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4) Earn Respect
When Allah’s Messenger (sa) began to preach the message to the people, they raised all kinds of objections about him and his person. In response, the Quran directed him to tell them: “Verily, I have stayed amongst you a life time before this.” (Yunus 10:16)
Here, the audience is being reminded about what they already knew about the Messenger’s (sa) character. Didn’t they already call him as-Sadiq (the truthful) and Al-Ameen (the trustworthy)? His entire life had been spent with the Makkans, and his record was sparklingly clean. Why was it surprising for them, if he declared himself to be a Prophet (sa)? Even Abu Sufyan attested before Heraclius, the Byzantine Emperor, that Muhammad (sa) had never lied or cheated anyone in his life. Heraclius then declared that someone who didn’t lie about anything in his life must also be telling the truth about Allah (swt).
The lesson to be learnt here is that you must earn a position of respect, before those around you begin to develop faith in what you say. Just the fact that you have been appointed as a teacher doesn’t give you much credence with your students. You will have to earn their respect. Then and only then they will start to trust you and listen to what you teach them.
Also, be well-prepared for your class, and if you are asked a question, to which you don’t know the answer, be brave enough to respond: “I don’t know, but I will have the answer soon, Insha’Allah!” Your honesty will win more hearts than you can imagine.
Another way to earn respect is punctuality. Being on time is part of the fulfillment of one’s promise and a characteristic of a true believer, mentioned repeatedly in the Quran: “Those who are faithfully true to their Amanat (all the duties which Allah has ordained, honesty, moral responsibility and trusts) and to their covenants.” (Al-Muminoon 23:8)
Reach your class on time, and if you promise something to your students, make sure you fulfill your promise.
5) Best Manners
Allah’s Messenger (sa) had the most perfect manners and behaviour. He said: “Surely, I have been sent to perfect manners (Akhlaq).” (Bayhaqi) The teacher’s own manners must be an ideal role model for the students. A teacher should be unbiased, rise above personal likes and dislikes and behave with everyone in such a way that people aspire to emulate his or her personality.
6) Feel your Responsibility
The Prophet (sa) said: “…Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is answerable.” (Muslim) As a teacher, this essentially means you are responsible and accountable for your students and your classes. Belief in accountability is an article of faith. The very fact of being accountable to Allah (swt) instills in a person a sense of responsibility that forms the basis of a commitment towards one’s jobs.
7) Make the Learners Feel Welcome
Safwan ibn Assal (rtam), a companion, came to Allah’s Messenger (sa), while he was in the Masjid. He said: “O Messenger (sa)! I have come to seek knowledge.” The Prophet (sa) replied: “Welcome, you seeker of knowledge. Indeed, the angels surround the knowledge-seeker with their wings, and then they pile up on top of each other, until they reach the lower heaven out of love of what he is seeking. What have you come to learn?” (At-Tabarani)
The warm welcome that the Prophet (sa) accorded the student is a clear manifestation of the manner in which a new student is to be initiated. The Messenger (sa) explains to him the great status of a student in the eyes of Allah (swt). Bear in mind that if this is the rank of a student, what would the rank of a teacher be? However, the Messenger (sa) did not refer to that. He indirectly encouraged the student, in order to make him feel the importance of learning. Teachers can make students feel welcome by greeting them with a smile and saying ‘Assalamu Alaikum’.
8) Dealing with Students
Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “No person can be a believer, until he likes for his brother what he likes for himself.” (Bukhari) Indeed, how can one be really sincere, unless his standards for others are the same as those for himself? Teachers should ask themselves: “How would I like my teacher to treat me?” Within reasonable limits, one should implement the same for one’s students. Put yourself in the shoes of your students, and consider your own self as a teacher: are you a demon or a mentor?
9) Be Pleasant and Cheerful
Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Be cheerful and do not be repulsive.” (Muslim) He himself was the embodiment of love and compassion. Ali ibn Abi Talib (rtam) says that those who met him were impressed, and those who came to know him loved him. The companions used to say that they had never seen a face more smiling than his.
Likewise, a teacher who is a picture of love and mercy attracts more students to his subject than the one who is repulsive. Allah’s Messenger (sa) has recommended that people should be greeted with a smile and the manner of speaking should be cheerful. It should not repel people.
10) Be Gentle and Kind
The Quran states: “And by the Mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you.” (Al-Imran 3:159) The compassion of the Messenger (sa), not just for his companions but for all those with whom he came in contact, is unmatched in the history of mankind. Generally, people are kind towards their loved ones. However, the Messenger (sa) showed compassion even for his enemies.
Similarly, teachers, too, should be a fount of mercy and forgiveness. Students cannot love and respect their teachers, unless they feel compassion flowing from their personalities. Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “The worst among people is he, whom people avoid due to his harsh demeanor.” (Bukhari)
Here, we must clarify that being kind and gentle does not imply a disregard for rules and regulations, which are in place for the betterment of the students. Making students adhere to discipline is not considered to be unkind. Didn’t the Messenger of Allah (sa) punish certain individuals? Of course, he did, when he deemed it to be necessary. However, his attitude was not vindictive or revengeful.
11) Speak with Clarity
It is narrated in a Hadeeth that the Messenger (sa) would always speak clearly, with pauses. These momentary breaks were such that the one who was sitting there was able to remember what he said. (At-Tirmidhi) This manner of speech takes into consideration the different levels of comprehension of his audience. Modern psychology tells us that the level of comprehension is directly proportional to the vocal speed of the speaker. Speaking slowly and clearly allows all to understand the lesson properly.
12) Do not Tire Students
Abdullah ibn Mubarak (rtam) used to give a lecture to his students every Thursday. One day, a man told him that he wished he would give a lecture daily. Ibn Mubarak replied: “The only thing which prevents me from doing so is that I hate to bore you. No doubt, I consider your state, when preaching, by selecting a suitable time just as the Messenger (sa) used to do with us, out of fear of making us bored.” (Bukhari)
Remember that the attention and the devotion of the companions cannot be matched with any student in this world. Yet, the Messenger (sa) took their state of mind into consideration. Similarly, a teacher must be aware of the students’ disposition and avoid making lessons dry and bothersome. A joke or an interesting anecdote can be related between the lessons. However, these diversions should be in moderation and should not go too far.
Adapted (with permission) from “How the Messenger of Allah (sa) Taught his Students” written by Maulvi Jahangir Mahmud (email@example.com).
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Picture this: seated around a single man is a crowd full of eager eyes. Some of the men appear to be from the elite society, highly educated and of polished manners; they sit shoulder to shoulder with desert-rough Bedouins, whose swords speak more eloquently than their tongues. The gathering also includes shepherds, scribes, farmers, merchants and even street urchins. Children freely hover among them – they are never shooed out of the way. Such was the informal classroom of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (sa).
Our Prophet (sa) had much to teach and his knowledge, which determined the destiny of people, was not to be taken lightly. His students varied in age, background, gender and disposition. How would he address such a diverse gathering?
To begin with, the Prophet (sa) did not limit his ‘classes’ to sermons after Jumuah or a gathering under a tree – he would teach his companions whenever a suitable moment arose, whether they sat together for a meal or rode together through the desert. Accordingly, his manner of teaching varied, too. Let us look at some of the Prophet’s (sa) methods of instruction, as observed from his Sunnah.
Many important lessons have been etched in our minds through the true stories related by our Prophet (sa). Stories of strife borne by pious people of the past encourage patience. Reflecting on the good deeds of others invites us to similar actions, whereas stories about oppressors and their retribution by Allah (swt) discourage people from following their steps. Today, parents, teachers and all forms of information media can attest to the effectiveness of this method of instruction.
Once, the Prophet (sa) drew a square and then drew a line in the middle of it, letting this line extend outside the square, and then drew several small lines attached to that central line. Upon finishing this, he said: “This is the human being, and this (the square) is his lease of life, encircles him from all sides (or has encircled him), and this (line), which is outside (the square), is his hope, and these small lines are the calamities and troubles (which may befall him), and if one misses him, another will snap (i.e., overtake) him, and if the other misses him, a third will snap (i.e., overtake) him.” (Bukhari) This method of drawing in the sand was used by the Prophet (sa) for explaining abstract concepts.
Parables obviously simplify concepts and were extensively used by the Prophet (sa). For example, to encourage keeping good company, he said: “The example of a good companion (who sits with you) in comparison with a bad one is like that of the musk seller and the blacksmith’s bellows (or furnace); from the first you would either buy musk or enjoy its good smell, while the bellows would either burn your clothes or your house, or you would get a bad and nasty smell thereof.” (Bukhari)
At times, the Prophet (sa) would quiz his companions. This was used not only to test their knowledge and understanding of the Deen but also as a method to make them start thinking about a certain topic. Sometimes, he would begin talking about a topic by asking a question first, in order to call their attention towards it or allow them to view their understanding of a topic, before he clarified a misconception. He would even have them ponder over a riddle, from which they could benefit. Once, he said: “Amongst the trees, there is a tree, the leaves of which do not fall and is like a Muslim. Tell me the name of that tree?” Everybody started thinking about the trees of the desert areas. Ibn Umer (rta) thought of the date-palm tree but hesitated to give a reply, because he did not wish to appear more knowledgeable than his father Umer (rta) and Abu Bakr (rta), who sat with him. The others then asked: “Please, inform us what is that tree, O Allah’s Messenger?” He replied: “It is the date-palm tree.” (Bukhari)
The impact of the visuals cannot be denied. The Prophet (sa) would often indicate an object, which could easily be viewed by the people for comparing it with something, or speak of something in terms of an object, which people could easily visualize by themselves. He often compared the punishments in Hell with the Mountain of Uhud, in order to help people visualize the immensity and seriousness of the punishment. He would even use his hands to help people visualize the meaning of his words. It is narrated that “the Prophet (sa) said: ‘He, who brought up two girls properly till they grew up, he and I would come (together) (very closely) on the Day of Resurrection,’ and he interlaced his fingers (for explaining the point of nearness between him and that person).” (Muslim)
“May his nose be rubbed in dust, may his nose be rubbed in dust, may his nose be rubbed in dust,” repeated the Prophet (sa), catching the attention of the companions around him. They wondered what type of a person should be so humiliated. Burning with curiosity, they focused on the Prophet’s (sa) next words: “Who found his parents one or both approaching old age and did not enter Paradise through serving them.” (Muslim)
Repeating a phrase in this manner not only called people to attend but also stressed the importance of the discussed issue.
There are some noteworthy characteristics about the speeches delivered by the Prophet (sa). They were never long and winding but to the point, using simple language that could be easily understood by the masses. He would speak with sincerity and would pause at places, giving time for the impact of his words to sink in, and at times he would repeat a statement several times for emphasis. Rather than vent his anger at people, he often became silent, which was enough to make those around him realize his disapproval, just as his quiet smile would indicate his approval of a matter and even his pleasure.
Being a Role Model
Most importantly, the Prophet (sa) provided a role model to be followed and a physical example of everything he taught – in short, he practiced what he preached, and his actions spoke volumes.
The above techniques used by the Prophet (sa) should be kept in mind by those whose responsibility it is to teach and impart knowledge, regardless of what the subject matter may be. Just as hundreds of years ago the Prophet’s (sa) techniques proved to be effective for people of diverse backgrounds and ages, we also will be able to make a difference around us if we will adopt these methods and work with the intention to please Allah (swt), Insha’Allah!