Problems and Prospects of Islamization of Education in Nigeria


This paper takes a cursory look at our educational system, from the pre-colonial era to the present generation, It observes also the merits and demerits of the system vis-à-vis Islamic education. The paper then concludes that it is time our educational system is replaced with Islamic Education. The paper also steps further to highlight some obstacles the Islamic System is likely to encounter and suggests solutions for its success.


Education is an important factor in the development of any society. The level of development of any nation is usually determined by its level of education. At same time the nature of education available to any community, will depict how that affected community would look like. It is this condition that makes it paramount on Muslims to look inwardly into the situation we find ourselves today politically, socially, economically, and spiritually. Without mixing words, everybody will testify that the nature of education bequeathed to us by our former colonial masters is alien to our culture and has failed woefully to meet our aspirations when one considers the evils that have plagued our society. He will not hesitate to conclude that our educational system needs a reform because it is earthly bound and gives less regard to the spiritual aspect of man. But in a country like ours, it deserves caution and commitment on the part of all Muslims.

This paper is divided into three segments. The first looks into the history of Education in Nigeria since Pre-Colonial era to the present generation, while the second takes care of the aims and objectives of Islamic Education and the last portion discusses the problems and prospects of the programme.

Brief History of Education in Nigeria

In treating the history of education in Nigeria, one could possibly take various ways. But for the purpose of clarity, this paper prefers to use the periods passed by the Nigerian education in terms of evolution and development. Talking about periods, it refers to the pre-colonial era, the colonial era and the post-colonial era, The pre-colonial era refers to the type of education available to Nigerians before the colonialists. The major educational systems in operation then were the traditional and the Islamic. Traditional education predated others as it always be with every generation. The traditional education as usual is simple and community-oriented. The mission of  this education was to introduce children into the society, preparing them for adulthood and providing them with skills for his well being and effective participation in the society. According to Yoloye (1998), the skills include farming, arts and crafts, political, religious and cultural participation, in addition to ethics and moral values.1

The next pre-colonial education was Islamic education. It comes into Nigeria through the northern part of the country by the activities of itinerant Muslim scholars, as far back as 11th century. Islam in itself is a total package of life including a system of religion, law as well as education. The vision of Islamic education is the same as that of an Islamic society.

Conversely to the indigenous or traditional education, Islamic education is not localized but cut  across all countries of the world. The arrival of Islam into Nigeria brought about necessity for the skill of literacy not in the local language alone but even in foreign language, The third which was pre-colonial education came with the arrival of the European Christian missionaries as early as fifteenth century.

Education and convert the people to Christianity if the Africans were to be good customers, By so doing in collaboration with the missionaries they introduce the art of reading and writing in English language to the Nigerians.2 While Islamic education was widely spread in the Northern part, traditional and missionary educations held ground in the Southern part. The situation remained like this till the arrival of the colonialists who introduced Western/Christian education through the assistance of the missionaries and so the Western education was popularly called missionary education. This type of education came through the Southern Coast in the first half of the 19th Century. The aim of this missionary education was geared towards evangelism and Christianization of the heathen people and Muslims alike. While the missionaries were using the system to Christianize people the trading companies geared their efforts towards commerce and colonialists directed their attention towards the administration of the Civil Service.3

Being as it was, the colonial government had to give support to the missionaries and this gave them advantage over the Islamic education because both the colonialist and missionaries were of the same language. So they saw the missionaries as agents helping them in the training of manpower.

The education continued like this up till the early 1950s when self-government was granted and the regions started introducing Universal Primary Education that was directed to their own peculiar needs.
Before this era, British government on her part had inaugurated a number of commissions to usher in modern education in Nigeria on secular system. The first frame work for a national education came into being on the eve of independence known as Ashby Commission, to be followed later by a more comprehensive one known as National Policy of Education (NPE) of 1977 and revised in 1981. These documents spelt out the objectives of Nigerian education which is secular in content and purpose, because all its objectives are earthly bound.

They are as follows
1. the inculcation of national consciousness and national unity;
2. the inculcation of the right type of values and attitudes for survival of the individual and the Nigerian society;
3. the training of the mind in understanding the world around; and
4. the acquisition of the appropriate skills, abilities and competencies, both mental and physical as equipment for the individual to live in and society.5

This briefly is the historical development of Nigerian education

Aims and Objectives of Islamic Education

Every educational system has its own objective likewise Islamic education, except that Islamic Education is deeper and richer both in content and objective. In realising this fact, the participants at the first World Conference on Muslim Education 1977 at the end of the Conference reaffirmed this and resolved that:
Education should aim at the balanced growth of the total personality of man through the training of man’s spirit, intellect, rational self, feelings and bodily senses, The training imparted to a Muslim must be such that faith is infused into the whole of his personality and creates in him an emotional attachment to Islam and enables him to follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah and be governed by the Islamic system of values willingly and joyfully so that he may proceed to the realization of his status as Khalifatullah to whom Allah has promised the authority of the universe.6

This in summary shows that the aim of Islamic education is to produce a good and righteous man, he who worships Allah the Creator and acts according to the dictates of Shari’ah. This act of worship requires total submission to Allah as it is supposed to be in line with Quranic verse that says: “I have created the Jinn and man only to worship me” (Qur’an 51: 56).7

This position does not mean that Islamic education is against other secular sciences, Islamic education as earlier mentioned is wide and comprehensive. It encompasses all Sciences, either secular or religious. The Qur’an says. “Nothing have we omitted from the Book,” (Qur’an 6:38).8

From this we can deduce that Islamic education comprises of other sciences such as Medicine, Engineering, Mathematics, Psychology, Sociology etc., because they are also Islamic Sciences once they comply with Islamic tenets and attitudes.

Ahmed Salah Jamjoom (1979) opined that Islamic Science is a form of worship that moves an individual closer to his creator through the act of worship, hence it should not be used to corrupt faith and morals and to bring harm, corruption, injustice and aggression. So any science that runs conflict with faith and serves other goals contrary to Islamic ideals is condemned and rejected and lastly has no place in the Islamic injunctions.9

Since education has been universally accepted as an important tool for the guiding of lives of people created by Allah, it’s philosophy and basic principles should also come from Allah. It should not be left alone to the discretion of educationist who are themselves subject to all manners of unwholesome influences. Ogunmola, in Oloyede, asserts that:
The tragedy of education in Nigeria is that it has failed in the development of social consciousness within Students, its most important basic task. Rather it has created the opposite of happiness (destroying) preoccupying them with immediate personal and material satisfaction. It has failed in preparing students for adult life.10

If the above opinion is correct, then it is pertinent to have an alternative that commensurates with Islamic values of education, and that is Islamization of education.

The fact that Muslims all over the world have realised that the alien system has failed us both in content and objectives, then we should return to that which emanates from the divine source. The alien system separates between religion and life and does not recognize the supremacy of religion. The modern education also considers this life as an end in itself contrary to Islamic education which provides for hereafter and for this gives recognition to the supremacy of religion. It is worthy enough to say here that Islamic education creates no dichotomy between religion and Science and any education that disregards religious moral teaching is doomed to fail. Afzalur-Rahman posits that:
If education is divorced from religion and moral values, it will lead to the disintegration and destruction of the social fabric of society. This may be seen from the achievements of liberal education in the West as well as in the East.11

Tidmus, in Afzalur-Rahman, also writes saying:
Education has divorced itself from the spiritual heritage of the past but has failed to supply any adequate substitute. Consequently even educated persons are left without convictions of a sense of values as well as without a consistent world view.12

     It is unfortunate that our leaders are pretenders; they go out crying that Nigeria is a secular state when documents see Nigeria as a multi-religious country.13 To show that it is not easy to separate people from their religion under whatever disguise, the Political Bureau further says that: “Religion has deeply affected our cultural, political and social heritage that  it is very difficult though necessary to distinguish what is traditional from what is religious.”14 At the end of the debate, the Political Bureau conceded that it is difficult to achieve a clear separation between organised religion and the state in Nigeria.

This position of the political bureau depicts the ulterior motives of our secularist leaders but at the end they could not hide the fact that religion is not an institution that can easily be taken away from the people and so proclamation of secularism on Nigeria will continue to be a theory. The secularist nature of our educational curriculum has succeeded in producing various corrupt practices such as inflation of contracts, fraud, falsification of accounts, examination malpractice, bribery, embezzlement of public funds, perversion of justice, collusion with multi-national companies to dupe the state, collusion of law enforcement agents with criminals, election rigging, etc. If these are the manifestations of the philosophy of secular education, we cannot tolerate a philosophy or any educational policy which is not identical with Islam.

In the sum-total, the ultimate objective of Islamic education is the creation of an individual who will lead a happy and fruitful life in this world and use it to aspire for a better life in the hereafter.

Islamization of Knowledge: Problems and Prospects

The above discussion on the aim and objectives of Islamic education compared with the western or modern concept of education shows clearly that they are not equal. It is like comparing the giant with the dwarf or the day and the night in all ramifications. Islamization of education is as old as Islam itself. It is because it is a continuation of effort made by the early scholars like Imam al-Ghazali, Ibn Taimiyyah, Muhammad Iqbal and others to reconcile the knowledge of their time with the spirit of Islam. The single aim is to recast knowledge to conform to the Islamic belief system and worldview. Khalil posits that: The term Islamization of knowledge means practicing (i.e. discovering, compiling, piling together, communicating and publishing) intellectual activity based on the Islamic concept of the universe, life and man.”15

Islamization of knowledge aims at reshaping all the branches of human knowledge, humanities, pure and applied sciences in accordance with the Islamic view and reality. This could be achieved through the promotion and support of publication, authorship, seminars, lectures, conferences and specialized institutions, i.e., universities. This activity will not be restricted to academicians but shall also create interest among specialists, administrators and prominent thinkers and leaders by showing them the vitality and necessity of the task through the effective use of mass media. At the end we shall succeed in removing the duality of knowledge created and preached by modern education.

In this connection there is the need to commend the efforts of some institutions like International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) Herndon, USA, International Islamic University, Malaysia (IIUM), Pakistan and Uganda. Other countries are Turkey, Libya and Bangladesh. There are associations like Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS) and Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers (AMSE) in U.S.A. that also deserve mentioning. Among Nigerian institutions that worth mentioning in this great task are Usman Dan fodio University, Sokoto and Bayero University, Kano.

But however loud the objectives of Islamic education may be and however better its contents may be, it remains a difficult task for an average Nigerian  to accept, when we consider the imprint that western education had made in their minds. It is a Herculean task for one to rise and advise them to abandon the type of education bequeathed to them by their former colonial masters. This is not limited to Nigeria alone but to most nations who are at one time or the other under the colonial rule and their educational system.

 So for Islamization of knowledge to succeed it has to contend with the following problems:

  1. Acceptability
    For the problem of acceptability some people will consider the programme as a way of Islamizing the citizens of Nigeria just as the colonialists and the missionaries used the Western education to convert the indigenes to Christianity. In this wise, the Christians and some nominal Muslims would frown at it and are likely to frustrate any attempt to make it possible, in the same vein as they opposed the full implementation of Shariah.
  2. Resources
    The area of resources is also very vital. For a programme of this nature to succeed it requires both human and material resources. The programme would definitely face the problem of manpower. There is no enough personnel to man the programme. If we can source for personnel in some areas locally we may need the service of expatriates in other areas. The major areas that may require expatriates are Science and Technology. The nation has not produced enough  personnel in these areas least of those that would be used for the Islamization programme. Still along the resources is provision of reading materials we cannot hope for achieving anything tangible except books are written by learned and committed Muslim intellectuals.
  3. Enlightenment
    Another problem is enlightenment. Men are enemies of what they are ignorant about. The concept of Islamization of education is alien to some people even if it would benefit them at the end, they show antagonism to it at initial stage. Some would interpret it to mean introduction of Shariah. One should not be surprised if one discovers that the first antagonists are Muslims, the unenlightened ones. Their reaction to the idea would add impetus to that of the non-Muslims. In the light of this, conscious Muslims in the mass media should enlighten Nigerians on the viability of the programme and emphasize its short and long term benefits for all.
  4. Government Patronage
    The chance of patronage from government is low. Government will not allow any individual or group of individuals to use her school for such a programme under the guise of secularity and national character.


Despite the problems enumerated above, hope is not lost. There are various steps to make the programme successful and the chance of failure reduced. There is no problem without solution; it only requires the will and determination. So for the Islamization of Education programme to be a reality is a matter of long-term plan and commitment while all hands must be on the button. Among the solutions that can bring prospect to the programme are the followings:

  1. Human and Material Resources
    Efforts should be made in training manpower for the programme. Schools should be established specifically for this purpose because without manpower the programme is doomed to fail. Institutions like International Islamic University in Malaysia, Niger, Uganda and Pakistan Usmanu Danfodio should not relent her efforts while Bayero University and others are advised to join the crusade.
    Also in the same wing is provision of reading materials and other infrastructures. The current books in circulation are irrelevant to our desire. So Muslim scholars should be encouraged to write books relevant to our demands.
  2. Scholarship Award
    Scholarship award should be made available for prospective candidates without any discrimination. There should be no quota system or National character. If this is introduced, it will adversely affect the system.
  3. Commitment to Teaching Profession
    Muslims should be encouraged to show commitment to teaching profession; a situation where Muslims who are professionally qualified to teach prefer administrative jobs cannot help. It will be a daydream to expect non-Muslims to promote this laudable programme.
  4.  Standardization of our Mainstream Islamic Education
    Our traditional Qur’anic schools should be standardized and reinvigorated so as to meet the current demand. This could be done by establishing Muslim nursery and primary schools based on Islamic curriculum. This should not be limited to primary alone, but including secondary levels.
  5.  Support from Well-Wishers
    The well-to-do (rich) Muslims, the businessmen and other Islamic organizations both at home and abroad should spare no effort in assisting the programme. This is a 21st century jihad. This is a business that is more profitable for our rich men than sponsoring games and other worldly jamborees.  In addition, an Islamic Education Trust Fund should be established to cater for the programme.
  6. Enlightenment Campaign
    We should embark on vigorous enlightenment campaign showing the merits of this exercise and fruits of its success. This programme cannot achieve a huge success without the cooperation of all Muslims in education, administration, mass communication and economic sectors of our national life. Systematic campaign and enlightenment programmes should be given  priority attention; otherwise the idea would be misconstrued and negatively presented to members of the public.


It is the candid opinion of this paper that Islamization of education is long overdue, but despite that it has some problems to contend with, though they are not in surmountable if the above raised suggestions are put into consideration.

Notes And References
1. E.A.Yoloye, “Vision and Mission of Special Education in Nigeria: Matters Arising and the Challenges of the 21st Century” in Kabiru Isyaku et. al. (eds.), Vision and Mission of Education in Nigeria, Kaduna, National Commission for Colleges of Education. 1998. p. 228.
2. A.B. Fafunwa, History of Education in Nigeria. George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London, 1980, p. 74.
3. Yoloye, op. cit., p. 229.
4. M.A. Muhibbu-din, “Manpower Development in Nigeria,” in A.B. Balogun (et al. Eds.) The Place of Religion in the Development of Nigeria, Ilorin, University of Ilorin, 1988, p.111.
5. Federal Republic of Nigeria... National Policy on Education. Lagos, Federal Ministry of Information, 1981, p. 8.
6. S.N. Al-Attas, Aims and Objectives of Islamic Education,” Jeddah, King Abdul-Aziz University, 1979, pp. 158-159.
7. The Holy Qur’an, English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary (chapter 51; 56) Medina King Fahd Holy Qur’an Printing complex, 1990.
8. Ibid., chapter 6 verse 38.
9. A.S. Jamjoom, “Foreword” in S.N. Al-Attas (ed) Aims and Objectives . . . , op. cit., p. VI.
10. I. Oloyede, “The imperative for reshaping and re-orientating the modern
 Disciplines in the Islamic Perspectives.” An unpublished paper presented at a two-day National workshop on Islamization of education, hosted by UDU Sokoto in collaboration with IIIT (Nigeria office) may, 2000, p. 1.
11. Afzalur Rahman, “ Islamic Education of Muslim children in the west and the problem of curriculum and syllabus,” in M.H. Al-Afendi and N.A Baloch (eds) Curriculum and Teacher Education, Jeddah, King Abdul Aziz University, 1980, p. 84.
12. Ibid., p. 84.
13. Federal Republic of Nigeria, Report of Political Bureau,  Abuja, MAMSER, 1987, p. 186.
14. Ibid., p. 189.
15. I. Khalil, Islamization of Knowledge: A Methodology, Nigeria, International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) (Nigeria Edition), 1997, p.3.

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