Devising an Islamic Approach to Learning and Teaching Through Hadīth Jibrīl – Reorienting Ourselves Toward Educating from within an Islamic Worldview

Farah Ahmed


Imam al-Ghazali is reported to have said, “Useless is the Muslim who is neither a learner nor an educator.” While the authenticity of this statement is not confirmed, it is nevertheless reflective of an accepted maxim for Muslim educators (Guenther, 2009) in considering how to orient themselves and their learners toward learning and self-development. The ethos of this statement is that life itself is a process of learning and teaching. This essential “truth” and the centering of knowledge and learning that it implies was a unique hallmark of Islamic civilizations (Rosenthal, 2006). Moreover, this statement is not referring to teaching and learning knowledge in the abstract, devoid of purpose. In classical Islam, ‘ihn (knowledge) was not understood as curriculum content to be examined at the end of a course, testing whether it had been memorized or “learnt.” Acquiring ‘ihn was for acting upon it and teaching it to others; for establishing Islamic ways of being; for bringing Islam into the world. In this regard, education was an ongoing journey of self-development. Teaching was as integral a part of that journey as learning. They were two sides of the same coin, as is evidenced in the many manuals that refer to adab-al’alim wa-l-muta’allim (“Rules of conduct for those of knowledge (educators) and those who wish to seek it (learners)”) (al-Thani, 2016; Az-Zarnuji, 2003). This approach to life was moreover considered the only way to be. Without learning and teaching, Islam could not be “lived.”

Due to the purposeful nature of this teaching and learning, educational practices were necessarily informal and far-reaching. The social description given above is not focused on the development of institutionalized higher education in madrasahs in the classical period. Rather it is a description of the social ethos that led to informal halaqat (circles of learning) in masájid (Mosques) and homes, social gatherings for reading and understanding the Qur’an, scholastic debates in bookshops (Guenther, 2009) and communal dhikr (spiritual gatherings). At the center of all of this was the desire to gain ‘ilm, which is often translated as “knowledge;” however, “knowledge” does not capture the multi-dimensionality of ‘ilm, which can only be authentically understood if it also incorporates embodying and enacting “knowledge.” Rosenthal recognizes this; he is also aware of the pervasiveness of ‘ilm as a concept that has shaped Islamic civilizations, “There is no branch of Muslim intellectual life, of Muslim religious and political life, and of the daily life of the average Muslim that remained untouched by the all-pervasive attitude toward ‘knowledge’ as something of supreme value for Muslim being’’ (Rosenthal, 2006, p. 2). Despite acknowledging the “supreme value” of knowledge and thereby teaching and learning in Islamic civilization, the impact of the foundational concepts presented in HadTth Jibril on the Islamic milieu can only be fully grasped if we consider classical Islamic orientations toward knowledge, teaching, and learning, which are pre-modern and therefore somewhat unfamiliar to our contemporary ways of thinking. “Premodern” means ways of life that existed before the European Enlightenment worldview came to dominate the world through colonialism. This worldview has evolved and is further entrenched by contemporary neoliberalism, i.e. the idea that everything in society should be directed by a free market. In this worldview, the ultimate aim of every human endeavor, including education, is the creation of wealth. This emphasis on material success combined with the centering of individual liberty and a “scientific” approach to social “progress” now dominates global educational thought and colors how we think about education, teaching, and learning.

The classical Islamic orientations presented in this chapter are incompatible with this neoliberal worldview. A conscious advancement of these classical ways of thinking, drawn from our heritage, will support learners and educators in reorienting their approach to the study of Islam in particular, and education more broadly. Such a reorientation draws upon specific conceptual understandings from an Islamic worldview in order to reconstruct lenses through which we as educators can think about teaching and learning. One way of doing this is by devising and using principles that can help reconstruct these lenses, for example the “Principles of Islamic Pedagogy” devised by Ramzy Ajem and Nadeem Memon (2011). Another way is by drawing on foundational Islamic concepts and understanding how they might frame our understanding of education. In the rest of this chapter, I draw upon a reading of HadTth Jibril developed in Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation1 (Ahmed, 2016) to help educators begin this reorientation and outline some strategies used by educators in

Shakhsiyah Schools in the UK. The reading presented here draws out four foundational Islamic concepts encapsulated in this hadith and uses them to think about how we approach teaching and learning from within an Islamic worldview.

HadTth Jibril (Gabriel)

The full text of the HadTth as recorded in the collections of Bukhari and Muslim is reproduced here to contextualize the reading given below.

Umar ibn al-Khattab reported: “One day when we were with Allah’s messenger, a man with very white clothing and very black hair came up to us. No mark of travel was visible on him, and none of us recognized him. Sitting down before the Prophet, leaning his knees against his, and placing his hands on his (own) thighs, he said, “Tell me, Muhammad, about Islam.” The Prophet replied, ‘Islam means that you should bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is God’s messenger, that you should perform the ritual prayer, pay the alms tax, fast during Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the House if you are able to go there.” The man said, “You have spoken the truth.” We were surprised at his questioning him and then declaring that he had spoken the truth. The man said: “Now tell me about Titian.” The Prophet replied, “Iman means that you affirm belief in in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and that you affirm the Decree Ipredestination], the good of it and the bad of it” Remarking that he had spoken the truth, the man then said, “Now tell me about Ihsan.” The Prophet replied, “Ihsan means that you should worship God as if you see Him, for even if you do not see Him, He sees you.”

Then the man said, “Tell me about the Hour” The Prophet replied, “About that he who is questioned knows no more than the questioner.” The man said, “Then tell me about its marks.” The Prophet said, “The slave girl will give birth to her mistress, and you will see the barefoot, the naked, the destitute, and the shepherds vying with each other in building.” Then the man went away. After I had waited for a long time, the Prophet said to me, “Do you know who the questioner was, ‘Umar?” I replied, “Allah and His messenger know best.” He said, “He was JibrTl (Gabriel). He came to teach you your dTn (way of life). ”

Much has already been written on the unique character of this hadith, in that it encompasses an overall understanding of dTn, providing a concise definition, laden with layers of meaning. As such, it has been subjected to extensive commentary, which demonstrates its relevance to all aspects of the Islamic worldview and Muslim life. Another unique characteristic of this hadith is that it can be read as the Prophet responding to questions from an educator as opposed to asking questions as an educator. Nadeem Memon has offered some useful reflections on this point arguing that this incident not only illuminates how to teach, but also what to teach, thereby providing guidance for curricula (2007). I wish to offer a few other remarks related to pedagogy.

Traditionally, scholarly interpretation in relation to the pedagogical nature of this episode has focused on the Prophet as the teacher of the halaqah (circle of learning), and Jibril is presented as a learner who arrives and attends the halaqah. In this interpretation, Jibril is asking questions for the benefit of the other learners, so they can learn from the teacher what they need to learn2. However, the hadith can also be read as JibrTl taking the role of an educator, as part of his broader role as a messenger who is charged with bringing revelation to Prophet Muhammad, who in turn is charged with bringing the revelation to humankind.

If we read this hadith in this way, with the exchange between JibrTl as educator and the Prophet (peace be upon him) as learner, there are a number of interesting pedagogical features that we can observe. First, JibrTl clearly has a sense of purpose, which comes through in the description of how he sits in front of the Prophet and commands the Prophet’s attention. Teaching is clearly a moment of connection between these two beings. Second, he is effectively “assessing” the Prophet’s knowledge and understanding, while simultaneously teaching the Prophet’s companions. He does this through a dialogic exchange. Although the exchange consists of direct questions and answers, without the kind of deliberative shared thinking that is characteristic of most human dialogue, it is nonetheless a meaningful interaction between the educator and educated. There is clearly an existing relationship of mutual respect. As educators, this role modeling should have a deep impact on how we view our relationships with our learners.

Another significant point for educational purposes is the acknowledgement that all human knowledge has limits. The Prophet says, “He who is questioned knows no more than the questioner” and demonstrates his acceptance of this situation. He does not feel the need to know the answer to this particular question, neither, it appears, does JibrTl. Both are content in their submission to Allah’s omniscience and aware of their own epistemological limitations. The Prophetic example here reorients our approach to knowledge to be one of humility. In recognizing the limitations of our knowledge, we need to be aware that our knowledge is always incomplete and that we should be tentative in our conclusions as learners and indeed as educators. This acknowledgement applies as much to our current understandings of Islam as of anything else. We need to be open to our Islamic understanding developing over time and be open to learning from the understandings of our learners.

The surprising nature of hadith JibrTl and its specific pedagogical style is further enhanced by the layers of educational significance in the foundational concepts that are being “taught” within the hadith.

Four Foundational Concepts in Hadlth Jibril

I suggest that there are a number of concepts in this foundational hadith that can have a direct bearing on how we orient ourselves toward teaching and learning. They have an educational quality that can lay the foundation of our understanding in relation to the purpose, mode, and practice of education. The concepts discussed in this chapter are from the elucidation given in Hadlth Jibril of our din as Iman, Islam, and ihsait. These four foundational concepts provide a launch pad to reorient our approach. The concept of din provides a holism that enables us to reconsider the ontology of educational aims and practices. The concepts of Iman, Islam, and ihsan are (in my reading) intimately interwoven with corresponding concepts of tarbiyah, ta’llm, and ta’dib. Elsewhere, I have also explored another layer of connections whereby the terms tarbiyah, ta’llm, and ta’dib can be understood through the three dimensions of the human being nsjism (body), ‘aql (intellect), and nafs (ego/self)3. However, due to limitations of space in this chapter, I will not discuss these further conceptual relationships here.

Figure 12.1 enables visualization of these complex conceptual relationships and Table 12.1 facilitates understanding of how these concepts can be embodied both within individual Muslims and through the relationality within Muslim communities.

Conceptual relationships in Islamic ideas ofthe human person and education

FIGURE 12.1 Conceptual relationships in Islamic ideas ofthe human person and education

TABLE 12.1 Conceptualizing an ontology of the Muslim self and Muslim communities through foundational concepts given in Hadith Jibril

Hadith Jibril generates an embodied Islam at the individual and communal level.

Din through an understanding of din as a holistic way of life built upon tawhid.

Iman through a worldview of irnan (belief/faith/conviction) as bearing witness to and recognizing Allah in every thought, every word, and every action.

Islam through the practice of Islam as submission to the will of Allah through acting according to His shariah, which is a means toward din, a holistic way of life, not just a legal code.

ihsan through an understanding of the purpose of life, and thereby education, to be attaining ihsan (sublime and beautiful moral excellence) through a strong ongoing relationship with Allah.

Din: The Holism of Din-al-lslam and Reorienting

Our Understanding of Education

The concluding sentence of the hadith is the Prophet saying He came to teach you your din’. This indicates that the din can be understood as the drawing together of imcin, Islam, and ihsan. In this sense the meaning of din is understood to be multi-layered, yet its central tenet of tawhid holds all these layers of meanings in synchronization. According to Professor Recep Senturk, Din-al-lslam has the capacity to provide understandings of the world and our place in it through a notion of multiplexity. The din allows for, “a multiplex existence (Mardtib al-lVujud) as well as multiple levels of epistemology (Mardtib al-’Uliitn), multiple levels of methodology (Mardtib al-Usiil), and multiple levels of meaning (Mardtib al-Ma’dn'i) and truth (Mardtib al-Haqdiq)” (Senturk, 2017). Din-al-lslam begins by asserting tawhid (the holism, oneness, or unity of Allah (God)), and extending this to unity of creation, unity of knowledge, unity and therefore equality of humanity, unity of those who have testified and submitted (Muslims), unity of din (Islamic way of life), and unity of every other concept and human endeavor within Islamic culture. And yet as Professor Recep has indicated, this unity is realized through multiplexity. Multiplexity is not just multiple objects, persons, or ways; it is multiple relationships between concepts, persons, and ways of being. In this way there is a capacity for din to be realized on multiple levels within a person, between persons, and across different regions and cultures in time and space. This understanding explains how Islam is so multifarious and yet so unified. What does this unity in multiplexity have to say about how we reorient ourselves to teaching and learning Islam?

First, it is essential that as educators we have a deep understanding of din, as all-encompassing as a way of life and not just related to the five pillars. In this regard, our teaching and learning needs to always be from an Islamic worldview. This perspective may lead us to the Islamization of knowledge or Integrated education

discourse. However, a fuller approach is found in Holistic Islamic Education (HIE) (D’Oyen, 2008). Holistic Islamic Education involves a reworking of classical Islamic educational thought, based on attempting to synthesize classical Islamic pedagogy with contemporary educational methods and full-time schooling. Some Muslim educators have developed various approaches to the theory and implementation of HIE, such as, the “Tarbiyah Project,” which provides an “Integrated Learning Model” (Tauhidi, 2001), a proposal for a neo-Classical/ Montessori approach devised by D’Oyen (2008) and “Principles of Shakhsiyah Education” devised by Ahmed (2016). These approaches attempt to provide a holistic interdisciplinary education from an Islamic worldview.

Second, we need to understand that within dTn-al-Islam there is no one set or fixed way of life. Rather, the dTn has this miraculous capacity to operate on so many levels and so many ways. While the civilizational culture of 13th-century Fez and 19th-century Indonesia are markedly different, they are also both recognizable as distinctly Islamic (Abd-Allah, 2006). Within Muslim communities in Western contexts there are a range of expressions of dTn-al-Islam, which nevertheless cohere in the same masajid and community centers.

Both of the above understandings of dTn-al-Islam will have a direct impact on curricula. How can our curricula be both unified and multiplex? How can curricula center Islam as an anchor for all learning and yet do justice to disciplinary conventions that differ so markedly for example in art and mathematics? How can curricula do justice to the multiplexity of Islamic teachings and culture? My argument here is that far from creating new challenges, these understandings of dTn-al-Islam can help us address the supposed binary gap between “Islamic Studies” and national curriculum requirements. Reorienting ourselves in this way, both as educators and as learners, allows for coherence within complexity. It allows us to reorient our approach to learning Islam as a dialogic one, whereby far from taking in “knowledge,” we as lifelong learners are engaging with layers of meaning and engaging with those meanings in very personal ways. We do this by centering our relationships, which in themselves are also multiples; relationships with Allah, with ourselves, with our educators, and with all those we come into contact with as well as the natural environment and cultural influences that shape who we become. In doing so, we bring our own layers of learning into the multiplexity of Islamic culture. We hold this together by holding fast to the wisdom of usul-al-fiqh and the established normative rulings it produced through the multiplexity of the different madhabs. As Umar Faruq Abd-Allah notes, it is this capacity within shariah and fiqh that it holds together a normative Islamic worldview and celebrates cultural diversity within it.

“For centuries, Islamic civilization harmonized indigenous forms of cultural expression with the universal norms of its sacred law. It struck a balance between temporal beauty and ageless truth and fanned a brilliant peacock’s tail of unity in diversity from the heart of China to the shores of the Atlantic. Islamic jurisprudence helped facilitate this creatine genius." (Abd-Allah, 2006)

I suggest that these sites of “creative genius” and the tangible manifestations of their creativity in the arts and sciences must infuse our curricula. This can be done throughout all disciplines as highlighted in other chapters in this volume. The Shakhsiyah holistic curriculum focuses on connections between knowledge and connections to the lived experiences of learners. While the former can be somewhat determined in planning, they also emerge through learning sessions. The Shakhsiyah curriculum consists of three or six week long themes. At the beginning of the theme, a “knowledge harvest” is conducted whereby learners share what they already know, make connections between their knowledge, and craft inquiry questions for the forthcoming theme. This approach achieves the multiple aims of connections between knowledge, between subject disciplines, and to the lived experiences of learners. Ultimately, not only are teachers and learners appreciating culture, they are also generating culture and building a community of inquiry.

The above understanding of din can also support us in reorienting our pedagogy more broadly. In the reading of Hadlth Jibrtl presented here, the three main Islamic terms for education have a relationship with the foundational Islamic concepts given in Hadlth JibrTl. Relationships between Iman, Islam, and ihscln, and tarbiyah, ta’lTm, and ta’dlb, are illustrated below.

Iman and Tarbiyah

Tarbiyah is commonly translated as education; however, it is better translated as “upbringing,” which includes formal and informal education. According to the classical Arabic lexicographer Râghib al-Asfahânï (d. 402 A.H./1011 C.E.), the word tarbiyah means: "To cause something to develop from stage to stage until reaching its completion (full potential)." This indicates that it is directly connected to the concept offitrail, that is, human nature as inclined toward recognizing Allah. Thus, tarbiyah is the nurturing of the human ftrah toward Allah ta’ald, it involves bringing up a child to achieve his or her full potential as a human being and as a Muslim. In doing so, this particular human being will realize theirftrah by fulfilling their potential, that is, leading a flourishing human life in submission to Allah. At the root of this human flourishing is Iman, a firm conviction in Allah as al-Ahad, al-Khaliq and Rab-al-’alamTn. Tarbiyah is thus intimately intertwined with nurturing and nourishing Iman through a recognition of Allah as One, as Creator, and as Lord of all the worlds. Although these tenets of Iman are universal truths, they are understood by individual children and young people in many different ways. It takes a journey of lifelong reflection to maintain and develop Tman. Often educators assume that children have this understanding, this connection to Allah. Actually, Tman needs to be consistently nurtured, and it needs be done in a personalized way. Each individual child is unique; this is part of the miracle of creation. Each will respond to Tman in his/her unique way. Iman must be contextualized within the individual Muslim child’s reality to have an effective impact on his/her life and being.

In Shakhsiyah Education, Tman is established by relating the ‘aqTdah to all the complexities of an individual child’s contextualized growth and development through personalized tarbiyah. Children learn about the tenets of Tman in context, in relation to their life, home, family, community, and the wider world, so that it has meaning for them. For example, the understanding that Allah is al-Khaliq can come through recognizing that all that is observed and verified through the physical sciences, has been created by Allah; that this creation follows specific patterns observable to human beings through mathematics. Moreover, that the human being has been given a natural tendency by Allah to look for patterns, and that this tendency enables us to recognize Allah in His creation. Furthermore, our capacity to be creative through Art and Design, is also given by Allah and is ultimately only meaningful when it is used to glorify Him. Thus, our creation and appreciation of Art is sacred activity. These layering of meanings in Tman are an indication of the “multiple levels of meaning (Maratib al-Ma’dni) and truth (Maratib al-Haqdiq)” described by Senturk (2017). It is through multi-level nurturing that tarbiyah becomes holistic and meaningful. This tarbiyah is highly dependent on the intuition, spirituality, and sensitivity of the teacher toward the learner in her care. She must have a deep reflective understanding of this learner and the skill to connect the learner with his fitrah. Moreover, the teacher must also recognize that in engaging in this tarbiyah, she also is learning. This very action is also being carried out as one strand of her relationship with Allah. Elma Harder has ably described this in her chapter on “The Two Learners” (Harder, 2006).

Although, Tman will also be nourished through ta’lTm and ta'dTb; it appears to me to have a foundational relationship with tarbiyah. This is further evident in the relationship between the arkan al- Tman (six pillars of faith as given in HadTth Jibril) and /іtrah. I have discussed the relationship between fitrah and belief in Allah, but do not have space in this chapter to discuss how the other five pillars of Tman, namely belief in “angels, books of revelation, prophets and messengers, day of judgement and all good and bad being from Allah,” are related to the fitrah, and are to be nourished through tarbiyah. However, suffice it to say that these core beliefs reflect the tendency in human beings to recognize our existence as a miracle that is contingent on a greater being, namely Allah who is as-Samad (absolute and self-sufficient); who has full control over our lives and has communicated His majesty to us through Angels, Books, and Messengers. Tarbiyah is ultimately nurturing the remembrance of these tenets of faith and facilitating the embodiment of this belief system.

Islam and Ta'llm

Ta’lTm is commonly translated as education or teaching; translations imply that it involves as the transmission or inculcation of ‘ilm (knowledge). This includes knowledge acquired through hawas (sense perception), through inductive and deductive reasoning (‘aqli), and knowledge acquired from revelation i.e. Qur’an and Sunnah (naqli). However, it is well understood that this transmission of knowledge must necessarily transform the being, the understanding and the actions of the human being (Rosenthal, 2006, p. 67); and that such a transformation ultimately leads to the attainment of Islam (submission). According to HadTth JibrTl, submission and thereby Islam comes into being in the human being through the practice of arkan al- Islam (five pillars of action as given in HadTth JibrTl). Thus, Islam is “taught” not just through imparting or transmitting 'ilm, but through such ‘ilm being realized in performative action. The act of shahadah is the physical utterance of the shahadatain, two formulaic sentences, that when uttered constitute an action and create an embodiment of the knowledge contained therein. This action transforms the being of a human from a non-believer to a Muslim and brings him into a new plane of existence and embodiment. His worldview changes and he now “knows” and “bears witness” to these two universal truths. In doing so, he has embodied the “knowledge” of the shahadatain, that is, acknowledging that Allah is One and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. Moreover, utterance of core Islamic beliefs through the formulaic recitation of Qur’an, hamd and du’a in salah, combined with the physical movements of the body, whether alone or in congregation, is another core activity in any planning of ta’lTm-al-Islam (teaching Islam). This foundational teaching is of an embodied action, and all further ta’lTm builds on this by the learner being transformed by application of the knowledge learnt through physical action, reflection, and embodiment. To know something is to be something, for example, to know Allah is ar-Razzaq, is to have complete trust in Allah to provide sustenance. This is embodied through sakinah (tranquility) and sabr (patience) in times of hardship.

In Shakhsiyah Education, a great deal of emphasis is placed on each child gaining Islamic knowledge and understanding in a manner whereby it is translated into action and embodiment. Our approach is to support children in developing a dynamic Islamic worldview. This happens through dialogue and discussion to generate understanding of Islamic concepts and their relationships to each other, in order to build an Islamic conceptual framework. Such a framework enables children and young people to have a frame of reference to think through how Islam can be enacted in their lives and communities, and how it might contribute to wider social and political issues. This chapter is an illustration of how such a framework might work. In drawing the connection between acquiring knowledge through ta’lTm and embodying this knowledge through ‘amal Salih

(pure and righteous actions), we as educators can begin to think through how our teaching approaches might enable learners to embody the knowledge they have learnt. Similarly, through a dialogic engagement with concepts and their connections, for example, the concepts of amanah (trusteeship) and our world as khalq (creation) of Allah, learners can grasp the responsibility on all human beings to look after our world. This engagement happens in the dialogic space of halaqah (circle of learning) held daily. Teachers introduce Islamic concepts and ask key questions designed to elicit a dialogue between learners (Ahmed, 2019). In this way, learners develop the critical thinking skills of being able to make these connections for themselves. They develop a cognitive conceptual framework that provides them with a lens through which to make sense of an ever-changing world.

This framework is strengthened through a more “traditional” approach of learning basic fiqh and ahkam sharT’ah (sacred rulings and law). However, teachers understand that it is the conceptual framework and its embodiment in the being and actions of the children that will enable them to understand how to act on the fiqlt and more importantly, how to understand the myriad of non-Islamic worldviews and their manifestations that they will come across over their lifetime. Acquiring knowledge through ta’lTm develops Islam (submission) in the believer. Through this personal inward and outward submission, the Tman and character of a Muslim is made manifest in his or her ‘amal salih (pure and righteous actions), as is stated repeatedly in the Qur’an. These actions have an impact in communities and societies and in our interconnected age, they also impact the global world.

Ihsdn and Ta'dtb

Ihsan is “beautification,” “perfection,” or “excellence”; it derives from hnsn, meaning goodness and beauty. Attaining ihsan is the Muslim’s responsibility to obtain perfection, or excellence, in worship, such that we worship Allah as if we see Him, and although we cannot see him, we undoubtedly believe that He sees us. This is the definition given in HadTtli JibrTl. Having ihsan involves one’s inner faith (Tman) manifested in amal (deeds and action), while conscious of a direct relationship with Allah ta’ala. It is also a sense of social responsibility borne from religious convictions, in that excellence is sought in our worldly life and interactions with each other.

Ta’dTb translates as enhancement of character through education; it can also be translated as disciplining. It is traditionally considered to be the development of the capacity in an individual to discipline the nafs (self), thereby generating good character. Ta’dTb involves education that goes beyond knowledge to the inner dimensions of the human self. These inner dimensions of an individual’s

shakhsiyalt, that is, those pertaining to the spiritual, are essential to Shakhsiyalt Education. The young Muslim is nurtured to cultivate a reflective personality and develop the ability to control and discipline her nafs in order to attain ihsan. Within daily dialogic halaqah, learners are given the space and skills for reflection, contemplation, and an awareness of their inner world. Through Qur’an, hadith, stories, poetry, and reflection on Islamic concepts, they engage with moral values and how ihsan is sought in these values (Ahmed, 2005). Through ta’dTb, the nafs is tamed, the heart is purified, and the personal relationship with Allah ta’ala is developed.

As educators, we need to work with individual children to support a desire to attain ihsan and develop their understanding of how to attain it within their context. Part of this work includes supporting children’s awareness of their own feelings and desires and developing understanding that their nafs can be drawn toward negative feelings and wrong actions. Teachers can complement this by supporting an awareness of how to nurture positive feelings and values and how to transform these into Islamic sifat (qualities and characteristics) through remembrance of Allah and being present in the moment, especially in salat and other forms of worship. Teachers can support children to understand that Allah is with us always. They can encourage children to explore how feelings and behavior are not the same thing, thereby supporting them to become conscious of the inner as well as the outer. They can emphasize that disciplining the nafs is a lifelong struggle that requires ongoing diligence and hard work. That this inner journey leads us toward Allah, it helps us to develop a close relationship with Him, thereby enabling us to attain ihsan. Teachers and thereby learners come to understand that there is a catalytic developmental connection between actions and consciousness of Allah, that acts of worship change our level of consciousness, thereby enabling us to draw close and know Allah at another level of consciousness. (Trevathan, this volume).

There are theorizations of the term ta’dTb that go beyond the brief outline given above. Syed Naquib al-Attas’ argues that ta’dTb is the most comprehensive way of understanding education in the Islamic paradigm (al-Attas, 1980). For al-Attas, attaining adab is authentically becoming, through knowing and recognizing the “proper place of things.’’ All creation is an ecosystem that needs to be understood relationally. In this reading, there is a strong societal dimension to ta’dTb, which leads not just to the ihsan of an individual but of society as a whole. According to al-Attas, Muslims have become entrenched within a secular Western worldview and are looking to understand their problems through this inauthentic lens. For al-Attas, only a regeneration of adab, through education reconfigured as ta’dTb, will allow Muslims to understand the “proper place of things” and thus faithfully address the needs of their societies.


HadTth JibrTl offers educators a range of foundational concepts that can deepen our understanding of education from an Islamic perspective. In this chapter we have looked at the teacher-learner relationship modeled in this hadith and we have explored the four foundational concepts of dîn as Ttnân, Islam, and ihsân. Moreover, we have related the latter three concepts to the Islamic educational terms tarbiyah, ta’lTm, and ta’dTb. We have not explored another layer of connections whereby the terms tarbiyah, ta’lTm, and ta’dTb can be understood through the three dimensions of the human being asjism (body), ‘aql (intellect), and nafs (ego/ self). Such connections can enable us to explore the ontological, epistemological, and axiological dimensions of the human being.

Moreover, we have not considered other conceptualizations of education such as tahdhTb al akhlâq (refinement of moral qualities) or tazkiyah tul qalb (purification of the heart). Islamic understandings of the human being are complex and multi-layered. However, as educators our work is the growth and development of the human being. As such, it is important that we develop our understanding of Islamic concepts related to the human being. At Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, we have done extensive work in theorizing shakhsiyah Islâmiyah as a dialogical Muslim-self imbued with agency. This has been in conjunction with empirical academic research aimed at evaluating practice (Ahmed, 2018).

In all the conceptualizations given above, teachers need to be aware that learners need to have agency in order to actualize these attitudes. While a teacher can lead a learner to water, she cannot force the learner to drink. The thirst must be there within the learner, thirst for knowledge, learning, growth, and development. Through tarbiyah, ta’lTm, and ta’dTb, teachers can develop Tmân, Islam, and ihsân in the individual shakhs (personhood) of each child. They can develop an understanding of dTn as a holistic way of life that can take root in all cultures. They can help children and young people to understand that as individual shakhs, each of us has to find our own way of living our dTn, within the normative understandings of Islam, and within our own specific cultural contexts. Living the dTn means an ongoing dialogical relationship with Allah, with our own nafs, and with the rest of creation.


  • 1 Details of the schools run by Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation can be found at http://isf. education.
  • 2 This traditional scholarly explanation is from private correspondence on 11th September 2020 with Dr Sohail Hanif of Cambridge Muslim College, UK.
  • 3 Recordings of Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundations Ramadan 2020 webinar series can be found here:


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