Published By the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, Ceylon

The Muslim Philosophy of Education

“Read :  In the name of thy Lord who createth,

Createth man from a clot.
Read :  And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous,
Who teacheth by the pen,
Teacheth man that which he knew not.”
These are the words of the first revelation that came to Muhammad (sal.). Though himself unlettered, he was yet bidden by God to deliver His Message, offering man, though of humble origin, a high destiny. In this verse of the Holy Quran man is reminded that he, alone of all His creations, is possessed of the capacity to acquire knowledge. Thus to read and understand, ponder and reflect, obey and follow this first revelation and all the subsequent revelations, which together form the Holy Quran, becomes the bounden duty of every good Muslim male or female. In several passages of this Book – the Word of God – the believer is admonished that worship without knowledge is worship incomplete; he is exhorted to take note of the Order that prevails in Nature and the wondrous features of life that is around him; he is asked to ponder deeply upon the fate that overtook those communities which had proved rebellious to God. Thus is knowledge made an essential preliminary to the realization of God; the believer is told that knowledge should be sought purposefully with a view to the promotion of the good life that will enable him go nearer God; knowledge attained otherwise is knowledge acquired in vain; the man who assiduously becomes possessed of such knowledge as will not help him lead a righteous life as a result of his learning is reminded of his resemblance to the donkey that carries a load of books on his back.     
To this Edicts of the Holy Quran, the precepts and practices of the Prophet, Muhammad (sal.), provide the case-law.  He sought refuge from useless knowledge, the lore that is lumber. While he taught his followers that the mainstay of man was his intellect, yet he stressed that no man could be considered really intellectual or learned until he becomes more God-fearing as a result of his intellect and learning. Thus the educational achievements of the revolution wrought by Muhammad (sal.), which made man God-conscious and righteous, are no less important than its political successes, even though, generally speaking, the attention of the students of history has been focused on the territorial expansion of Islam during its early centuries that the complementary growth of the Natural Sciences encouraged by Islam’s inductive approach to knowledge is almost excluded from their view. Yet, “Islam has many claims upon the admiration and gratitude of mankind. Much has been written of the contribution  made by the Muslim peoples of art, literature, science, politics. None of these achievements would have been possible but for that devotion to learning and education which has characterized those peoples throughout their history; men and women who obeyed implicitly their Prophet’s command to seek after knowledge even if it be in China.” 
These words of Professor A.J. Arberry of Cambridge had been in some measure anticipated by Viscount Milner.
“Every student knows how high in the teaching of Mohammed is the rank assigned to knowledge. In the theory of Mohammedanism, Piety and Learning go hand in hand. And so they did in practice during those early centuries, when the Religion of the Prophet displayed its greatest expansiveness and vitality. Nor was the term ‘Learning’ in those days, though always associated with Theology, interpreted in any illiberal sense. During some of the darkest ages of human history the lamp of science was, to a great extent, kept alive by Arab votaries.” 
In this context, learning was always Quran-centred; that indeed is the special feature of the Muslim tradition. The Holy Quran occupies a place in Islam that finds no parallel in other religions of the world; for, to the Muslim the Holy Quran is not a mere book of religious maxims or a collection of devotional hymns; nor is it of human or prophetic origin; instead it is a code of life laying down the correct pattern of conduct. It is The Word of God revealed to His last Prophet. Education in Islam therefore begins and ends with the Holy Quran. All branches of knowledge, whether strictly theological or broadly scientific, thus derive their inspiration from the Holy Quran.
“Since education began with the Quran, it was perhaps inevitable that a sacred place should be selected for the imparting of sacred knowledge (knowledge that is inherently sacred). This explains why the mosque was found to be the most convenient place for holding the elementary school. . Along with the boys, girls were allowed to attend school though co-education did not go beyond the elementary stage. At an early stage, with this study of the Quran . . was associated the art of writing, which in fact has given the elementary school its name of  . . . maktab . . In the elementary school, the learning and reciting of the Quran was the principal course of instruction and, along with it, writing and simple computation. To this must be added rudimentary knowledge of Islam enabling Muslims to fulfil their religious duties.” 
The maktab has been defined as “a primary school often attached to a mosque, the chief business of which is to instruct boys (and girls) in those portions of the Koran which a Mohammedan is expected to know by heart in order to perform his devotions and other religious functions. Sometimes instruction in reading, writing and simple arithmetic was also included in the curriculum. Primary education was also carried on in private houses.”
The maktab became “a recognized institution for removing illiteracy and acquiring a preliminary knowledge of the Quran and some proficiency in the Arabic language” and yet education of the children in the maktab was sought by their parents not merely for the three R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic – but for their good upbringing, a duty cast on the parents and the teachers.
Schools for Primary and Secondary Education

The maktab thus became an efficient instrument for the spread of literacy and the promotion of basic education. Catering essentially for the society’s need of religion, it was closely associated, both in organization and curriculum, with the local mosque; this ensured that no Muslim area, whether urban or rural, was without its own maktab. With this local base and parental support, it could and did survive without any guidance from a central authority or financial support from the government; its limited curriculum needed no large-scale libraries or elaborate equipment. As a result, the maktab provided an enduring foundation for the educational achievements of the Muslims during the Middle Ages.
To those intent on continuing their studies, the madrasa gave opportunities of secondary education. These institutions were mostly state-supported; during many periods of Muslim history, the rulers concerned vied with one another in their quest for fame and name as the Chief Patron of Learning. Thus could the important capitals of the Muslim empires and kingdoms always boast of well endowed madrasas and specialized institutions for the training of physicians, chemists, astronomers, translators, etc. The Muslim World knew no barriers of travel which was in fact promoted by the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, obligatory on every Muslim once in his or her lifetime; traveling in search of knowledge, being invested with a religious sanction, was always popular with the scholars and savants among the Muslims. The curriculum of the madrasa, generally speaking, comprised Grammar, Literature, Logic, Islamic Law, Principles of Islamic Law (or Jurisprudence), Quranic Commentary Hadith (or Apostolic Tradition), Mysticism and Religious Philosophy.
Muslims During the Mediaeval Period of Ceylon

Before the end of the 7th century, a colony of Muslim merchants had established themselves in Ceylon. Fascinated by Ceylon’s scenic splendour and enamoured of the hoary traditions associated with the Adam’s Peak, Muslim merchants and mariners came in large numbers and some of them settled in Ceylon, encouraged by the cordial treatment accorded by the local rulers. These Muslims lived in settlements along the coastal areas of Ceylon, in peace and prosperity, maintaining contacts, both cultural and commercial, with Baghdad and other centres of the Muslim World. It is significant that the heyday of the Abbasid Caliphate was contemporaneous with the zenith of the classical age of Sinhalese power.
“By means of the intercourse which they (the Muslims of Ceylon) kept up through the Persian Gulf and Bussorah, with Baghdad and all the countries under that Caliphate, on the one side, and through the Arabian Gulf and Egypt, with all the Mohammedan powers settled along the coasts of the Mediterranean, and of Spain on the other side, they introduced from these countries to Ceylon many original works in Arabic on Mohammedan Law and many translations into Arabic of the most valuable of the Greek and Roman classics upon medicine , science and literature.”
It may, therefore, be reasonably inferred that the maktab and the madrasa systems of education prevailed as widely among the Muslims of Ceylon as in the territories belonging to the Abbasid empire. The cufic inscription  discovered  in  Colombo  bearing  the  date  of  A.H.  337 (A.C.0948-9) and the tradition associated with it lend added support to the view that the cultural and educational contacts between the Muslims of Ceylon and the Abbasid Capital at Baghdad were close and fruitful; and they accepted the cultural leadership of Baghdad in the general pattern of their educational institutions.
With the decline and fall of the Abbasid Empire the Muslims of Ceylon turned to their co-religionists along the Ma’bar coast; from that time onwards the influence of the Mussalmans of the sub-continent of India came to be felt in Ceylon. However, in the curriculum and organization of the maktabs and the madrasas of these Muslims there were no fundamental differences from those of Baghdad and other centres.
During the First Four Centuries of Western Domination

When the Portuguese confronted the Muslims of Ceylon in 1505 they were a virile community but their power was soon destroyed; the Portuguese expelled them from their once powerful coastal settlements. They found that they were not safe even in the few isolated village settlements in the interior.
So they were compelled to take refuge in the territory of the Kandyan Kingdom; they who had been merchants or mariners now became farmers and hawkers. A few of them, however, at considerable risk to their persons and property engaged themselves in the carrying and coastal trades,  of great value to the Kandyan King who found himself almost encircled by the Portuguese. The situation did not alter when the Dutch superseded the Portuguese as rulers of the ‘sea board.’ In 1796 the British displaced the Dutch, and in 1815 the Kandyan territory which had so far remained independent came under the British Sovereign. Fortunately for the Muslims of Ceylon, the trade policy of the new Western power (namely the British) was much less unfavourable. The Muslims were now able to pursue, without positive hindrances, their coastal and carrying trades; they would no longer be singled out for obnoxious discrimination, yet they could not take advantage of the new enterprises and the new avenues of employment that became available after some years as a result of the British investments in Ceylon. This was largely due to the educational backwardness of the Muslims.
The Muslims deliberately chose not to co-operate with the new education that received the patronage of the British. They had looked upon the schools established by the Portuguese and the Dutch as centres of Western culture and citadels of Christianity; they had convinced themselves that the British institutions would be no better. Their fears were not assuaged by the reconstitution of the School Commission in 1841 with the appellation of “the Central School Commission for the Instruction of the population of Ceylon.” It was “to consist of not less than nine members three of whom, wherever it was practicable were to be a Clergyman of the Church of England, a Presbyterian Minister, and a Roman Catholic Priest or Layman.” 
They found that the Christian Missions were establishing a large number of schools. The situation somewhat improved when the School Commission was abolished in 1869 and superseded by the Director of Public Instruction who, it was intended, “should be distinguished by the liberality of his views and the perfect fairness of his judgement.” As mentioned elsewhere in this Volume during the seventies the Christian Missions were having “few English and many swabhasha schools and the Government more English and fewer swabhasha schools; but during the eighties, as a result of retrenchment brought about by the decline of “King Coffee,” some of the Government schools were taken over by the Missionary organizations and many of the others ceased to exist.  “The ridiculously small” attendance at schools of the children of the Muslims could be explained by their unwillingness born of “the spirit of exclusiveness or separatism” and by their fear that the faith of their children would become severely attenuated or undermined, if not completely repudiated. The Muslims were not unaware of the number of Sinhalese and Tamil Christians increasing from year to year. The Muslims, therefore, concluded that the cause of these conversions to Christianity was English education or swabhasha education in Missionary schools. They were prepared to forego the advantages of such education rather than jeopardize the faith of their children. The swabhasha schools belonging to the Government, and they were not many, were not well patronized by the Muslims because of their suspicion that even here their faith was not safe. They were therefore quite content with their own maktabs.
Quran-centred Education at the Local Maktab

From the days of the Portuguese advent in Ceylon and their “temporal and spiritual conquest,” the Muslims of Ceylon culturally had been completely isolated, they lost touch not only with the Muslim world in general but also with neighbouring India. In consequence many of their once flourishing madrasas, whose curricula, in their heyday, included several secular subjects, altogether disappeared as a result of the dispersion of the Muslims brought about by either expulsion or persecutions by the Portuguese. As a result during the first three centuries of foreign rule, the Muslims were compelled to lead a kind of underground existence. The few madrasas that survived deplorably deteriorated in standards. A few learned men of piety here and there imparted their knowledge to those who came to them to study Arabic Grammar and Muslim Law. But such private tuition, however sincerely or zealously given, could not bestow on the students the benefits of a regular madrasa education; the teachers themselves could not be thorough in every subject of the curriculum. With this breakdown of the madrasa, the Muslims became religiously obscurantist and intellectually sterile.
Yet the maktabs endured because of their close connection with the jum’a mosques. Through these maktabs the Muslim community was able to escape the evils of a relapse to illiteracy with the consequential deprivation of the rudiments of religion. To modern education, made available by the Government and the Christian Missions, the Muslims thus put up a strong resistance. As a result they lost many new opportunities of material advancement; they had at the same time preserved and protected their communal integrity and distinctive culture. This was largely made possible by the socio-religious organization, centred on the jum’a mosque, functioning autonomously in every Muslim area, whether town or village. This organization enjoyed the support of the local Muslims who in their zeal for their faith readily accepted the leadership of the Alims, men learned in Arabic and Islam; they were highly esteemed as men of religion and character. Such was the Muslim tradition – respect for piety and learning. There was no ordained priesthood in Islam, nor was there a spiritual hierarchy among the Muslims of Ceylon. Yet these Alims exerted a great influence on the life of the community. They acted unofficially as supervisors or educational advisers of these maktabs as well as of the jum’a  mosque organization. They were vigorously opposed to English education on the ground that the quest for English would make the Muslim, English in manners and morals. These Alims could not have been quite aware of the Macaulayan objective in education of making the Indians “though not English in blood and colour, English in taste, in opinions, in morals and intellect.”  Yet they perceived, though dimly that education was total. They were, therefore, not prepared to encourage the Muslim children to seek admission even to the swabhasha schools under Government management.  
Thus the Muslims, as a community, had only one agency for the education of their children, namely the local maktab, which was popularly known in Ceylon as the Quran Pallikoodam. This primary school was conducted, in many places within the mosque premises often under the management of the trustees of the mosque; in other places it was carried on in private premises by a teacher who levied fees either in cash or kind from the parents; the latter kind was generally known as verandah schools or thinnai pallikoodams; the teacher in either case was known as ‘lebbe’; to the pupils he imparted an elementary knowledge of the Holy Quran; they were taught specially those portions which were essential in their daily prayers and devotional exercises. This involved a good knowledge on their part of the – Arabic alphabet and the correct pronounciation of the Arabic words. As Arabic was not the spoken language or the mother tongue of either the teacher or the pupils, Arabic-Tamil (known as Arabu-t-Tamil) became the medium of instruction.  
Simple arithmetic, Mowloods, which were panegyrical poems in Arabic, dealing mostly with the life of the Holy Prophet, and Arabic-Tamil poetry of religious import were often taught as additional subjects. The pupils were taught either individually or in small groups; there were no classes or standards as such; some of the older pupils were made to help their juniors in the art of reciting the Holy Quran. For writing purposes the Lebbe used a wooden board, palakai, polished with a kind of clay, mala, obtainable in the neighbourhood used each time the writing had to be replaced; this was done with the kalam, a kind of pen made of bamboo or other material, suitably shaped with a sharpened nib-like end. The ink used on the palakai was prepared from burnt rice. The pupils were instructed in religious commandments, and beliefs; they were taught good behaviour according to Muslim traditions and were given elementary lessons on the life of the Holy Prophet and the Four Pious Caliphs. These pallikoodams catered for the age group of about 3-10 years, which included both boys and girls.
“The children learn a little reading, less writing, and the repetition of the Koran from masters who are ignorant of the very rudiments of the art of instruction. To get by heart a certain quantity of the Sacred Volume is the main object of the whole course. Now this not only not education. It is not even paving the way for it – – – . But to sit on the ground swinging your body backwards and forwards, and continually repeating, in a monotonous chant, a quantity of matter which you are taught to regard with religious reverence but never taught to understand, is, if anything an anti-educational process – – 
The description given above by Milner of a typical maktab in Egypt is so reminiscent of the conditions obtaining in Ceylon during the eighties – a testimony to the persistence and ubiquity of the Muslim tradition as well as to the general degeneracy that had overtaken the Muslim world.
During the nineties, the Department of Public Instruction was endeavouring to find a way of attracting Muslim children to the Government schools, as their attendance had been “ridiculously small” in proportion to their numbers. It was noted that
“The Mohammedan parent often chooses for his son while at school an education which will secure for him an honoured place among the learned of his own community rather than one which will command a success in modern professions or in official life. The years given to English and mathematics in a public school, the young Mohammedan devotes to Arabic and the law and the theology of Islam.”
Often Muslim pupils of intellectual promise, on completion of their maktab education sought further education in madrasas conducted locally or in India; and in due course they replenished the ranks of the Alims who were so influential in the community. They insisted that attendance of children at the maktab was a religious obligation and should not be subordinated to a secular education, however useful.
Special Mohammedan Schools

Though there was unwillingness on the part of the community to take advantage of the system of education fostered and directed by the Government which had persisted through the previous years, during the early nineties there were indications of  “spontaneous activity” on the part of the Muslims. They felt they should “relieve themselves from the obstacles which had hitherto so weightily handicapped them in competition with the other communities.”
This change was mainly due to the agitation carried on by M.C. Siddi Lebbe, “supported by the influence” of the Hon. M.C. Abdul Rahman, M.L.C. In this the contemporaneous activities of the Buddhists in the establishment of schools were not lost on them. The first application for registration by the Department was received in 1891 from the Mohammedan Boys’ School, Kandy, followed by Maradana (Colombo) and Gampola in 1892. In the case of Muslim Girls’ Schools the Government was prepared, with the special vote provided “to accept all such schools offered with promise of permanence as Government Schools.”
With a view to weaning the Muslims from their general attitude of non-co-operation with the Government in its educational policy, M.C. Siddi Lebbe had urged that the Education Code should provide for Arabic, as a subject for the first year’s examination, so that in ‘the result payment’ system of aid then obtaining, “the prospective loss of a year’s grant may not be entailed. It would have been possible thereby “to bring the advantages of secular education within the reach of the community without interfering with traditional sectarian prejudices.”
But the Government, it would appear, was not quite prepared, despite the Indian example of exceptional assistance to modify “the policy hitherto upheld by Government of maintaining an absolutely neutral position as regards the conflicting interests of sectarian communities.”
As a result, these “Special Mohammedan Schools” did not long endure.
They were of two categories:
(i)Mohammedan Aided Schools; and
(ii)Mohammedan Government Schools
The latter were meant for girls, though admission to boys under 10 was not denied. They were established by the Government.  “because there seemed to be no other means of doing anything at all for the female population of the Mohammedan community.”
In 1903 there were 6 schools of the first category and 7 of the second. 
“By Mohammedan schools are meant those in which instruction is given in Arabic and in the Mohammedan religion, in addition to the ordinary subjects of the Code.”
It would appear that even though the Special Mohammedan Schools withered away, the Muslims during the first three decades of the twentieth century had become more co-operative with the Government in the promotion of general education by availing themselves of the opportunities provided by the Government swabhasha schools. The percentage of Muslim boys attending primary schools thus did not fall below the standard of the non-Muslims. In a few areas the Muslims took advantage of the Government policy of providing grant-in-aid to swabhasha schools under private (and in this case Muslim), management; here at the beginning or the end of the school session the public could practice religious observance or receive religious instruction. But the Muslim parents were not equally keen on the education of their girls even though its importance had been stressed during the first decade by I.L.M. Abdul Azeez, who after a review of the curriculum of the local maktabs advocated radical reforms for their organization. He pleaded for the increasing use of the mother tongue in the imparting of religious knowledge; he suggested the preparation of special text books and supplementary readers; in addition he stressed the need for the translation of the Holy Quran.  
The Muslim leaders felt that general education could be best promoted by the introduction of Arabic language – the language of the Holy Quran – as a second language in the primary school and by the provision of “exceptional assistance” in the sphere of female education. But the Education Commission of 1929 felt that “It was not easy to bring these matters into line with the existing regulations for other communities without dealing with the Muslim child as an exception to the normal pupil.”
They, therefore, would not recommend remuneration for specialist teachers of Arabic, although they were prepared to say “that in schools for Muslim children Arabic could be taught as a second language.” In regard to female education they could not find any better solution than the establishment of separate girls’ schools in suitable areas. They were of the view that “the conservative feeling among Muslim parents could not be overcome entirely by any action of the administration.”
They were emphatic that “the neutrality of the State demanded the positive refusal to subsidise, either directly or indirectly, religious instruction in any school.”
Thus the 181 Quran Schools (local maktabs) attended by over 5,000 pupils, received no assistance from the Government. Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, however, dissented from this view of neutrality and gave a definition in a Rider which has received the sanction of subsequent years.
The Kannangara Period of Education (1931-1947) which soon followed would provide ample evidence that this Education Commission had quite underestimated the power and potentialities of the Government in the matter of promoting education effectively among the Muslims of Ceylon.
Modern Education in Muslim Environment
I.L.M. Abdul Azeez, who envisaged the spread of general education among the Muslims of Ceylon through the local maktabs, reformed and reorganized, was also alive to the dangers of the almost complete neglect by the community of English education. He dealt comprehensively with this subject in an article that appeared in the ‘El Muslim’ of 1909. He felt that for the survival of the community it was necessary that a fair number should possess a good knowledge of English which was indispensable to commercial prosperity, good citizenship, professional knowledge and government employment. Therefore, he advocated the opening of English schools under Muslim management on the lines of Zahira and Hameedia which had come into existence a few years previously. During this period, English education was available either in English medium or Bilingual Schools. Both these institutions might have developed into Bilingual Schools and suffered their disabilities in the matter of training their pupils for higher and professional education. This was prevented when T.B. Jayah became Principal of Zahira in 1921; Zahira now began to pulsate with new life and the achievements in the years that followed were such that no Muslim parent would thereafter raise any serious objection to English education or the English medium of instruction. T.B. Jayah himself in an address delivered several years previously in 1914 had pointed out that it is in our best interests to turn to English education the attainment of which would bring us to a position of intellectual elevation, social efficiency, and political power. But the vast majority of the Muslims were not benefited owing to the cost of English education during this period and the woeful paucity of English schools under Muslim management.
The Kannangara Period (1931-1947) and After

During the Kannangara Period (1931-47) the views of the Education Commission of 1929 did not find much acceptance. Instead the Executive Committees of Education that functioned from 1931 imaugurated the policy of removing, by the adoption of positive measures, the inequalities that existed among the communities of Ceylon; thereby it was hoped that there would be equality of opportunity in the educational sphere not merely between individuals but also between communities. A formulation of this policy is found in the seventh paragraph of the Special Committee Report. 
With a view to remedying the lack of educational facilities in some of the remoter parts of Ceylon, the Government in 1935 was prepared to pay “the salaries of qualified teachers who could be attached to places of religious worship in areas where there are no other schools.”
The Muslims naturally came in for their share and several of their maktabs were thereby benefited. The presence of T.B. Jayah and A.R.A. Razik in the Executive Committee of Education ensured that the Muslim case  for equality of opportunity would not go by default. The sympathetic attitude of the Minister Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara led to the establishment of a very large number of Government swabhasha schools in Muslim areas. The establishment of special Training Colleges (Primary) for Muslim teachers (males) enabled the Department to appoint Muslim teachers to these schools; the appointment of Arabic teachers and their payment by the Government was made possible by the Departmental recognition of madrasas and their Moulavi Certificates. Religious instruction in the school premises was now being encouraged, paving the way for the enactment, as Section 4 of Ordinance No. 26 of 1939, that instruction in the religion of the parent of each pupil in a Government school shall be given to that pupil as part of his course of studies – – – . Thus was a bridge built between the maktab and the Government primary school. The special Mohammedan Schools of the nineties were thereby resurrected. As a result, the Government Muslim Schools of this period promoted a  new  awakening  among  the  Muslims  of  Ceylon;  the  fullest co-operation of even the Muslims who belonged to remote and rural areas became evident. To this result the agitation and activities of A.R.A. Razik (Sir Razik Fareed) largely contributed.
During the early years of the Post-Independence Period (1948-68) impetus was given to female education by the establishment of a Government Central School and of a Government Training College (Primary), both of them specially and exclusively for Muslim girls. It was now possible to provide the much needed female Muslim teachers for the Government Muslim Schools; it was therefore becoming increasingly popular among the Muslims of Ceylon. The maktab (Quran Pallikoodam), in some places was thereby superseded; in other places, the maktab supplements the religious education available at the Government Muslim School, by providing the pupils with an intensive training in the Recital of the Holy Quran and the Practice of Religious Exercises.
(AZEEZ, A.M.A., B.A. Honours (LONDON). Presently Member of the Public Service Commission. Mr. Azeez held various administrative appointments as a member of the Ceylon Civil Service. He retired from Civil Service to accept the post of Principal, Zahira College, Colombo. He was a member of the Senate from 1952 to 1963. He has also held the post of President of All Ceylon Teachers’ Union for two years. His publications include “West Reappraised” and three books in Tamil of travels. Mr. Azeez has contributed articles to the press and various journals on Islam and on education.)

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