Educational Decline of the Muslim Ummah: Causes and Solutions

It is He who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the deen (ideology) of truth to manifest it over all adyaan (ideologies), although they who associate others with Allah dislike it. (9:33)

This Quranic verse indicates the intent with which Islam was revealed i.e. to create a world order according to the Islamic ideology. Islamic history shows us that the Prophet Muhammad SAW, his companions, and the generations that followed them had this goal deeply ingrained within them. It was this truly global mindset that motivated them towards the establishment of an Islamic State and its subsequent spread across much of the known world.

It was  this State that produced great works of knowledge in various scientific and non-scientific fields as well as numerous polymaths of the likes of al-Khwarizmi, Omar Khayyam, al-Battani, al-Biruni, al-Majriti, al-Idrisi, al-Mas’udi, al-Jazari, al-Razi, Ibn Sina and Ibn al-Haytham. It was also this State that produced philosophers of the likes of al-Ghazali who decisively refuted the ancient Greek philosophy.

All of this was when Europe was still in its Medieval Ages and there were continuous wars within the continent. It was only when knowledge started to diffuse into the European community because of the expansion of Islam towards it that scholars and intellectuals developed there.

However, unlike the encouragement that the Muslim scientists received from their government, the European scientists were fiercely persecuted by their governments for studying and advancing science. The Islamic State had set up great educational institutes from Iberia to India because it felt that the acquisition of knowledge was one of the most important steps towards achieving a complete Islamic personality and also because without the acquisition of technology the State would be unable to fulfil the requirements of the above quoted verse. In contrast, the Church believed that the spread of science and technology would strike at the very foundations of its power, namely, superstitions and irrationality. This was reflected in the literacy rates of the time: while illiteracy was virtually non-existent in the Islamic lands it was as high as 95% in Europe. 

The famous prosecutions of Roger Bacon, Pietro d’Abano, Cecco d’Ascoli, Michael Servitus, Girolamo Cardano, Nicholas Copernicus, and Galileo Galilei by the Church led to the common Western belief that science negates religion. This was in sharp contrast to what was experienced during the Islamic Golden Ages. Imam al-Ghazali wrote: “Great indeed is the crime against religion committed by anyone who supposes that Islam is to be championed by the denial of mathematical sciences.”

Since the fall of the Khilafah (Caliphate) in 1924, the Muslim Ummah has been rendered subservient to the political designs of the West. The West has employed education as an important neo-colonialist toolto the detriment of the successive Muslim generations. A brief overview of the fundamental problems inherent within this education system is necessary before posing solutions from the intellectual doctrine of the Ummah which is the Islamic Aqeedah.

The most fundamental issue is the linking of education with secularizationresulting in the dissociation of the educated classes from the general Ummah because without the Islamic political thought they can no longer understand the problems of the people. Despite the advancement of science and technology, the educated classes are unable to relieve the problems of the Ummah rather they increase the crises it must face. Coupled with weak teaching methods and the Capitalist ideology, this has been the fundamental problem that has stemmed many more.

This disconnect between the intellectual classes and the problems of the society is an intellectual and cultural corruption of our systems by the colonialists. The masses have repeatedly in the form of a multitude of political activities, referendums and polls reaffirmed their allegiance to the core precepts of Islam. This mandates that for the society to prosper it needs the implementation of the systems of Islam over it. However, education given in schools and universities is neither aimed at building the Islamic personality based on the Islamic creed nor does it create the Islamic political thought within students. It instead turns them into secular people who preach and defend the Western values of democracy and freedom as well as the patriotic and nationalistic bond. Thus, the policies they devise and implement over the Ummah clash with her core ideals leading to stagnation in all fields of life.

The failure of the educated classes to recognize the problems of the Ummah and propose solutions relevant to them is also caused by the present teaching methods that lack rationality, creativity, diversity, and vitality, thus, fostering boredom among the students. Their sole focus is onthe memorization of information to pass exams and obtain certificates instead of delivering knowledge in a manner that allows students to think, investigate, analyseand make connections between the knowledge and its applications. This basis of the system on mere instruction and theories rather than its link with reality or understanding and analysis also results in a lack of desire to learn. It is no wonder that such students continue to advocate Western solutions in all fields of life without realizing that the blame for all these problems lies on the adoption of Western ideas and thoughts in the first place.

The education system also suffers from the individualistic nature of Capitalism which views education as a tool to achieve individual success, pursue individualistic dreams and short-term benefits, aimed entirely at the individual. This is because Capitalism narrowly defines success in terms of having a job in order to achieve financial stability. These secular values consider acquiring a profession the ultimate achievement of individual success.

The profit driven nature of Capitalism has also greatly damaged the education system. Globalization and the spread of liberal Capitalism has been associated with the privatization of education such that it has been become a commodity for the wealthy classes. This is one of the major causes of widespread illiteracy and has deprived the masses of the knowledge required to deal with the problems of life pushing them further into the abyss of poverty and dismay.

It also directly facilitates the goals of the Macaulay system of education which aims to create an elite educated class that act as facilitators to the exploitation of the society by their colonialist masters. This is especially evident in all Islamic lands and other Third World Countries where the economic brains of the society push towards increasing IMF and World Bank loans programmes that concentrate the economic resources of the people in the hands of the Capitalist overlords.

The dangers of both individualism and profit making were pointed out by Imam al-Ghazali in the introduction of his book ‘Bidayat al-Hidayah’: “If in your quest for knowledge, your aim is rivalry, boasting, surpassing those who are equal to you in age and merit, attraction of others’ attention to you, and amassing the vanities of this world, then you are in reality trying to ruin your own religious nature and destroy yourself, to sell your [happiness of the] Hereafter for [happiness of] this life…”.

It is because of these and many other problems, as well as numerous evidences from the Quran and Sunnah, that the Ummah is collectively responsible for the reestablishment of the Islamic State that would rid itfrom the confines of the current World Order and elevate it through the Islamic ideology.

And thus, we have made you ummatun wasat (best, just, reference Ummah) that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you. (2:143)

Such a revived Islamic State whose goal is to lead the world with the guidance and Deen of truth will neednumerous intellectuals and scientists who will be able to carry it to the preeminent position among the world’s states and guarantee its leading and influential role based upon the Islamic ideology.

It would be disastrous for such a State to maintain dependence on foreign lands for the development of its education, science and technology sectors which lays it open to manipulation by colonial governments.Instead of continuing the practice to import Western educational conceptsthis State will attempt to lead the global educational system with ideas and thoughts derived from Islam.

Foremost, the Islamic State would recognise that education policy needs to be built on the Islamic creed. Thus, the curriculum of the State would be solely based upon Islamic canons.  The purpose of such an education system would then be to form an Islamic personality in thought and behaviour, and provide people with the knowledge related to life’s affairs. This would in turn prepare the Muslim generations to produce scholars with expertise in every field of life whether in Islamic sciences (ijtihad, fiqh,judiciary etc) or empirical sciences (engineering, chemistry, physics, medicine etc). The administrative details including the methods of teaching would then be designed to prevent a departure from this basis.

It is, thus, very important for policy planners to realize the distinctions between the empirical sciences and the cultural sciences. Whereas empirical sciences may be studied without restriction or conditions, the cultural sciences need to be dealt with care. The Islamic culture must be taught at all levels of education under the guidance of seperate departments in all institutions. All cultural sciences at the initial stages of education must follow a specific policy guideline that does not contradict Islamic thoughts and rules. In higher education, these cultural sciences may be studied in greater detail like empirical sciences with strong refutations of canons that contradict Islamic ideas and thoughts. To avoid the increasing encroachment of Western cultural theories, for example, Darwinism, the State’s curriculum must be taught exclusively.

Private schools and institutions having no foreign connections and based on the State curriculum would operate freely. However, it is imperative to keep in mind that the providence of the means of obtaining and developing knowledge lies within the responsibilities of the Islamic State. This includes setting up and fostering libraries, laboratories and research centres in addition to schools and universities, all of which would cater to both the Islamic sciences and the cultural sciences. All of this would allow the masses to obtain knowledge rather than select groups who have the wealth for it.

The teaching method shall not merely rely on the scientific or logical methods to obtain information rather it would be based on the rational method. This means the rational address by the teacher and intellectual reception in the student. Thought or mind is the tool for both teaching and studying; and its presence elevates humans above other creations. Four elements come into play in this method:The brain (suitable for thinking), senses, the reality, and previous information regarding the reality. Thus, the rational method works such that sensations of the reality are transferred to the brain which uses previous information to interpret the reality and then issues a judgment upon the reality.

Teachers would convey knowledge to students via different styles of expression, principally language. The success of the teacher in conveying the thought would be judged by whether the student can link it with a sensed reality. This would mean the student has perceived the thought and accepted it intellectually. On the other hand, if the student understands the meanings of the sentences but fails to link the thought to reality, it will result only in the mere conveyance of information producing educated persons without the capability to be original thinkers.

The scientific method would remain restricted to empirical sciences, however, conclusions reached via the rational method would take precedence.The logical method would be best avoided because it is neither based on thinking nor does it reach the level of scientific research.

Language is undoubtedly the principal tool for the rational address and intellectual learning, and thus special importance must be awarded to it by every teacher and curriculum devisor. The linguistic achievements of the students must be considered to facilitate intellectual discourse between the teacher and the student using the four elements of thinking.  This is another area where the imposition of the colonialist’s language as a means of providing education has had disastrous effects on the Ummah. The language most capable of connecting the students of the Ummah with their reality is the language of the Quran, Arabic. The State should, thus, plan to install Arabic as the medium in which education is delivered.

It is important to realize that whereas most of the above is based fundamentally on the understanding of the Islamic culture, the means and styles of teaching are not permanent. Teachers would be encouraged to innovate and use diverse styles related to the educational situation. These range from debates, discussions, narrations, storytelling, problem solving, experiments and direct practical exercises. This means that where historically teaching (rational address and intellectual learning) was accomplished via writing or speech, it would now benefit from digital videos and audios. These means and styles also differ according to the capabilities of the students, and the teacher would need to recognize the differences in each student.

In a nutshell, the Islamic State shall employ innovative means and styles for the intellectual learning of students which will achieve the goals of building up their Islamic personality and developing them into experts in all fields of life. In nurturing the Islamic creed in the Ummah, education will ratify the Ummah’s allegiance to Islam, protect its culture, develop its civilization, and achieve its high goals and objectives. Education will, hence, play an important role in raising the Ummah to the highest position in this world and establish its global order over all other ‘adyaan’ (ideologies).

“…And never will Allah give the disbelievers over the believers a way [to overcome them].” (4:141)

Written by: Suleiman Malik

The author is a medical student and freelance writer interested in Islamic Political analysis and research, and can be reached at



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