Ever since the Western colonization of Muslim countries, a number of Muslim reformers have been concerned with the inadequacy of the Islamic educational system. First, the primary motive of the colonial administration was to prepare the colonized Muslim populations to run their administrative machinery. Thus, they started by teaching their Western languages to the indigenous colonized populations. Then, they introduced their laws and imposed them on the colonized populations. Consequently, the Muslim educational system, based primarily on the Quran and the Sunnah necessitating the learning of Arabic and an exposure to the Shariah, was rendered meaningless. It did not pay to be a graduate of the Islamic curriculum only.
Acquiring money was in learning the Western language and mastering the Western law and their administrative techniques. And, as the colonial administrators opened new schools and colleges, their primary aim was to produce clerks to man their bureaucracies. Despite the fact that these seats of learning did introduce courses in physical and natural sciences, the probability of a colonial becoming a reputable scientist was one in millions. There were two consequences of the imposition of the colonial system.
First, the traditional Islamic system was allowed to freeze, even decay, thus, it was rendered irrelevant. Second, and more seriously, Western education, because of economic rewards, became a prestige symbol which discredited not only Islamic education but the very tradition of Islam itself. Thus, while receiving Western secular education, many Muslims became convinced of the superiority of the secular knowledge over Islam as a source of knowledge.
This notion was so deeply ingrained in the minds of the Muslim youth in general that no sooner than one was educated in a college or a university than he or she proudly started using the language of his colonial masters at the expense of his mother tongue; showed a great sense of superiority in displaying his mastery in Western sciences, philosophy, law and literature; and dreamed of a higher education in the West. At the same time, however, it did not even occur to him that most of the Western sciences, especially social sciences, philosophies and law, as well as literature are extremely provincial not universal in character. What for instance, does Wordsworth mean to an arab who never saw a daffodil in his desert? Or, what does Keats mean to a Pakistani whose coast line is hardly ever touched by a Western wind? Nevertheless, the Muslim professors and students seemed to enjoy these Western authors in their arrogant display of ignorance. Worse yet, our intellectuals proudly are themselves often embroiled in the Western intellectual socio-political and economic controversies as represented by the works of Nietzsche, Hegel, Marx and many others drew their inspirations mainly from their Western regional experiences, but presented them in universal overtones. Our intellectuals unfortunately, have had little or no exposure to the rich and very stimulating debates generated during the centuries long Islamic civilization, and often prematurely reject them as being irrelevant, archaic and backward in character. There are three major consequences of this “cultural neo-imperialism” (Braibanti, 1986:76) in Muslim countries, although foreign colonizers have withdrawn from most of them. According to Isma’il (a1 Faruqi, ed. 1402 AH11982 AC), these are:
1. Stagnation of Islamic Learning: As the Islamic Madrassah system decayed, it ceased to become innovative and dynamic.
2. Luck of Excellence in Modern Education: As implanted in Muslim countries, Western knowledge which produced results in Western countries, remained sterile and ritualistic with a false aura of progress.
3. Muslim Dependence on Foreign Ideas: Because Muslim intellectuals and the policy makers looked up to it, Western knowledge, despite its irrelevance, made them dependent on its research and leadership in the West.
These three together describe what Ismail called a “threateningly dangerous malaise” (a1 Faruqi, 1402 AH11982 AC). This malaise is such that it alienates our youth from our basic values and makes them attribute our material backwardness to something which does not exist, Islamic “ideology” in practice. Thus, our present system of education is not only non-productive, it is also culturally alienating.