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Role of Education from the Quranic Perspective

Irfan Ahmad Khan

This paper was read at the Third UNESCO Seminar on the Contribution of Religions to the Culture of Peace. The seminar was held in Granada, Spain from May 5 - 11, 1998.

0.1 World's Faith Communities are, as such, peace missions initiated at different times and places, by various prophets of God

In the following sections I will explain that from the Quranic perspective a faith community is, essentially, a peace mission1 initiated by some messenger of God. Prophets and messengers of God are exceptional persons. They are humans chosen by God for His work and to make this world a better place for His servants, our fellow human beings. The prophets of God convey God's Word to mankind. They explain it in their own words and they live this message. With the support of their believers, they encounter the human situation they face in the light of Divine Guidance. As the prophets of God work under direct Divine Supervision, Who watches them all the time, correcting them wherever needed, unlike other human beings, they alone are above criticism. I mean, you can not believe that certain persons are prophets of God and at the same time criticise them for not being able to guide properly. However, a believer, who tries to follow their guidance today in his/her own situation, continues his/her effort to understand them better, keeping before his/her eyes the situation that they encountered. I will call the prophetic period, in the history of a faith community, its classical period. The classical history of a faith community contains an ideal - a model to be followed by its later generations.

When I say the above, I have all great religions of the world in view. And if we all agree that world's religions are, in fact, various peace missions initiated long ago, then it will be required that we all, together, work out how this plurality of peace missions, as they exist today, should be used to re-establish peace in the world. I suggest that every faith community should answer this question in its own way, as I am trying to answer it in my own way. After we collect from various faith communities of the world, their different answers to this question, the next step would be that of developing a commonly agreed upon perspective and in that light working out an initial program for the joint cooperative efforts of Earth's faith communities to fulfil their common mission, ie. re-establishment of peace on Earth. I hope, if the first job is successfully completed, the following steps will become easier.

1.0 The prophetic missions were directed toward the establishment of peace on earth

The Quran suggests that in the very beginning the Children of Adam were living peacefully as One Community2 of God's servants. There was no oppression, no exploitation and no corruption. All humans as fellow servants or co-'ibad of their Lord, The One God, did their mutual duties as assigned by Him and included in their Covenant with Him. It was only later that Satan succeeded in dividing the human family. And when fasad (corruption) and baghy (exploitation and oppression) prevailed everywhere, God sent His messengers to strive to make them One Community again. Thus bringing peace back to human life was the goal of the Religion3. In fact, the efforts of the truthful followers of these prophets of God were directed toward the attainment of peace inside ie. in the inner life of the individual believers, as well as outside ie. in the community of the believers and within their families. And the same was achieved through the remembrance of God in their prayer and worship and through God's servants doing their assignments from Him related with their mutual relations within the human family.

The collective efforts of the followers of the prophets of God succeeded, to a great extent, in the attainment of peace as well as social and economic justice. However, due to the continuous working of certain social and psychological factors over a long period of time, the peace was again lost. Gradually fasad4 (corruption) prevailed in all walks of human life. Ultimately the condition of human society became so rotten that another prophetic mission was required to revive the Religion and re-establish peace and justice.

Thus, according to the Quran, before Prophet Muhammad (s) the prophets of God were sent again and again to bring peace back to human life5.

1.1 The anti-god forces causing division and war quite often misuse religious sentiments

The Quran underlines that unlike God Who likes peace, Satan, the Hidden Enemy of Mankind, creates, through his instigations, divisions6 among human beings and provokes them to fight and dominate each other. Quite often when Satan succeeds in creating a war situation, God again extinguishes this fire.7 God warns mankind, in general, and believers, in particular, against this satanic plan to divide the human family. "Beware, he is your open enemy!"8 obviously divisions and war will ruin us. Satan is trying to make us blind to this simple fact. We should not let our enemy succeed in his anti-mankind plans. It is quite unwise to consider that something good may come out of our waging a war - as Satan is trying to assure us through his instigations.

The Quran warns the believers against satanic instigations. This hidden enemy goes to their disbelieving opponents and incites them to do something that will irritate the believers. For example, the Satan may incite the believers to ask silly questions from the believers. Then he will go to the believers and provoke them to retaliate. The purpose is to create an emotionally tense situation. He can not tolerate a friendly discussion, with cool mind, between these two groups. He is interested in heated arguments and may even provoke a riot. The Quran suggests that if heat is created during the discussion or if people are not serious, the believers should close the discussion. They should tell their addressees that the believers do not believe in discussing things in such an atmosphere. It is recommended that they say "Peace be on you"9 and leave the place. Tranquillity and peace of mind or sakinah10 is regarded as a great blessing from God. Those who have sakinah act rationally and with sobriety. Unlike ignorant people who act fanatically, the (true) believers are capable of making decisions with cool mind. When through their wise judgement and disciplined action, the believers11 avoided a war situation, in spite of the fact that they had the upper hand, the Quran conveyed the Divine Appreciation to the Prophet: "Verily We have granted thee a manifest victory12." "It was a moral victory achieved by the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah"13 which opened the doors to subsequent success of the Prophetic mission and led to the peaceful Conquest14 of Makkah. The terms of the Treaty would, suggest to an ignorant person, that the believers were the losers. However, in just a few years time, everyone could see how it led to the success of the prophetic mission that Muhammad and his faithful companions were striving to revive.

1.2 Islamic prayer and peace

To have a close look at how the five times daily salah (Islamic worship) prepares the believers for their peace mission just consider the following description of its last part:

In the last part of the salah the believer sits down with great reverence in the Presence of God. First he/she greets God Himself, then conveys the greetings of peace to the Prophet, greetings of peace to all those who are praying together and to all righteous (salih ie. persons oriented toward peace and reform in society) servants of God. In order to end the salah, the believer turns his/her face toward right side and then left side, saying each time "Peace be upon you and Mercy of God," thus bringing peace to the human world from the Presence of God. Having finished the worship, the believer again glorifies God's Greatness, seeks His Forgiveness and then says:

O our Lord, You are the Peace, the peace is from You, and to You peace returns. O our Lord, You are Blessed and Glorified, O Lord of Glory and Honour 15!

2.0 Where does the source of hatred, division and war in the human world actually lie?

According to the Quran, it is some irreligious factors that cause hatred and division among human beings. Submission to God, The Merciful, Who is Lord of all human beings, creates in the hearts of the believers respect and concern with their fellow human beings who are their fellow servants (co-ibad) of God. This naturally leads to their sharing of material resources with other needy human beings. According to these believers, the material resources which we may possess and, in fact, all our abilities and skills and even the advantageous positions which any of us may hold in society, are blessings from The Merciful (Ar-Rahman) to be used for the benefit of all mankind. In fact, through thus giving each of us some of his blessings, He is only testing us.16 He wants to see how, with the help of the blessings given to each of us, the recipients would or would not try to make the human world a better place for His servants. We should use these resources and abilities as means to seek His pleasure through doing our duties to our fellow human beings - sharing what we have with those who may need it even more than we do, eg. helping the weak and deprived sections of society and giving due attention to those who have been alienated.17

On the other hand, in the absence of a (truly) religious attitude, like the one depicted above, most people would show a tendency to treat these resources as ends in themselves. Devoid of any higher concern, one will he motivated by one's selfish interests in the present phase of life, in total forgetfulness of the Hereafter and its everlasting rewards and thereby will neglect one's duties to one's fellow human beings. Likewise, in the absence of a true devotion to God, Who alone is The Lord of All Human Beings18, conflicting group interests would, naturally, lead to what we may call "lordship of Man over Man", I mean, the state of human society in which human beings, instead of conducting themselves as servants of One Lord, God The Merciful, and thus behaving as one community, tend to dominate and exploit each other. This would fill the human world with zulm19 (injustice and oppression), corruption and mutual exploitation and take away all peace from mankind. The Quran shows how in the absence of any concern with higher values, a lover of material resources may develop a tendency to hate20 his/her fellow humans. In a society that is deprived of spiritual and moral values, those who possess material resources, develop a tendency to use these resources to suck even more blood out of the poor.21 Likewise, those who have political or military power would use their power to dominate over the weak and even to crush them. Even knowledge and (pseudo) spirituality might be used to exploit the illiterate masses and misguide them22. It was this state of human society which was very successfully treated by the prophets of God and their true followers whose striving were directed toward bringing peace back to human life. And the world's faith communities, as their inheritors, are supposed to revive the same peace mission today in the present pluralistic society.

2.1 Degeneration of a faith community into an interest group

In the light of the above description of the prophetic movements, belonging to a faith community is, in fact, being part of a collective striving to establish peace23 in the human world. A faith community holds, supposedly, a formula24 for the establishment of economic and social justice that will bring peace or carries with it such other valuable suggestions that will help the re-establishment of peace in human society. It is, therefore, expected of this faith community that, whatever valuable ideas its believers have for bringing peace back to human life, they will practically apply25 them in their individual and social life; and at the same time during their dealings with people who do not belong to their faith community, they will convey26 their message of peace to the outside world.

The classical period of a faith community may inspire many following generations so that over a long period of time this faith community fulfils the above expectations. However, with the passage of time, irreligious factors of the kind marked above may cause a spiritual and moral degeneration27 in the life of this faith community. Consequently, the same faith community which in its classical period had a message for the salvation and success of humanity, may slowly degrade itself into a group of people totally lost in lower pursuits,28 striving only for their material gains - as if they have no human concerns other than their own personal or group interests, nor do they have any higher values. In spite of the fact that this faith community is still proud29 of its heritage and the great achievements of its classical period, in actuality, through a slow process of degeneration, it may have totally lost all its commitment to the original teachings of its prophets.

2.2 The signs of degeneration

The Quran very clearly points out that the prophetic missions that were directed toward the attainment of real peace had, as their primary concern, the establishment of justice in society.30 Above we explained how (true) faith leads to benevolence (or ihsan31) but, in fact, justice is even prior to benevolence32. Obviously, the question of a person being benevolent to another would arise only when no injustice is involved in the issue under consideration. When the Religion exhorts that the believers should be benevolent to each other, it has presupposed that no injustice is involved in their mutual dealing. The purpose is to emphasise that they should not remain on the lowest level of goodness. However, in defining the status of the community of the believers, the Quran makes it clear that the community of believers is the community that stands with the Truth and Justice33. One purpose is to warn the believers that they do not lose balance while fulfilling the demands of a benevolent conduct.34

Take the example of an individual believer who knows very well what are the top-most demands of faith concerning his/her benevolent conduct.35 Now if in (what looks like) fulfilling any of these demands, an injustice is clearly involved, then in doing what he/she may wrongly consider to be a benevolent and, therefore, a virtuous act, he/she will only be acting unjustly and, therefore, very wrongly. However, the above assertion about the status of a faith community has even more serious implications related with inter-communal affairs. For example, in a conflict between two communities, each community is required to follow the path of justice even if it goes against (what is, otherwise considered as) its group interest. If the status of a faith community is to establish justice in the human world, then it has to do whatever it can, to help the establishment of justice. And in no case it should help establishment of an injustice. From the perspective of the faith community itself, it will he a loser only when it, anyhow, helps the establishment of injustice. Therefore, it is expected of the faith community that it will follow the path of justice whether, according to people who have a different scale of values, it loses or gains.

3.0 Main problem in the resolution of international conflicts: responsibility of faith communities?

What makes the resolution of international conflicts so difficult is the fact that, as a general rule, a nation's primary duty is to safeguard its national interest. But does it mean that everything else is secondary? What about moral principles? Is it also secondary to its national interest that a nation follows the principle of justice or fulfils its international commitments or follows the decisions of a larger body of which it is a part? Likewise, is it also secondary to a nation's interest that it should not neglect the Global Interest, as a whole? Obviously, a nation is not supposed to make the principle of justice secondary to its national interest and, as a matter of principle, this is not meant when many agree that a nation's primary duty is to safeguard its national interest. And the same may be true of other questions raised above. However, in practice, it is the case that, most nations always seem to be inclined to give priority to their national interest. And this is what creates the problem. As a general rule, a nation will give due consideration to global welfare only when its own national welfare is also directly linked with it or if, at least, its national interest permits that it does so. On the other hand, as a general rule, in cases where a nation finds that its own national interest is jeopardised, it will be required that there is sufficient international pressure to compel this nation to give the global welfare its due regard. However, the international pressure also can not be built without full cooperation of individual nations, each of which may again show a tendency to give priority to its own national interest. In fact, due to the above reason, nations will have a tendency to group themselves according to their national interests. But what will happen if it is actually the case? Over and above the (possibly conflicting) interests of individual nations, now we will also have interests of even bigger and stronger entities, the (possibly conflicting) interests of groups of nations. in this situation it will be even more important that moral principles (mainly, the principle of justice) and the global welfare have priority over our personal and group interests. Or, it will be even more seriously required that we learn to behave as servants of Lord of all human beings, The One Merciful God.

According to us, the root cause of most evils on the international plane is the situation that, as a general rule, a nation does not follow a certain line of action because of its being just and right. It follows a certain policy because it is in its national interest to do so. Of course, once a policy has been adopted, moral and legal principles are used to argue in its favour. Thus moral and legal principles do not guide our action, they only help to justify and rationalise our action that is actually based on some other considerations. It is obviously a very irreligious attitude. And it is a very challenging situation for world's faith communities. It only means that either our faith communities themselves have very much degenerated or they have become ineffective.

3.1 It is time for the world faith communities to work toghether

The world's faith communities need a comprehensive plan to work for their common mission, the re-establishment of peace on Earth. I will underline the following items of agenda:

(a) During our intra-faith work we should regenerate our faith communities as peace missions working in a pluralist world. This will recreate in our faith communities a true consciousness of their status. A faith community is not one among many other interest groups. Rather it is a group of persons that believes in certain moral values and has a human concern. Therefore, for our faith communities their group interests will not have priority (eg.) over the principle of justice. And while working for the welfare of their own community, they will also give due regard to the interests of other groups and will never totally disregard the global, welfare, as a whole.

(b) World's faith communities, together, should try to develop a global moral force. It is not possible without the cooperation of such leaders of these faith communities, who are persons of vision and moral/spiritual calibre, who have a concern with humanity at large that they create in their own communities and who are capable of working with leaders of other faith communities for their common mission ie. re-establishment of peace on Earth. These true lovers of peace will not avoid taking a stand if it becomes morally/spiritually essential to do so. But they will always stand with Truth and Justice. Obviously a global moral force will be created only when people are united on the basis of moral and spiritual concerns and not on the basis of their group interests alone. And it is something which only (truly) religious people can do.

(c) Worlds faith communities must learn how to respect and appreciate each other, in spite of differences in religious beliefs and practices and how to tolerate and forgive36 each other. Prophets of God and their truthful followers were very tolerant to their disbelieving opponents. It is only their opponents who were so intolerant37. And in spite of their opponents' mistreatment, the prophets advised their followers to return good for evil38. Only when the unjust people started working on their plan to eliminate them and eradicate their mission, did they react39 against them. It is true that the prophets of God were very firm in continuing their peaceful striving for their mission and would not make any compromise in issues related with Truth and Justice. But they did not believe in coercion. They presented to their people what was, good for them and invited them to reflect upon it. They believed in peaceful dialogue with those who had disagreements with them and organised all virtuous and God fearing people for the re-establishment of peace and justice in society.

Our faith communities want freedom of belief and practice for themselves, so they have, to give the same rights to others. According to the principle of justice/honesty40 we can not demand from others what we would not allow them.

For communication between faith communities humility and openness are essential. Even if we carry Divine Word, being humans, we are liable to make mistakes in interpretation and understanding. Therefore, one should not speak with a prophetic authority. Even a prophetic authority works within its believers; but today most faith communities seem to agree on not coming of newer prophets.

I hope, it should not be very difficult to further work out, in the light of the above, the orientation of courses on religion to be taught as part of general education.

References & Footnotes

1. Consider Quran, 6:48; 7:35; 26:152; 27:148 and also 49:9-10

Prophets come at a time when corruption is rampant. The nature of their work is that of islah ie. improvement of human relations.

The Quran names virtuous actions "salihat" because they improve society ie. eliminate corruption and bring peace. Also faith is called iman because it brings aman or peace.

The Religion is also named "Islam" ie. the way of achieving peace through submission to God. According to the Quran this name was first used by Abraham for his Religion. Consider mainly 22:78 and 2:128-133 and also 3:19.

2. The Quran makes nine explicit references to this theme: 2:213; 5:48; 10:19; 11:118; 16:93; 21:92; 23:52; 42:8; 43:33.

3. I use "the Religion" for the totality of the essential teachings of the prophets of God.

4. Consider Quran, 7:59-103; 11:25-97; 26:69-177 to notice how prophets were sent one after another.

5. The Quran mentions only some names and underlines that prophets were sent everywhere eg. consider 35:24; 4:163-164; 40:78.

6. Just consider Quran,2:208 and 5:91.

7. Quran,5:64

8. Quran, 12:5, 100; 17:53; 28:15

9. Quran, 6:68,121; 7:199-202; 19:83; 25:63; 41:36. Please note that the opponents are called "ignorant" because their action is based upon emotions and whims and not on knowledge and reason. They lack sobriety.

10. Quran, 2:248; 9:26,40; 48:4, 18, 26

11. Quran, 48:26

12. Quran, 48:4

13. Muhammad Asad, The Message of The Quran, Dar Al-Andalus, Gibraltar, 1984, p.785

14. Muhammad Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, American Trust Publications, 1976, pp406-412.

15. The prayer occurs in seven original authentic collections of Prophet's tradition. And in actual practice, different versions of the same prayer are in use. In some versions peace occurs four times. Please note "As-Salam" or "The Peace" is one of God's names.

16. Quran, 87:l5-20

17. Quran, 2:83,177; 4:36; 89:17-18; 107:2-3.

19. The Quran underlines zulm more than anything else. The word "zulm" with the root (z,l,m) is repeated hundreds of times. Human's failure to become servant of One God alone, that leads to manv different forms of injustice involving various modes of lordship of Man over Man, is, according, to the Quran, the root cause of all social evils.

20. Quran, 105:1-3;68:8-15 also consider 17-31

21. The Quran emphasizes (59:7) that wealth should not keep circulating among the rich people. Also consider 2:275-281; 30:39.

22. Quran, 2:l65-17l also 2:l01

23. Quran, 2:208 Consider the whole section 2:204-214.

24. Quran, 5:48

25. Quran, 2:44; 4:135; 5:8

26. Quran, 2:143; 22:78 also 3:99

27. Quran, 2:212; 3:14:18; 7:169: 35:32

28. Quran, 7:175-179 discusses one example.

29. Quran, 2:134-141 discusses one example.

30. Quran, 57:25; 55:1-9. Also consider 42:15-17 and 16:90.

31. We received this suggestion from contexts like, Quran, 2:83; 2:177; 4:36; 6:151-152; 17:23-26; 31:13-19 that work out social implications of our being servant of One God alone.

32. Just consider Quran, 16:90 and 4:135.

33. Quran, 4:135; 5:8 Also consider 3:21.

34. This is mainly the case with Quran, 4:135.

35. As mentioned in contexts referred in note 31.

36. The Quran again and again emphasizes that the believers forgive their opponents, e.g. 2:109; 7:199; 45:14. However, in 42:40-43 it is implicitly suggested that forgiveness is not desirable, if it will only increase the crimes.

37. All they wanted from their intolerant opponents was their right to say what was, according to them, good for everyone; while their addressees were free to believe or disbelieve. Consider Quran, 7:86-88; 11:28; 14:10-13; 26:114-116; 36:17-18 and 96:9-14

38. Quran, 13:22; 28:54-55; 41:34:36

39. Or God Himself punished the unjust people as was the case with the people of Noah, Lot, Pharaoh and his army that followed Moses and the Children of Israel, and other people mentioned in the Quran.

40. Just consider Quran, 83:1-18

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