Islam and Literacy: The Casualties of Corrupt Politics


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Written for, and first published on, the official website of National Youth Parliament Pakistan.

A society that is literate is a society that is aware, knowledgeable, informed, confident, self-reliant and experienced. Aware of the areas needed to be developed, globally; knowledgeable about the tools required to develop those areas; informed about the difference between what is right and what is wrong; confident about choosing the right route to eradicate the obstacles without harming the environment in the process, self-reliant enough not to yield to the pressure of other societies into making wrong choices for themselves; and experienced in analyzing a situation on a personal and global perspective. Thus, a literate society is the building force to liberate us from the branches of poverty, child mortality, gender inequality, war and under-development that all stem from the root of illiteracy.

We have days in the global calendar marked to celebrate literacy, like the 8th of September. A day marked in 1965 as the International Literacy Day. It is a day on which awareness is raised about the detrimental impact of illiteracy and an occasion to cherish the might of knowledge. However, the drive for literacy did not initiate from the noble and praise-worthy cause celebrated today as the International Literacy Day.

i2According to a UNESCO report, Pakistan’s level of illiteracy is rather grim. Pakistan has the second highest number of children not being educated at schools in the world. Unfortunately, the media invariably lays the stigma of disinterestedness in literacy in the country upon the major religion in force in Pakistan, which is Islam.

On the contrary, the drive for literacy started with the advent of Islam in the 7th century. That is fourteen centuries ago. The idea of a link between Islam and Education would result in most uninformed people to give you a blank look if not scoff at the very idea. However, the truth is, the very first word revealed to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was, “Iqra”, meaning, “Read” [Surah al ‘Alaq].

Children across schools in Islamic countries are familiar with a commonly read supplication: “Rabbi Zidni ‘Ilma”, saying, “My Lord, increase me in my knowledge” [Surah Taha: 114] that once again establishes the importance of education in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) even said: “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” [Al Tirmidhi, Hadith 74]. Therefore, education in Islam is not merely an optional matter relegated to the inconsequential library, it is in fact, an obligatory act!

Education was and is celebrated in Islam. In Islamic theology, and generally as well, mankind has a twofold nature – the soul and the body. Both the soul and the body have an equal footing and significance in our welfare. Islam, not just being a perfect religion, but also being a perfect system of life, every minute detail of matters of life has duly been given substance. Consequently, just like the double nature of mankind, knowledge also has a twofold nature.

The two parts of knowledge in Islam are the Fardh al ‘Ayn (individual obligation) and the Fardh al Kifayah (communal obligation).

Fardh ‘Ayn is obligatory on every individual. In Shar’eeah (Islamic law), it refers to legal obligations that must be performed by each individual Muslim, that includes Salah (prayer), Zakah (charity), Sawm (fasting), and Hajj (Holy pilgrimage), understandably following the Shahadah, the very basic tenet of Islam.

Fardh al ‘Ayn is what has been directly revealed to us by the Almighty Allah (SWT). This basic knowledge is for the nourishment of our soul (interlinked with the nourishment of the body).

On the other hand, Fardh al Kifayah is obligatory on the community as a whole, i.e. there, absolutely, should be members of the community who perform this duty. If the entire community wishes to follow it, the better it is. However, if sufficient numbers of community members fail to adequately discharge their duty, it becomes incumbent upon every individual to the required to overcome the deficit. This includes social responsibilities, such as educating minds, feeding the hungry, commanding good, forbidding evil, and so on.

Fardh al Kifayah is the knowledge that Muslims should acquire for their survival in this world and that is strongly intertwined with to the strength of their faith and its sincerity, and also associated with the position of the soul in the Hereafter as it is part of the Haquq Al-‘Ibaad (the rights of fellow human beings).

The purpose of both the parts of knowledge in Islam is to strengthen the individual’s faith. If knowledge and Islam were in conflict with each other, Qur’an would not have numerous knowledgeable, unravelling scientific facts revealed in it, over and over again.

For instance, with regards to what we now know as the ‘big bang’ theory and the fact that life originated from water, the Qur’an says:

“Do not the disbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together, then We parted then. And We made from water every living thing. Will they then not believe?” (Qur’an, 21:30)

Furthermore, the Qur’an has a complete, stage by stage embryological details detailed along with many other scientific data.

“Read in the name of your Lord who created – Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood. Read, and your Lord is the most Generous. Who taught by the pen. Taught man that which he knew not.” [Surah al ‘Alaq: 1 – 5]

It was only almost 30 years ago that scientists were able to discover all the embryological stages. When Dr. Keith Moore (University of Toronto) was asked how the discovery made could be stated in the Holy Book – Al Qur’an Al Hakeem – he replied, “It could only have been divinely revealed.”

Hence to state that Islam does not recognize any other form of education is without a doubt the epitome of baseless, discriminatory assumption. Islam recognizes both the fundamental parts of knowledge as indispensable for the prosperity of the individual in both the worlds.

i3Dr. Yedullah Kazmi, a professor at the International Islamic University, gave a splendid parallel in this regard. The correlation between what he simply defined as Faith (Fardh al ‘Ayn) and Logical Self-Thinking (Fardh al Kifayah) was like the correlation between a kite and its string. There is a perpetual friction between the kite and the string. If the string is broken due to external forces, the kite will fly waywardly. Accordingly, when thinking is not based in faith, a person will go waywardly from his/her duties.

Sadly, currently, this is the scenario in Pakistan. The string is almost on the verge of breaking point.  Politics turned into a battle of personal power has opened Pandora’s Box of untenable quagmires for the country and its citizens to partake of their rights, at liberty. The right to education for every individual in the country.

Numerous governments that came into play in Pakistan announced their plans of promoting literacy, though, those plans do not see a fruitful accomplishment as the plans are aborted the moment the tenure of the ruling party concludes and they lose in the latest elections. The next ruling party decides upon their plans for promoting literacy and the cycle continues, while the country suffers.

Illiteracy is not an unconnected problem of the society. It is related to levels of unemployment in the country. According to the UNESCO report, more than one in three people in Pakistan have not even completed primary education, and thus, are unskilled for jobs. This correlates with the dwindling economy of the country.

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While corrupt leaders amass the country’s financial resources for themselves voraciously with both hands and accommodate the remainder mostly on the military, ironically, for strengthening the doors of a country with starving minds and stomachs, the basic right to education of the citizens suffers as Pakistan’s spending on education reducing year by year.

The Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) said: “A servant of God will remain standing on the Day of Judgment until he is questioned about his (time on earth) and how he used it; about his knowledge and how he utilized it; about his wealth and from where he acquired it and in what (activities) he spent it; and about his body and how he used it.” [Al Tirmidhi, Hadith 148].

Most of our political leaders’ thinking is not based in faith, hence, they are going waywardly from their duties and responsibilities. Yet, it is the name of Islam that gets tarnished because of the morally-challenged politicians. We need to elect our political leaders wisely at all levels. The aim of the leaders, regardless of belonging to different political parties, should be a united allegiance to the welfare of the country and its citizens.

No matter which political party is in power in the country, it should not disrupt an effective and operational literacy programme. The vision of the leaders of a country should be to develop it at every stage across different sectors, irrespective of allegiance to different political parties. After all, the parties were formed with the ideology of the improving the country and not for personal reasons of the party members.

Education is the basic right of every human being, regardless of their gender, colour or race that Islam clearly recognizes and fosters. The infrastructure of nations is built upon educated minds. With an educated society, with a united front, we can build up this pivotal pillar that determines our religious, economic, social and political advancement. Hence, let this serve as a reminder of the importance of education and underscore its necessity in our global society. An educated society is a stable society. An educated society is a peaceful society. An educated society is a powerful society.

– SKY –

© Seemeen Khan Yousufzai

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