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.