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The Existing Education System: A Critique
Moiz Amjad
(Tr. by:Nadir Aqeel)


At the moment the Muslim world, that stretches from Morocco to Indonesia, has two parallel systems of education. We have a system of religious education and a network of secular institutions besides it. These two major streams are further subdivided into a variety of bodies which can actually be termed as separate identities. For instance, the institutions of secular education in Pakistan can be categorized as below:

1. Institutions established in the public sector.

2. Schools and colleges managed by the Christian missionary organizations.

3. Indigenous institutions in the private sector designed on the pattern of Christian Mission Schools, such as the Beacon House and City School systems.

4. Private English medium schools in the urban concentrations managed strictly on commercial lines.

5. Schools and colleges established by particular communities such as Agha Khanis and Ahmadies.

Each of these categories comprises a plethora of  varieties distinguished by their syllabuses, ambiance, facilities, pay scales of staff and the financial status of the students they serve. For example, the first group consists of the following types of institutions:

1. Ordinary schools with Urdu as medium of instruction.

2. Model schools with English as medium of instruction.

3. English medium Public Schools at the District and Divisional level and traditional Public Schools set in the British tradition (eg. The Lawrence College.)

4. Cadet schools and colleges.

5. Degree colleges with English or Urdu as media of instruction.

The distribution of religious schools is not by any means less diverse. They are not schools of Islamic theology and doctrine as such but are distinctly divided with reference to their sectarian affiliations. The stamp of their respective schools of thought is so marked that they are identified as such and prefer to introduce themselves accordingly. The religious institutions in Pakistan fall into the following categories:

1. Schools of the  Deobandi creed.

2. Schools of the Barailvi school of thought.

3. Schools in the Ahl-i- Hadees tradition.

4. Shia schools of religious instruction.

This goes to show that we do not have a single uniform and harmonious system of education at the national level. The existing set up of education is fragmented and distorted by the limitations imposed by local and foreign intrusions and prejudices rampant in various strata, groups and sects of the society. The students graduating from these schools are not different merely on the bases of their abilities and educational background, but also possess distinct personalities, subcultures, manners, attitudes and values which they proclaim, and as a result they step into the world of practicalities carrying wide ranging and diverse philosophical concepts about the past, present and future of the country. In the presence of these differences, we can only afford a rhetoric on solidarity, unity, love, sympathy and discipline but the realization of these values require an achievement bordering a miracle.

Pakistan had inherited the legacy of social and political fragmentation into Sindhi, Baluchi, Punjabi, Pathan and Muhajir communities right from the beginning. We promoted estrangement among these communities instead of cementing them. Having sown the seeds of divergent objectives among them, we nursed hatred among them by infusing the complexes of superiority one case and deprivation in another. It would be an outrageous example of our naivete to expect that all  these conscious and unconscious measures on our part would breed love and affection amongst the various sections of the society.

No collective objectives can be achieved without creating an esprit de corps by cultivating an atmosphere throbbing with unity, solidarity and harmony. It is impossible to achieve any goals even in a small team of sportsmen in the existing state of chaos, what to speak of any national achievements. The number of horses, however large it may be, will not help increase the speed of a cart unless all of them are pulling it in the same direction. The rapidly expanding network of schools cannot ensure a bright future for our nation unless a result oriented education system is introduced which can create consensus on all issues of national importance. If that is not ensured, then every new school would only add to the degree of chaos prevailing in the society and further darken the prospects of hope and improvement.

The disorder and chaos in the education system at the national level has spawned numerous problems all of which cannot be addressed here. We would like to mention and discuss the more important ones only, which have proved to be more grave for us.

I.  Schisms and Fragmentation in the Nation

Our education system has largely contributed towards dividing our society into religious and secular groups which are further subdivided on the bases of language, class distinction and social status. There is no doubt that all of us wish and pray for the unity of the Ummah. We would like to get rid of sectarian differences. We would expect every Muslim to rise above his personal interests and devote himself for the larger and more lofty national objectives by overlooking petty differences. But a society which has been divided into numerous air tight compartments in this manner, allows no hope for such a harmony.

II.  Spiritual and Temporal Divide

Pakistan is a Muslim majority country. All the citizens appreciate that Islam is not a religion restricted to a particular class or party. All Muslims own it at the individual  level as a matter of personal conviction. It is, therefore, impossible to believe that we can as a nation remain oblivious to the need of religious education. Only a nation inclined to maintain a distinct clergy for the performance of religious rites and rituals can afford to segregate religious and secular streams of education. That would be a nation where a predominantly large section of the society is alienated from religion and for which religion is no more a live phenomenon. Even a rudimentary knowledge about Islam would show that it neither allows Papacy, nor a professional clergy, nor a tribe like Levies.

Every Muslim should be interested in knowing the fundamentals of Islam. It is his responsibility to have an awareness about it to a degree matching his abilities and faculties. No doubt, to be a religious scholar, it  requires a full-time devotion and a lot of hard work, but nevertheless a layman must get some basic religious education. While analyzing our education system, Syed Abul'ala Maudoodi describes the concept of `separation of God and Caesar' in the following words:

"The separation of spiritual and temporal worlds is essentially a Christian concept or it might as well be Buddhist or Hindu in origin. Islam is diametrically opposed to this proposition. We cannot commit a greater blunder than accommodating this segregation in our education system in our society and in our state.  We do not believe in having a religious education system and a secular one also at the same time. On the contrary, we believe that our entire education should be religious and secular simultaneously --  secular in the sense that we should understand the world and be able to manage its affairs, and religious in the sense that we should understand the world from the religious view point and manage it in the light of the religious guidance we have. Islam does not belong to that class of religions which demand that we may manage the world in the manner we wish and only annex a set of religious beliefs and rituals as an appendix. Islam cannot remain contented with the status of an appendix only. It steps forward to become the sole guide in all fields of life and a model for our lives in totality. Islam does not restrict itself to metaphysics but addresses all the issues of human life. It explains the status of man in this world and defines his objectives in a normative way. It describes his attitude in this world and the principles he should follow. It emphasizes that this world is like a field in which man will sow now, and its crop he will reap in the Hereafter. Islam helps the man learn sowing properly in the world so that he may get a rich crop in the Hereafter. Such a religion cannot tolerate the separation of secular and religious education. It cannot accept a system where the education is predominantly secular with a small insignificant appendix of religious instruction tagged with it. It demands that the entire education should be shaped by our religious views. When we teach philosophy, it should be done with an Islamic view so that we may get Muslim philosophers. When we teach science, it should be done in the light of the Islamic view of the world so that we may produce Muslim scientists. When our students study economics they should be equipped with the determination and skills to give us an Islamic economic system. When they study political science, they should become crusaders in the cause of building up an Islamic political system. Our law graduates should be able to uphold the universal principles of justice taught by Islam. In this way, Islam wishes to eliminate the distinction of religious and secular education and build the system on the basis of divine guidance only. Once we are able to achieve this comprehensive education system, we would no more require a separate arrangement for religious education. The same colleges would provide us religious scholars and modern directors and secretaries at the same time."  ("Taa'leemaat", Pgs 143-145)

On the other side, the religious scholars in an Islamic society are not allowed to withdraw from the world and live like hermits. According to the Quran, the prime responsibility of a religious scholar is to spread the message of God in  his nation. Anyone blessed with the knowledge of God's message has been entrusted with the assignment to communicate it further. He should keep the people warned of the consequences of ignoring God's dictates and should give them the good news of salvation as a result of carrying them out. This means that if he has to work and operate in his society he must be able to speak their language and should know their attitude towards and their doubts about religion. With this plan in mind, if we analyze a system where the religious schools are alienated right from the beginning from the rest of the society, how can our religious leaders appreciate the problems and the skepticism generated by secular education. The Ulema would consequently grow complete strangers to our society, its language, attitude, approach, lifestyle and manners. As a result, it would become absolutely impossible for them to communicate and converse with the people or to invite them to Islam.

So it is not possible for any Muslim country to raise the edifice of education on a shaky foundation marked by separate systems for religious and secular education.

III.  Language Based Distinctions

Another casualty faced by our education system is the further subdivision of our secular institutions into schools of English and Urdu media of instruction which is giving birth to two distinct social classes.

Just as it is not feasible for a society to raise a distinct class of religious experts and keep them alienated from the rest of the sections of the society, it is also not advisable to dissect the society into groups based on languages.  And only a little more thinking will show that such a grouping does not confine itself to difference in language on, but goes ahead to breed two separate cultures marked by different ways of living and behaviour and different values.

The students of English medium schools are deeply fond of the western thought, ideas and life style. Since the very beginning, they are brought up in an atmosphere which promotes an inferiority complex about their civilization, culture and traditions. Their ideals are the achievement of the highest status outlined by the west. They are also specially welcome in our society. Fluency in English language is invariably construed as intellectual acumen. That is why all avenues to good jobs, higher education and key posts in the country are reserved for them. After freedom from the Britishers in 1947, we have been ruled to date by these "Neo-Britishers" .

The students from the Urdu medium schools are deemed as second grade citizens. The way the students from English medium schools are received with open arms every where, induces them with a deep sense of inferiority. They are neither eastern nor western in the values they profess. Despite good performance at the school level, they are in a thick soup at college level only because of their deficiency in the English language, because all professional college education in Pakistan is essentially in English. In other words, we get entire generations of youth destined to become clerks only, irrespective of their latent  and unexplored abilities.

IV.   Discrimination on the Basis of the Financial Status of the Students

A just society must ensure the protection and sanctity of fundamental rights of all its members and should desist from discriminating among them on the basis of their wealth and resources. All of them should get equal opportunities of health, shelter, basic education, justice and access to all basic needs of life without any reference to their class.  Our existing system of education is grossly deficient in this respect. As a result of this discrimination which our education system allows, we have evolved a class that is maintaining its hegemony in the society by virtue of its special education. The deprived classes equipped with poor education have no hope that they would ever be able to shatter this hegemony.

While commenting on this discrimination, professor Muslim Sajjad writes:  

"This system has been bequeathed to the Muslim countries by the colonial rule. The colonial rulers wielded the weapon of education successfully to raise a special class in the local society that is loyal to them, reflects their culture and faith, and is totally alienated from the local `aborigines'. For this purpose, schools with special syllabuses and facilities were established for loyalist lords, feudal leaders and counts. Christian missions were encouraged to set up schools to make inroads into intelligent students by imparting cultural and religious training.  On the other hand, ordinary second class schools were established where the downtrodden families would send their children to get ready for the jobs of clerks, stenos, revenue officials and postmen. Special training colleges for army were initiated for elite families to get commissioned in the army. Someone has remarked: `The nation was divided by according separate treatment to students in the light of their family background and social status. They were led to different tracks with different directions, facilities,  and different destinies, as if education were a salable commodity classified as superior and inferior. This disintegration initiated such a vicious circle that the traditional family broke down to give way to new financial and social classes. New units of culture appeared. People of the same nation started drifting in different orbits. They segregated their habitats. The sphere of their social contacts underwent a change. Their shopping markets, recreation resorts, focus of interest, way of living, mode of conversation, dress and manners, dining etiquette and manners to move around, articles of daily use and even the yardsticks of thought were divided. Solidarity, unity, harmony and cooperation got confined to respective classes and groups.

The tragedy of the situation in Muslim countries is the perpetuation of this state of affairs even long after they got freedom, and even when it is in stark contradiction to the fundamental teachings and cultural ethos of Islam. How can a religion withstand such an education system when it proclaims justice and social equality?

If someone is up to relating the history of education, he will find that the Muslims are founders of the concept of providing equal opportunities of education to all strata of the society. For centuries, the Muslims maintained a sprawling network of schools and mosques where all citizens had equal opportunities of education. The system of education was uniform and homogeneous, and it did not contribute towards fragmentation of the society into classes, but helped the citizens to submit to one God and get a place in the fraternity of the Muslim Ummah. It is correctly said that the Muslims were the first to democratize the education system. The citizens were considered equal while  studying in the school just as they were not discriminated against while praying in a mosque. The right of the poor to get education was established and could not be denied. If any modern state attempts to introduce an Islamic Education System, it must incorporate equal opportunities for every citizen to reach the highest stations of social status through education. An Islamic society may comprise all types of subjects, poor and affluent, but just as they are all treated equally in the eyes of the law and are entitled to fundamental rights without any discrimination, similarly they should have equal opportunities to get educated. An Islamic state should employ the education system as a tool to achieve social justice with wise strategies that ensure the fulfilment of this objective. A just educational arrangement has two facets. One that no citizen however poor and suppressed he may be, should be left out of the ambit of the state umbrella of education, and second that no privileged citizen or class of citizens should be allowed to have an exclusive opportunity to the gateway to success and prized jobs through the ladder of expensive and elite education institutions. It would mean that an Islamic state should not allow any special institutions of this sort that are instrumental in maintaining the hegemony of the privileged. Admission to higher education and entry to good jobs should be regulated in a manner that only the more competent is able to come up through a just competition based on merit. Unless a society enforces the principle of `equal opportunities of education for all' in letter and spirit, it is not possible to meet the requirements of justice and nor can we get rid of the legacy of the colonial age, which is still proliferating chaos and disruption in our Ummah and is seriously impeding its progress." ("Islaami Riyaasat main Nizaam-i-Ta`leem", Pgs 94-96)

V.   Commercialization of Education

As a result of the degeneration of our education system, as pointed above, schools in our society are not being established out of motivation for social service or nation building. They are a means to mint money. Education is no more a noble mission; it is only a business. Now the capitalists set up schools and colleges under the cloak of social service and start amassing tax free wealth. Well known and reputed institutions are totally oblivious of human values, what to speak of Islamic morals. These are schools with fees rocketing sky high and with teachers incompetent and morally bankrupt. Proficiency of students in spoken English only is the sole target. The moral and scientific training of the students is grossly deficient. They are infused with the spirit of self interest and materialism instead of loyalty to  the country, Ummah and Islam. They are taught to aim at winning lucrative jobs and a respectable status only, and not at learning skills and attaining ability. 


The flaws of our education system outlined above owe a lot to the absence of clear cut . The system is a masterpiece of aimlessness. No doubt, the policy makers must have kept an objective for the purpose of formulation of the policy. But a study of the form in which it has unfolded itself over the last decade shows that it has no focus worth the name. Someone has correctly remarked that unless you have determined your destination, you will remain euphoric that you are approaching it regardless of the path you chose. Unless we are clear about our objectives, we cannot realize whether each step we tread takes us closer or farther from our destination.

Our education system has no destination. We do not know where we are carrying our youth. We are not teaching our children to get men like Abu Hanifa, Shafa'ee, Shiblee, Farahi, Iqbal or Jinnah. It is pathetic that even after half a century of the exodus of Britishers from the subcontinent we have not been able to define our goals. Are not we contended with teaching a few words of English and Urdu and a few facts of Science and mathematics to our students ?

We should have defined our objectives on the very first day. Instead we adopted the dual system of secular and religious education prevalent before freedom, without any modifications. We failed to apply our minds to the fact that the British system was aimed at totally different objectives, tailored for entirely different conditions and with different motives. The fact is that none of these two systems (religious and secular) possesses the capability to serve any respectable and free nation wishing to remain free of parochial and sectarian divisions.

As far as our orthodox religious schools are concerned, they are founded on centuries old concepts. There is a common misunderstanding about them that they are probably upholding the lofty ideals of our conservative religious traditions in education. This is not true. In fact the `religious' education system that we have inherited was a system developed to train civil servants for the Muslim rulers of the later middle ages. It became redundant with the British occupation of India. But since it was a vehicle for the transfer of our cultural heritage to the next generation and it also contained some religious element to meet the requirements of a common observing Muslim, many Indian Muslims were convinced about the need to preserve it under the alien rule, which would in turn preserve their ancestral heritage, national solidarity and cultural existence. But as the time passed the system lost its utility and finally its graduates  could find no livelihood except to make a living by managing the  mosques.

So far for our orthodox education system! We are trying to get qualified religious scholars and teachers from these institutions, a purpose for which they were never designed. As pointed out earlier, they were designed to get civil servants for the seventeenth century Muslim rulers. Then, the state law relied on the Hanafi interpretation of the Shariah, and that is why the Hanafi law and jurisprudence along with some basic religious syllabus was also included to facilitate the functions of the Qazis (Judicial Officers). It is out of ignorance that we consider the system of these Madaaris to be religious in nature.

Now let us have a look on the modern system of education which is a unique colonial gift for the Indian Muslims. Obviously, we do not expect the British to have designed these schools in a manner that they be helpful in preserving and promoting Muslim culture in India. They also did not intend to set up schools with the same objectives that they cherished while founding schools in England. They did not want bureaucrats who were suitable for the task of managing a free national state --   a type of people they probably needed back in England and not in India. They wanted people who could become lifeless tools in the hands of the overseas rulers. They needed people who could understand their language, their principles, and who could materialize the British plan of expansionism in India according to their laid down strategy.

For these reasons, they might have taught many subjects, but the subject of religion could hardly find any place in the curriculum. The students, therefore, gradually got estranged from religion and religious values. When it was somehow noticed by the government, they decided to add a component of religious dose to the existing setup. Thereafter, a patch of Islamic Studies was superimposed on the syllabus by the order of the government. It was a step towards reformation. It was presumed that this measure would sufficiently protect our Muslim students from the apprehended bad influence of western education. But experience proved otherwise.

Here we are not going to indulge in the lengthy discussion on the number and variety of demerits with which both these systems are pregnant. We only want to draw the attention of our readers to the fact that even a cursory study of both these systems shows that while adopting and enforcing them in a free Islamic country, the rulers had no objective before them. Had they defined their objectives with any degree of certainty, only then they would have considered the possibility of achieving them through these systems.

We know it quite well that Islam places a few demands on us as individuals and a few others as a society, state and Ummah. We have to frame our lives in the light of all these religious tenets. All these dictates of the Quran are specifically meant to help in "Tazkiya-i-Nafs" of Muslims. This entails our moral and spiritual cleansing and development at the individual level. Islam intends to build a clean and morally sound personality. It asserts that the Prophets were sent for this purpose and this was the intention of all divine revelations and divine laws. It holds promise in the Hereafter for those who keep themselves away from all immoralities this world offers and continue to observe the commands of Allah. On the other hand, at the level of the Ummah, Islam wishes to create an Ummah that can proclaim truth before the entire world on the strength of its character and the social justice it establishes. So that no human being in the world is left with any excuse to deny the Truth. The Quran terms it `The testimony of the Ummah before the people'.

The way the Holy Prophet (sws) testified the faith before us, the way he finalized the Hujjat (Argument to substantiate the Truth) by his personality, the way he presented before us his life as a perfect model, the way the Muslim world considers his conduct, character and etiquette, a lighthouse of guidance for them, similarly we have to rise with all these values at the collective level and have to proclaim and testify the Truth before the entire world as an Ummah.

According to the explicit provisions of the Quran, we cannot testify the truth of the God's will before the world unless we are "The Muslim Ummah" (Ummat-i-Muslimah), "The Ummah that observes the golden mean" (Ummat-i-Wasat), "The Best of the Nations" (Khair-i-Ummah) and "The People of Abraham" (Millat-i- Ibraheem). It would require such a complete and total submission to Islam that a stranger would immediately realize the reality Islam is, by coming across us. The moment he sees us, he comes to know what we believe in, what are our ideals and laws, and what concepts do we cherish about politics, society, economics and criminal administration. When the Muslim community dazzles with these traits and all teachings of Islam are manifest in their true form, as they were in the days of the Pious Caliphate, every observer immediately follows what Islam stands for. Now sermons and lectures are not required; discussions and rhetoric are superfluous.

So the goal of our religion is to get a pious soul at the individual level, and an Ummah testifying truth before the world, at the national level. It would automatically flow from these premises that our education system should also have the same goal. It should have the following two objectives:

-- It has to groom people who are outstanding in their character, conduct, morals and habits and at the same time should be rising stars in the field of sciences and arts.

--  It has to lead people to the stage when as a nation and Ummah we are shining forth as a lighthouse of piety and truth before the entire world and become Islam incarnate.

Therefore, we have to devise an education system tailored for these objectives. We have to include everything that may assist us in the realization of these objectives and at the same time we have to scrape away anything that may be detrimental to these targets.

Anyone having even a slight interest in the solidarity of our country cannot imagine having an army with a multiplicity of command divided among Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluchis, Pathans and Muhajirs. These armies may as well defend their own communities but will rather damage the country itself, instead of providing any meaningful defence. Exactly in the same manner, the institutions who are training armies to defend the ideological boundaries of our country cannot deliver the goods if they continue to be divided along the lines of sectarianism, ethnicity and class distinctions.

Therefore, it is indispensable to have a uniform education system for the entire country. Each and every clause and provision of the system should be thoroughly studied and finalized by the Parliament. Then it should be implemented uniformly throughout the country and every citizen, whether affluent or destitute, whether a villager or an urbanite, should have equal opportunity and access to it. The teaching staff should be paid salaries according to a uniform scale and we should have a uniform syllabus at the national level. If the private sector wants to come forward to contribute, it should be given clear-cut parameters to bring itself in conformity with the national system. There should be no difference of kind and quality among the governmental and private institutions and the vulgar commercialization of education should be actively discouraged.

(Translated from Moiz Amjad's Commentary on Ghamidi's "Manshoor")

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