The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education will be available via subscription on September 26, 2018. Visit About to learn more, meet the editorial board, or learn about librarian resources.

Show Summary Details

Page of

 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, EDUCATION ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 21 September 2018

Islamic Education and Contemporary Ethical Dilemmas

Summary and Keywords

There are at least three approaches to Islamic education: interpretive, critical, and deconstructive understandings of Islamic education. These mutually intertwined approaches to Islamic education lend themselves to various practices through which they engender specific human actions. In the main, the notion of Islamic education can be attentive to some of the ethical dilemmas in the contemporary world, such as human trafficking, global warming, and global terrorism. First, education in Islam is constituted by the notions of hudā (guidance), tarbiyyah (socialization), and hikmah (wisdom)—underlying meanings that give Islamic education its distinctive form. These are also referred to as three intertwined theoretical approaches to Islamic education. In turn, these concepts can give rise to various human actions referred to as practices of Islamic education. Therefore, second, the aforementioned educative concepts engender a’māl (human actions) that can be responsive to undermining ethical dilemmas in the contemporary world, such as ijtihād (individual striving), shūrā (dialogical/deliberative engagement), and ummah (communal action). As a consequence of the prevalence of major ethical predicaments in and about Islamic education in especially the Arab and Muslim world, it is argued that dilemmas of parochialism and male chauvinism, religious and ideological differences, and Islamophobia can most appropriately be addressed through critical and responsible human action. Therefore, third, the a’māl of ijtihād (individual striving), shūrā (dialogical/deliberative engagement), and ummah (communal action) can cultivate responsibility, humanity, diversity, and concern for the other in dealing with the aforementioned human predicaments.

Keywords: Islam, education, guidance, socialization, wisdom, human actions, individual striving, dialogical/deliberative engagement, community


Since the First World Conference on Islamic Education was held in 1977 (Makkah, Saudi Arabia), attended by more than 300 delegates from practically every sphere of the Muslim world, Islamic education has been under close scrutiny. Three interrelated understandings of Islamic education have been cultivated. First, scholars such as Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, Isma’il al-Faruqi, and Fazlur Rahman had been concerned mostly with what has become known as the Islamization of knowledge in relation to Islamic education. The idea of Islamization is connected to forms of interpretive inquiry, with the intention of designing and implementing curricula, underscored by an Islamic impetus, so as to liberate Islamic institutions from succumbing to secularism. Second, Islamic education’s anti-secularist concern was accompanied by a critical understanding of Islamic education, as is evident from the contestation of exclusive rote learning at various progressive Islamic institutions of higher learning as an attempt to prepare Muslims for the challenges of a globalized world. Third, Islamic education’s transformative and post-critical responses through social media seem to be an attempt to undermine political dictatorships and repression in the Arab and Muslim world.

Islamic Education and Interpretation

During the First World Conference on Islamic education, organised by the King Abdulaziz University, Makkah (Saudi Arabia) from March 31 to April 8, 1979, concepts and practices in and about Islamic education were subjected to profound interpretation and re-interpretation. By an interpretive view of Islamic education, it is implied that the meanings of the concept have been made transparent by scholars in relation to other concepts. It is widely accepted that Islamic education is constituted by hudā (guidance), tarbiyyah (socialisation), and hikmah (wisdom or critical judgment). Hudā (guidance) is informed by ‘ilm (knowledge) that is of two kinds: rational knowledge (‘aqlī) and religious knowledge (naqlī). This classification of knowledge has been advocated by prominent Muslim luminaries such as Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) and al-Ghazzālī, who explained guidance as “potential” (rational and analytical) and “active” (intuitive), and “formal” (rational and self-evident) and “existential” (acquired through experience and intuition), respectively (al-Zeera, 2001, pp. 79–80). More recently, al-Faruqi (1982) proposed the idea of the “unity of knowledge” in the sense that “Islamic knowledge” comprises both ‘aqlī and naqlī and, in turn, such knowledge is rational, telic, and societally driven. This implies that “Islamic knowledge” is universal and, according to al-Faruqi (1982), should be responsive to the entirety of humanity. Rahman (1988, pp. 3–4) posits that the knowledge in the Quran and Sunnah constitutes guidance that Muslims should apply in their quest to produce “creative knowledge.” Such “creative knowledge” can be responsive to human moral enactments. Al-Attas (1991, pp. 42–43), in a comprehensive fashion, distinguishes religious knowledge from the rational, intellectual, and philosophical sciences. Religious sciences include the Qurān, Sunnah (life experiences and narrations of the Prophet Muhammad), Sharī’ah (jurisprudence and law, theology—God, His Essence, Attributes, Names and Acts), and al-Tassawuf (Islamic metaphysics and linguistic sciences such as Arabic, including grammar, lexicography, and literature). In turn, the rational, intellectual, and philosophical sciences include human sciences, natural sciences, applied sciences, technological sciences, comparative religion, culture, civilization, and history. The aforementioned classification of knowledge in Islam accentuates hudā (guidance) as comprising both rational and intuitive dimensions of knowledge. Based on the seminal thoughts of the aforementioned scholars, Islamic education is invariably connected to knowledge derived from the Quran and Sunnah, in conjunction with knowledge constructed through the natural (including physical, engineering, and technological sciences) and social and human sciences.

Proponents of Islamic education have been concerned with the intellectual malaise prevalent in the Arab and Muslim world, mostly characterized by stagnation of learning, political, cultural, and moral decline and backwardness in science and technology. In this regard, Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud (1997, p. 5) speaks about Muslim scholars’ concern for the “epistemological crisis plaguing Muslim intelligentsia,” and the economic, scientific, and technological inadequacy of Muslim nations. The perceived material backwardness of Muslims was further propounded through the inferiority associated with Islamic disciplines often considered as unproductive and culturally alienating in comparison with highly acclaimed Western sciences (Ba-Yunus, 1988, p. 18). Al-Faruqi (1982) responded through the “Islamization of knowledge” concept that aims to recast all existing forms of knowledge within an Islamic paradigm—that is, to subject all rational and religious sciences to an epistemology consistent with principles of Islam. For al-Faruqi (1982) “Islamization of knowledge” seeks to rationalize, objectify, look critically at, and non-bifurcate knowledge with the intent that such “Islamic knowledge” becomes responsive to human action. Also, for al-Faruqi (1982) Islamic education is an act of cultivating tawhīd (unity) among various religious and rational disciplines and then to disseminate such knowledge as “Islamized knowledge.” Rahman (1988), a vociferous critic of “Islamized knowledge,” accuses such knowledge as mechanical, syllogistic, mysterious, and incompatible with Islamic principles. To him, all knowledge—whether secular, Western, modern, or informed through Quranic guidance, should be open-ended and constantly subjected to critical judgment in the pursuit of new knowledge (Rahman, 1988, p. 11). It is in such a context that he refers to the cultivation of ongoing Islamic education as an act of ‘ilm (knowledge). He avers that it is not ‘ilm that is defective but rather its “misuse or abuse” (Rahman, 1988, p. 5). Unlike al-Faruqi and Rahman, who did not couch Islamic education as a distinctive term but rather as acts of cultivating unity (tawhīd) of knowledge (‘ilm), al-Attas (1991) describes Islamic education as ta’dīb or the recognition that things should be in its “right and proper places.” Ta’dīb refers to a process of disciplining the body, mind, and soul that would assure “the recognition and acknowledgement of one’s proper place in relation to one’s physical, intellectual and spiritual capacities and potentials” and that the purpose of seeking knowledge is to produce a good person (al-Attas, 1991, pp. 22–23). A good person—person of adab (goodness)—is one who establishes a relationship with Allah and the environment (including other persons in society). Put differently, the aim of Islamic education (ta’dīb) is to liberate an individual and society from being secularized, where secularization refers to the removal of spiritual meanings from the practices of people (al-Attas, 1991, p. 46).

In light of the aforementioned, an interpretive view of Islamic education involves cultivating tawhīd (unity) within understandings of knowledge—that is, knowledge cannot be separated into mutually exclusive religious and rational entities. Rather, Islamic education comprises creative knowledge, which opens itself up to the emergence of openness and novelty; and as ta’dīb, Islamic education aims to de-secularize knowledge. Such understandings of knowledge and its production invariably inform a particular understanding of Quranic guidance (hudā). Put differently, Islamic education comprises knowledge that integrates non-bifurcationist, creative, and de-secularized understandings of knowledge—all aspects of knowledge that intertwine with hudā (guidance). Consequently, an interpretive view of Islamic education foregrounds an understanding of hudā (guidance) that is interconnected to other terms such as ‘ilm (knowledge), tawhīd (unity), and ta’dīb (good/just action).

Critical Islamic Education

Whereas an interpretive view of Islamic education makes transparent meanings of the concept in relation to other concepts with the aim to understand merely its reasons that constitute the concept, a critical view of Islamic education aims to clarify meanings of the concept in relation to acts that can lead to an improvement of human action. Consequently, one finds that understanding hudā (guidance) alone would not result in transformative (improved) human action. For instance, one might know the Quranic guidance, such as to memorize the entire Qurān and countless Ahādīth (plural of Hadīth, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), but knowledge of the primary sources of Islamic education in itself does not necessarily result in transformative human action. In this regard, memorization of a particular verse or hadīth does not necessarily constitute understanding thereof. Therefore, the concept of tarbiyyah (socialization) in relation to the guidance acquired points toward the realization of action that will be of value to the human self and others. Tarbiyyah, following the seminal thoughts of the Egyptian educational reformer Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849–1905), denotes both physical education (al-tarbiyat al-badaniyyah)—which refers to the process of nurturing, feeding, loving, clothing, sheltering, and nursing children—and spiritual education (al-tarbiyat al-nafsiyyah)—which involves the cultivation of the intellect and refinement of the soul (Shafie, 1999, p. 204). As an extension of tarbiyyah (socialization), ‘Abduh uses the term ta’līm (instruction) as a process inculcating theoretical knowledge of the sciences (rational and religious) and the manifestation of such knowledge in practical applications (Shafie, 1999, p. 208). This interrelationship between tarbiyyah (socialisation) and ta’līm (instruction) is similar to the distinction Richard Rorty (1999) draws between education as socialization and individuation. For Rorty (1999) a learner is first socialized or initiated into an existing body of knowledge before she develops the critical autonomy to challenge and question through reflective judgment. The purpose of tarbiyyah is to act upon the guidance after having acquired knowledge—that is, rational knowledge and religious knowledge should benefit the self and society. Put differently, before a learner develops a critical understanding of knowledge, she first has to acquaint herself with knowledge. One cannot be critical about something without having an idea of what that something entails. Hence, one cannot be critical about one’s education if one is not familiar with one’s education. In the case of Abduh, such efforts involved using tarbiyyah critically to undermine colonialism for the sake of nationalism and patriotism (Shafie, 1999, p. 229). For Abduh one first needs some understanding of colonialism—that is, tarbiyyah—before one embarks on finding fault with the concept. Put differently, tarbiyyah (socialization) acquires its critical dimension when intertwined with ta’līm (instruction). A learner only develops her critical perspective after she has gained knowledge (that is, having been socialized) and then reflects and acts upon that knowledge. By implication, tarbiyyah on its own does not engender critical education, but rather tarbiyyah intertwined with ta’līm. The critical dimension of tarbiyyah is acquired when a learner brings her understanding of a concept into controversy. What follows is that critical Islamic education is developed when the tarbiyyah (socialization) of a learner is complemented by ta’līm (instruction). Similarly, Rorty’s distinction between socialization and individuation is one whereby a learner becomes socialized, after which she can question. One cannot just question and find fault with a particular understanding if one does not have an idea of that which one envisages to criticize.

Deconstructionist Islamic Education

Deconstruction is a literary analysis of texts—a method of reading and interpretation—that aims to look at deeper meanings beyond the taken for granted and “to reveal the existence of hidden articulations and fragmentations . . .” (Derrida in Culler, 1982, p. 247). The focus deconstruction places on looking for deeper meanings is of relevance here. A deconstructionist understanding of Islamic education is most appropriately depicted through the Quranic notion of hikmah (wisdom). The question arises: Does hikmah create space for the quest for deeper meanings? In reference to the seminal thoughts of three Islamic education theorists, the following explanations of hikmah are identified. Alparslan Açikgenç (1994, p. 168) posits that hikmah is that notion of “reflective thinking” that enables humans to comprehend the unity of knowledge between the transcendent (metaphysical or unseen such as the nature of God, resurrection, paradise, and hell) and visible (physical sciences including human, social, and religious sciences) realms of knowledge. For Açikgenç (1994, p. 181), if an inquirer gains knowledge of the transcendent realm that would enable her to clarify justly the physical realm then such a person has gained hikmah. Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud (1989, p. 75) avers that hikmah “primarily signifies what prevents or restrains thoughtless behaviour” on the basis that a person uses her intelligence to enact just action. Similarly, al-Attas (1991, p. 20) depicts hikmah as knowledge given by God on the basis of which a person can enact truth (haqq) and justice (‘adl) through her actions. Now if hikmah involves being reflective in one’s judgment, then the possibility exists to look at things or situations as if they could be different or otherwise in comparison with what is usually taken for granted. Put differently, one would be looking for deeper meanings. And when people see things anew and in a different way, they show the ability to look beyond what is presented. In this way, the hikmah they exert lends itself to seeing and understanding things anew—a matter of uncovering deeper meanings. Thus, all forms of Islamic education, whether interpretive, critical, and deconstructionist clarified through huda (guidance), tarbiyyah (socialization), and hikmah (wisdom), respectively, aim to produce action (‘amal) that can engender deeper meanings. Such meanings include discernment, transformation, and justice. Different understandings of Islamic education manifest in ‘amāl (actions), such as ijtihād (intellectual autonomy), shūrā (mutual consultation or deliberative engagement), and ummah (community or socio-ethical action).

Human Actions as a Manifestation of Islamic Education

Three interrelated human actions ensue when enacting Islamic education. First, ijtihād (intellectual autonomy) derives from the Arabic verb “jada,” which means to strive, exert oneself, and labor diligently and studiously (Lane, 1984, p. 473). More specifically, ijtihād denotes an utmost exertion of the cognitive faculties seeking to form a right opinion (Lane, 1984, p. 473). Tāhā Jabir al-‘Alwānī (1997, p. 42) considers ijtihād as a “methodological tool capable of responding to the challenges and questions of our time and future generations.” He distinguishes between ijtihād as individual intellectual autonomy and ijtihād as collective intellectual autonomy. On the one hand, in the case of individual intellectual autonomy, ijtihād is confined to the endeavors of an ‘ālim (knowledgeable person or scholar) who is able of doing a moral interpretation on the basis of the Quran, Sunnah, and the sciences (religious and/or rational) (al-‘Alwānī, 1997, p. 43). On the other hand, collective intellectual autonomy involves the work of competent research institutions that include dedicated scholars from usūl al-fiqh (sciences of jurisprudence), law, Hadīh, tafsīr (exegesis), social and natural scientists, linguists, and community leaders, for the purpose of gaining deeper insight into knowledge (al-‘Alwānī, 1997, p. 43). What is significant to note from an application of ijtihād is that the outcome cannot be absolute and binding on all generations, but rather should be flexible and relevant to a society’s needs and problems (al-‘Alwānī, 1997, pp. 44–45).

Ijtihād undermines the concept of taqlīd (blind/uncritical following or imitation). It is erroneously perceived by many critics of Islamic education that understandings of such forms of education are absolute and applicable for all times, especially in the light of juristic thought. Instead, the four well-known jurists in Islam, Imams Abū Hanīfah, Mālik, al-Shāfi’ī, and Ibn Hanbal, cautioned people not to blindly follow their teachings. Imam al-Shāfi’ī said: “One who seeks knowledge without proof is like a gatherer of wood who goes into the forest at night to collect fallen branches and is bitten by a snake when, thinking it to be another branch, he picks it up”; and when Abū Hanīfah was confronted with the question as to what should be done when one of his judgments was found to contradict the Quran, he said: “Abandon what I said in favour of the Quran.” Similarly, when he was asked about a possible contradiction between his opinion on a Hadīth, and the opinions of the Prophet’s companions, he equally urged that people abandon his opinion (al-‘Alwānī, 1992, p. 236).

Second, according to the Qurān, Islamic education can most appropriately be realized through shūrā (mutual engagement):

So [O Prophet] it is through mercy of Allah that you are gentle to them. Had you been rough and half-hearted, they would have dispersed from around you. So, pardon them, and seek forgiveness for them. Consult them in the matter and, once you have taken a decision, place your trust in Allah. Allah loves those who place their trust in Him

(‘Ali Imrān, 3, p. 159).

While the propagation of shūrā (mutual engagement) makes apparent the Quranic injunction for deliberation, consultation, and engagement, it also clarifies that Islamic education does not require aggression and coercion for its implementation, and, therefore, mutual engagement is considered as important in decision-making. Fazlur Rahman (1984, p. 5) offers the following explanation of shūrā:

It is widely held that shura means that one person, the ruler, consult such men as, in his judgement, are repositories of wisdom and then may or may not accept their advice. First of all, this picture totally misconceives the structure shura presupposes. The Quran states, while talking of the characteristics of the believers, “those whose affairs are decided by mutual consultation (amruhum shura bainahum).” Shura then does not mean one person asks others for advice but, rather, mutual advice through mutual discussions on an absolutely equal footing. This implies directly that the head of the chief executive cannot simply reject the decision arrived at through shura.

What is important to note about shūrā is that engagement depends on the mutual contributions of those who deliberate in and about Islamic education. If mutual consultation is the preferred way of engagement, then it is expected that diversity of opinion and disagreement (ihktilāf) would be recognized and that people cannot be excluded from the process of engagement on the grounds of their differences. Although scholars like al-Alwānī (in Alibasic, 1999, p. 263) considers ihktilāf as “further evidence to the reality of pluralism in Islamic law,” others like Hashim Kamali and Isma’il al-Badawi (in Alibasic, 1999, p. 263) seem to restrict disagreement by not permitting discussion after a decision has been taken. Instead, I prefer the view that ihktilāf be enacted, as its restriction might put shūrā at risk from authoritarianism.

Third, ummah (community) is mentioned in the Quran (‘Āli Imrān, 3, p. 105): “There has to be a group of people from among you who call towards the good, and bid the fair and forbid the unfair. And it is these who are successful.” Also, in al-Shūrā (42, p. 13):

He has ordained for you people the same religion as He enjoined upon Noah, and that which we have revealed to you (O Prophet), and that we have enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus by saying, “Establish the religion, and be not divided therein. . . .”

The notion of community is invoked in relation to the unity of faith and fairness (justice). On the one hand, ummah is mentioned in relation to the unity of faith, whereas, on the other hand, ummah is linked to the cultivation of just action. Al-Awwa (in Alibasic, 1999, p. 292) points out that verses in which ummah is mentioned refer to a “community united in creed (‘aqīdah), and not [to] . . . political, social economic, literary, or medical community (ummah).” According to Bilici (2006, p. 319), a community united in faith (ummah) “is a community premised upon the belief that there is a God.” Also, such a community “is not necessarily a territorial community” (Bilici, 2006, p. 321). Muslims, by virtue of their belief in a monotheistic God, comprise a community united in faith. The idea of diversity and disagreement (ikhtilāf) within community (ummah) is considered as necessary in advancing Muslims’ just political, social, economic, and cultural aspirations (Alibasic, 1999, p. 292). The Quranic narrative of just action is articulated as follows:

Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, that you may receive admonition

(al-Nahl, 16, p. 90)


O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety, and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all ye do.

(al-Mā’idah, 5, p. 8)

Based on the Quranic idea of justice, a community united in faith endeavors to cultivate justice “through mutual understanding and respect and acceptance of diversity of beliefs [or alternative conceptions of what constitutes a morally just society]” (Mohd Yusof, 2006, pp. 115–116). Hence, the realization of Islamic education in practices and institutions can most appropriately be achieved through the human actions of ijtihād (intellectual autonomy), shūrā (mutual consultation or deliberative engagement), and ummah (community or socio-ethical action).

Islamic Education’s Response to Global Ethical Dilemmas

What can be inferred from the aforementioned analysis of interpretive, critical, and deconstructionist explanations of Islamic education is that hudā (guidance), tarbiyyah (socialization), and hikmah (wisdom) are conceptually related to liberated action, critical change, and to look at things as they could be otherwise or seen anew, respectively. In other words, the aforementioned three approaches to Islamic education can be responsive to emancipatory (liberated and critical) and imaginative (looking at things as they could be otherwise) action. Liberated, critical, and imaginative actions are acquired when Islamic education and its concomitant human practices respond to contemporary ethical dilemmas. The question is: Can Islamic education practices respond to some of the global ethical dilemmas today? More specifically, can ijtihād (individual striving), shūrā (dialogical/deliberative engagement), and ummah (community) be responsive to contemporary ethical predicaments? First, today, Muslims all over the world, and especially the Arab world, are challenged by authoritarianism. According to Schlumberger (2007, p. 1), “[a]uthoritarian rule still prevails in the Arab countries.” Consequently, the Arab and Muslim world is often considered as “inhospitable to democracy” and, with a few exceptions, authoritarian rulers nowadays subscribe to democracy only verbally (Schlumberger, 2007, p. 232). Yet such rulers repress their political opponents (Schlumberger, 2007, p. 2). On the one hand, scholars like Muhammad Qutb (1994, pp. 64–72) hold the view that Islam is incompatible with democracy because, according to God’s sovereignty, governance is incommensurate with the sovereignty of the people. On the other hand, Abdelwahab El-Effendi (1991, p. 90) asserts that delinking Islamic governance from democracy is “misplaced” on the grounds that the sovereignty of God is not an imposition, but rather subjected to communal choice. The aforementioned understanding of Islamic education prejudices democratic governance through mutual deliberation (shūrā) on the grounds that the latter invokes the equality of freedom of a community (ummah). In light of a dominant form of authoritarianism in the Arab and Muslim world, political literacy and critical thinking—important components of democratic citizenship education—receive minimal attention in some contexts (al-Maamari, 2011, p. 42). The primary aim of civic education as different from democratic citizenship education in most countries in the Arab and Muslim world is to inculcate uncritical nationalism and patriotism (al-Maamari, 2011, p. 44).

As an extension of authoritarianism in most of the Arab and Muslim world, patriarchy and male chauvinism are very dominant (al-Lamky, 2007). Many people in the aforementioned societies consider a woman’s place as being “at home,” complemented by the prevalence of “an internalized mind-set which gives preferential treatment, justification, and acceptance for men over women, especially in the professions and in politics” (Phillips, in Issan, 2013, p. 164). Mutual engagement (shūrā) implies that people deliberate equally and with mutual autonomy to counteract the societal and familial prejudices that continue to constrain the equal participation of Muslims in social and political life. The future development of countries in the Arab and Muslim world “depends not only on removing barriers but on establishing structures, procedures and processes [in relation to shūrā] which enable men and women to become citizens in development rather than gendered citizens” (Issan, 2013, p. 166). Only then, hopefully, will discrimination, exclusion, and stigmatization in the Arab and Muslim world be undermined. It is for this reason that Khan (2005, p. 43) posits that “the idea of Islamic democracy that recognizes religious and political freedoms, but also acknowledges that Islam has a central role to play in Muslim public sphere and in Muslim individual and collective identity, is the best middle path between secular authoritarianism and Islamic fundamentalism.”

Second, as recognised by Sahin (2007, p. 19), “the Muslim world is also marked by religious, cultural, ethnic, and ideological differences. The peaceful coexistence of these differences requires the non-imposition of a particular group’s values upon the rest of society.” In other words, an understanding of ummah (community) that resonates with ikhtilāf (differences and disagreement)—one that does not permit one group’s views being imposed forcibly on another without recognizing others’ understanding of the good life—is considered pertinent to the peaceful coexistence of Muslims. In fact, the idea of an exclusive, homogeneous ummah that does not recognize dissent and competing understandings of the good life has been embraced by fundamentalist groups such as al-Qaeda (the Base) and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). These groups function under the banner of ummah intertwined with a false conception of jihād (literally holy war as against utmost striving) that permits religious intolerance, persecution, and rage, enhanced by a shared conviction and commitment against an external world thoroughly corrupted by unbelief (Kippenberg, 2011, p. 177). In any case, cultivating one’s rage and frustration in religious coteries, such as through acts of so-called martyrdom that involve suicide bombings and publicized beheadings under the guise of a faith community (ummah), smacks of humiliation and injustice, which have no place in Islam. A faith community (ummah) acts with responsibility and conviction and does not compel obedience through force. This understanding of a non-violent ummah (community) “provides us with a better chance of establishing a liberal democracy that respects differences in the Muslim world” (Sahin, 2007, p. 18). In the words of Abid Ulah Jan (2005, p. 31), “Muslims never built gas chambers, used nuclear weapons, or commanded genocidal sanctions against nations that were already on their knees. Islam does not sanction concentration camps and the systematic massacre of non-Muslims”—that is, religious extremism is unrecognizable in Islam.

Third, the biggest impediment to the influence of Muslims in Western countries is arguably the escalating rise of Islamophobia (Khan, 2005, p. 49). Two factors contribute to Islamophobia: the rise of anti-Westernism and jihadism (through terrorism) in the Muslim world that demonizes the West and its faith-based communities, and the rise of an evangelical Christian right that demonizes Islam and other minorities and sees these as a barrier to global expansion and domination (Khan, 2005, p. 49). Put differently, Islamophobia is spawned by extremism perpetrated by religious fundamentalists that consider violence and terrorism as legitimate responses to their cause. Although repressive regimes, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world—such as dictatorships and sham democracies—are blamed for feeding the growth of extremism and terrorism (Esposito, 2005, p. 18), skewed notions of individual and collective autonomy cannot be ruled out as contributing to such aggressive and humiliating forms of violence. Undeniably, religious extremism has kept much of the Muslim world embroiled in violence and war (Khan, 2005, p. 46). I agree with Cohen (2005, p. 51) that blaming Islamophobia for continued religious extremism is not “the solution,” but rather that it is necessary to reexamine the practice of ijtihād (individual autonomy). It is ijtihād that can engender moderate Muslims who are “reflective, self-critical, pro-democracy and pro-human rights . . .” (Khan, 2005, p. 41). According to Louay Safi (2005, p. 90), a moderate Muslim is “[a] person who is neither on the extreme left nor on the extreme right of the political, moral, or religious spectrum of ideas.” Moderate Muslims who embark on ijtihād align their thinking with “freedom of thought, rational thinking, and the quest for truth through multiple epistemologies—science, rationalism, human experience, critical thinking, and so on . . .” (Khan, 2005, p. 44). Such Muslims are not only critical, they are also self-critical—that is, they recognize equally the ills of Islamic and non-Islamic fundamentalism and exert themselves toward “democracy, tolerance, a non-violent approach to politics, and equitable treatment of women at the legal and social levels” (Fuller, 2005, p. 21).

Inasmuch as patriarchalism and male chauvinism, ideological differences, and Islamophobia are seen as major ethical dilemmas for the Muslim world, human trafficking, global warming, and terrorism in particular have also emerged as predicaments for Muslim and non-Muslim nations. The “World Bank Report on Education Reform in North Africa and the Middle East” describes Muslim-majority countries as being in a state of gloom and anarchy where scant attention is given to alleviating poverty, high levels of illiteracy, and joblessness (World Bank, 2008). Now if one considers that the Arab and Muslim world’s budget invested 5% of its gross domestic product (GDP) and 20% of its government allocations in education over the past 40 years, it is evident that human trafficking, global warming, and terrorism would increase as education is not prioritized. The most alarming threat to human stability in the Arab and Muslim world is by far terrorism. Al-Qaeda, a network of Muslim militants that functions autonomously in cells, and, more recently, ISIS have embarked on radical and violent actions to establish an Islamic caliphate. Their military offensiveness resulted in thousands of citizens in Iraq and Syria having to flee their countries of birth to seek asylum, mostly in Europe. The humiliations suffered by asylum seekers and refugees because of ISIS’s terrorist tactics is one example as to how a skewed understanding of Islamic education prompts people to act violently. Instead of alleviating human indignation and suffering, terrorism has contributed alarmingly to people’s further humiliation as they seek asylum in countries where they encounter alienation and exclusion. One way of addressing terrorism is through the cultivation of an education that allows for critique and democratic iterations (Waghid & Davids, 2013, pp. 1–2). Through critique, distorted understandings of Islamic education that are associated with terrorism can be quelled.

Cultivating Citizenship Education Through Islamic Education

Having shown how Islamic education can respond to global ethical dilemmas, I now examine more specifically and in detail one such response, namely that of citizenship education. Citizenship education is considered as apposite for education in the Arabic and Muslim world because it aims to develop a sense of belonging and an adherence to a set of rights and obligations that are guaranteed by a constitution in a particular state (al-Maamari, 2011, pp. 38–39). I am not suggesting that citizenship education should be taught as some separate course independent from the subjects or courses of the curriculum. Rather, citizenship education should be integrated in the curriculum as complementary to the subjects being taught. For example, teaching social sciences should be integrated with an ethics of citizenship education rather than teaching the discipline on its own. However, in most Arab and Muslim countries, national education and civic education are used to inculcate loyalty and belonging to country, patriotism and allegiance to a monarch, and co-existence among all citizens (al-Maamari, 2011, pp. 39–40). Moreover, the content of civic education is often conflated with religious underpinnings, thereby creating the perception that particular notions and enactments of citizenship are endorsed through Islamic injunctions. Such an education constructs allegiance to the state as an allegiance to Islam, which, in turn, conflates rebellion against the state as rebellion against Islam—and hence one witnesses the type of stagnation and passivity, which has come to define the Arabic and Muslim political, social, and economic landscape.

Education as tarbiyyah (socialization) can do much to nurture students’ critical thinking capacities toward the cultivation of nationalism and patriotism. In addition, with a focus on hudā (guidance), Islamic education can enhance an appreciation of Islamic values, an understanding of national history, and students’ awareness of their rights and obligations (al-Maamari, 2011, p. 39). Then an Islamic education as hikmah (wisdom) can help students understand and recognize the world as a global human society and help them to interact with other cultures justly and to open up to the world (al-Maamari, 2011, p. 40). If citizenship education is cultivated through such understandings of Islamic education, such a form of education invariably would contribute toward preparing students to question and undermine authoritarianism, extremism, and an aversion to pluralism and difference. If the student passivity that is so rife in the Arab and Muslim world is disturbed—such as has been witnessed in pockets of the Arab Spring—then it might be possible to disrupt the festering dystopias, which have come to overshadow Arab and Muslim life discourses. In this way, Islamic education ought to become the prime mover of educational and social change because such an education allows for the cultivation of interpretive, critical, and deconstructive understandings that resonate with reflective judgments and seeing things as they could be otherwise. It is such an understanding of Islamic education that does not abandon its adherence to what is important and familiar to the practice. Instead, an Islamic education informed by more reflective approaches of thinking and acting can create opportunities to be more open to the new and unimaginable.


Açikgenç, A. (1994). A concept of philosophy in the quranic context. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 4(2), 155–182.Find this resource:

Alibasic, A. (1999). The right of political opposition in Islamic history and legal theory: An exploration of an ambivalent heritage. Al-Shajarah: Journal of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation, 4(2), 231–298.Find this resource:

al-‘Alwānī, T. J. (1992). Taqlid and Ijtihad. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 9(2), 231–242.Find this resource:

al-‘Alwānī, T. J. (1997). The role of Ijtihād in the regulation and correction of capital markets. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 14(3), 39–66.Find this resource:

al-Attas, S. M. N. (1991). The concept of education in Islam: A framework for an Islamic philosophy of education. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation.Find this resource:

al-Faruqi, I. (1982). Islamisation of knowledge: General principles and workplan. Reston, VA: International Institute of Islamic Thought.Find this resource:

al-Lamky, A. (2007). Feminizing leadership in arab societies: The perspectives of Omani female teachers. Women in Management Review, 22(1), 1–49.Find this resource:

al-Maamari, S. (2011). The provision of citizenship education in Arab contexts. Citizenship Teaching and Learning, 7(1), 35–49.Find this resource:

al-Zeera, Z. (2001). Wholeness and holiness in education: An islamic perspective. Herndon, VA: International Institute of Islamic Thought.Find this resource:

Ba-Yunus, I. (1988). Al-Faruqi and beyond. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 5(1), 13–28.Find this resource:

Bilici, M. (2006). Ummah and empire: Global formations after nation. In W. Schweiker (Ed.), The Blackwell companion to religious ethics (pp. 313–327). Oxford: Blackwell.Find this resource:

Cohen, A. (2005). Blaming the United States, Israel, or capitalism is not the solution. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 22(3), 51–55.Find this resource:

Culler, J. (1982). On deconstruction: Theory and criticism after structuralism. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

El-Effendi, A. (1991). Who needs an Islamic state? London: Grey Seal.Find this resource:

Esposito, J. L. (2005). Moderate Muslims: A mainstream of modernists, Islamists, conservatives, and traditionalists. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 22(3), 11–20.Find this resource:

Fuller, G. E. (2005). Freedom and security: Necessary conditions for moderation. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 22(3), 21–28.Find this resource:

Issan, S. A. (2013). Gender and wducation in the Arabian Gulf states. In G. Donn & Y. Al-Manthri (Eds.), Education in the broader Middle East: Borrowing a Baroque arsenal (pp. 145–170). Oxford: Symposium Books.Find this resource:

Jan, A. U. (2005). Moderate Islam: A product of American extremism. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 22(3), 29–38.Find this resource:

Khan, M. A. M. (2005). Islamic democracy and moderate Muslims: The straight path runs through the middle. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 22(3), 39–50.Find this resource:

Kippenberg, H. G. (2011). Violence as worship: Religious wars in the age of globalization. Translated by B. McNeil. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Find this resource:

Lane, E.W. (1984). Arabic-English lexicon, Vol. 1. Cambridge, U.K.: Islamic Texts Society.Find this resource:

Mohd Yusof, D. (2006). Islam stands on the side of world peace and global justice. IKIM Journal of Islam and International Affairs, 2(1), 101–116.Find this resource:

Qutb, M. (1994). Al-‘Almāniyyūn wa al-Islām. Cairo: Dār al-Shurūq.Find this resource:

Rahman, F. (1984). The principle of Shura and the role of the Umma in Islam. The American Journal of Islamic Studies, 1(1), 1–10.Find this resource:

Rahman, F. (1988). Islamization of knowledge: A response. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 5(1), 3–12.Find this resource:

Rorty, R. (1999). Education as socialisation and as individuation. In R. Rorty (Ed.), Philosophy and Social Hope (pp. 114–126). New York: Penguin Books.Find this resource:

Safi, L. (2005). Reflections on Ijtihād and moderate Islam. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 22(3), 90–94.Find this resource:

Sahin, B. (2007). Toleration, political liberalism, and peaceful coexistence in the Muslim world. The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 24(1), 1–24.Find this resource:

Schlumberger, O. (Ed.). (2007). Debating Arab authoritarianism: Dynamic and durability in nondemocratic regimes. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Find this resource:

Shafie, A. B. (1999). Conceptual and curricular dimensions of ‘Abduh’s educational reform. Al-Shajarah: Journal of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation, 4(2), 199–230.Find this resource:

Waghid, Y., & Davids, N. (2013). Combating terrorism through an education for democratic iteration. American Journal of Islamic Social Science, 30(2), 1–20.Find this resource:

Wan Daud, W. M. N. (1989). The concept of knowledge in Islam and its implications for education in a developing country. London: Mansell.Find this resource:

Wan Daud, W. M. N. (1997). Islamization of contemporary knowledge. Al-Shajarah: Journal of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation, 2(1), 1–19.Find this resource:

World Bank. (2008). The road not travelled: Education reform in the Middle East and North Africa: Executive summary. Washington, DC: World Bank.Find this resource: