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In other words, when the world talks about writing, about books, about pen, about reading, about knowledge - in a word about education - then it is about the Qur'an, about Islam and about us Muslims that the world is really talking.
For, we Muslims, believe it or not, and no matter how much our present reality may belie or besmirch that, are the ultimate education people of the world. We made education the dominant culture of the world, even as we made monotheism the dominant culture of the day.
And once again we did it using the Qur'an. The world ever since has been playing catch up to the culture of education that the Qur'an unleashed upon it fourteen hundred years ago.
Pre-Islamic World Banned People from Reading and Writing
Pre-Prophet world was a world of darkness in many ways. It was a world in which, by and large, knowledge was the prerogative of the clergy, the royalty and the nobility - the rich, the powerful and the privileged.
It is they - those with privilege of birth and title and none other - that were allowed to deal with things such as book, pen, reading, writing, knowledge, understanding - in a word, education.
We changed all that in one single stroke. We made education a household idea, even as we had also made monotheism a household idea in the world of religion.
Before we Muslims appeared on the scene, the common people - the laity - were not even considered people, leave alone allowed to read or write. They were regarded as the lowest grade of humanity and were referred to as the villains, the serfs, the peasants, the untouchables, the vulgar, the scum, the riffraff.
The Qur'an gave the world its humanity back and it gave humans the tools to be human. It gave humanity the tools of reading and writing. Thus, the Qur'an established humanity on a firm footing of education in this world.
The Qur'an introduced the world to a new concept called "The People" - Annaas or Al-Insaan. And it was not until recently - within our own living memory - that the world caught up with this idea and with this terminology. Until then our world - and our language, vocabulary and culture - were entirely male-dominated. Our word of choice for people was mankind.
But it was fourteen centuries ago that the Qur'an commanded the world - the people, all people, An-Naas - to read.
And it did so in one word: Iqra'!
The Qur'an, thus, taught the world how to use the power of the pen and of the book to discover and realize the fullest measure of its humanity. The Qur'an, thus, taught human beings the full and the true meaning of life on earth.
The Qur'an thus set humanity free and gave it the conceptual and operational means and tools to make it all happen. It gave the world education, in the fullest, truest and most complete and comprehensive sense of that expression.
What could be a more miraculous occurrence that the fact that the Qur'an mentions no less than 240 times the universal, gender-inclusive term "The people" or humanity or human beings - An-Naas - while the thought, discourse and culture of the world wallowed in misguided male-centered pride and arrogance referring to itself as Mankind.
Iqra': Education Is Us!
Today, the world has finally realized its folly. It has seen the error of its ways. The world has now come to where the Qur'an wanted it to be to begin with - 1400 year ago. It has come around to calling people by their right name "The People," and not men and Mankind. The world has thus come a full 1400 years back to its present and future.
You can talk all you want about education, but you know as well as I do that it is the Qur'an - and perhaps only the Qur'an - that calls itself The Book. And refers to itself as The Reading - The Thing to Be Read!
Not now, but 1400 years ago.
And what kind of education will you have without books? And the Qur'an is not just a book, any book, but the book. And it is that book which is at the root of all human education - and progress.
It is the Qur'an whose very first commandment - the very first sentence; the very first revelation - fourteen hundred years ago, was: "Read!"
The Qur'an then went on to say: "Read in the name of your master who created! The one who created the human out of a clot! Read and your master is very noble and generous! The one who taught by means of the pen. Taught the human that which he did not know."
It is in fact a measure of our own honesty, integrity, humanity as well as our being truly educated and civilized whether or not we know this fact; and whether or not we acknowledge this fact; and whether or not we openly and fearlessly give credit where credit is due.
First Revelation of the Qur'an
For a moment now note the key components of this revelation - the first revelation of the final message of God to humanity, the Qur'an:
- The master who created.
- The Human.
- The pen.
- Inquiry and exploration of the unknown
If this does not make Islam a culture, and Muslims a people, of knowledge, pen, education, reading, book, writing, thinking, analysis, understanding and civilization what does?
You call all this religion if you want, and you can call Islam religion, it is your prerogative. But what I see in what I have said thus far is the core parameters of a new culture of education, knowledge, inquiry, exploration, discovery, science, reading and books.
What I see in it are the foundations of a truly progressive and inclusive civilization of the future. And what I see in it are the seeds of the technology that humans need in their pursuit of the fruits of life on earth. In other words, what the Qur'an has done here is to set the cultural, educational, scientific, technological, moral, political and spiritual agenda for humanity for the future rather than deal out the usual mumbo jumbo that so frequently passes for "religion."
Therefore, when we talk about education, as a Muslim, I have little hesitation in saying: "Oh, that thing, education! Why, we know a thing or two about it. In fact, we started the whole thing in some ways. In fact, education is us." And that is in spite of the cultural, educational, scientific and moral backwardness, confusion and tottering of the Muslims over the past centuries.
The fact is, Muslims may have shot through Islam like a rabbit, Muslims may live in Islam like total strangers, and Muslims may have through their ignorance and folly mangled and crushed Islam beyond recognition, but Islam itself remains the ideal to pursue when it comes to education.
© 2008 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.