Islam accentuates acquiring knowledge and declares education as imperative for the triumph of Muslims in this world as well as in the Hereafter. The importance Islam accords to education can be judged from the fact that the very first word that was revealed on the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was “IQRA” which means “Read”. The first five verses of the divine revelation on the Holy Prophet, found in Surah Al-Alaq are: “(1) Recite in the name of your Lord. Who created, (2) created man from a clot of congealed blood. (3) Recite: and your Lord is most generous. (4) Who taught by the pen, (5) taught man what he did not know”. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: “Seeking education is incumbent upon every Muslim man and woman.”
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) accorded greater importance and care to education of the Muslims. He (PBUH) took effective measures not only to preserve the Holy Quran but also for making arrangements for teaching it to the Muslims.
Firstly, whenever the Prophet (PBUH) received verse(s) of the Quran, he (PBUH) would first recite those before his male companions (RA) and then in gathering of female companions. This reflects as to how much he (PBUH) was concerned for the education of Muslims, both males and females.
Secondly, he (PBUH) directed Muslims to memorize the Holy Quran.
Thirdly, he instructed Muslims to learn Holy Quran from learned companions — it depicts the importance of teachers in imparting education.
Fourthly, he (PBUH) appointed educated companions for putting the Quranic verses into writing.
Fifthly, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) used to recite aloud the whole Quran — revealed till that time — during the month of Ramadan. The companions (RA) who could read and write would bring along their personal manuscripts and would compare them with the version recited by the Prophet (PBUH). This practice was called “ARDAH” which means presentation. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) recited the whole Quran twice in front of companions (RA) during the last Ramadan of his life in order to leave no room for mistakes in its text. Through these measures, the Holy Quran was not only preserved forever but the uneducated Muslims were also imparted education because the Holy Quran, also called the mother of books, is the greatest source of knowledge. In this regard, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said:
“The best among you is the one who learns the Holy Quran and teaches it to others.”
Even in Makkah, where the Muslims were being persecuted, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) paid ample attention towards education of new Muslims. In 621 AD, when a group of Madinites secretly met the Holy Prophet (PBUH) at ‘Aqabah’ in Makkah and embraced Islam, he (PBUH) sent Musab bin Umair (RA), who was a learned person, well-versed in various fields of education, to Madina along with them for their education. This step had tremendous effects on new converts of Madina as it enabled them to have a deep insight about different disciplines of education and Islam.
In 622 AD, when the Holy Prophet (PBUH) migrated to, and established the first city state at, Madina, he (PBUH) expedited the efforts to educate Muslims. He (PBUH) established Islam’s first residential school named ‘Sufa’ in the Masjid-e-Nabavi. At ‘Sufa’, students from far-flung areas were provided with accommodation as well. That educational institute rendered extraordinary services in providing quality education to Muslim disciples.
In the Battle of Badr, 70 infidels were captured as prisoners of war. The custom prevalent at that in Arabia was that the POWs were killed, but the Holy Prophet (PBUH) set another unique precedent and since many of those POWs were educated, he (PBUH) offered them freedom if a POW would teach the art of reading and writing to 10 Muslims.
The point that warrants a special mention here is that those POWs were non-Muslims hence they couldn’t have taught Islam to Muslims which quintessentially means that Islam focuses on both religious and worldly education because both are dependent upon each other. It also proves that Muslims are allowed to acquire education from non-Muslims.
Furthermore verse No. 201 of Surah Al-Baqarah states about Muslims: “There are others who say: “Our Lord, grant us what is good in this world and what is good in the World to come, and protect us from the chastisement of the Fire.” The good and welfare in this world is impossible without both worldly and religious education. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) told the Muslims to acquire excellence in all fields of worldly education.
Under directives of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), some companions learned foreign languages for carrying out effective and successful diplomacy with foreign states.
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) used to educate Muslims in the Masjid-e-Nabavi in Madina. The companions (RA) would come to the mosque for discussing various issues with the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The Mosque thus became the biggest seat of learning for Muslims.
Once the Holy Prophet (PBUH) came to the mosque and found two groups of Muslims; one of them was busy in discussing religious and educational issues while the other was busy with the rosaries. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said that both were doing good but first group was better than the latter and then joined that group.
Age should not be an impediment to getting education and one should keep on getting educated throughout one’s life for enhancing knowledge as the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Seek knowledge/education from cradle to grave.”
But, unfortunately the Muslims of today are lagging far behind other nations in terms of education. Illiteracy results in backwardness and this vicious cause-effect nexus makes the biggest problems that the Muslims face today. In most Muslim states, the situation of education is pitiable and their literacy rates are among the world’s lowest. For example in Pakistan, literacy rate is hardly 60% whereas in Western countries, it is more than 95%. It is ironic that despite being the Ummah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), we are having such miserable standards of education. Certain misunderstandings about education also permeate the Muslim societies and some short-sighted elements hold the view that the Muslims should acquire only the religious education while eschew the modern one. This is in derogation of basic spirit and essence of Islam which emphasizes on attaining success in this world as well as in the Hereafter but the former form of success is impossible sans acquiring modern education. The West today is superior to the Muslim world only because they had prioritized education.
After making the abovementioned points, it is asserted that the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is the most supreme manifestation for the educators. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) had great regard for teachers as he himself said, “I have been sent as a teacher”. So in the teachings and Sunnah of the most perfect teacher, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), there are the guidelines following which will make one an educator par excellence. Muslims should pay special attention to prioritizing education and the educators should perform this noble task in the light of the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).