Characteristics of the Islamic Educator
By: Ayatullah al-Uzma Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlullah
From the Islamic perspective, what are the characteristics of the tutor or teacher? What are his responsibilities?
The first vital characteristic is that the teacher should be, from the aspect of professional competence, wellgrounded in the field of knowledge which he wishes to impart to others. If he is unqualified, then teaching will be an exercise in misinformation and ignorance, for he will eventually find himself in situations where he will not have the necessary education to properly present the subject of study, and will, in trying to save face present an unclear view in an effort to conceal his own deficiency. It is essential then that he have a solid foundation in the subject he is teaching, for that is the basis of education. Perhaps we can deduce this from understanding a verse which, while relating to debate rather than teaching, nonetheless provides us with the ideational criterion:
Lo! You are of those who argued about what you had some knowledge; why do you dispute concerning that which you have no knowledge. Al-Imran, 3:66
Islam does not accept that someone should speak on a subject if he does not have the knowledge. For this reason, those who entered into debate on something they know nothing were rejected. How then is it possible to accept that those who do not have knowledge should teach? From this vantage point too, we do not believe that the matter is restricted to education only, but in fact pertains to all responsibility, where one does not possess the requisite experience and knowledge.
Therefore, whenever an issue like that of guardianship of the jurist (wilayat al-faqih), or any other subject which is founded on mutual consultation or any other basis, is propounded it is improper for the authoritative bodies to issue any ruling on a matter in which it does not have adequate information. In the same manner, the jurist is not allowed to pronounce himself on, say, an economic, political, social, or military issue, except after having discussed every aspect of investigation with the specialists at a level equal to any subsequent ruling. Adherence to this precept is absolutely indispensable as far as the teacher is concerned.
The educator's character has to be at such a level that it qualifies him to instruct those who are under his tutelage. This is because the aspect of his personal example is what will underline his credibility. As such, in some hadiths, it states that: "He who appoints himself as an imam of the people must start with disciplining himself, before disciplining the people; he who disciplines himself is more worthy of honor and respect than he who disciplines others."
Indeed, education is related to example far more than it is related to the actual material being taught or any other aspect of communication. This is because example gives power, dynamism, life, meaning, and effectiveness to what is being taught.
Repertoire of Methodologies
From another perspective, it is necessary that each teacher or educator be capable of a repertoire of methodologies, so that the student may perceive the subject matter in the best way possible, or that the value of what is being taught will penetrate the innermost consciousness of the person who is being taught. For when the objective is to teach an idea, it is on the strength of methodology that this is effected.
We feel that in education many people have erred in the modes of instruction they used to impart knowledge or value to others. This is in spite of possessing ample knowledge and having great value. Unfortunately, they do not know how to reach the minds of others. Consider these words attributed to the Prophet: "We are the community of prophets, and are wont to speak to people at their level of understanding." We may construe them to mean that the propagator, teacher, or educator must reflect on the intellectual capacity of the people to whom he directs his teachings, so that an appropriate intellectual standard may be decided. Also to be decided is the manner and atmosphere by which to make their minds receptive to his instructions and ideas.
This is what we may understand from the word "wisdom" in the Quran, which means "the placement of a thing in its proper place." This indicates that the Word must be taken in its proper setting, and the methods be conducive to learning, inter alia. This is what eloquence dictates-the appropriateness of speech to the situation. The situation here covers the level of intellect, the atmosphere, the milieu and every other factor that can have an effect.
Kindness to the Student and the Learners
There is another point, namely, that the teacher or educator must display compassion and understanding for those under their tutelage. To reach his goal, he must know that he must be open-minded and solicitous, patient concerning the student's weak points and outbursts. He must not be pessimistic and unfocused in a way that makes him digress in his teaching and instruction, using harsh methods. We can understand this from the method of the Prophet: "As part of the mercy of God, you deal with them gently; if you were severe and hard-hearted, they would have broken away from you" (Al-Imran, 3:159), and in the words of God: "A Messenger has come to you from amongst yourselves, he is deeply concerned about you, and to the believers he is kind and merciful" (al-Tauba, 9:128).
The basic characteristic of the Messenger was that of a teacher and nurturer, and as such, God says to him: "He it is who has sent among the unlettered ones a messenger from amongst them, reciting to them His signs and purifies them, and teaches them the Scripture and Wisdom" (al-Jumuah, 62:2). These traits are the characteristics of a teacher and a nurturer, for sanctification is a function of education and nurturing.
Between Seminarian and Academic Education
There are those who hold that the methods of instruction by imitation, followed in such seminaries as in Najaf and al-Azhar, are superior because they have produced great scholars. But there are also those who point to the need for new methods of education, arguing that university and academic methods are better. Our position on these two viewpoints is as follows.
It is a mistake to assume absolutely that the methods of the seminary are the best, as it is a mistake to assume this for the academic approach. Seminary methods have their positive and negative points, as does the academic approach. We may find that the method of instruction in the seminary is conducive to using the mind and contemplation more than the academic method. But we find that in the academic approach better structure of ideas than in the seminary. We note that seminary methods inculcate several sanctified principles. I do not mean religious here, but rather the educational "sanctified ideas" which cause some jurists to reject certain ideas in modern education. Failing to use them, they have in their minds that some old or famous scholars are hallowed. We do not find such glorification in the university approach.
We encourage the integration of the two approaches, the seminarian and the university, in order to take the good points from each, resulting in a method which is enriching for its depth and application.
The ulama who are brought up through the seminary approach cannot be posited as proof for the superiority of the approach considering that they have attained this level by dedicating themselves and sparing no effort in their studies. Had there been another approach for more research, they could have reached their level in shorter time than currently under the seminarian approach.
Between the Home and School
How may the home and the school be mutual supporting aids in the nurturing?
The school perhaps may not give a person anything else but knowledge, since it is an educational institution and may not attend to conduct as a major consideration in its curriculum. It is possible that the schools differ so much in their environments, and their teachers concentrate entirely on the issue of knowledge, that they create a confusion in the education of the child-this being the result of differences among the students, with their diverse backgrounds, conduct, and mores. This makes it necessary that the home give the child a friendly atmosphere and a haven from the negative influences of school. This means that the home must concentrate more attention on nurturing and assisting in the development, which are reflected in the child's character and conduct.
This is only one facet. There is also the other fact that the home must monitor the activities of the pupil in his approach to his school curriculum, because (at home) when the student is removed from his learning environment, he may not realize the importance of study, with all its obligations or examination preparation, etc.
The home, then, must develop itself anew in the education milieu, be it in respect of knowledge acquisition for the student or of moral and ethical nurturing.
The Role of the Two Institutions in Adolescent Care
Can we delineate the role of these two institutions (the home and the school) in the tutelage of the adolescent boy or girl?
An analysis of the personality of the adolescent shows a person in a state of confusion and worry which may lead to spiritual and mental malaise. This is because the awakening of the instincts at this age causes the adolescent to react to his instincts. When there is no proper monitoring and specific form of nurturing, this stage can lead to the loss of that adolescent and the loss of his future.
During adolescence, therefore, we must direct the interests of this child, monitoring the negative influences at that age on his character, his associates, and his activities. We must not resort to harsh and oppressive means, but rather caution and care, nurturing in a manner which helps him to get safely through this difficult stage.
Since the girl has a particular social standing, stemming from the fact that society is a man's edifice, this can make her lose her self-confidence and be quite naive, lead in turn to exploitation by others when she does not have the same social experience as the boy. Because of this, we need to pay more attention to the upbringing of our girls, until we are able to unite self -confidence, which prevents them from being exploited by others, with a commitment that make them conduct themselves properly.