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Islamic Education in Australia

Q A Ahmad

Most early Muslim migrants who came from Macassar as pearl-divers or from North India as camel-drivers during 1867 to 1910 lost their identity through the generations so that now they have no adherence with Islam. Those Muslims who started settling permanently in Australia from 1950, however, managed to at least identify themselves as Muslims. Very wisely, the Muslim community had completed the most important functions of identification by building mosques and Islamic centres and that of consolidation by setting up organisations and societies. The Muslim community was thus firmly planted and its tree began to grow stronger.

Muslims in Australia are now concentrating on the function of Islamic education. Many individuals and societies have therefore started thinking and planning for Islamic schools and Islamic education. It may not be too late to learn from our past experience in this also. We need to plan properly for Islamic education in Australia. In our keen desire and enthusiasm to build mosques and Islamic centres for our identification and religious needs, we failed to plan properly resulting in mosques and centres becoming too costly and sometimes dysfunctional. Some of our centres became short of space and did not cater properly for the needs of the community and did not fulfil socio-religious obligation. Some centres were not even completed because of shortage of money. Indeed, a lot of hard work and dedication was put in to build these mosques and centres and the work of those involved is to be greatly acknowledged. Unified planned efforts, however, instead of the usual mushroom growth of these centres may have resulted in functional, less costly centres that would have benefited the Muslim community in a better way.

Similarly, in the establishment of organisations, there was no guidance provided as to the proper types of organisations that would suit the Australian community. The result is that we are now facing two problems in our organisational system. Firstly, the middle link of the State council in our 3-tier system has proved to be more of a hindrance than a tool for serving the community. The national body has no connection with the grassroot masses since the task has been left to the Councils which are not able to cope in providing a healthy link between the Federation and the local societies.

Two decades ago we entered into the third phase, that of education. This began with weekend schools by separate organisations, but to reach out to Muslim children in schools, the quick arrangement was that dedicated Muslims who wished to educate these children volunteered themselves to teach Islam in Scripture classes. It was a great step taken by the Islamic Council of New South Wales. Because of the urgency of the situation, it was not possible to properly train these Muslims and so there was no uniformity in the syllabus to be taught in these Scripture classes. This became slightly better as the years went on, but we became the victims of circumstances and there was no control over this.

Alhamdulillah, all three types of education are in vogue ­ scripture classes in public schools, the weekend schools and the full-time primary and high schools. There is one big lacuna in that there are no well-thought policy, unified philosophy and coherent objectives of these activities. We have seen Muslim schools springing up here and there in isolation without any short-term or long-term plan that is identifiable with the community and on-going life activities. In short, similar to our past achievements, our educational activities are not so fruitful or effective since we have not been able to think and plan together.

Islam should not be identified as a subject such as physics or maths, in order to develop skills in a particular discipline or field of knowledge. Islam is the way of life chosen by Allah(swt) for mankind. It is the final and perfect Guidance of Allah(swt). Islam is the underlying knowledge that is to be applied to each and every walk of life. Education for Muslims must be based on Allah's Guidance, in all fields of knowledge. We are talking of Islamisation of knowledge rather than the mere isolated learning of Islam.

Islam does not allow any demarcation of 'sacred' from 'secular', 'transcendental' from 'mundane' or 'material' from 'spiritual'. The material world is as much a part as is the spiritual world of the one reality which man has to relate. The reality is that everything belongs to Allah and Allah is everywhere Supreme.

The philosophy of Islamic education should be the philosophy of unity. There is not only divine unity, but of all creation, of mankind and of human personality. Islamic education should produce the whole human being - the rational, moral, aesthetic, spiritual and social being. No part can be sacrificed for another and no dimension of human personality should be neglected in imparting Islamic education.

Islamic education should enhance wisdom. The highest and most authentic knowledge that leads to wisdom. Wisdom is attained by the thinking and development of personality illumined by the Nur (light) of the Quran and the multi-dimensional personality of Prophet Muhammad (s).

"This Quran will guide to that which is most upright."

(Quran, 17:9)

"You have a good example in Allah's Messenger for anyone who looks to Allah and the last Day and remembers Allah always."

(Quran, 33:21)

The globe has become too small to live separately. The cultures and modes of living are diverse and every society will at some time be living in a multicultural society. In Australia we are certain of having multiculturalism as a part of living. To develop a sense of responsibility, it is essential to live together with peace and mutual tolerance. The right Islamic education and the development of a sense of responsibility should instil an understanding of the spiritual essence of all human beings declared and insisted by Islam, human freedom, equality, respect, dignity and fraternity.

The mission of Islam is to liberate mankind from the darkness (zulumat) of falsehood and oppression and to usher mankind into the light of truth, justice and peace. Thus Islamic education must perform the essential function of a liberating force. Islamic education must teach the history, experience and problems of the dispossessed and the exploited. For example, the Muslims should take it as their foremost task to help and uplift the natives of Australia, the Aborigines who need to be rehabilitated from the experiences of exploitation and colonisation.

Briefly, Islamic education should foster and promote moral and academic excellence in students through a creatively-designed curriculum implemented by concerned, inspired and dedicated teaching staff. Islamic institutions should promote such quality education to enable students to lead a successful individual, family and social life.

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