Finding Fatimah

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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.

 

Teaching Techniques of Prophet Muhammad (sa) – A Workshop for Parents & Educators

Teaching Techniques 2

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The Blue Coat

Untitled

It was the first time our eyes met. The morning was quite and cold though it is already February in this part of the world. Thanks to the heavy showers the previous night, the day looked more like the pre-dawn of a day in December.

In the courtyard, stood a boy, tall with an enchanting air around him. Dancing in his large eyes was sheer mischief. His complexion the blend of golden yellow and pink. It was love at first sight for myself and him. “What is your name sweetheart?” He spellbound me with a shy glimpse while his fingers were busy twisting a corner of his T-shirt.

I had joined this preschool as a teacher, just two months ago. I was battling to understand the minds of these tiny creatures. The Child Psychology theories I have learnt confused me and left me to despair in my own quarters. I had begun to wander between the gaps of the ideals and the realities.

As the day broke, I would catch a glimpse of children as they entered the class room just like pretty rose buds tumbling down from a basket. Some days I would hold a child by the shoulder and whisper with all smiles, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

We all love children because children are the mirrors from which we see our past- a time which cannot be seen.

Children change the way you look at the world at large. They are the softer side of great blunders. A child’s smile can send bouquets of love even when the earth is hit by thousands of earth quakes.

The boundless love for children gave room for a stern policy to stem out in me, not to thrash any child ever in my life.

That was the time when my family was busily engrossed in finding me a counterpart – Mr. Right.

Whenever my feelings got wounded, my abode of consolation were my school children. Leaving home and family behind, I was lost in the world of shades and fragrance for hours and hours of infinite time.

At the school, we had twenty small wonders. Each one was a separate universe, yet Ahmad was exceptional.

Witty and quick to grasp, he was way ahead of others. He kept all the others under him exactly like an efficient politician who manages his mob. I liked Ahmad a lot yet I was so careful not to show my soft spot for him in open. I treated him like I would care for any child in school.

When the children fought, making every minute of my life miserable, sometimes made me despair why this not be my last day at school. Many a time, the cause of conflict would be half an eaten eraser or a faded wrapper of a chocolate. I would smile exhaustingly within, thinking about the fights waiting in the future when these children grow into adulthood.

At times Ahmad would show hostile and antagonistic behaviour when he was emotionally disturbed. He would be called ‘Ahmaaaaaaaaad…..’ Sometimes sweetly by a voice with the blend of love, occasionally in a more firm tone followed by a stern look. He would calm down.

Some days, Ahmad would bring me blossoms of fresh and fragrant Jasmine buds which were yet to open eyes. Half eaten Guavas, old perfume bottles, broken toy cars something or other would adorn my table at least a day or two in a week. During meal time, a piece of sandwich bitten on all sides or a handful of noodles would be forced into my mouth by little fingers.

That day still lives in me. It was drizzling and the sky was purplish…time for creative skills. The classroom walls smelt of a new aroma. Walls stood elite with the new turquoise blue paint.

‘Now look here …..Sweethearts, I am going to give you all crayons and white paper. What are you going to draw?’ I was encouraging the little wonders to give shape and colours to their dreams.

‘Miss, I will draw my home’

‘Miss I am going to Draw Aero plane’

‘Shall I draw my Daddy’?

‘Miss my hand is hurting Miss  …’

I was listening to each and every child. ‘wow, very good, beautiful…

Okay, just wait a second and draw, then your hand won’t ache.’

I was becoming a little exhausted and worn out.

The numb headache I was having from the morning was getting onto my nerves. That evening was scheduled for one of the most eligible bachelors coming to see me and I was stressed beyond words. I came out of the class room to the adjoining hall in the intention of having two pain killers.

Suddenly I saw a shadowy little creature standing by the wall absorbed in something. My eyes grew large and I stepped closer. Oh my God. Ahmad was scribbling something on the freshly painted wall.

‘You little rascal, what are you doing? Wait I will teach you a good lesson!’

A monster within me ripped open and dragged Ahmad by his shoulder. It slapped him across his cheeks. Twisted were his pinkish earlobes. It got hold of his ears and dragged him and made him sit on a chair. As the momentum grew meek, suddenly I realized his eyes did not shed even a single teardrop.

Was I acting brutish? I thought for a second and then I started to feel guilty and was blue. Ahmad stood there still like a shadow of a tree in the noon. I felt that he was more hurt by the embarrassment caused in front of the class than anything else. I could plainly see his terribly knocked ego.

Ahmad did not raise his head afterwards. Next day…The whole week…. Children greeted me every morning. I was waiting, clad in my blue attire, Ahmad did not turn up nor his jasmine buds. The urge was pushing me to visit him. I walked towards his home that weekend. Padlocked was the gate and a neighbour came to my rescue. He told in a voice that was edgy, that Ahmad was admitted to the hospital.

I hurried to the hospital to spot Ahmad as beaming as ever in the children’s ward. ‘Miss, do not give my colour box to anyone… I am going to draw this Doctor Uncle now‘… Ahmad raised his hand stuck to a cannula. He was bubbling with little talks endless and infinite as his dreams.

‘Ahmad talks nothing but about you and his school’. Ahmad’s mother stopped for a while to converse. He was infected with Dengue and according to his mother; fortunately he was out of the danger and would be discharged within a day or two. As I kept the teddy bear next to him and his favourite chocolate in his hand, I did not have even a stroke of thought that it was the last time I am seeing him all alive.

The news broke on a day in mild summer, while I was demonstrating to children how to crush the tissue into small purple balls and then to paste them on the drawn brinjal.

‘Little Ahmad passed away’ Innalillah (We all return to God). Ahmad had left us for good. I was unconsciously drawn to the walls where Ahmed carved his last scribble. I ran my fingers over the painting with my heart becoming heavy. A scribble of a person. I could not make out whether it is a woman or a man. But the person was wearing something in blue- a blue coat. Smiling was a crooked heart next to it, scribbled in red. I could not take it any more.

I collapsed down, with every bit of my heart broken. Within my heart a sparrow fell right down from the sky, dead. ‘Ahmad, will you ever forgive me?‘

I broke sobbing, drops of tears drenching my blue coat…

Implementing Sunnah in Today’s Classrooms – Part 3

13) Teach what is easily acceptable

Ali ibn Abi Talib (rtam) said: “Narrate to the people what they are acquainted with. Would you like Allah (swt) and His Messenger (sa) to be rejected?” (Bukhari)

Educators should remember that if they overload the students, this might result in a complete breakdown. If a student collapses intellectually once, it takes a mountain of effort to bring him/her back on track.

In terms of teaching Islamic obligations, one step at a time should be taken, in order to make the new entrant in this field comfortable. For example, let younger children begin their Salah with Fard only. Later, when they get into the routine, ask them to attempt a few Sunnah units as well. This way, they will not feel over-burdened. Sports’ coaches face similar situations. For instance, weights are increased progressively to make the athlete accept the challenge easily.

14) First the easy and then the difficult

When the Prophet (sa) sent Muadh ibn Jabal (rtam) to Yemen, he said to him: “You are going to the people of the Scripture. Let the first thing to which you will invite them be the Tauhid of Allah (swt). If they learn that, tell them that Allah (swt) has enjoined on them five prayers to be offered in one day and one night. If they pray, tell them that Allah (swt) has enjoined on them Zakah of their properties and it is to be taken from the rich among them and given to the poor. If they agree to that, then take from them the Zakah but avoid the best property of the people.” (Bukhari)

Thus, Allah’s Messenger (sa) taught Muadh (rtam) the order, in which to teach the people of Yemen, so that they would not suddenly feel overburdened with the injunctions. This step-by-step approach must be adopted in today’s classrooms, so that the students easily grasp concepts, as they grow intellectually.

15) Make matters easy for the students

Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Allah has not sent me as a person, who causes difficulty to others. Rather, He sent me as a teacher, who gives glad tidings.” (Muslim)

According to Allah’s Messenger (sa), the primary function of the teacher is to make matters easy for students to understand, that is, simplify and dilute the lessons for their wards. The level of lesson must be brought down to match the mental abilities of the students. A teacher can impress his or her students with fancy words, but if he or she fails to make them comprehend the lesson, then the purpose is lost. Educators should ensure their students understand the lesson.

16) Break down into easier goals

Abdullah ibn Masud (rtam) said: “When any of us (companions) learnt ten verses, he would not go any further, until he had learnt their meaning and how to put it into practice.” (Kashf al-Qina) This is the perfect example of Allah’s Messenger’s (sa) teaching methodology. Breaking down a larger task into smaller units can help students achieve the easier goals. These can finally culminate to become important milestones for the students.

17) Interactive teaching

Abdullah bin Amr (rtam) said he heard Allah’s Messenger (sa) asking his companions: “Do you know who is a Muslim?” They replied: “Allah and His Messenger know best.” Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “A Muslim is he from whose tongue and hands other Muslims are safe.” (Ahmad)

Interactive teaching is one of the most prominent characteristics of the Messenger’s (sa) teaching methodology. By asking questions, he stimulated the intellect of the students, and they then became more eager to absorb the knowledge. This method is especially beneficial, when a lesson becomes somewhat dull, and a question (on any related subject) becomes a wake-up call for those present.

18) Teaching by demonstration

A person came to Allah’s Messenger (sa) and said: “O Allah’s Messenger! How should I perform ablution?” Allah’s Messenger (sa) asked for water in a container and demonstrated the complete act of ablution for him. (Abu Dawood) When teaching, the best way to make students remember and understand is to show them by performing the act yourself.

19) Similes and examples

Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “The example of a good companion and a bad companion is like that of the seller of musk and the one, who blows the blacksmith’s bellows. As for the seller of musk, then either he will grant you some, you will buy some from him or at least you will enjoy a pleasant smell from him. As for the one, who blows the blacksmith’s bellows, then either he will burn your clothes or you will get an offensive smell from him.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Here, Allah’s Messenger (sa) has used a simile to explain the difference between good and bad company. Likewise, he would frequently use parables and similes to make the students understand the points he wanted to make. An important lesson here is that the teacher should not just issue orders; he or she should explain the wisdom behind them as well.

20) Storytelling

One of the favourite methods of Allah’s Messenger (sa) was true storytelling. The Quran, the Ahadeeth and other Islamic books are full of historical events and inspiring narratives, which can be used to impart knowledge and values to the students. Regardless of which subject you teach, you can always narrate an interesting anecdote, when the class becomes boring during a long discourse.

21) Use body language

Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Should I not inform you about the most serious of major sins?” He said this thrice. At that time, he was leaning against something. Then he sat up and said: “Behold! A false statement and a false testimony! Behold! A false statement and a false testimony!” (Muslim)

The repetitive style of the Messenger (sa) is used here to emphasize the importance of the subject coming up. Note that to utter the last statement, he sat up. A teacher’s body language is very important to his delivery. A sudden change in posture can make the students more attentive in class.

22) Illustrate with hand gestures

Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “A believer to another believer is like a wall – one part strengthens the other.” Allah’s Messenger (sa) then interlocked his fingers. (Bukhari) In the absence of audio-visual aids, even a simple act of using one’s hand or body can help students understand an important topic.

23) Exhibit items

Allah’s Messenger (sa) took a piece of silk in his left hand and some gold in his right hand. He raised them with his hands and said: “These two items are prohibited to the males of my Ummah.”

Announcing the prohibition might have been enough, but the Messenger (sa) deliberately chose to exhibit samples of the items being discussed. This emphasizes the importance of visual images in teaching. Educators using these on a regular basis will experience a higher level of learning from their students, Insha’Allah!

24) Let students take notes

Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas (rtam) said: “I used to write down everything, which I used to hear from Allah’s Messenger (sa).” (Abu Dawood) Bear in mind that some students are slow in writing. Be patient with them, so that they may record your knowledge.

25) Encourage students to ask questions

The Quran instructs: “…So ask of those who know the scripture [learned men of the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)], if you know not.” (An-Nahl 16:43) A teacher must be willing to answer his students’ queries. Allah’s Messenger (sa) encouraged the people to put forward their enquiries. He said: “The cure for ignorance is questioning.” (Ad-Daraqutni)

When dealing with queries, answer calmly and maintain your composure. Use logic and rationale when responding to questions. Your attitude should encourage students to ask for further explanation, if needed.

Adapted (with permission) from “How the Messenger of Allah (sa) Taught his Students” written by Maulvi Jahangir Mahmud (jahangir@ser.com.pk).

Published and distributed by M/s Al-Misbah, 16 Urdu Bazar, Lahore.

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Bashka Voda – Part 2

Bashka Voda 2

(In part 1: By supplying a Bosnian refugee camp in Bashka Voda with food and detergents, relief workers Suleman and Abbas (with the help of Aida, their translator) have obtained  permission to teach the refugees English and Islamic history, thus introducing to them the basics of Islam, their faith, which had been suppressed by the Communist regime. The turnout to the first class has exceeded their expectations.) 

“Where should we start from?” I asked. This raised a few eyebrows, as according to the picture Aida had painted, they were not expecting much interaction. I was supposed to have lectured like the Khutbah of the Friday prayer and leave; they were to listen respectfully and quietly.

I encouraged them by asking questions like how they were instructed in schools about Islam and so on. Finally, a 14-year-old sister said shyly: “Can you, please, start from zero? We were told in schools that there is no God.”

I was dumbfounded. This was the least of what I expected. I glanced at the rest of the class and found people nodding their heads. She was not alone.

I took a deep breath and started slowly and deliberately, as it would have been a disaster, if Aida misunderstood this delicate topic. I pointed out to the wonders that surrounded us and the signs that the creations held. After introducing them to the microchip, I said: “The microchip is made of silicon, iron and other metals. The probability of these metals getting arranged in this order by random existed but would be one in a zillion.

“So, on seeing this chip, you would argue that there is no one behind its creation just because such a random possibility existed or would you accept that someone designed and manufactured it? So how about this Universe, which is so much more complex?”

I gently reasoned that not believing in Allah (swt) didn’t add up logically. “If we were told that a road has snipers, and there is a chance that we will be hit, as opposed to another road, which is completely safe, which road would you take? Why would you not like to be safer? Why not apply the same logic in believing in Allah (swt)? You only gain by believing in Allah (swt), while in not believing in Him (swt), you take a risk.

I asked them, if anyone had proof that Allah (swt) didn’t exist. No one had. “The absence of the proof of a thing’s existence cannot become a proof in itself of its non-existence. On the contrary, all creations are a clear proof of the existence of a Creator.”

I was crude. It was raw Dawah, for which I had no earlier experience. For most of the students, it was the first time this was being presented in this manner. Some nodded, some sat wondering and others were awestricken.

Towards the end, I was sweating.

I found relief in the cool sea breeze, as I drove that evening. Those drives became a source of strength, as I collected my thoughts before the class and reflected on my return. This was my first intellectual interaction with the Bosnians, of whom I had a good general sample. I had all age groups, except for men of fighting age; I had both country folk and city dwellers from practically all income levels and locations.

I was impressed. I found the Bosnians to be simple-minded. They were also highly impressionable and I couldn’t fathom whether it was intrinsic or due to the tragedy that had met them.

Next day, we discussed Tauhid. “If there is a Creator,” I said, “He must be one; otherwise, the Universe would be in chaos. Just as we can’t have two captains in a plane or two drivers in a car, we can’t have two gods in this Universe.”

That day they were relaxed, easily smiling at my jokes. I wanted them engaged, as the class was voluntary, and the last thing I wanted was to have them lose interest.

I noticed that the girls with the short skirts were not there, confirming my suspicion that they had meant to tease me. The problem had obviously taken care of itself, but I was proven wrong. The girls were there but were dressed differently.

After the class, the same girls approached me. “We are the ones who wore improper dresses yesterday,” one started, visibly embarrassed, “we were later told that it was not proper. We are extremely sorry. Why didn’t you ask us to leave?” With this, tears welled up in her eyes. At a loss of words, I tried to comfort them by saying that we all make mistakes and they didn’t have to worry about it.

As I drove back that evening, I was deep in thought. It was a blessing of Allah (swt) that I had not asked them to leave. They might never have returned. This became a lesson I will never forget.

The classes continued, and we started with the Seerah of the Prophet (sa) and along the way, the Kalima and the articles of faith.

Gradually, they accepted me as a part of their small tortured world; someone who would listen and empathize with them and, more than that, had come to help them. I wasn’t able to leave immediately after class, as people wanted to talk to me. They eventually ended up talking about loved ones dying violently at the hands of the Serbs, of destroyed towns and broken lives.

The children, who became very attracted to me, had interesting questions, and their laughter lit up this bleak world. There was hardly a Muslim child in the camp, who wasn’t attending. I realized that this course was the only good time they were having in their monotonous life as refugees.

As I was going through the hardships that Prophet Muhammad (sa) faced in Makkah, I said: “We should thank Allah (swt) for giving us the gift of Islam; look how difficult it was to be a Muslim at that time.”

On hearing this, a young boy spontaneously spoke and the class fell silent. Since he had spoken in Bosnian, all had understood, except me. Aida tried to ignore it. Others in the class waved, asking me to carry on. I refused. “Hold on!” I caught the sternness in my voice, as I asked Aida, “What did he say?”

“He has asked,” Aida was fighting tears, “if it was as difficult to be a Muslim at the time of the Prophet (sa), as it is for us today.”

Looking up, I saw tears streaming down faces.

The time for the first test arrived. I wanted to encourage them to work hard. “Look,” I requested them a day before, “I have to drive 50 miles each day to be with you so, please, reciprocate by doing well on the test.”

On hearing this, an elder lady pointed out to Ahmed, who was 12 years old with a quiet and serious face. “He lives 5 miles away,” she said. “While you drive, Ahmed walks to class each day.” Finding out through friends that this course was being offered, he had signed up. He was there every day and stayed till the end of the course.

A day before the test, some children came to me with a naughty look in their eyes. They wanted to know, if I would be kind enough to tip them off to the questions in the test. I told them that I might ask them to explain the Kalima and then, looking around carefully, I whispered: “Make sure that no one finds out.”

The next day the one answer everybody knew was about the Kalima. I put that question in the test, happy to have the participants testify in writing to the Tauhid of Allah (swt) and to the prophethood of Muhammad (sa).

That day, I sat back and relaxed, watching the seriousness with which they were taking the test. For an outsider, it could as well have been a chemistry test.

One young girl wrote a comment: “Before coming to this course, I used to believe that there is no God, but now I think there is one. For me that was progress. How stupid it would have been to enforce the dress code on her at that stage.

Another girl wrote: “I now find strength to face the hardships I am going through, knowing that my Prophet (sa) went through similar hardships in his life.”

I gave out writing assignments on different topics. I had them pool their Islamic books and also contributed some to set up a virtual library for doing their rudimentary research. These assignments would then be presented in class.

Adapted (with permission) from “The Embattled Innocence.” Compiled for Hiba by Laila Brence.

TED talk: Ken Robinson on educational ‘death valley’

Sir Ken Robinson outlines 3 principles crucial for the human mind to flourish — and how current education culture works against them. In a funny, stirring talk he tells us how to get out of the educational “death valley” we now face, and how to nurture our youngest generations with a climate of possibility.

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson challenges the way we’re educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.

Why you should listen to him:

Why don’t we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it’s because we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies — far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity — are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. “We are educating people out of their creativity,” Robinson says. It’s a message with deep resonance. Robinson’s TEDTalk has been distributed widely around the Web since its release in June 2006. The most popular words framing blog posts on his talk? “Everyone should watch this.”

A visionary cultural leader, Sir Ken led the British government’s 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy, and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements. His 2009 book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 21 languages. A 10th anniversary edition of his classic work on creativity and innovation, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, was published in 2011. His latest book, Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life, will be published by Viking in May 2013.

“Ken’s vision and expertise is sought by public and commercial organizations throughout the world.” (BBC Radio 4)