The Prophet’s (sa) Classroom


While attending classes at university, I often wondered at the lack of seriousness among my class fellows. It disturbed me that despite a brilliant academic record, there was a palpable lack of interest. Later, as a teacher, I tried hard to create interest in the classroom. At times my effort paid off. However, during other times, students felt an overload of knowledge and the lecture hall became a dreaded place. During these moments of failure I wished that we had a guide on how to optimize learning within the classroom environment. The Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) example in this regard is a treasure for teachers. The teaching techniques that he used proved to be so sound that his students carried the message of Islam with unmatched zeal and enthusiasm.

The Prophet’s (sa) classroom was not a conventional room. Rather, the Prophet (sa) used every opportunity and every occasion to teach Islam to his companions. For instance, to convey the intensity of the verdict against stealing from war spoils, the Prophet (sa) stood besides and held up the war spoils after the battle. (Bukhari) On the tenth of Dhul-Hijja, the Prophet (sa) questioned people about the sanctity of the day, the month and the city they were standing in and thereby conveyed the sanctity of each other’s blood, property and honour. (Bukhari)

Losing no opportunity to convey the message of Islam to his students, our beloved Prophet (sa) was no ordinary teacher. He did not lecture people consistently. We have a lot of examples, where the Prophet (sa) taught by his own example, without uttering a word. Aisha (rta), wife of the Prophet (sa), said that when the Prophet (sa) saw mucus, phlegm or sputum on the wall of the Qibla (direction faced in prayer), he scraped it off. (Muwatta)

Whenever the Prophet (sa) spoke, it was a special occasion. (Bukhari) Therefore, people tended to pay more attention to what he said. Aisha (rta) said that whenever he would speak, the listener could count the words on his own fingers. (Bukhari) For instance, the Prophet (sa) said: “A man is with the one he loves.” (Bukhari) He used analogies in order to clearly convey the message. For instance, Abu Bakr (rta) said: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (sa) saying: ‘Behold! Can any dirt remain on the body of any one of you if there were a river at his door, in which he washes himself five times daily?’ They said: ‘Nothing of his dirt will remain (on his body).’ He said: ‘That is like the five prayers, by which Allah obliterates sins.’” (Muslim)

Using diagrams and drawings, the Prophet (sa) captured the attention of the companions and got the message across in a clear and visual manner. For instance, the Prophet (sa) drew a box with a line going from the middle of it to the outside of it and then he drew other lines that were cutting into that line. The Prophet (sa) said that man was inside the box. The box represented death that surrounded him from all sides. The line going out of the box were his hopes, and the lines that cut across the middle line were disasters that cut into a man’s desires. If a man escapes one disaster he gets embroiled in another one and so on. (Bukhari)

The fact that the Prophet’s (sa) companions were able to understand the message of Islam clearly was also largely due to their respect and love for him. Usamah Ibn Sharik (rta) narrates: “I came to see the Prophet (sa) while his companions were with him, and they seemed as still as if birds had alighted on top of their heads. I gave him my Salam and I sat down. [Then Bedouins came and asked questions which the Prophet answered.] … The Prophet (sa) then stood up and the people stood up. They began to kiss his hand, whereupon I took his hand and placed it on my face. I found it more fragrant than musk and cooler than sweet water.” (Abu Dawood, Ibn Majah, Al-Hakim and Ahmad)

As students and teachers, we have a lot to learn from the Prophet’s (sa) classroom. It is time we stop teaching and learning Islam in a boring and tedious manner. If we want our future generations to imbibe the message of Islam, we need to pay closer attention to the Sunnah of the Prophet (sa) and respect our teachers.

Terrific Teaching Techniques

Vol 5 - Issue 4 Terrific teachingPicture 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)

Catch Phrases

“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!