping malls and family trips abroad. In Egypt Hosni Mubarak spends more on building palaces than his people, whilst Jordan spends more on renewable energy than on welfare. Education just isn't a priority for the Muslim rulers. As a result a very small skilled workforce spends more time working abroad than in the Muslim world.

In the West, the Educational curriculums were developed in line with their secular values. For the US and Britain specifically, it was necessary for their development to have a skilled pool of workers who could contribute to the nations domestic and foreign policy objectives.

The Muslim world historically excelled in education and made huge contributions to science and technology. It was the Abbasids that first formalised education in the Muslim world setting in motion what is considered the golden age of Islam by historians, where substantial development occurred in many scientific spheres.

The Khulufaa' attracted to their courts men of science, poets, physicians and philosophers whom they supported. Learning progressed and developed with differences of creed, colour, race and tribe being no barrier to learning.

The Mosque served as the fundamental educational institution of the Khilafah. However, as the demand for learning grew, the Madrassah – modern day college began to appear. Prior to this period education was taught in mosques in an informal manner. At this early stage, people seeking knowledge tended to gather around certain knowledgeable Muslims – shaykhs; and these shaykhs began to hold regular religious education sessions – majalis.

With the creation of Madrassah's the Jamia (university) emerged. The Guinness Book of World Records recognises the University of Al-Karaouine (Jami'at al-Qarawiyyin) in Fez, Morocco as the oldest university in the world founded in 859.[1]

Al-Azhar University, founded in Cairo, Egypt in the 10th century, offered a wide variety of academic degrees, including postgraduate degrees, and was the first fully-fledged university.

The Islamic form of education, was eventually emulated by the Europeans – of which many of the similarities stand till this day – the term Chair in a university, reflects the Arabic Kursi, upon which the ‘alim (teacher) would sit and teach his students.

The modern doctorate in Latin is termed "a licence to teach" and had already developed long before it was transmitted to Europe, being a direct translation of the Arabic Ijazat at tadris.  A permission to teach was granted by an ‘alim, who had studied with an ‘alim after he had resolved a problem by issuing a fatwa, then defending it in front of a panel of ‘alims

Even the modern day graduation ceremony resembles the Islamic ceremony. The robes worn today, were called Jubba tul faqih, and were given when an ‘alim received his ijazah.

The Khilafah also created the first public hospital (which replaced healing temples and sleep temples) and the psychiatric hospital, the public library and lending library, the academic degree-granting university, and the astronomical observatory as a research institute (as opposed to a private observation post as was the case in ancient times).

The first universities that issued diplomas were the Bimaristan medical university-hospitals, where medical diplomas were issued to students of medicine who were qualified to be practicing doctors of medicine from the 9th century.

Sir John Bagot Glubb wrote "By Mamun's time medical schools were extremely active in Baghdad. The first free public hospital was opened in Baghdad during the Caliphate of Haroon-ar-Rashid. As the system developed, physicians and surgeons were appointed who gave lectures to medical students and issued diplomas to those who were considered qualified to practice. The first hospital in Egypt was opened in 872 AD and thereafter public hospitals sprang up all over the empire from Spain and the Maghrib to Persia."

Madrasahs were also the first law schools, and many have suggested that the "law schools known as Inns of Court in England" may have been derived from the Madrasahs that taught Islamic law and jurisprudence.[2]

The basis of the education system in Islam is to culture people with Islam in order for them to have conviction in it and then carry it to the world. Islam obliged Muslims not simply to profess the shahadah, but to develop the reading and studying of Islam. The Muslims of the past studied and acquired Islamic culture deeply with full awareness and a clear vision. This knowledge broadened their horizons and developed their perception, which enriched their mentality, making them teachers of others.

In summary, the Muslims excelled in the past by making Islam the central motivating factor for their development. This resulted in them becoming the superpower of their day, contributing hugely to the field of educational and scientific disciplines. The only way forward for the Muslim world is to learn from its history and understand what the early Muslims understood – that their success in this life and the next is only through Islam.

[1] The Guinness Book Of Records, Published 1998, ISBN 0-5535-7895-2, P.242

[2] Makdisi, John A. (June 1999), "The Islamic Origins of the Common Law", North Carolina Law Review 77 (5): 1635-1739