What Do We Mean By Islamic Education?

What makes this blog unique is that it’s not just about Islamic education. Nor is it just about Islamic schools, Muslim schools, or even about teaching Islam.

It’s about all of them.

I think the greatest roadblock to the potential of Islamic/Muslim schools is the lack of clarity in terminology. We don’t quite know what defines the work we do because we haven’t quite defined it ourselves.

When I say “we” I mean those teaching in, supporting, establishing, and researching Islamic/Muslim schools.

I use the term Islamic/Muslim schools because in North America we refer to them as Islamic schools (see for example Islamic Schools League of America) and in the U.K. the schools are referred to as Muslim schools (see Association of Muslim Schools UK).

We are referring to the same thing – schools that aspire to infuse Islamic values and perspectives across the formal and informal curriculum.

But then in other parts of the world — say the Middle East or South Asia (India/Pakistan) – the term Islamic school refers to a madrassa or what some refer to as Qur’anic schools and others might call seminaries.

Then there’s confusion between what Islamic education is. Is it a curriculum for Islamic Studies or is it a program in tarbiyah (what some might define as character education today)?

The point is that there is confusion.

Maybe I should leave it at that for now and open this up for some input:

What does the term Islamic education mean to you in your context?
What could it possibly mean if we pushed the boundaries a bit?

Nadeem Memon

About Nadeem Memon

Dr. Nadeem Memon serves as Director of Education for Razi Education. He holds a Ph.D from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto on the history and philosophy of Islamic schooling. He also serves as Program Director for the Islamic Teacher Education Program, a project of Razi Education.
Click here to read more posts by Nadeem.


  1. I know of some kids who attended Islamic School (not in Toronto) for many years and grew up to be the —swearing, wearing very, very tight, revealing clothes, getting involved with mariguana kind. I’ve always wondered if this is just a teenager “phase” they are going through or whether they will eventually come back to a more decent character –the kind they learned when they were in Islamic School? Thoughts???

  2. Asalamu Alaikum,

    Angela, I agree with you on the point that many children educated in Islamic schools do grow up doing many sorts of un- Islamic behaviors therefore, we need to take a step back and look at how Islam is presented to them. By this, I don’t just mean in just our Islamic schools but also families and communities as well.

    I have been an Islamic Studies teacher for two years now for middle school grades 7th and 8th in an Islamic school. One of the biggest problems I and my colleagues have faced is that what is taught inside of school somehow becomes so unraveled outside of school and it becomes a daunting daily task to get students back on track just to come back the next day and face the same dilemmas.

    We have to understand that there are many forces outside that have such an impact on these young, impressionable lives so we are, if you will, in a constant battle. Many of my students sadly don’t have good Islamic role models in the community much less at home.
    Parental involvement is a huge issue for us. We found that students who had good role models and a strong family support system and whose parents were involved in the children’s academic life excelled in their Quranic and Islamic Studies classes as well. Those who lacked having that we’re the ones that were most difficult to teach, the most misbehaved and showed no signs of taking any serious interest, to them it was just another class.

    I have always been one to believe that the first school is at home, everything else is secondary but for many of my students, they only learned about the Quran and Islamic beliefs and practices at school. A lot of the parents themselves didn’t pray or know how to correctly. Also, Culture plays a big part of parental involvement. In many north African and Middle Eastern societies it was just something you never did. So getting these parents to come in and talk about their child’s progress was difficult. Even volunteering their time was something not in their norm.
    I think that this is key to helping our Muslim youth. I would like to see more programs established that bring parents into the Islamic schools and involving them as much as possible. One way for this is to offer parenting workshops guided by the Quran and the Sunnah. Another thing would be to offer Islam 101 classes for our parents and older siblings. Have meet and greet occasions a few times through out the year so parents can network and support one another. Bring in young Muslim men and women who are role models of the community and speak to students and parents about the realities of what’s happening in the non- Islamic society we live in.

    As our respected Brother, Nouman Ali Khan once said,” our children our facing a crisis of Faith”, that says it all. When our youth lack having good parental and community role models to look up to as a measuring tool for good Islamic moral conduct and character then where can we go from there? When we have parents who take their teen aged Muslim daughters to Justin Beiber concerts then how can we as teachers tell them that idolizing such people and their music is wrong and expect them to comply? They just simply won’t.
    I remember reading a quote once a long time ago that said,” if you want to raise up a nation of morally sound people you needed to start a hundred years ago”. This is so true because not only do we face raising strong Muslim children we also have to be good parents and with that, over time we will produce such but only with that. start with yourself now and that is the message I want to convey to the readers.

    May Allah forgive me if I am wrong. Jazakum Allahu Khairun.

    Iman

  3. Since the discussion initiated by Dr Memon is about the terminology we use, more than the challenges we face in Muslim schools, we need to take into account may be the etymology and the historical context in which they first appeared in the US for instance. What did the terms ‘Islamic school’/’Muslim school’/’Quranic school’/’Islamic education’refer to? Did some refer initially to centres that taught Quran only, or did the WE schools in mosques have a specific appellation right from the start? Etc.
    It is interesting to note that we talk about ‘Muslim schools’ or ‘Islamic schools’, quite interchangeably, however we do not talk about ‘Muslim education’ in the same sense as ‘Islamic education’. This gives us an indication that in certain contexts, the two terms are not synonymic.
    If we look at the etymology of the term ‘education’, from Latin educere, we can find the notion of ‘bringing out something that is within’, and ‘leading forward’. When we qualify education of ‘Islamic’, it could therefore refer to the two folds of the concept of education: nurturing a child to ‘bring out’ to consciousness the ‘mithaq’ established with the Creator, the ‘fitrah’ we are born upon. It would mean ‘leading, accompanying’ a child on the ‘sirat al mustaqim’. It is therefore an encompassing term that cannot be limited to schooling, or Quran studies only.

    • Excellent energy on the blog. I am really glad that thıs thread has pıcked up and ın many ways has even taken us on some very ımportant tangents such as teachıng moral educatıon, parental ınvolvement ın schoolıng, and weekend schoolıng. Each of these are topıcs that we wıll aım to conceptualıze ın future posts.

      Its also very promısıng to hear the need for a such a conversatıon, the sharıng of ıdeas forward such as the wıkıversıty, and that we are networkıng based on areas of ınterest wıthın Islamıc educatıon.

      In terms of the post ıtself, I do want to mentıon that the complexıty of the term ıs an ımportant dıscussıon to contınue. Sr. Lysıane made an ımportant comment about educatıon and ıts understandıng. Part of the complexıty ıs that even ın contemporary educatıonal dıscourse there ıs a conflatıng of the terms of schoolıng and educatıon. The two have very dıstınct meanıngs — the former referrıng to a place and tıme of learnıng and the latter referrıng to the process.

      I am stıll curıous how the terms are used in dıfferent parts of the world – ie Islamıc schoolıng/educatıon?

  4. I personally feel that we have not spent enough time researching our past in terms of how knowledge was attained and transmitted. We, as Muslims, have a rich tradition of scholarship and much is left to learn from it. I am of the opinion that Islamic/Muslim education takes the form of “Tarbiyah” that is not bound by time and space – rather it is a continuous learning process. Traditionally, people of great knowledge were as much students as they were teachers. There was mutual respect and tolerance towards each other regarding differences in opinion. Students would devote themselves to learned scholars and would learn as much from their actions as from speech. As such, as noted above by Sr. Iman’s, they were in the company of good role models.

    Defining Islamic/Muslim education through the lens of Tarbiyah, in my opinion, is the key to success. It is an all-encompassing endeavor, that touches all aspects of one’s life. The measure of success is how good a person’s relationship is with his/her Creator and His creations.

  5. Islamic education I guess initially meant studying the deen, quran and
     it’s sciences… But I think now the implied meaning has changed because we realise that only one kind of education ( that is secular as opposed to religious or religious as opposed to aecular) is not enough. 

    We should be balanced without going to either extremes. 
    I believe we need to redefine the terminology of Islamic education to imply what it means in todays context. 

    Islamic education I think today means covering the necessary education  for a muslim male or female in an Islamic environment to reflect the ethos of Islam and it’s values, without going outside the limits ordained by the shariah. Striving to be ideal Muslims knowledgeable in the fardh ayn that all Muslims should be aware of .

  6. Islamic education is what Sayyidna Muhammad sal Allahu alayhi wasalam gave to the Companions, so they, radi Allahu anhum, could learn how to be of the happy ones in both worlds, and pass this to the next generation, and they to the next, until it reached us.
    What Sayyidna Muhammad sal Allahu alayhi wasalam did involved companionship, mentoring, modelling, counselling/giving advice, caring about details of daily life, and giving instruction.
    But the instruction given was always related to situation, or – once a week – to the khutba.
    Thus, Islam was learnt through accompanying the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wasalam; through being a Companion.

    The archetypal Teacher, the model for all Teachers, is the Prophet salAllahu alayhi wasalam; and the archetypal student and model for students is the Companion. Thus at the centre of education is a relationship between these two, more than a curriculum or even “Ilm” (knowledge).
    Techniques are those that the First Teacher sal Allahu alayhi wasalam used.

    The student’s role is like that of the Companion: to love the teacher, copy him, serve him, be loyal to him, and develop all the other necessary virtues through this engagement and this relationship

    What we need is Muhammadi teachers.

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