Literature

Curriculum Reform Series : Islamization of Knowledge -- Language and Literature

  1. Introduction

Islam emphasizes right behavior for good life in this world and happiness in life hereafter. The education system supported by Islam should serve to achieve Islam as a complete code of life for its followers individually and collectively. So Islamic education system does not admit of any dualism, secular versus spiritual, where as the western system of education does not recognize spiritual at all. Islamization of knowledge is indispensable for removing dualism in the educational system. Before Muslims went into decline, they had developed the disciplines and had established and clarified the relevance of Islam and its comprehensive world view and values to each disciplines. They successfully integrated the disciplines into main corpus of Islamic knowledge. They contributed greatly in all fields and they utilized the new knowledge efficiently to their advantage. But today, non-Muslims are the masters of all the disciplines. In the universities of the Muslim world, non-Muslim books, achievements, world-view, problems and ideals are currently being taught to Muslim youths. So the vision of Islam is needed to defend the whole people against alien ideologies invading their consciousness. And to do it we need an education system in which the curriculum of every department is based upon Islamic values, principles and objectives.

2.0 Islamizing Language Teaching

2.1 Definition of Language

Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols through which the members of a social group communicate for cooperation and harmonious coexistence. So language is important for communication in a society. Language or speech faculty is a special gift from Allah (SWT) to human being. The Qur’an refers to this gift: “ It is He who has taught the Qur’an. He has created man. He has taught him speech.” ( Ar Rahman : 2 – 4 ) So it is clear from these verses that Allah created man with the faculty of speech. It is not a particular language, but a capacity to learn any particular human language. So all human languages are equally important.

Allah has given importance to the mother tongue of a particular society. He says, “ These are the verses of the Glorious Book. We have revealed the Qur’an in the Arabic tongue so that you may grow in understanding” ( Yusuf : 1 ) Arabic was chosen as a medium of the last divine message because it happened to the mother-tongue of the last messenger of Islam and of the language community chosen to establish the word of Allah on earth under the immediate leadership of the Prophet ( PBUH ).  The Qur’an invites us to study and respect the diversity of languages and declares it an important sign of divine power at work in the organization of the universe. The Qur’an not only recognizes the existence of the diversity of languages as a manifestation of Allah’s will but also presents it as a challenge for research and understanding.

2.2 Methods of Teaching Language Islamically

As we are living in a global village, it has become essential for us to learn different languages. Language learning depends on the environment where one can listen to a particular language of a social group. In the Muslim countries, majority of the students in a class are Muslims. So it is easier for a language teacher to cite examples from Islamic perspective. Suppose, while presenting sentence structures, a teacher can easily use sentences which are very much relevant to Muslim society and culture. Or while teaching reading comprehension he can select topics from Islamic history, culture or literature. Or for composition a teacher can select topics which give some moral lesson to the students or students become acquainted with Islamic economic or social system. For example, he can tell his students to write free hand composition on human rights in Islam, justice, passion, temperament, honesty, development of morality, Islamic economy, Islamic financial system, property distribution in Islam etc. To develop students’ listening and understanding skills documentary and films based on Islamic values may be shown.

Language is a day to day conversation for communication, cooperation and a harmonious coexistence in a society. It is a medium to express one’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, and opinions and even give information or messages to others. So if a language teacher is well equipped with Islamic knowledge and culture, he will be able to present a millions of examples in front of the students which are related to Islamic society and culture. A language teacher has to create an environment in which his students will revolve. So if the environment is highly moral, based on Islamic values, the students will automatically be moral.


3.0 Islamizing Literature Teaching

3.1 Definition of Literature

If language is the structure of a building, then literature is its decoration. Language and literature are inter-related in the teaching learning process. Literature has an inner, deeper, concealed or hidden meaning and beauty which has to be discovered by intensive and careful reading. It is understood by one who has profound learning and understanding. Actually literature is the reflection of the contemporary society.  Literature is the expression of life in words of truth and beauty; it is the written record of man’s spirit, of his thoughts, emotions, aspirations; it is the history and the only history of the human soul. It is characterized by its artistic, its suggestive, and its permanent qualities. Its two tests are its universal interest and its personal style. Their object, aside from the delight it gives us, is to know man, that is, the soul of man rather than his actions. It is one of the most important and delightful subjects that can occupy the human mind. So literature is a form of knowledge. This knowledge is partial but sincere and genuine. It is partial because it is only an individual’s experience of reality. As that individual is a human being his experience can never be complete. Only Allah possesses complete knowledge.

3.2 Methods in Teaching Literature Islamically

The teaching of literature can be an effective means of making students realize the universality and absoluteness of certain values with reference to which writers study man and express their deeply felt understanding of life. As literature is primarily concerned with human life on this earth, it is necessary to present the universal code of morality of good and evil in front of the students. Only then the students will realize what good literature is and what bad literature is. Therefore, it is possible to teach all kinds of literature without disturbing or opposing religious attitudes and feelings. But while teaching, the teacher has to indicate how the writer is confined or not confined within the range of normal human experience, how values invoked by the writer are not highly occult, personal and dogmatic.

Throughout the world, mainly English literature is taught at the college and university level. Some American and Oriental literature are also included as a comparative study. But the literature from the Muslim country is totally ignored. Even in the Muslim universities of Muslim countries, English literature is taught, leaving out Islamic literature. Under this circumstances how will a teacher Islamize literature, mainly English literature? Where most of the literary works are full of immoral acts and incidents and most of the works are presenting polluted society, which are rotten to the core. So it is not possible to Islamize English literature and also it is not possible to leave it out totally. So what can a Muslim teacher do in a Muslim university?

For example, let’s take Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones. Fielding’s purpose in writing Tom Jones is to show human nature and to emphasize the contrast between what is beautiful in it and what is ugly. In this novel most of the characters are immoral and hypocrites. Even the hero of the novel is more or less a licentious person who finds it impossible to resists a woman’s charms or her advances. So while teaching Tom Jones, at first the teacher will present the literary work as it is. He will present the contemporary society on which the work is written. Then he can compare that society with the values of Muslim society. Then he can throw some questions to the students -Are the characters of this novel morally sound? Are the incidents happened in this novel appropriate in any Muslim society? If such type of incidents happens in a Muslim society, how will people react? Or what should be done to change the evil mentality of the contemporary society? So a teacher should make the students aware of the evil deeds which are not permissible in Islam. Vulgarism in literature should be focused through Islamic perspective with the reference to the Qur’an and Sunnah.

Or if a teacher is to teach Paradise Lost by John Milton, how will he coincide Islam in it? The fable of  Paradise Lost, as Milton tells it, may roughly be divided into three parts: the rebellion of the angels and their material conflict with God;  the creation of mankind, the intercession of the Messiah, and the conditions of man’s existence; and wiles of Satan against man, the transgression of Adam and Eve, and their expulsion from the Paradise. The subject matter of the poem is taken partly from the books of the Old Testament of the Bible. While teaching this epic, a teacher has to be well versed on the Holy Qur’an. The story of the creation of man and the Fall of man because of Original Sin is presented in Paradise Lost. If a teacher is not well aware of the original intention of Allah ( SWT ) for creating this world and human being, he will not be able to present Paradise Lost in Islamic perspective. For Example, the concept of Original Sin which has no place in Islam is a major factor in this epic. A literature teacher can explain Islam’s view of Original Sin. According to Christianity it is believed that because of the Sin of Adam and Eve (AS) in eating from the forbidden tree, all their descendants have inherited original sinfulness which can only be expiated through accepting Jesus Christ as the savior. But Islam rejects this for five main reasons:

  1. Allah knows that mankind is fallible because He created man from both material and spirit; it is contrary to His justice that He would condemn all mankind for a single mistake made by the first man and woman.
  2. According to the Qur’an both Adam and Eve prayed for forgiveness and were forgiven by God. ( 2 : 37 )
  3. God is both just and merciful and it is not consistent with the mercy of God that He should refuse to pardon Adam and Eve and also condemn succeeding generations as sinful.
  4. It is clear from the Qur’an that Adam and eve were forgiven before being sent down to the earth and so their descendants cannot have been tainted by Original Sin.
  5. The Qur’an says, “no bearer of burden can bear a burden of another”. This shows that God holds each person responsible for his own actions and not the actions of others.

It is also said in Paradise Lost that Adam and Eve (AS) were sent down to earth as a punishment. A teacher has to satisfy his students by giving Islam’s view regarding this issue. According to the Qur’an, Adam and Eve were not sent to the earth as a punishment. Infact, before Adam was even created, Allah said to the angels: “I am going to place a vicegerent (Khalifah) on the earth”. ( 2 : 30 ) Adam was the first vicegerent and all his descendants are vicegerents also. The reason why Adam and Eve spent some time in the Garden is possibly that Allah wanted to teach them, and indeed all mankind, the consequences of obedience and disobedience to Himself.

In this way a literature teacher can explain each and every incident of Paradise Lost by presenting Islam’s concept side by side.

Or while presenting the religious and metaphysical poets like – George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, Henry Vaughan, a teacher must know the Qur’an and as well as Bible very well. Because there are so many Biblical allusions which are also found in the Qur’an. A literature teacher has to explain it from the poet’s point of view as well as Islam’s point of view. So a teacher in Muslim university must have that ability to present Islam properly to the students.


4.0 Recommendations for Islamization of Knowledge

  • Throughout the Muslim world, students enter the university with little knowledge of Islam they acquired at home or in elementary or secondary school. So they do not vision Islam as vibrant, concerning any problem. The student in a Muslim university confronts alien ideologies presented to him in textbook or classroom. Nowhere in the Muslim world is the Islamic vision taught to all students as the western tradition is taught to high school students in the west. In no Muslim university is such a vision part of the basic or core studies program that is compulsory to all students. So every Muslim youth must receive full instruction in the religion, ethics, law, history, culture and literature of Islam.
  • The course materials of the Muslim universities should be revised. It should be an integrated one. Mainly the literature department should include some Islamic literature, literary works on Islamic history, civilization, heritage and culture.
  • Teachers in Muslim universities do not possess the vision of Islam and it is certainly the greatest calamity of Muslim education. Today, Muslim youths are being westernized by Muslim teachers in Muslim universities. So at first the Muslim academicians must be trained with sufficient Islamic knowledge and they must have a good command of Qur’an and Sunnah.
  • Besides Islamization of knowledge in the Muslim countries, in order to combat the world-wide evils of secular education, Faith-Based education is also needed to create a common platform for the followers of all the major regions – Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. Because a good number of non-Muslim students are taking higher education in Muslim universities. And if non-Muslim students get Faith-Based moral education, one day they themselves will rebel against evils of secular education.
  • To teach literature effectively by following Islamic principles, it should be kept in mind that, literature can not be a substitute for moral teaching. Literature can never replace morality or religion. The main function of literature is to provide enjoyment. So a literature teacher will help the students to realize that any human situation presented in literature can not be applied in real life. If the teacher presents Islamic framework of life in front of the students, they will easily understand the limitations of the literary works.


5.0 Conclusion

For the full realization of the Islamization of knowledge and to get fruitful results from it, at first the Muslim community must realize that it will help the Ummah to regain their status and position in the world which they lost years back. The Muslims need to master the fundamental principles of Islam and Islamic legacy and gain proper knowledge of contemporary social and applied sciences. Muslim community must also be fully acquainted with the Islamic vision and Islamic ideological and methodological notions before trying to Islamize any discipline. A Muslim scholar must have an adequate understanding of the various Islamic texts that related to his special field.

Reference books and articles:

1. The Holy Qur’an
2. Islamic Teaching Course – vol-1
3. Islamization of Knowledge : General Principles and Work Plan- vol-1
4. Islamic Principles and Methods in Teaching of Literature ( an article by Syed Ali Ashraf )
5. Islamization of Linguistics (an article by Sayyid Muhammad Syeed )

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