Learning was as serious as faith


The word ‘Jamiah’ in Arabic means ‘university’. The word ‘Jami’ stands for ‘Masjid’. Many scholars of the early Muslim civilization saw a clear connection between learning and faith. The first revelation, “Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists).” (Al-Alaq 96:1), was a significant sign to urge the early Muslims to learn new things and share their discoveries.

Travelling teachers, known as Ahl al-Ilm (the people with knowledge), became the means to spread knowledge between towns and cities. By the late ninth century, almost every Masjid housed an elementary school for boys and girls. Kids began school at the age of six. Among the early skills school kids learnt were how to write verses from the Quran and the 99 names of Allah. They then went on to memorize all 6,239 verses of the Noble Book.

The affluent members of the society hired tutors to teach their children at home. Each Muslim school had an exclusive architecture with arched hallways leading to a courtyard for outdoor lessons, a prayer hall, living quarters for students, and an ablution room. Talking, laughing, or joking was not permitted in the classrooms. There were mainly four different types of Muslim schools: regular (primary schools), houses of readers (high schools), houses of Hadeeth (religious schools), and medical schools.

Most schools had libraries filled with books written in Arabic on such advanced topics as chemistry, physics, and astronomy. Education was free, and some students were even provided with books, stipends, and lodging facilities. An Awqaf was set up for building schools, paying salaries to teachers, and arranging meals for students. Much like college students today, students at universities in the Muslim world took entrance examinations, joined study groups, and had to pass final exams to graduate.

According to a travelling geographer, Ibn Hawqal, the city of Palermo in Muslim Sicily had 300 Masajid that taught various subjects in the late tenth century. By the fifteenth century, the Ottomans had revolutionized schools by setting up a kind of learning centre called a Kulliye. Each complex had a Masjid, school, hospital, and dining area.

A quest for advanced education among Muslim scholars led to the spread of universities throughout the Muslim world: Baghdad, Timbuktu in Mali, Fes in Morocco, Bayt al-Hikmah in Tunisia, and countless more.

The spark of learning lit up the Dark Ages in the European world, too. European students travelled back and forth to Muslim cities to study at colleges and to learn Arabic, in order to access the latest discoveries, intellectual advancements, and inventions. This contributed to the spread of Islamic knowledge and the exchange of ideas in the world at that time.


Exploring Islamic Schools

By Fizzah Jawed Akhter – Designer & English Language Teacher and

Binte Ruqqayah – Freelance writer

The Golden Age of Islam (750 – 1258 CE) – the apex of thought, reason, and discovery in the Muslim Ummah – resulted from a symbiotic relationship with religion. Thinkers, educators and researchers of that era made huge strides in many different areas because of their clear focus on the problem at hand.

The children of today will become the leaders of the Ummah tomorrow. Their upbringing and education are of utmost importance if we wish to see the return of the Golden Age.

In this article, we will take a look at the current educational system, focusing more closely on the Islamic schools. Although this is not a comprehensive analysis, we hope it will be a platform for thought about the future of the Muslim youth.

Islam holds parents responsible for the education and upbringing of their children. The decision about the schooling of your children is an important one, as it will affect their future. Abdullah ibn Umar (rta) reported that the Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. A man is the guardian of his family and is responsible for them; a woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and of his children and is responsible for them.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

The schooling system in place today offers parents two choices: regular schools and Islamic ones. The crux of the matter is to educate children in a way that best prepares them for facing the challenges of their worldly affairs, while simultaneously inculcating in them values that will shape them into good Muslims. What the parents ultimately choose is mostly in line with their vision for their children.

  Regular School Islamic School
1. Arabic is not offered as a language. Basic Arabic is a subject, along with an explanation of the Quran.
2. Government-defined curriculum (Matric or O’Level) is followed. Government-defined curriculum with integration of Islamic concepts (e.g., creationism vs. evolution) is followed; some schools develop and follow their own curriculum till grade seven or eight.
3. Exposure to unacceptable lifestyle. Homogenous thought and lifestyle.
4. Focus on history as determined by the government/examination board. Focus on Islamic history with a critical analysis.
5. Staff retention is not a problem, as school has a favorable reputation. High rate of staff turnover.
6. Staff understands the mission/vision of the school. Hard to find teachers who understand the school’s values and are suitable role models for kids.
7. In an absence of Quranic education, time allotment of classroom instruction is manageable. Multiple classroom hours are required to balance secular and religious studies.
8. No issues of Hifz programme or staff. It is difficult to manage both.

Islamic Schools in Focus

The strongest argument in favour of Islamic schools is the presence of an Islamic environment and focus on building Muslim identity.

The goals of Islamic schools are noble and worthy; however, the road to achieving their targets is not easy. Elaborating on challenges faced by Islamic schools, Mrs. Shabana Ahmedani, administrator of Little Heaven says: “In today’s world, children are exposed to many temptations. Colourful cartoons, computer games and gadgets of all sorts are all very attractive for them. An absence of role models in the society and an emphasis on material things is confusing them also. We are trying to make Islamic education colourful and interesting, so children are not tempted by unacceptable behaviour and so that ultimately they will acknowledge the Prophet (sa) as their role model and the Quran as their book of guidance. Our method of teaching is giving them hands-on experience, which makes them independent in problem-solving and boosts their confidence level.” It is noteworthy that Little Heaven offers taekwondo classes for its students. In the Taekwondo Championships held at Bay View Academy earlier this year, students from Little Heaven won gold and silver medals in sparring and wood breaking.

Describing the structure of Fajr Academy in Karachi, and the way academic subjects are taught, Mr. Asim Ismail, founder and principal of the school, says: “We don’t teach Islamiat as a subject and we also do not teach anything other than Islamiat. We have developed our own curriculum for all subjects: English, Urdu, advanced knowledge, science, and Math. In Math, we do abacus for which we have received international training. Many schools are coming to adopt this system. There is one school opening in Lahore in August Insha’Allah which is adopting the Fajr model completely. Another will open in Karachi also.” Fajr Academy has a distinguished reading programme. It offers frequent educational trips and exceptional hard skills learning opportunities ranging from teaching kids to build walls to making clocks. Each classroom has 12 students and 2 teachers.

Naheed bintul Yaqeen, Founder of Faith Academy, elaborates on the efforts made by her school with regard to the curriculum. “What sets us apart is our education system that focuses on the effective upbringing of children through character building. We at The Faith Academy do that by synthesizing our own curriculum from the Quran and Hadeeth and incorporating it into the textbooks. We specialize in deriving science from the Quran rather than integrating the Quran into science. Our curriculum talks about Muslim scientists and philosophers whom our students can idealize and recognize as their heroes. Our curriculum focuses on sculpting students who have a very strong faith in Allah (swt) and believe completely in religion, are well-aware of their history and how they have ruled the world in the past, and know how to run the world according to the word of Allah.”

Reflections School is one of the very Islamic schools in Karachi which has a purpose-built campus for the students. It is also distinguished by its strong Arabic programme. One of the faculty members elaborates on some of its strong points: “We hold interpersonal and intrapersonal development workshop for students, teachers, and mothers on a regular basis. Moreover, there are inter-school debates and elocution contests for students. Our students also received A*, A and B grades in the first-ever Arabic CIE papers.”

Islamic schools that are not patronized by renowned figures admit that the main challenge is financial support: “We have so many ideas, and so much talent, but we cannot bring them to fruition, because of a low budget. Our aim is to provide quality education to everyone, and not just to those who can afford it. Some students at our institution are on scholarships, and we also have an old textbook exchange programme,” says a coordinator of an Islamic school. “It is heartening to note that the school does not produce religious robots, and instead, its students know how to critically analyze things.” Despite its budget constraints, the school organizes regular book fairs and sports’ competitions for its students, and gives them opportunities to engage in various activities during the Students’ Week. Its students also visited Tharparkar earlier this year for relief work.

Shazia Khalid, Princpal of Emaan Academy, feels that the mindset of parents who want the fee structure of Islamic schools to be as economical as possible is one of the major challenges. “Also, at times, people feel a mix of Deen and Duniya means that you teach the Quran, Arabic, Salah, etc, and at the same time, you also have music and other ‘modern’ subjects,” she explains. “Our plus point is that we have strong training programmes for our teaching faculty in line with the latest researches of education. Alhumdulillah, we see the results of our efforts in senior classes when girls start observing Hijab and Niqab, talk about and pen their views confidently about the common problems of today’s youth, and get engaged in giving Dawah to others.”

Mr. Atif Iqbal, director of Al Huda International School (AIS), Islamabad, says: “We realized that the existing education system provided no link between religion and the world we live in. The challenges we faced were numerous. Initially, and even now, it is a challenge to find qualified professional teachers with a true understanding of Islam, who can teach those virtues and values to students. There was no standard Islamic studies curriculum available in the market. AIS was a pioneer in developing an Islamic curriculum for the Montessori classes directly under the guidance of Dr. Farhat Hashmi, a renowned Islamic scholar.

We see our students actively and confidently facing the challenges of the real world head-on, Alhumdulillah. The curriculum at AIS incorporates students’ active participation in projects that involve critical thinking and teamwork. Students are encouraged to participate in co-curricular activities, which include competitions within school as well as those at a national and international level, along with sports activities like taekwondo, badminton, table tennis, horse riding, and swimming.”

Unfortunately, one gets the feeling that Islamic schools are working towards their goals independently; even though each school bears their own fruit and is a step in the right direction, joint efforts would do much more for the betterment of education for Muslim children.

Some schools try to remain affordable to the lower middle class while striving to maintain excellence in education. Others compete for elite students, who can pay tuition fees comparable to renowned private schools. Ultimately, it is the Muslim children who suffer.

Perspective of Parents

Let us hear what parents of children attending Islamic schools have to say.

Fozia Seraj, whose children attend Usman Public School, says: “Kids in my extended family, who go to a regular school, have no Islamic integration regarding their knowledge of science and language. Alhumdulillah, an Islamic school has given my kids confidence and they speak their mind. The kind of jobs offered to people graduating from regular schools leads them into a world of materialism. Insha’Allah, my kids will have a sense of accountability and Islamic morals, which will help them in leading a responsible life.”

Umm Hamza says: “My son is being taught Tafseer in a way that he enjoys. He knows when the particular Surah was revealed and its meaning. (An Islamic school) helps in improving a child’s overall behaviour. I, as a parent, feel that it is not only the school’s responsibility to inculcate values and impart knowledge – parents should reinforce them at home, too.” Her children study at Reflections School.

A parent of a 13-year-old Hafidh gives us his point of view: “He was at an Islamic school till grade four; then, he was in a Madrasah till grade six and finally in a public school in Canada for the past two years. I see my son is grounded in his identity as a Muslim, since his initial education was in an Islamic environment. Those early years helped establish his identity as a Muslim.”

Amna, whose four daughters go to an Islamic school, describes the difference between regular schools and Islamic ones: “My kids bring home Eid cards made in class, as opposed to Valentine’s Day cards. Also, it has been inculcated in my kids since kindergarten to make Salah at the right time – it is part of the school’s practice. I am ultimately responsible for them and will protect them as long as I can. As for the lack of extracurricular activities and English proficiency, I just supplement it privately; to me, the environment offered by this Islamic school is very important.”

A mother, who has three children at AIS Islamabad, says “My youngest one (obtained admission in) Al Huda International School through scholarship and it is the best thing that has ever happened. My son, who was extremely shy and an introvert, started coming out of his shell. His confidence level has increased; he no longer hides in corners when guests come around, and his English language skills have improved immensely.”

A mother of two students, who attend Fajr Academy, shares: “I can see strong leadership abilities emerge in my kids as young as 5 and 7: they speak fluent English, utter manageable Arabic, quote from the Quran, express opinions, and offer sensitivity towards the society with solutions accompanied.”

In conclusion, parents themselves have to decide what their ultimate goals for their children are. Instead of outsourcing the moulding of our children to someone else, we have to assume more responsibility ourselves. Allah (swt) has given children rights over their parents: to be raised as enlightened, responsible Muslim adults.

Spotlight on the Islamic School System in the US

By Humaira Khan

In a rapidly changing global society, where moral standards are in constant flux, is Islamic education a necessity, rather than a choice, for our children?

“Here in the USA,” says Ahsan Ali, member of the Huda Academy School Board, “we do not take Islamic education for granted. The whole purpose of an Islamic education is to dispel any identity confusion (so that) the children know they are Muslim and are not embarrassed about it. Rather, they feel proud of the fact and don’t pretend to be anybody else.”

This is a tall order for any Muslim community to undertake. The challenges are many and the road is long.

“Lack of funding is a major issue,” says Ali. “The public school system is often so good that it is very hard for families (to choose) to commit six to ten thousand dollars annually to a private school.”

On the one hand, there is a need for the Islamic schools to remain competitive with public and private institutions in terms of curricula and in meeting national and state standards. On the other, they have to deal with the critics of the Islamic school system: those who do not want an Islamic education and view it as unnecessary, or those who want it but generally consider the education being provided to be inadequate.

In a small Muslim community, this creates a vicious cycle: poor recruitment means lack of funds to run the school, which means foregoing certain essentials. This, in turn, leads to a struggle to maintain standards with inadequate resources, which becomes the reason for some people to give up on the school.

Abu Diab attended Huda Academy when it was a newly-established school. She is now a pre-medical student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“Huda Academy provided me with a moral reference and an Islamic backbone,” she says. “It established a framework for my character that I often looked back upon when faced with challenges. Huda was not a very large school; yet it had a culture of its own, which I didn’t properly recognize or appreciate till I left. This culture entrenched in me a self-confidence that allowed me to be comfortable with my Islamic identity when I left the school.”

Parents and community members should find this testimonial eye-opening. It shows us the importance of being a part of Islamic education efforts in the West for the sake of our community’s children – with sincerity and a healthy dose of far-sightedness.

What is Guidance?

Narrated Abu Musa (rtam) that the Prophet (sa) said: “The example of guidance and knowledge (the Quran and the Sunnah) with which Allah (swt) has sent me is like abundant rain falling on the Earth, some of which was fertile soil that absorbed rain water and brought forth vegetation and grass in abundance. (And) another portion of it was hard and held the rain water and Allah (swt) benefitted the people with it and they utilized it for drinking, making their animals drink from it and irrigating the land for cultivation. (And) a portion of it was barren which could neither hold the water nor bring forth vegetation (then that land gave no benefits). The first is the example of the person who comprehends Allah’s (swt) religion (Islam) and gets benefit (from the knowledge) which Allah (swt) has revealed through me (the Prophet [sa]) and learns and then teaches it to others. The last example is that of a person who does not care for it and does not take Allah’s (swt) guidance revealed through me (He is like that barren land).” (Bukhari)

Guidance is of two kinds:

  1. Guidance of Taufiq: It is totally from Allah (swt), that is, He (swt) opens one’s heart to receive the truth (from disbelief to belief in Islamic monotheism).
  2. Guidance of Irshad: It has come via Allah’s (swt) messengers and pious preachers who preached the truth, that is, Islamic monotheism.

Is Your Child Intelligent?


Many years ago, a mother was desperately searching for her son around the house. After a frantic hunt, lasting nearly two hours, she decided to check their less-ventured-in storeroom. As she stepped in, she was amazed at the sight. Her son was trying to balance himself in a very difficult half-seated position on an egg, so that he wouldn’t break it. He was sweating due to his long and intense effort. The mother, as expected, decided to give him a piece of her mind. When the boy saw his mom moving towards him, he quickly motioned for her to stay silent and stop. But the mother, in her volcanic frame of mind, ignored all warnings and requests and just marched forward, scolding him. Frustrated, the boy got up and complained: “Just another hour and the chick would have hatched!”

Flabbergasted, the mom said: “What?”

The boy was visibly disappointed: “You ruined my experiment. I was sitting on this egg to find out how long it would take to hatch.”

This amusing boy was Thomas Edison (1847-1931), a self-educated scientist with over 1000 inventions in the world. Like many other geniuses, he did not fare well at school. In fact, he was branded as a poor student: someone the parents could not mention with much pride.

At another time, in England, there was another boy who was branded as a failure. His parents spent their hard-earned money to get him a decent education, but he only brought them shame. Not able to tolerate the humiliation, they sent him away to a boarding school and did not even visit him because they were so upset with him.

Giving up hope of the boy’s admission to university, the parents tried to send him to the armed forces that apparently required less academic intelligence. After their son’s two failed attempts to clear the entrance test for the army, the parents hired the country’s most expensive tutor who had a 24-year track record of excellence.

After battling the young man tooth and nail, the teacher managed to get him into the forces by a narrow margin. The boy was the last on the list of the recruits, and hence, the teacher’s honour was ‘saved’ along with the sanity of the parents.

This boy was Winston Churchill (1874-1965), a winner of the Nobel Prize in literature and twice Prime Minister of England. Highly regarded biographers state that: “Great Britain is great because of Sir Winston Churchill.” Please note that he, too, was labelled a poor student by the conventional schooling system.

A teacher of Albert Einstein said the following about him: “Mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” He was seriously advised not to consider studying science as he was termed weak. It was fortunate that Einstein paid no heed to that advice, or the world would have been deprived of a great mind.

What is intelligence?

This has been the world’s favourite subject for the past three thousand years. Ulema, thinkers, and researchers have all debated over it. The last hundred years have seen educational psychology come into existence. Some thirty years ago, Mr. Howard Gardener, the Dean of the Faculty of Educational Psychology at the prestigious Harvard University, researched for six years the first stage of his theory of multiple intelligences. He headed a team that studied a large cohort of two thousand children. It was established that Gardener’s theory did indeed hold true and his research received much attention in academic circles.

According to Gardener, intelligence is not a singular entity but is multi-dimensional. So it cannot be measured in any one area but has many domains. In this way, all children are intelligent, just in different ways. They can solve problems and create products of value. This phenomenal discovery has impacted the world of education significantly in the past twenty years. Kids can survive and excel through any one of the discovered intelligences and so they should be permitted to grow and develop in and master a specific area.

What the geniuses and experts in education state

“Everybody is a genius; but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” (Albert Einstein)

“Kids go to school and college and get through, but they don’t seem to care about using their minds. School doesn’t have the kind of long-term positive impact that it should.” (Howard Gardener)

“Human intelligence is richer and more dynamic than we have been led to believe by formal academic education.” (Sir Ken Robinson)

Why children fail?

“Curiosity is the basis of every child.” (Imam Ghazali) At birth, every child is an intelligent being of Allah (swt). However, as children venture into the world of grown-ups, many adults, based on their acquired knowledge and skills, term them as unwise and, at times, downright stupid. Let’s draw a comparison: if we, as adults, know nothing, or very little, about automobile engineering, our motor mechanic will consider us to be ignorant and stupid, too. We treat our children in a similar manner and kill their intelligence by:

  1. Doubting them;
  2. Sharing our doubt with others;
  3. Telling our children our own doubts about them and eventually making them doubt themselves;
  4. Making them believe that they are actually unintelligent.

Why don’t we take our kids’ interest seriously? There are three characteristics of interest:

  1. Sustainable interest. A child shows self-initiated enquiry and original pursuit for something. However, interests switch fast from 0 till 10 years of age. There is a difference between wish and interest. Wishes to be someone or do something disappear as fast as they appear, while interests remain strong.
  2. Urge for excellence. The child demonstrates a natural desire to do his/her best at something of his/her intense liking and doesn’t need to be reminded, pushed, or pulled in any direction. The child doesn’t mind investing himself in it and enjoys every moment of engagement.
  3. Expression of creativity. He/she finds a means to express his/her intelligence. Sometimes the child can also excel in a more than one area. For example, an apt writer can also be a brilliant illustrator or a child with strong social skills can also be a great mathematician.

Charter of children’s recognition

  1. Listen to, and acknowledge, children without losing your temper. A child may come and show you his scribbles today. But he could be an artist of tomorrow in the making.
  2. Recognize the individuality of every child instead of comparing kids. With adults, we tend to do this in their absence. But with children, we are audacious enough to do it in their presence.
  3. Treat children with unconditional respect and trust.

This is challenging for parents and educationists to implement and internalize.

Our Prophet (sa) recognized people for their unique intelligence and channelized it for Islam. Every Sahabi was distinct in his conduct and contribution. Together they were a constellation of stars under the brilliant guidance of the beloved Messenger (sa). They were as diverse as the world Allah (swt) has created for us with all its splendour and marvels. In the words of Howard Gardener: “Anything that is worth teaching can be presented in many different ways. These multiple ways can make use of our multiple intelligences.”

Muslims critically need to conquer each and every domain if they want to rise as global leaders and ignite their multiple intelligences. Within the boundaries of Shariah, there is a vast open field. We should not be hobbling and limping in shoes made by others. We were meant to fly by leaps and bounds.

Tu Shaheen hai basera ker

Paharon kee chattanon per

(Allama Iqbal)

Adapted by Rana Rais Khan, based on a workshop conducted by Mr. Siddiqui.


Positive Teaching


My parents emphasized the value of having good teachers all my life. Why? Because such individuals teach you what can’t be bought with money. They are the path to Jannah. They are on the path of the Rasool (sa). Can you put a price on Jannah? No.

These teachers consider each boy and girl in their care to be the one man and woman they will prepare for tomorrow’s Ummah. They work with a sense of responsibility and the intention to transform their students. This attitude makes such teachers phenomenal.

I went to a Catholic school. It was one of the best in academics but very shallow in terms of moral values.

Later, as an adult, I started to question what was lacking in the Tarbiyah offered by teachers today? After much deliberation, the answer came to me. With the amazing explosion of information that is easily accessible, cheap to use, and fast-paced, we no longer need teachers. What we need are Nasihoon and Murrabbis, who can direct children to what is truly important, and become the children’s coaches, guides and mentors.

When I travelled to Madinah University, I could not speak a sentence of Arabic, except such necessary words as Hammam (bath area), Taam (meal), etc. After spending two weeks in that place with my friend, I told him: “Brother, we are in the wrong place.” But then something truly fantastic happened. I came upon a man by the name of Abdul Kareem. He was a teacher with a smile. In two weeks, he made me dream in Arabic.

In Rajistan (India), a professor conducted an experiment in one of the poorest areas. He took some illiterate children who had never attended any school and had no exposure to computers. The professor assigned to them a project to discover how viruses and cells replicated and behaved. Next, he put up a computer screen for them to access the information. Through Skype, he also connected them to their old grandmother, who lived far away. She was a very encouraging person, whose job was to offer appreciation to the kids every day about their project for the next two months. Guess what? Those kids delivered. They found a way to learn.

A teacher does irreparable damage to a student with an attitude of negativity. Negativity not only destroys the children’s minds but also mars their creativity. Allah (swt) expects us to develop those in our care into Mumineen, the strong believers, the ones who have a purpose in life. Look at the Prophet (sa). The man was orphaned at a tender age, had no materialistic comforts in life, never received a formal education, and experienced harsh opposition from merciless enemies; yet, he smiled, he appreciated others, and he loved and cared for all. It was like hope and belief rising from ashes.

Read the Quran and observe how positive it is. Reflect over the story of Yusuf (as). When he was thrown into a dark well by his own brothers, Allah (swt) revealed to him that one day, he would be in a position to inform them of their wrongdoings. Hope was extended in the face of an adverse situation.

Similarly, Maryam (as) was despondent when she was enduring labour pains as a single and unwed mother. Allah’s (swt) angel again advised her to eat from the branch of Nakhlah (soft and sweet dates), as sugar causes comfort to the body and reduces pain.

Musa’s (as) mother was commanded by Allah (swt) to place him in a basket and set him afloat on the river Nile; it was the worst nightmare for her as a mother to part with her baby. But it was Allah (swt), Who promised her that He would reunite them again. And so it was.

Once, a Sahabi was drunk. As per the Shariah, Muhammad (sa) ordered eighty lashes for him. Later, he was brought to the Prophet (sa) again on the same charge. One of the men present cursed him. The Prophet (sa) corrected his attitude immediately, stating: “Do not swear at him, for he loves Allah (swt) and the Prophet (sa).” (Bukhari)

At the time of the battle of Khandaq, a trench was dug around Madinah as a military strategy. The work came to a halt at the last boulder that would just not break. Far away, rising dust caused by galloping horsemen indicated the approach of the disbelievers’ army. This could easily have been a time of panic and tension. But how does Allah’s Messenger (sa) react? He took the pick axe and called out: “Rome is yours. Allahu Akbar!” The first blow broke the boulder smaller, and a light shone from it. “Sham is yours, Allahu Akbar!” The second blow broke it further down, and another light escaped from the rock. “Persia is yours, Allahu Akbar!” The third blow crumbled the rock to pieces and another light shone through.

The Prophet (sa) faced all the tests positively. The question is: how positive are we as educators and parents? Most of us were raised with negativity. We need to unlearn a lot of that to be able to deal positively with our own children. A shepherd cannot blame the sheep for being eaten. Similarly, a happy team is a winning team.

In any organization, the leader is not just there to enjoy privileges and blow his own trumpet. He will have to own not only the success of each team member but also their failures. This is how “Mercy Mission” works. A very apt example is of an economic crisis in the corporate world faced by Ford. The CEO of Ford called a one-day meeting of all important employees and spent the whole day discussing nothing but the company’s vision, their dreams, and how they had once wanted to achieve them so badly. This was the turning point for the company. The belief to do the impossible breathed a new life into them. The leader looked in the eyes of negativity and said to it: “We’re not giving up.”

There are two ways to build a ship: you can either tell your team how to build it and supervise them down to the finest detail, or you can share with them the beauty of the ocean, inspire them to sail to explore the Khalq (creation) of Allah (swt) and then wait and see what the team builds.

Sen Sui said: “The legacy of a leader is the number of leaders he creates.” Today, we do not need managers to control anymore. We need leaders to inspire. Likewise, we do not need teachers who dictate, but Murrabis that guide and give hope to their children to do their best. The attitude of arrogance will have to go. As teachers, we must realize that there is no one particular way to solve a problem. There are multiple ways to get to the solution.

The people of tomorrow are in school today. Unlock their minds and do not restrict them. If we build schools and lose the spirit, what is the gain? Education should be 20% teacher-led and 80% student-led. We need to teach them to empower themselves. Fear doesn’t achieve the results that love and belief do. Educators and parents will have to make a conscious decision about how they will impact the children under their care. This might mean we need to re-learn how to teach.

May Allah (swt) grant our children the Taufiq to discover something truly amazing and new for the benefit of other people. Ameen!

Based on a workshop hosted by Fajr Academy, Karachi. Adapted by Rana Rais Khan.


Finding Fatimah


The world has known many Fatimahs, the most famous and revered one in the Muslim Ummah being Fatimah, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (sa), whom we meet in the books of Seerah.

Recently, I came across one more exemplary Fatimah, who was born to a Tunisian businessman in the year 800 AD. Fatimah bint Mohammad al-Fihri is known as the founder of the oldest university in the world.

Along with her sister, Maryam, Fatimah al-Fihri left her city of birth in order to help their father expand his business. Rather like today, changing homes back in the ninth century was no easy task. But the bustling city of Fes soon became a friend to the family as the two sisters helped Mohammad al-Fihri settle in Morocco.

Their newfound happiness did not last for as long as they may have hoped. Mohammad al-Fihri passed away, leaving the girls without any close family member. However, he left for the girls a respectable amount of money in his will, a clear message that he trusted his daughters to build for themselves a place in this world. Fatimah and Maryam had previously lived comfortably and money matters were mostly left to the discretion of their father. After his death, however, the sisters took bold yet noble decisions about what to do with the money that was now theirs.

Living in the cultural and spiritual centre of ninth century Morocco, Fatimah was deeply inspired by the study of art, religion, history, and architectural design. She gravitated towards this vibrant community and the values it upheld, to which she was no longer a stranger. For the al-Fihri sisters, nothing could reduce the pain of losing their father better than giving back to their community. Hence, they decided to invest in the society around them. The money they had inherited was used to lay the foundations of what were initially two Masajid: Al-Andalus and Al-Qarawiyyin. The constructions of both were supervised by Maryam and Fatimah respectively.

In 869 AD, Fatimah decided it was time to expand the mosque into a Madrassah, which went on to be recognized as a state university in 1963. In his book “Madrasah and University in the Middle Ages”, George Makdisi writes: “…back in the Middle Ages, outside of Europe, there was nothing anything quite like it anywhere.”

During the course of Islamic history, Al-Qarawiyyin became more than a university that housed a Masjid; it soon began housing the greatest minds of the European Middle Ages. Many notable scholars of the time either studied or taught at Al-Qarawiyyin, including Ibn Khaldun, Leo Africanus, and Ibn al-Arabi. The university gained fame among the scholars from all over the world, such as Maimonides (Ibn Maimun) and Muhammad al-Idris, a cartographer, whose maps were widely used during the Renaissance, especially in European quests to explore uncharted lands.

The university expanded very rapidly. With additional construction done in the twelfth century, Al-Qarawiyyin came to be regarded as the largest mosque in North Africa. That was the time when the Masjid gained its current structure, which can now accommodate around twenty-two thousand worshippers.

In a brutal attempt to massacre Muslim civilization during the Spanish Inquisition, many Muslims and scholars were expelled from Spain. They found a refuge in Fes, where they shared their wisdom and their cultural insights about arts and sciences. While the Spanish Inquisition of the thirteenth century was a dark and difficult time for Muslim scholars, al-Fihri’s institution became a much-needed symbol of hope for the devastated Muslim academia.

In his book “Islamic Education in Europe” (2009), Ednan Aslan writes how the Muslim community “maintained, favoured, and organized the institutions for higher education that became the new centres for the diffusion of Islamic knowledge.” This resulted in the centres becoming “places where teachers and students of that time would meet” and “where all intellectuals would gather and take part in extremely important scientific debates.” He writes that in the ninth century, it is not to be taken as a coincidence that the establishment of the Qarawiyyin University in Fes was followed by Az-Zaytuna in Tunis and Al-Azhar in Cairo. Aslan writes: “The university model, which in the West was widespread starting only from the twelfth century, had an extraordinary fortune and was spread throughout the Muslim world at least until the colonial period.”

Before her death in 880 AD, Fatimah al-Fihri was titled Umme Banin, the Mother of the Children. She was remembered to have stood true to her oath to keep fasting till the construction of the Masjid was completed. She prayed in the Masjid for the first time as an act of gratitude to Allah (swt). The city of Kairouan was no longer a stranger to the two sisters, Fatimah and Maryam, both of whom had made wise and important choices in their youth.

As a Muslimah, the world I live in asks me to stop looking into the past; however, it is there that I find hope for the future. Perhaps there is a Fatimah al-Fihri out there reading my words. If she is, we must help her in her quest to create a space, where learning takes place for all the seekers of knowledge.