education in islam


[This entry contains five subentries:

Religious Education

Although Islam is known as a “religion of the book,” the majority of Muslims seem to rely mainly on cultural traditions of previous generations for their religious education and daily practice of  “Islam.” Few Muslims, especially women, read the Qurʿān intimately, and those who rely on ḥadīth (prophetic tradition) as the main source of Islamic knowledge often narrate it without actually knowing its authenticity. This regression resulted from internal political and social movements in the Muslim world in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries that neglected Islamic education and allowed external secular and missionary ideas to turn it into religious education (Barazangi, 1998). Islamic education, Barazangi explains, is the process of shaping character within the Islamic worldview (Qurʿān 3:110). This process requires the Muslim family to expose its children and adults to all knowledge as a means of understanding the parameters set in the Qurʿān to achieve taqwā, an equilibrated, constructive relationship with God, other human beings, and nature. Religious education, however, is a course of study that is taught in a school-like setting that transformed Qurʿānic principles into formalized legal and moral codes and rituals.
Premodern Muslims had higher literacy and familiarity with texts than did their European counterparts; however, religious education was largely a concern of men (Berkey, 2004). Even though Berkey asserts that “reconstruction of social history shows that girls often received some level of education,” the fact is that religious training does not and did not lead girls to Islamic education or to becoming Islamic scholars, ʿalimāt (feminine of ʿulamāʿ) that are recognized, like their male counterparts, as authorities in interpreting Qurʿān and ḥadīth (Barazangi, 2004).
Historical accounts of Islamic education provide many perspectives on its nature and the function of its traditional institutions but rarely show the relationship between the different paradigms in different eras, as does Küngʾs account (2007). We cannot understand the need to generate a new paradigm in the study of Islamic education without realizing that “overlaps [of early paradigms] are not only unavoidable but also illuminating” (Küng, 2007). Cultural and political restraints ended Islamic education as a functional system aimed at understanding and appropriating Qurʿānic pedagogical principles and limited it to “religious” knowledge confined to selected men. Islamic education has recently been confused with a subject of study, “religion”; with a moral social code (akhlāq); or with citizen education. The primacy of formalized and juridical education over the informal development of Islamic character resulted in curricular and instructional differentiation between class and gender, a separation of al-ʿUlūm al-Naqliyah (Islamic) and al-ʿUlūm al-ʿAqliyah (non-Islamic) knowledge, and a dichotomy between ideal and practice in Muslim education. Such differentiations added further confusion to the understanding of Qurʿānic sciences as though they were irrational, or as though individual Muslims need not understand the transcendent in order to fully practice it (Barazangi, 2004).

Islamic Education versus Religious Education.

Based on the Qurʿānic dictum, “Read in the name of the Creator … who taught [the human being, al insan] by the pen” (96:1–4), which means that to read is to learn and to act as guided by the Book, Islamic education evolved from this kind of comprehensive character-building in the first Islamic community in Medina (c. 623) to a course of study on religion. What is called “religious education” or “Muslim/Islamic education” does not reflect the historical process of educating in Islam. This process, in the estimate of Husaini (1981), began to disintegrate at the end of the eleventh century, when science, the humanities, and social sciences were excluded from the curricula. Rahman (1982) suggests that this process remained functional into the fifteenth century, whereas Eickelman (1985) states that it socialized Muslims well into the latter half of the twentieth century.
But Barazangi (2004) asserts that women were rarely socialized as autonomous individuals beginning with the early Medina community; consequently, their practice of Islamic education has failed to internalize the meanings of the Qurʿān without intermediary perspectives in the majority of the following generations.
Religious education differs from Islamic education even though it retains remnants of the Islamic educational institutions from Islamic civilizationʾs golden age in the seventh through twelfth centuries. By separating naqlī (revealed; given to human beings by God, as in the Qurʿān; and transmitted, as in the prophetic tradition) and aqlī (acquired by human efforts) knowledge, religious education transformed Qurʿānic principles into formalized legal and moral codes and rituals, creating a dichotomy in Islamic thinking. This dichotomy is manifested in the inability to integrate modern scientific knowledge into the Islamic worldview as early Muslims did during the first few centuries of Islam. It also transformed the meaning of the Prophetic dictum in the Sahīh Muslim collection of hadīth “faqqihhu fīaldīn” (instruct, or make clear from within the parameters of Islam) from teaching within the Islamic worldview to teaching Islam as interpreted by the different fiqh (jurisprudence) schools.
For centuries, early Islamic institutions such as Bayt al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom) in Baghdad, established in the ninth century, produced great scientists and philosophers who set the parameters for the Islamic educational system. During the premodern period, however, the salient features of Islamic education, such as taḥfīẓ (oral and aural transmission), have often become confused with talqīn (the acquisition and dissemination of Qurʿānic principles and spirit). Talqīn, as Nasr (1982) asserts, led the field of Islamic education to produce “philosopher-scientists” in various intellectual disciplines. Islamic educationʾs intimate relation to the Qurʿānic revelation and ḥadīth does not make it purely religious, nor does it render its other elements exclusively Islamic or absolute. Early Muslim intellectuals transformed the form, content, and intent of sciences, education, and arts into Islamic disciplines by integrating intellectual and cultural development within the Islamic worldview. Most contemporary Muslim educators, to the contrary, assume Islamic education to be religious indoctrination.
The traditional recitation method of teaching the Qurʿān comes to mind when thinking about Islamic education, but neither recitation method nor Qurʿānic teaching was ever restricted to this method, and Islamic education is not limited to the study of the Qurʿān. The Qurʿān as the foundation of all knowledge guides the behavior of the believing Muslim.
Islamic education has been decentralized, and its practice has varied. Islamic higher learning, as Barazangi (2004, 1998) calls it in order to distinguish it from either religious training or higher secular education, was mainly informal for the first several centuries of Islam (seventh to the tenth centuries); it was formalized with the founding of the madrasah in the eleventh century by Nizām al-Mulk in Baghdad. The reduction of Islamic education to religious education also occurred when Islamic philosophy and pedagogy were separated and when strict public moral codes were imposed on women, rendering their public appearance taboo. Concurrently, generations of male religious leaders or jurists emphasized the Qurʿān as either an absolute moral code or a law instead of viewing it as a universal guide for the community. The principles of Islamic philosophy were idealized, and knowledge was classified by sources and methods that enhanced the discrepancy between goals and means, the dichotomies between teaching men and women, and the difference between what is moral (religious/private/informal) and what is rational (juridical/public/formal).

Separation of Philosophy and Pedagog.

Nasr (1982) 
criticizes Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938) and other “modernist” Islamists for understanding “Greek philosophy through the eyes of its modern Western interpreters” and, hence, separating Islam from philosophy. For Rahman (“Islam: An Overview,” in The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 7, edited by Mircea Eliade, 318–322, New York), Iqbal was a “neofundamentalist” who was reacting to modernism but also “importantly influenced by modernism.” Iqbal (1962) himself asserts that the Qurʿān is a book that emphasizes “deed” rather than “idea.” Barazangi (2004) asserts that Iqbalʾs contention is significant to the understanding of the Islamic educational process and its transformation. However, she warns, a Muslimʾs deed that is habitual without basic knowledge of the Islamic principles imposes certain cultural-laden practice as the norm for Islamic behavior.
To educate in Islam, Iqbal states, means to create a living experience on which religious faith ultimately rests. For Rahman (1982), it means Islamic intellectualism. Though Nasr believes that the Islamic theory of education can be reconstructed within Qurʿānic philosophy, Iqbal emphasizes that the birth of Islam is the birth of inductive intellect, wherein “to achieve full self-consciousness, man must finally be thrown back on his own resources.” For Barazangi, it means autonomous identification with and internalization of the Qurʿān without intermediary interpretation.
These diverse views suggest that Muslims, particularly in the past two centuries, not only neglected philosophy, as Nasr suggests, but, as Ismāʿīl Rājī al-Fārūqī (1981) points out, also lost Islamʾs connection to its pedagogical function and its methods of observation and experimentation. As centers of higher religious learning began formal transmission of “book knowledge” and inculcation in particular interpretations, a dichotomy arose between philosophy, or the ideal, and pedagogy, or the practice. Encouraged by skepticism in modern Western philosophy, this dichotomy widened. The transformation of Islamic thought from the building of rules for public life to a distinct political or juridical affiliation, beginning in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, has affected the nature of the Islamic education process negatively, despite many attempts to revive it.
Western-educated Muslim modernists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, not aware that the underlying philosophy of Western education differed from that of Islam, were satisfied with teaching courses on religion in the traditional style and neglected to restructure the traditional system. Meanwhile, “traditionalists” emphasized the primacy of Islamic doctrine over falsafah (philosophy), creating, in Husainiʾs words, a schism between the traditionalists and the modernists and destroying the integrated educational system. Western-educated thinkers who reaffirm the validity of traditional practices (also known as “neotraditionalists”) interpret the philosophy of Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (1058–1111) as the “finally established” Islamic educational theory and hold an absolutist perspective on Islamic education. This perspective, discussed elsewhere by this author (1998, 2004), results, unknowingly, in dichotomies between the Islamic worldview and its pedagogical process and between educating males and females.

Educating Women.

The imposition of strict public moral codes on women is another indicator of the transformation of Islamic education into religious education; women were forbidden to attend places of learning such as madāris (plural of madrasah) and mosques even though women formally and informally transmitted the culture to their offspring as well as to other children and to men and women inside and outside the home in early and premodern Muslim communities, and they still do 
to a certain extent. (Iqnácz Goldziher, “Education [Muslim],” in The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 5, 1960, pp. 199–207.) Muslim boys and girls were taught at home and attended formal kuttāb (elementary religious schools); girls even studied in madāris when they were first established. No historical accounts mention women as ʿalimāt knowledgeable in branches of Qurʿānic sciences such as tafsīr, kalām (Islamic philosophy/theology), and fiqh, particularly after the formalized higher learning in the madrasah, although Shalaby (1979) notes that many women had established or endowed such institutions. Also, many primary Muslim sources (such as al-Suyūtī [d. 1505] and others listed by Goldziher, Nasr, and Shalaby) report that up to the fifteenth century, there were outstanding women who memorized and narrated ḥadīth, earning them the title of muhaddithāt (female narrators) among their disciples; there were others who were well known in Ṣūfī orders. But, as stated earlier, even these qualifications did not help women, including the early Medina female companions, become participants in the community decision-making process or in the development of Islamic thought (Barazangi, 2004).
The assaults on Islamic culture as an “oppressor of women” by European Crusaders, Orientalists, and colonial governments, combined with their differentiation between private and public domains, caused premodern Muslim leaders to lose sight of the essence of Islamic education, particularly its informal sector, and take extreme attitudes at the expense of a revival of traditional Islam. In the Indian subcontinent, for example, most girls attending Qurʿānic kuttāb not only are denied the opportunity to continue their religious education once they reach puberty but are rarely instructed by their families, as was the practice among learned Muslim families before British colonization and interaction with Western educational practices. Movements to revive traditional Islam that were predominantly led by males, beginning with those of the eighteenth-century Wahhābī puritan movement, also propagated the view that women need a different type of education because their primary concern is the home. Despite their enrollment in kuttābs in earlier times, for example, Saudi girls were not allowed to enroll in religious institutions of higher learning such as Umm al-Qurā in Mecca until 1970 and 1971, when only eighty women as compared to more than two thousand men were admitted (Saad al-Salem, 1981). “Reformists” such as the Egyptian Muḥammad ʿAbduh (1845–1905) emphasized Islamic ideals of womenʾs higher status in Islam and the obligation of both men and women to seek knowledge; yet, in practice, they did not recognize womenʾs right to access a thorough knowledge of the Qurʿān as a key to Islamic intellectual development.
Revivalists, such as Sayyid Quṭb (1906–1966) and Sayyid Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī (1903–1979), though attempting to restore Islamic education in post–World War II nation-states, used the traditional rationale about womenʾs education and asserted that womenʾs “natural” disposition is to transmit culture to the next generation (both boys and girls); but they did not restructure the traditional practices of teaching Islam to allow for this transmission. The primary objectives of womenʾs education in Muḥammad Quṭb's (1961–1981) curriculum were to prepare them for the biological and emotional aspects of their roles as mothers and housewives. Such objectives further confused and marginalized womenʾs education in Islam. Neotraditionalists are reemphasizing these objectives in the face of globalization but are failing to listen to the voices of emancipated women from within Islam.
The post-1969 “Islamization” movements have leaned toward a politicized Islam and have had implications for womenʾs Islamic and religious education. Contrary to the Islamizationists’ intellectual tradition, which culminated in Ismāʿīl Rājī al-Fārūqī's (1921–1986) concept of the “Islamization of Knowledge,” proponents of these movements emphasized morality, which overshadowed their presumed goal: to restructure the secular system of higher learning in order to address the religious and cultural needs of Muslim societies as part of the new development strategies. The Indonesian and Malay development policies of involving all segments of the population in education and training, reported by Ahmat and Siddique (1987), seem to be a first step toward recognizing womenʾs role in social development. Emphasis on morality, however, particularly when women became part of the Malay madrasahs of the 1970s and 1980s, led religious education to take the form of moral dogma. The Indonesian pesantren system, which was established in rural areas in the early nineteenth century and spread to urban development in the 1970s and 1980s, maintained an integrated system, and Indonesian women, unlike those in any other Muslim country, occupy a full range of religious-leadership roles. Armijo (2007) also suggests that in “southwest China, Muslim women generally take part in communal prayer in mosques,” while “in central China, there is a centuries-old tradition of women having their own separate mosques.” Armijo adds, “not only is there a long history of women imams in this region … women have active involvement in both Islamic education and religious leadership.” The mosque must be understood as a “multi-purpose building: a place for worship, for political gatherings, for negotiations and judgment, for personal prayer and for religious instruction and study” (Küng, 2007), in order to appreciate its importance for womenʾs Islamic identity development, let alone for the childrenʾs Islamic character building.
Neo-traditionalists have attempted to “liberate Islam from Western cultural colonialism” in the 1980s and have given women's education the form sometimes called “reversed feminism,” emphasizing segregated education for different but unequal roles. This trend is flourishing in North American and Western European countries, where Muslim males are demanding single-sex schools and, in their private “Islamic/Muslim” schools, are segregating children from the first grade onward. Curricula in these schools are the same as that in public schools except that courses on religion and Arabic language are included (Barazangi, 1998). The same movement of segregating education took strong hold in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the late twentieth century to the point of barring women from any educational institution.

Institutions of Islamic Education.

Diverse perspectives on Islamic education also result in diverse and at times contradictory accounts of its transformation. The premodern kuttāb (for primary and Qurʿānic education) and the madrasah (for secondary and higher learning) are the most frequent contexts in which Islamic education is discussed. Other places, such as the halaqah (study circle in a mosque), dār al-kutub (library/bookshop), and private homes play important roles but are rarely recognized, as Munir D. Ahmad (1987) and Salah Hussein Al-Abidi (“The Mosque: Adult Education and Uninterrupted Learning,” Al-Islām al-yawm [Islam Today, Rabat] 7, no. 7 [1989]: 68–77) indicate, particularly in rural areas that constitute more than 70 percent of the Muslim world and where these locations might be the only educational institutions.
There are scattered reports about the evolution of the educational process in biographies, books of history and Islamic thought, and encyclopedias, but they typically leave a gap between Ibn Khaldūn's (1332–1406) Muqaddimah and the nineteenth century sources, in which Western perspectives dominate. Recent accounts of Islamic education are almost always presented in the contexts of modernization or Muslim revival movements, which Western scholarship overemphasizes, despite the fact that these movements did weaken traditional Islam. Contemporary apologetic approaches, facing the onslaught of religious teaching, created more confusion by elevating some social movements, such as the Wahhābī, as if it were a full-fledged, systematic intellectual and judicial movement.
In distinguishing pre-Islamic kuttāb from Qurʿānic kuttāb, Shalaby notes that several authors, such as Ignácz Goldziher, have confused the different varieties of this institution. He states that Goldziher, in his attempt to trace Qurʿānic kuttāb back to the early time of Islam, did not distinguish the varieties of kuttāb. That Shalabyʾs account differs from Goldziherʾs on other matters related to teaching young Muslims suggests differences not only in their perspectives on Islamic education and its institutions but in the problems it has encountered. Though Goldziher relies largely on the same primary sources used by Shalaby, he does not seem to distinguish between the Islam taught in katātīb (plural of kuttāb) and madāris and that taught by informal socialization. Thus, he states, “the instruction of the young proceeded mainly on the lines laid down in the older theological writings,” suggesting that the problem lies in Muslims’ inability to adopt modern technologies. This assessment prevents him from realizing why “religious” content constituted the central curriculum and in some localities was the only function left for the kuttāb when government schools—the Ottomans’ Rushdīyah schools—took over the teaching of reading, writing, and other subjects, or why natives resisted modernity and gave up even Qurʿānic schools in response to colonial policies (G.W. Leitner, “Indigenous Oriental Education, with Special Reference to India, and, in Particular, to the Panjab,” Asiatic Quarterly Review, 2d ser., 8, nos. 15–16 [1894]: 421–438) and to exploitation of Islam by both colonial and local governments (Harrison, 1990). Recent reports, because they confuse the original nature and purpose of kuttāb and madrasah with present-day practice in some religious schools that carry the same names, make one question the reliability of such scholarship.
Contradictory accounts also surround the madrasah. Shalaby gives a detailed account of the first madrasah, established in the eleventh century by Nizām al-Mulk in Baghdad, and classifies these schools by location, founders and their positions, and the primary sources that cite them. A. L. Tibawi (“Origin and Character of al-Madrasah,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 25, no. 2 [1962]: 225–238) concurs with primary Muslim sources such as Ibn Khaldūn in concluding that the main characteristics of these schools varied by region and time but that all were formal residential places of secondary and higher learning, with Arabic as the basic medium of instruction. They relied mainly on dialogue between teacher and disciples. Their curricula covered, in addition to Qurʿānic talqīn and Arabic grammar, tafsīr (exegesis), fiqh (jurisprudence), ḥadīth, uṣūl al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence), uṣūl al-ḥadīth (principles of narration), and the biography of the Prophet and al-Ṣahābah (the Prophetʾs companions). Classical sciences (astronomy, geography, and medicine) and Arabic ādāb (literature) were also taught, the intensity and depth of instruction depending on the students’ mastery of particular subjects and the teachers’ strengths. Some Muslim authors suggest that a similar though less vital educational process still exists in such places of learning. Goldziher, however, does not recognize that what he describes as a “primitive and patriarchal form of instruction still hold[ing] its place” in these institutions is a result of the takeover by technical and military high schools, which left only Islamic subjects to traditionally trained teachers. Contemporary media and shallow scholarship speak of madāris as the culprit in the radicalizing of Islam. A similar kind of misnaming, adds Selbourne (2005), made “[Western] academia … serve its own cause ill.”
In response to colonial policies, these institutions 
evolved in one of two ways: into traditional, privately
sponsored religious schools with some Western orientation or into government-sponsored secular schools with added religion courses. The “traditional” form is represented in the remnants of kuttāb and madrasah. Famous among them are Deoband in India, al-Niẓāmīyah in Iran, al-Mustanṣirīyah in Baghdad, al-Sulaymānīyah in Istanbul, al-Nūrīyah in Damascus, al-Azhar in Cairo, al-Qayrawān in Tunis, al-Qarawīyīn in Fez, and Córdoba in Spain. Some of these institutions, such as al-Azhar and Deoband, still grant “Islamic” higher degrees but are weakened by their consideration of religious knowledge as separate from other knowledge.
When modernist elites of the early twentieth century sought reform from outside their society, they created private religious schools (for example, Yâdigâr-Hürriyet, established in 1908 in Basra, Iraq). Their indiscriminate adoption of Western systems, combined with nationalistic and politicized Islam, emphasized a secular morality in teaching natural and social sciences, which gradually separated Islam from its Qurʿānic base and favored secondary literary and historical sources of religion.
Mid-twentieth-century “revivalists” assumed the preservation of Islamic principles by teaching ʿibādāt (rituals) and moral codes and adding courses on religion (al-daynah) that took secondary place in the curriculum in the secular government-sponsored system. Further, very few secular universities in the Muslim world offered any such courses on Islam outside the college of Islamic law (kulliyat al-sharīʿah). Muslim minorities attempted to create Islamic higher education institutions in the West, but the majority failed to replicate earlier institutions, mainly because they continued to separate “religious” from secular subjects and still used the methods of lecturing on particular perspectives and interpretations (Barazangi, 1998).

Dichotomy of Ideals and Practice.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), established in 1973, has held five world conferences on Muslim education, in Mecca (1977), Islamabad (1980), Dhaka (1981), Jakarta (1982), and Cairo (1987). Their recommendations were to “reclassify knowledge into ‘revealed’ and ‘acquiredʾ” and to teach “acquired” knowledge from the “Islamic point 
of view,” the process of which is referred to as the “Islamization of knowledge.” These goals—to integrate modern sciences and branches of knowledge within Islamic philosophy—though similar to those outlined by al-Fārūqī and stated in the Islamic Education Series’ seven monographs, were not followed by an action plan. The OIC influence on Islamic education thus remains minor despite its many renewed efforts (Saad Khan, Reassessing International Islam: A Focus on the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Other Islamic Institutions, London and New York, 2001).
A core curriculum (al-Afendi and Baloch, 1980), along with a work edited by Syed Muhammad al-Naquib al-Attas (Aims and Objectives of Islamic Education, Jeddah, 1979) and other “blueprints” for groundwork and strategies, have been published in this series, the basic premise of which is that reinterpretation of “all branches of knowledge, particularly social sciences, within the Islamic perspective” is the only way to develop an Islamic curriculum that will alleviate the crisis in Muslim education caused by the dual traditional and secular systems. Yet no action plan has been devised either to reconstruct a fresh basis for Islamic thought and educational practice in the light of new discoveries and contemporary needs or to alleviate the dichotomy in Muslim thinking that has resulted from separating religious and secular knowledge. Non-Muslims have attempted to raise these issues but have been unable to include Muslim women as stakeholders in their own affairs, identity, and destiny (Barazangi, 2004).
In summary, Muslim male educators continue to overlook the dynamics of the role of women as the transmitters, preservers, and transformers of culture in Muslim societies since premodern time and into the twenty-first century. These educators keep womenʾs religious education peripheral, relegating it to the home. Similar marginalization, often resulting in confrontations with Muslim women scholar-activists in the West, is also practiced by secularists (Barazangi, 2004). This attitude is only one of many other disparities that have transformed Islamic education, resulting in fragmented educational planning and a lack of balance between religious and secular objectives. Although this imbalance is primarily the remnant of the colonial and missionary legacies that left the Muslim world in turmoil even after independence, it became more pronounced in response to neo-imperialism and, as Selbourne asserts, gained more “Islamism” because of “the responses of non-Muslims to the Islamic revival and advance.”


  • Barazangi, Nimat Hafez. Womanʾs Identity and the Qurʿān: 
A New Reading. Gainseville, Florida, 2004. Chapter 5 is especially important as it provides a curricular framework for Islamic education within the contemporary global context.
  • Berkey, Jonathan. “Education.” In Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, vol. 1, edited by Richard C. Martin, pp. 202–206. New York, 2004.
  • Eickelman, Dale F. Knowledge and Power in Morocco: The Education of a Twentieth-Century Notable. Princeton, 1985. Unprecedented anthropological analysis of the power of knowledge in a Muslim society.
  • Iqbal, Muhammad. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. 1934. Reprint, Lahore, 1962. Landmark work by the Pakistani poet and scholar, giving his views on reforming Islamic education through the reconstruction of Islamic thought.
  • Küng, Hans. Islam: Past, Present, and Future. Translated from the German by John Bowden. Oxford, 2007. A thorough synthesis of the issues facing the Muslim world through the different historical eras.
  • Quṭb, Muḥammad. Manhaj Al-tarbīyah al-Islāmīyah. Vol. 2, 
Fīal-tatbīq (Curriculum of Islamic Education, vol. 2, Application). Reprint, Beirut, 1981. Good representation of revivalists’ view of Islamic education, particularly the Muslim Brothers.
  • Rahman, Fazlur. Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition. Chicago and London, 1982. Definitive work for understanding contemporary Islamic intellectualism as the essence of Islamic higher education, and the implications of the method of Qurʿānic interpretation for the development of the intellectual Muslim.
  • Selbourne, David. The Losing Battle with Islam. Amherst, N.Y., 2005. Insightful analysis of how contemporary Western scholarship, media, and government policies are contributing as much as the revival movements to the misunderstanding of the issues faced by the Muslim world.
  • Shalaby, Ahmad. History of Muslim Education. Karachi, Pakistan, 1979. Deals with the subject from the beginning of Islam through the fall of the Ayyūbid dynasty in Egypt (1250), covering important issues in the evolution of Muslim education from the early period to the premodern era. The bibliography is rich with primary sources in Arabic and English.
  • Ahmat, Sharom, and Sharon Siddique, eds. Muslim Society: Higher Education and Development in Southeast Asia. Singapore, 1987. Collection of essays surveying historical and educational issues in the Muslim societies of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand during the second part of the twentieth century.
  • Armijo, Jacqueline. “East Asian Culture and Islam.” In Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, vol. 1, edited by Richard C. Martin, pp. 190–203. New York, 2004.
  • Barazangi, Nimat Hafez, guest editor. Religion and Education: The Equilibrium: Issues of Islamic Education in the United States, vol. 25, nos. 1 and 2, Winter 1998. The first collection of essays on Muslim education in North America, depicting both philosophical ccounts and realistic case studies.
  • Harrison, Christopher. France and Islam in West Africa, 1860–1960. Reprint, Cambridge, U.K., 1990. Chapters 9 and 10, “The French Stake in Islam” and “The Rediscovery of Islam,” are especially fascinating.
  • Saad al-Salem, Mohammed. “The Interplay of Tradition and Modernity: A Field Study of Saudi Policy and Educational Development.” PhD diss. University of California, Santa Barbara, 1981.
  • Afendi, Muhammad Hamid al-, and Nabi Ahmed Baloch, eds. Curriculum and Teacher Education. Islamic Education Series. Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, 1980.
  • Ahmad, Munir D. “Muslim Education Prior to the Establish-ment of Madrasah.” Islamic Studies [Islamabad] 26, no. 4 (1987): 321–348.
  • Fārūqī, Ismāʿīl Rājī al-. “Islamizing the Social Sciences.” In Social and Natural Sciences: The Islamic Perspectives, edited by Ismāʿīl Rājī al-Fārūqī and Abdullah Omar Nasseef, 
pp. 8–20. Islamic Education Series. Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, 1981.
  • Husaini, Sayyid Waqqar Ahmed. “Humanistic–Social Sciences Studies in Higher Education: Islamic and International Perspectives.” In Social and Natural Sciences: The Islamic Perspectives, edited by Ismāʿīl Rājī al-Fārūqī and Abdullah Omar Nasseef, pp. 148–166. Islamic Education Series. Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, 1981.
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. “The Teaching of Philosophy.” In Philosophy, Literature, and Fine Arts, edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, pp. 3–21. Islamic Education Series. Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, 1982. Blueprint for the role of philosophy, the arts, and literature in Islamic education.
General Works
Regional Accounts
Topical Studies
Nimat Hafez Barazangi

Educational Institutions

As the nineteenth century opened, Islamic societies had highly developed educational institutions—elementary Qurʿān schools (Ar., kuttāb or maktab) and higher religious schools called madrasahs. Less formal education was available from Ṣūfī lodges, literary circles at princely courts, private tutors, private study circles (ḥalaqah), and apprenticeships in state bureaus and craftsmen's shops.
After 1800, Western-style schools were introduced to meet new needs. Reforming Muslim rulers created new armies and schools in hopes of warding off the intrusive West and local rivals. Today's state school systems in many Muslim countries grew out of such beginnings. Missionaries and local minority communities also founded private Western-style schools. The new schools became rivals of the Qurʿān schools and madrasahs, with a cultural divide separating graduates of the two systems. Traditional institutions too adjusted and readjusted—and the process has continued—to forestall what they saw as a threat to Islam as a religion and culture, both from without and from the liberal elite within their community. On the part of traditionalists, it has been a perpetual attempt to strike a balance between conserving tradition while also maintaining their social relevance. Education in the Islamic world has also been influenced by the popular traditions of knowledge (often comprising spiritual cults and distinctive rituals) usually associated with mendicants, dervishes, and others and practiced mostly, but not exclusively, in rural regions.
This article discusses five phases of the development of educational institutions in the Islamic world since 1800. In phase one, Islamic schools were unaffected by the West. In phase two, reforming Muslim rulers set up Western-style military and professional schools. In phase three, colonial rulers subordinated schools to their own imperial interests. This phase also saw major reforms of traditional institutions in which the process of transmission of religious knowledge was formalized and standardized according to Western institutional models. More importantly, the transformations that took place during this period have proven to be conclusive for later eras. In phase four, newly independent states unified their school systems and rapidly expanded all levels of schooling. Phase five saw, as an aftermath of various sociopolitical developments, a renewed interest in educational reforms along Islamic lines.
The chronology of these phases varied from place to place, and some countries bypassed a phase or two. The Ottomans entered phase two as early as 1773 by opening a naval engineering school; isolated North Yemen and Saudi Arabia had not yet entered it in 1950. The colonial rule of phase three began before 1800 in the Dutch East Indies and India, but reached Syria and Iraq only after World War I. North Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan skipped the colonial phase. Turkey and Iran won the independence of phase four in the 1920s without having been fully colonized, while the emirates of the lower Gulf did not begin phase four until the British left in 1971.

Phase One: Before Western Intrusion.

The most significant aspect of premodern madrasah education was its informal character, as seen in the lack of central administrative control and the absence of strictly defined categories of religious and nonreligious subjects. This is despite the fact that madrasahs helped construct, shape, and homogenize religious authority and knowledge by encoding standard Islamic religious texts and canon collections. Their informal character was, however, replaced by a much more standardized religious education in the colonial period and onward.
Qurʿān schools stressed memorization of the Qurʿān, reading, and writing. Memorization did not always mean comprehension, particularly for non-Arab Muslims. Teachers taught in homes, mosques, or shops, receiving their pay from pupils’ fees or waq fs (pious endowments).
Advanced schooling in mosques went back to the seventh century, but the formal madrasah—an endowed residential college stressing the sharīʿah—took shape only in the eleventh century. The Niẓāmīyah in Baghdad was a renowned prototype. In common usage, distinctions between mosque schools and madrasahs disappeared. Subjects more directly tied to the revelation were stressed: Qurʿānic exegesis, ḥadīth, jurisprudence, theology, Arabic grammar, and logic. Others such as arithmetic, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, and poetry, which were not strictly religious, were also taught in many madrasahs. There were no formal admissions or graduation ceremonies, no grade levels, written examinations, grades, classrooms, desks, or school diplomas. It was not the institution but the teacher with whom one studied and from whom one received a certificate (ijāzah) that determined a student's authority in the subject.
Al-Azhar in Cairo, the Süleymaniye in Istanbul, Qarawīyīn in Fez, the Zaytūnah in Tunis, and various mosque-madrasahs in Mecca, Medina, and Damascus stood out in the Sunnī world of 1800. For the Shīʿah, 
the madrasahs of Najaf (Iraq) were foremost, with others in Isfahan and other Iranian cities.

Phase Two: Early Reforms: Technical and Military Institutes.

Defeat in wars with Russia and Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (1798) forced Muslim rulers to reform their armies and military support services along Western lines. The Ottomans were the first to open naval engineering and army engineering academies in 1773 and 1793. In 1826 Sultan Mahmud II destroyed the obsolete Janissary corps, a major obstacle to reform. He and his successors opened a bureau to train translators (1821), as well as schools of medicine (1827), military science (1834), civil administration (1859), and law (1878).
Similar developments took place in Egypt, where Muḥammad (Mehmed) ʿAlī, the sultan's vassal in Cairo, destroyed Egypt's obsolete Mamlūk cavalry. Thereafter he rivaled and at times led Istanbul in military and educational innovations, opening a Western-influenced military school (1816) and schools of engineering (1820), veterinary science (1827), medicine (1827), civil administration (1829), and translation (1836). The school of administration and languages (1868) became a law school. In Tunisia, Aḥmad Bey opened his Bardo military school in 1840.
Three related phenomena (which persist into the early twenty-first century) accompanied the new schools: importing Western educators, dispatching students to study in the West (small missions first left Egypt in 1809, Iran in 1811, and Istanbul in 1827), and putting new printing presses to work publishing translated Western textbooks. Importantly, all these developments bypassed any consultation or collaboration with the existing madrasah institutions.
Cairo and Istanbul next began turning Qurʿān schools into state primary schools. In the 1860s, ministries of education in Cairo and Istanbul, patterned on the highly centralized French model, laid out blueprints for full state school systems. The French-inspired Galatasary Lycée stood out among eleven Ottoman lycées (one of which was for girls) in 1918.
More isolated from the West, Iran trailed Egypt and the central Ottoman Empire in military and educational reform. Dār al-Funūn (1851) taught military science, engineering, medicine, and Western languages, but it lacked firm support from the shah. Without an official ministry of education until 1925, other ministries set up their own schools: political science (1899/1900), agriculture (1900/1901), arts (1910), and law (1921).

Phase Three: Colonial Rule, Its Impact, and Responses.

Colonial rule lasted anywhere from a few years to a century or more, and a few Muslim countries escaped it altogether. Because the scholarly elite saw itself as custodian of religion and religious education, the bulwark of Islamic culture and intellectual life, colonial rule sparked a major crisis. As a response, existing educational institutions were refashioned and new ones founded, along familiar, Western, or blended lines. These developments and other educational reforms carried out by indigenous and colonizing forces during this period have proven to be decisive for later centuries.
In Algeria, over 132 years, the French established primary, secondary, and higher schools (medicine in 1859; law, sciences, and letters in 1879) for the settlers. The University of Algiers brought the higher schools together in 1909. A handful of Muslims submitted to France's “civilizing mission” and assimilated sufficiently to enter this system, but separate “Arab–French” schools were intended for them. Italian rule in Libya (1911–1943) was too brief to leave a comparable educational legacy. Palestine under British rule (1918–1948) was unique, for there most settlers were European Jews. With their own Zionist agenda and Hebrew-language schools, they left state-run schools largely to Palestinian Arabs. In Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, colonizers inherited Western-style schools from indigenous reformers; other colonial regimes mostly started from scratch.
Whether frankly exploitative or conscious of a “white man's burden,” new Western-style institutions of higher education were intended as secondary and higher schools to train docile government clerks and technicians. In India the British replaced qāḍīs (Islamic judges) with British judges and sharīʿah law with Anglo-Muslim law; rent-free religious endowments (awqāf ) were expropriated and madrasah lands confiscated, especially in Bengal. English-language schools and colleges proliferated thereafter. The universities of Calcutta, Mumbai, and Madras opened in 1857 as examining bodies on the model of the University of London. This was the beginning of the educational dualism (and frequent antagonism toward each other) of madrasah and university, a tension encountered in the Islamic world even today. These developments not only demarcated a strict division between religious and nonreligious sciences absent from the premodern madrasah settings, but also singled out ʿulamāʿ as possessors of the sole authority to interpret the former.
Perceptively fearful of the nationalist revolt that might be instigated in the “orientals” due to westernized education, Lord Cromer, who administered Egypt for England from 1883 to 1907, severely restricted enrollment in the elite schools, imposed school fees few could afford, and developed a curriculum as apolitical and narrowly professional as possible. Compared to the Westernized elite, the common person at best could only afford underfunded elementary education of poor quality; the masses were thus marginalized socially, politically, and economically. Increasingly, madrasahs lacked the resources for social advancement; this, combined with the progressive availability of Western-style schooling, pushed common people toward state schooling. Consequently, madrasahs lost their foothold in major urban centers and remained oblivious (though not always indifferent) to the subsequent sociopolitical developments orchestrated by colonizers and westernized elites. This phenomenon has persisted through the post-independence period.
Cromer also squelched demands for a university, recommending as a model instead the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in India (which became Aligarh University in 1920). The example of India provides the full range of responses to the colonial challenge. Some explicitly admired Western models or saw in them a remedy for backwardness, as did those associated with the Aligarh movement. Modeled on the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and with an English headmaster, the college turned out officials, lawyers, and teachers—
presumably loyal servants of the British Raj. The Deoband school (founded in 1867), the prototypical madrasah of South Asia, adopted the Western-style model of education, examinations, fixed curriculum, and classroom settings, but the content remained essentially revivalist and indigenous. Nadwatul Ulama (Nadwat al-ʿUlamāʿ) experimented by attempting to bridge the two, by introducing modern subjects and extracurricular activities to their program. Firangī Maḥall scholars who stood for the Persianate tradition of learning in the subcontinent, with an emphasis on intellectual over transmitted science, and who designed the niẓāmīyah syllabus, which with slight variations is still employed in most madrasahs, continued to teach and instruct in informal unreformed settings well into the early twentieth century. Afraid that the ʿulamāʿ might lead mass protests, colonial rulers often left the madrasahs alone, starved for funds, overshadowed by state schools, and with dwindling prospects for their graduates. Cromer half-heartedly supported Muḥammad ʿAbduh's effort to reform al-Azhar, but abandoned him when the ʿulamāʿ and the palace resisted. In a rare case, early tensions between traditionalists (kaum tua) and modernists (kaum muda) in Indonesia were reconciled by the 1920s when both school systems came to look alike, incorporating Western sciences and languages.
The colonial age was golden for missionary and minority community schools. Banned from proselytizing to Muslims, Catholic and Protestant missionaries either tried to convert Jews and Eastern Christians or emphasized a humanitarian mission of medicine and schools for all. The American University of Beirut (the former Syrian Protestant College), Beirut's Université Saint-Joseph, and Boğaziçi University of Istanbul are legacies of the missionary age. The missionaries also led the way in education for girls, with the first state girls’ schools following in Istanbul, Cairo, and Tehran in 1858, 1873, and 1897/1898, respectively.

Phase Four: Post-Independence Educational Unification and Expansion.

In the post-independence phase, the education system was usually geared toward the formulation and strengthening of national identity. To this end, newly independent states moved to unify their educational systems by subordinating missionary, minority, and Islamic schools to state control. In Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk forced national curricula on foreign and minority schools in the 1920s, and Reza Shah nationalized primary and secondary schools in Iran in the 1930s. Syria closed French schools in 1945 during the final struggle for independence. Egypt finally consolidated control over missionary and minority schools as the British left in the 1950s. Exceptionally, the American University in Cairo eluded this control, as did foreign and communal schools in decentralized Lebanon. In Istanbul, Robert College was nationalized and renamed Boğaziçi University.
As for the Islamic schools, Turkey and the Soviet Union simply abolished them. In other places, public schooling was a tool for the homogenization of religious interpretation, as conducive to political ends. The closing of Istanbul University's faculty of theology (the former Medrese Süleymaniye) in 1933 left Turkey without higher Islamic education until Ankara University added a faculty of theology in 1949. Iranian madrasahs survived the Pahlavi regime, but the Qurʿān schools did not. In 1961 Gemal Abdel Nasser forced al-Azhar into a state university mold, adding colleges of medicine, engineering, and commerce and even a women's college. Indonesia, more diverse culturally, tolerated private Islamic schools and universities alongside its State Islamic Religious Institutes, which trained judges and teachers.
In the project of formulating national identity, language often played a key role. Syria switched to Arabic as the language of its medical school, but often vested interests and the need for Western languages as a means of keeping up with world science prevailed over nationalist pressures. In linguistically fragmented India and Nigeria, the English of much advanced schooling unifies the elite but hinders mass access to higher education. Though the number of Western-style schools and universities increased over the years, quantity overwhelmed quality, financing faltered, standards plunged, graduates scrambled for government jobs, and educational specialties bore little relation to the job market.

Phase Five: The Challenge of Islamization.

Israel's defeat of the Arabs in 1967, the oil price boom following the 1973 war, and Iran's Islamic Revolution (1979) all contributed to a religious (often Islamist) revival. Disenchantment with the secularizing trends of the earlier decades evoked a renewed interest in all things Islamic and again brought the issue of educational reform to the fore, though Muslims differed widely on the specifics.
The Islamic Republic of Iran provides the fullest example of a regime's attempt to Islamize its educational institutions. Although the Free Islamic University and other new institutions were founded after the revolution, the main task was the overhaul of existing institutions, and there was an attempt to introduce Islamic perspectives into every field of study. With the ʿulamāʿ controlling the state, the neglected madrasahs—and especially Ayatollah Khomeini's Fayz¨īyah Madrasah in Qom—took on a new prominence. Attempts to “Islamize” knowledge in 1980s also saw universities with “Islamic” in their names open in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Niger.
The establishment of jihādī madrasahs to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the coming to prominence of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, and the tragic events of 9/11 in the United States and 7/7 in Britain have sparked particular suspicion of madrasahs. They are indiscriminatingly associated with militancy, more in South Asia and Afghanistan than elsewhere. As a result countries like Pakistan have tried to exert more state control and to reform the madrasah. Indeed, a common impulse since the 1970s has been to systematize madrasah education. To the pressures from the state and Westernized social elites were added dissenting voices within the madrasah system itself. For example, in Iran Ayatollah Murtaz¨ā Muṭahharī, and in Iraq Ayatollah Bāqir al-Ṣadr, demanded reforms of the Shīʿī madrasah system, to make it relevant to the needs of the age. In Pakistan, the Shīʿī al-Kawthar Islamic University is a ḥawzah-style institution that began operations in 2002 to equip jurists with an understanding of the modern disciplines. The traditional curriculum has been augmented by English, computers, and economics, taught in modern-style classrooms. Mofīd University in Qom, under the patronage of Ayatollah ʿAbd al-Karīm Ardabīlī, focuses on comparative studies of modern humanities and Islamic sciences undertaken by graduates of Qom's ḥawzah system. The Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute under the patronage of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdī follows a similar pattern.
Invariably, in this transition from informal to formal education, Western institutional models have set the standards. The cultural divide between university-educated and madrasah-trained graduates persists, although the dialogue between the two has increased. Scholars whose religious training is largely independent of the two systems have also come to exert influence. At home with modern avenues for reaching the masses—using brochures, pamphlets, cassettes, web sites, and other media resources—they are increasingly becoming popular in various parts of the Islamic world. Modern institutes or local schools for Arabic and Qurʿānic learning are catering to a reinvigorated interest in the Qurʿān and ḥadith. A successful synthesis of traditional and modern disciplines has eluded Islamic universities that were founded with the vision of “Islamization of knowledge”; instead, the two areas of study are taught side by side, with Islamic sciences as one subject among others.
In the West, the growing communal needs of religious education have led to the founding of Islamic institutes (for example, the Zaytūnah Institute in California) and other neo-traditional seminaries. Informal study circles, Sunday schooling, and Islamic schooling systems have also been adopted. Some of these study circles are extensions of global religious movements such as Tablīghī Jamāʿat, the Gülen movement, or the Nūrī movement, and some are associated with Ṣūfī circles. Use of the Internet has also made possible distance learning and short courses in Islamic sciences.

Universities, Literacy, and Enrollment Rates

Females Males Total Females Males Total 1991 2005 1991 2005
Afghanistan 1932 3 - - - 87.4 56.9 71.9 - - - -
Algeria 1879 11 58.7 35.7 47.1 39.9 20.4 30.1 94.6 97.8 94.6 97.8
Azerbaijan 1919 24 - - - 1.8 0.5 1.2 89.1 85.2 89.1 85.2
Bahrain 1968 2 25.4 13.2 17.9 16.4 11.4 13.5 99 97.1 99 97.1
Bangladesh 1921 9 76.3 55.7 65.8 - - - 89.1 - 89.1 -
Bosnia-Herzegovina - 2 - - - 5.6 1 3.3 - - - -
Egypt 970/1919 18 66.4 39.6 52.9 - - - 91.4 96.2 91.4 96.2
Ghana 1961 5 52.8 29.9 41.5 50.2 33.6 42.1 56.8 65.3 56.8 65.3
India 1857 237 64.1 38.1 50.7 52.2 26.6 39 88.8 - 88.8 -
Indonesia 1949 1051 27.5 13.3 20.5 13.2 6 9.6 98.5 97.2 98.5 97.2
Iran 1934 52 46 27.8 36.8 29.6 16.5 23 95.9 90.8 95.9 90.8
Iraq 1962 8 80.3 48.7 64.3 35.8 15.9 25.9 100 94.3 100 94.3
Jordan 1962 6 27.9 10 18.5 15.3 4.9 10.1 93.9 - 93.9 -
Kazakhstan - 44 1.8 0.5 1.2 0.7 0.2 0.5 89.7 91.9 89.7 91.9
Kuwait 1962 - 27.4 20.7 23.3 9 5.6 6.7 50.6 86.9 50.6 86.9
Kyrgyzstan 1951 - - - - 1.9 0.7 1.3 92.5 87.2 92.5 87.2
Lebanon 1866 13 26.9 11.7 19.7 - - - 73.7 92.9 73.7 92.9
Libya 1955 6 48.9 17.2 31.9 - - - 98 - 98 -
Malaysia 1904 8 25.6 13.1 19.3 14.6 8 11.3 95.1 - 95.1 -
Maldives - 0 5.4 5 5.2 3.6 3.8 3.7 92.9 - 92.9 -
Mali - - - - - 88.1 73.3 81 25.8 - 25.8 -
Mauritania 1981 - 76.1 53.7 65.2 56.6 40.5 48.8 40.6 72.2 40.6 72.2
Morocco 857/1957 8 75.1 47.3 61.3 60.4 34.3 47.7 65.5 88.7 65.5 88.7
Nigeria 1948 45 61.6 40.6 51.3 - - - 64.6 - 64.6 -
Oman 1985 - 61.7 32.7 45.3 26.5 13.2 18.6 70.9 75.3 70.9 75.3
Pakistan 1882 52 79.9 50.7 64.6 64 37 50.1 69.4 - 69.4 -
Palestine 1970s 11 - - - 12 3.3 7.6 94 - 94 -
Qatar 1977 - 24 22.6 23 11.4 10.9 11 90.4 96 90.4 96
Saudi Arabia 1957 7 49.8 23.8 33.8 30.7 12.9 20.6 65.6 - 65.6 -
Senegal 1949 2 81.4 61.8 71.6 70.8 48.9 60.7 49.8 69.7 49.8 69.7
Somalia 1954 2 - - - - - - 11.5 - 11.5 -
Sudan 1956 26 68.5 40 54.2 48.2 28.9 39.1 45.7 - 45.7 -
Syria 1923 4 52.5 18.2 35.2 26.4 14 20.4 95.2 - 95.2 -
Tajikistan 1948 22 2.8 0.8 1.8 0.8 0.3 0.5 77.5 99.3 77.5 99.3
Tanzania 1970 - 49 24.5 37.1 37.8 22.5 30.6 49 92.2 49 92.2
Tunisia 1961 7 53.5 28.4 40.9 34.7 16.6 25.7 98 96.5 98 96.5
Turkey 1453/1955 30 33.6 10.8 22.1 2.3 2.3 2.3 92.8 - 92.8 -
Turkmenistan 1950 1 - - - 1.7 0.7 1.2 - - - -
United Arab Emirates 1976 3 29.4 28.8 29 - - - 100 71.4 100 71.4
Yemen 1970 15 87.1 44.8 67.3 - - - 73 - 73 -


  • Brenner, Louis. Controlling Knowledge: Religion, Power, and Schooling in a West African Muslim Society. Bloomington, Ind., 2001. Surveys the madrasah system in Mali.
  • Daun, Holger, and Geoffrey Walford, eds. Educational Strategies among Muslims in the Context of Globalization: Some National Case Studies. Leiden, Netherlands, and Boston, 2004.
  • Doumato, Eleanor Abdella, and Gregory Starrett, eds. Teaching Islam: Textbooks and Religion in the Middle East. Boulder, Colo., 2007.
  • Eccel, A. Chris. Egypt, Islam, and Social Change: Al-Azhar in Conflict and Accommodation. Berlin, 1984. A mine of information and stimulating interpretation. Despite organizational problems and excessive sociological jargon, the fundamental work in English on al-Azhar.
  • Findley, Carter V. “Knowledge and Education in the Modern Middle East: A Comparative View.” in The Modern Economic and Social History of the Middle East in Its World Context, edited by Georges Sabagh, pp. 130–154. Cambridge, 1989. Thoughtful, concise overview.
  • Gilliot, Claude. Education and Learning in the Early Islamic World, forthcoming. The most comprehensive treatment of the subject.
  • Hartung, Jan-Peter, and Helmut Reifeld. Islamic Education, Diversity, and National Identity: Dīnī Madāris in India Post 9/11. New Delhi, India, and Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2006.
  • Hefner, Robert W., and Muhammad Qasim Zaman, eds. Schooling Islam: The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education. Princeton, N.J., 2007. Best introductory book on modern developments in Muslim education, each chapter focusing on a particular region and written by a specialist.
  • Ibrahimy, Sekandar Ali, comp. Reports on Islamic Education and Madrasah Education in Bengal, 1861–1977. Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1990.
  • Lelyveld, David. Aligarh's First Generation: Muslim Solidarity in British India. Princeton, N.J., 1978.
  • Makdisi, George. The Rise of Colleges: Institutions of Learning in Islam and the West. Edinburgh, 1981.
  • Malik, Jamal, ed. Madrasas in South Asia: Teaching Terror? New York, 2007.
  • Menashri, David. Education and the Making of Modern Iran. Ithaca, N.Y., 1992. By far the most thoroughly researched and comprehensive book in English on Iranian education.
  • Metcalf, Barbara Daly. Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860–1900. Princeton, N.J., 1982. The definitive work on the formative period of the madrasah reforms in India.
  • Misnad, Sheikha al-. The Development of Modern Education in the Gulf. London and Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1985. Focuses on Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar, and especially useful on the issue of women's education.
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. “The Traditional Texts Used in the Persian Madrasahs.” In Traditional Islam in the Modern World, pp. 165–182. London and New York, 1987. An example of the full spectrum of intellectual and transmitted sciences used in premodern madrasahs.
  • Pacaci, Mehmet, and Yasin Aktay. “75 Years of Higher Religious Education in Modern Turkey.” Muslim World 89, no. 3–4 (July 1999): 389–413. Concise survey.
  • Rasiah, Arun Wyramuttoo. “The City of Knowledge: The Development of Shīʿī Religious Education with Particular Attention to Ḥowza ʿIlmīyya Qum.” PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2007. The most comprehensive work on Shīʿī educational institutions in English.
  • Robinson, Francis. The Ulama of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia. London, 2001. An insightful study of the Persianate legacy of learning in South Asia from the Mughal period to the early twentieth century.
  • Sikand, Yogindar. Bastions of the Believers: Madrasas and Islamic Education in India. New Delhi, India, 2005. The most accessible introduction to the madrasahs of India, their history and evolution through the ages, and the question of links with militancy.
  • Szyliowicz, Joseph S. Education and Modernization in the Middle East. Ithaca, N.Y., 1973. Historical overview, with emphasis on Turkey, Iran, and Egypt.
  • Thomas, R. Murray. A Chronicle of Indonesian Higher Education: The First Half Century, 1920–1970. Singapore, 1973.
  • Tibawi, A. L. Islamic Education: Its Traditions and Modernization into the Arab National Systems. London, 1972. Survey by a veteran Palestinian educator.
Donald Malcolm ReidUpdated by Syed Rizwan Zamir

Educational Methods

Methods are a critical element in realizing the goals of education, as they link teachers, students, and content. Like all aspects of education, methods are deeply influenced by cultural environments. Thus the teaching of Islam follows religious injunctions as well as local social and cultural traditions. At the same time it has to be seen in conjunction with the state of general education in Muslim societies, of which it remains an inseparable part, without losing its specific character derived from the transfer of religious knowledge, practice, and faith. There has been no clear separation between religious and secular education; both types have, at various times, been transmitted by both traditional and modernizing approaches.

Inheritance from the Past.

The transfer of Islamic knowledge has long been modeled after the early mosque community of the founding generation of Islam. It was marked by a profoundly oral tradition based on a strong attachment by students to a chosen teacher. Since the Qurʿān, the Prophetic revelation, was seen as the Word of God and the prime source of knowledge (ʿilm), its memorization and transmission were considered essential, or even sufficient. Religious instruction was carried out in the mosque, in religious schools of a primary level (kuttāb) outside the mosque, and in the madrasah. As an institution, the madrasah gained its prime importance through the teaching of law (     fiqh). Besides the Qurʿān it relied on the standard books in ḥadīth studies. Qurʿān recitation was pervasive, being a daily requirement of the students. Islamic schools also taught non-Islamic sciences such as logic, mathematics, or astronomy. Many subjects were taught by means of poems or in rhyme, facilitating their memorization. Reliance on memory was highly valued, as were repetition and taking notes from dictation. The memorized material was quoted verbatim during disputations. Islamic theology and jurisprudence were marked by a strong tradition of interpretation and therefore generated lively debates.
Whereas the oral tradition contributed to the importance of rote learning, the legalistic influence was reflected in the study of highly specialized commentaries on the sources. Teaching focused on the understanding of specific scholarly texts. The discussion of texts was personal and based on the interpretation of the teacher, who would then probe the understanding of the students. Results were certified by evaluating the competence of the student to understand and transmit all or part of a text or a subject, for which he would then be awarded a license to teach (ijāzah). But the acquisition of knowledge (ʿilm) was always seen as a spiritual act as well. The recitation of the Qurʿān and the study of other religious subjects were regarded as acts of utmost piety.
At the more advanced levels education was highly personalized, because the system was based on the view that knowledge was acquired through contact with learned individuals. A student would select a master and develop a close personal and intellectual relationship with him. The choice of a teacher was usually the single most important decision that a student could make, for one 's career was commonly determined by the mentor 's reputation. The teacher was responsible for the moral as well as the intellectual development of the student. A psychological distance often remained between them, however. The religious teacher as shaykh acquired a special role and status in Muslim orders (ṭarīqa), leading to unquestioned obedience and veneration. But the student 's status was also elevated as he became a disciple (khalīfa) who would carry on the message and mission of the teacher in a formally anointed and highly committed manner.
Educational Methods. Iran, c. 1540. Among the activities depicted in this Safavid-dynasty folio are students copying texts and a master beating his student.

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Purchase—Smithsonian Unrestricted Trust Funds, Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program, and Dr. Arthur M. Sackler, S1986.221
view larger image
Over time, education became more institutionalized, especially at the higher levels, where various kinds of colleges were established; in the beginning, they retained the personal, informal character of earlier institutions. Egypt 's famous al-Azhar, for example, possessed no regular schedule, entrance requirements, formal standards, required courses, examinations, or sharp distinction between faculty and students—a teacher in one course could be a student in another. After radical reforms it gradually turned into a “bureaucratic university.” (Kadi and Billeh, p. 343.)
Some early Arab scholars who studied educational processes advocated the use of different methods and arrangements, especially at the higher levels, but their treatises had only limited impact. The prevailing methods effectively socialized large populations into Islamic beliefs, values, and practices, and Qurʿānic schools using these methods continued to thrive.

Impact of Modernity.

It was perhaps not before the eighteenth century with the emergence of public schooling, often under Western and colonial influences, that Islamic schools began to focus on Islamic sciences exclusively. The bifurcation of secular and religious education strengthened the association of Islamic schooling with rote learning and memorization. The encounter of the established Islamic schools with new civil schools produced different responses in two main directions: modernist Islamic educators set out to revise their curriculum and make it responsive to the new era by evoking the principle of independent reasoning (ijtihād), sometimes fusing it with secular subjects, whereas their conservative colleagues took to reviving traditional teaching in the spirit of adherence to precedent (taqlīd).Islamic schools were also influenced by Western patterns of teaching, as can be seen in the Institute of Higher Islamic Studies, the Dāruʿl-ʿUlūm of Deoband in north India. When established in 1866 it was consciously modeled after Delhi College, a British-led institution. Clerics were striving to work for the revival of the faith and of religious knowledge through the application of techniques of the colonial powers. Theologians argued for the need of Islam to interpret the world through its own precepts more comprehensively if it was to withstand the pressure felt from the Western Christian world. A gradual modernization of Islamic teaching ensued in which a sector of religious institutions emerged that turned religious training into mass education. In many parts of the Muslim world, institutions multiplied at a high rate. These Islamic schools or madrasahs followed fixed schedules, held exams, and provided residence accommodation. Paradoxically, many of them, such as the schools of the Deoband tradition, are seen today as traditional and antiquated; in their time, however, they were on the cutting edge of change and modernity, at least within the sector of religious teaching.
In view of the growing variety of educational institutions it is difficult to generalize about methods of Islamic teaching. Some of the methods that Western experts often see as critical in Islamic teaching, such as rote learning, authoritative teaching, and absence of debate and dissent, can rather be seen as a stage through which most forms of teaching passed, be it Western or Oriental, religious or secular. Therefore, the establishment of modern civil schools in the Muslim world in the nineteenth century produced less change in teaching methods than is often assumed. Also, the Western powers had no political interest in establishing schools that would prepare students from the colonies and dependent territories to think independently. They developed curricula that were similar to those at home and expected students to master a body of knowledge that would prepare themto be loyal, obedient administrators. The cultivation of intelligence, sensitivity, and awareness was often rigidly suppressed, as could be seen in Egypt under Lord Cromer. Ministries of education permitted no deviation from strict rules and regulations.
Even in states that retained their independence, Western influences did not transform traditional patterns in the civil sector. At first large numbers of Europeans were hired to teach in reformist schools, but this was an inefficient arrangement because their lectures had to be translated into the local language. To meet the need for native teachers, the Ottomans founded the Darülmuallim in 1848. Its graduates, and those of the other teacher-training colleges that subsequently opened throughout the region, replaced the Europeans, but teaching methods mostly retained their traditional character.

Contemporary Methods.

After independence from colonial domination, Islamic schools evolved through several stages. In the 1950s and 1960s they were subjected to nationalist education policies. Beginning in the 1970s, a resurgence of Islamic schools occurred, generating a revival of religious education. At the same time, institutions and methods diversified.
Attempts to reform Islamic teaching had started in colonial times when administrations sought to encourage the teaching of secular subjects in Islamic schools. Similar efforts at “mainstreaming” Islamic schools have intensified recently, as Islamic schools have been reviewed critically and are often portrayed as an obstacle to development and modernization. Since the 2001 attacks at the New York World Trade Center and the war against Afghanistan, madrasahs have also been considered a political threat, as they allegedly produce Islamic radicalism and militancy. Sociological analysis has not borne out such contentions, as the number of Islamic schools linked to militant activities remains very low in countries such as Pakistan. It is estimated that madrasahs in those countries have not captured more than 3 to 5 percent of the educational market.
Islamic educators have often emphasized that their goal of education is to produce students who are good Muslims. Students in Islamic schools continue to be bound by the strong moral and emotional constraints of the teacher 's authority. They are discouraged from questioning the authority of teachers, but also the authority of texts and authors being taught. Nevertheless, the tradition of theological dispute and of the defense of the faith against what are seen as deviant or heretical beliefs will lead to animated discussions and even disputes in Islamic schools. Some teachers emphasized their right to administer corporal punishment whenever necessary, legitimizing it with reference to the Qurʿān and the ḥadīth. Today civil institutions and the media have started highlighting cases of abuse in madrasahs, calling for more stringent oversight on behalf of the public and the state.
In those parts of the Muslim world where madrasahs have become mass phenomena, notably in South and Southeast Asia, their student body is no longer insulated from social and political influences. Students often become politicized holding debates and publishing student wall papers, albeit under the guidance and control of teachers. Students discuss not only theological but also political issues seen as having repercussions for Islam.
Ideological influences in Islamic schools have been traced to sectarian teachings seeking to mobilize students to stand up for the “true” Islam in the interpretation of particular groups or sects. Such sectarianism breeds intolerance toward dissenting fellow Muslims and non-Muslims and can ultimately feed into political extremism. The root cause for such polarization, however, seems to be the political manipulation of these schools by some Islamic politicians and militants. It has also been noted that, conversely, some radical and ideological groups seek to open their own schools committed to the group 's ideology.
Since the 1990s, the sector of Islamic teaching has been opening up and diversifying in a remarkable way. Economic reforms emphasizing market modernization are pushing Islamic schools to position themselves in the educational market to compete with private schools that are emerging in large numbers for the new middle and even lower classes. Increasingly Islamic schools opt for teaching the regular primary and secondary curriculum, sometimes also at the advanced level. Madrasahs in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia have become truly modern secondary schools, run by the state, but also by Islamic groups such as the Indonesian Muḥammadīyah. Teaching has expanded also through the new trend of Islamic girls ’ schools—both traditional and modern—that are opening in large numbers in parts of the Muslim world.
Besides the madrasah it was mainly Muslim private schools that provided the platform for reforming Islamic teaching. They offer a religious curriculum, sometimes modeled on the madrasah, sometimes adapting modern secular teaching methods integrating various concepts. In addition, they teach secular subjects at the primary and secondary levels, what today is often called the “national curriculum.” These schools started operating in the nineteenth century, but have spread more widely with the privatization of public education in the 1990s in many parts of the Muslim world. They are distinctive places of learning in that they place a much higher burden on the students, as they have to master two demanding curricula of religious and secular subjects. Their proponents allege that the Islamic emphasis on memorization could be an advantage, as the training in the Islamic sciences methodically prepares students for the heavier teaching load. Their opponents complain about the formation of a uniform ideological outlook weak in critical evaluation. Good examples are the group of IQRA Rozatul Atfal schools in Pakistan or the Muslim schools in South Africa.

Practical Problems.

The problems that beset the Islamic schools and Muslim private schools are often the same as those in the public schools in the Muslim world. Reforms have been hampered by ideological and material constraints. Nationalist, socialist, and lately Islamist ideological concepts have interfered with revising curricula and teaching methods. Scarcity of resources limits the possibility of applying more student-centered methods. The available textbooks are often unadapted translations of Western texts or works produced by authors with little practical experience. Audiovisual materials and other teaching aids are rarely available. Library resources too are limited, and access is strictly controlled by librarians.
These conditions mostly apply to all subject areas, even those such as science, foreign languages, and vocational training that receive special attention because of their significance for the achievement of national developmental goals. Science continues to be taught in a formalistic manner. Schools at all levels lack adequate laboratory facilities, and what is available is often not utilized properly. Instead of allowing students to engage in practical work, to solve problems for themselves, the teacher demonstrates his ability by carrying out experiments while the students watch. Even though simple homemade devices can be very effective in science courses, few teachers possess the knowledge or motivation to develop and utilize them.
Foreign-language instruction is another critical area. In most countries every student is required to study at least one foreign language. Although many students are bilingual or multilingual, given the cultural heterogeneity of most parts of the Muslim world, few students acquire full proficiency. Many of the instructors possess only a limited knowledge of the language they are teaching. In some regions of the Muslim world (West and South Asia), Islamic schools find it difficult to condone the teaching of Western languages, which are still seen as potential instruments of Western adaptation and Christian influence.
Vocational schools do not prepare students adequately for industrial occupations because of inadequate facilities and curricula and the difficulty of finding and retaining staff with industrial knowledge. The teaching is theoretical rather than practical, and students spend little if any time working with machinery and tools and acquiring hands-on experience.
Rudimentary vocational training courses have existed in some Islamic schools (madrasahs), although limited to traditional trades associated with schooling such as bookbinding. In the wake of madrasah reforms, computer courses have become an almost compulsory addition to their curricula. New independent training institutes are branching off from madrasahs, offering additional skills in foreign languages and computer knowledge.This trend also applies to public schools. National programs of computerization, sometimes in combination with local or Western NGOs, are being implemented in many Muslim countries, although at an uneven and generally slow speed. Particularly in Asia, NGOs have been formed to offer affordable quality education in the form of low-priced private schools.

Higher Education.

Islamic teaching diversified further through the emergence of the International Islamic Universities at the behest of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) beginning in the late 1980s. In addition, national modern Islamic universities are being created in countries such as Indonesia and South Africa with a similar profile. The Malaysian scholar Syed Muḥammad Naqib al-Attas (b. 1931) championed a project for the “Islamization of knowledge,” primarily in the social sciences, which became a standard reference point for these institutions. Quality teaching is being pursued here as they teach modern graduate and postgraduate courses in technical and social sciences, business, and law. Islamic teaching continues through specialized departments with separate degrees for Arabic and Islamic studies. Teaching methods here present a lively fusion of traditional, authority-oriented patterns and modern performance- and problem-oriented approaches.
In some regions, such as South Asia, madrasahs also offer graduate and postgraduate religious courses, bestowing the degree of ʿālim (religious scholar) after at least eight years of study. In addition, some offer a postgraduate specialization course (takmil) in Islamic jurisprudence (muftī), the study of Prophetic traditions (ḥadīth), or Islamic theology (kalām). These courses are recognized as the equivalent of bachelor 's degrees in Arabic and Islamic studies in Pakistan, and to some extent in India and Bangladesh.
In the civil sector, higher education has been battling with structural problems similar to those in secondary education. Although higher education has been favored by all Muslim states, in this area too the rapid expansion of enrollments has greatly outpaced the available human and physical resources. The result has been that in many colleges, facilities are stretched, faculty members need more qualifications, and student-teacher ratios are too high. Education has become a mass-production process with little interaction between student and teacher. Universities in several countries utilize some temporary faculty from Western states, but this solution creates a divided faculty, many of whom have no lasting commitment to the institution or its students.

Prospects for the Future.

Islamic education in its various formats, ranging from Qurʿānic schools at a preschool age to traditional madrasahs, to modernizing and fully modernized madrasahs, to national and international Islamic universities, is still expanding throughout the Muslim world. It represents a growing sector in Muslim minority communities in the West, but also in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It interacts and is often directly linked with public schooling. Increasingly it competes with private schools, both secular and confessional. Many modernizing Islamic schools turn into fee-based private schools, but community resources are also pooled to help Muslim students attend classes there. This trend reflects a strongly held belief in Muslim activist circles, reinforced by international political currents, that on a global scale Muslims are disadvantaged and need more opportunities for both religious education and modern knowledge. With the enormous cultural and social variety of Muslim societies there is no uniformity in direction, contents, or methods. Schools try to adapt through better networking on a national and global scale. The best schools of these networks can hold their own in the expanding educational market. Yet many of them are beset with structural problems similar to those of the public institutions.Throughout the Muslim world one can find exceptions to the critical condition of public education. There are teachers who are committed to their students and attempt to make schooling an exciting and stimulating experience. Yet they are found primarily in the elite schools of urban centers, and even there they struggle against great handicaps. The more remote the area, the worse the facilities and the more conservative the teaching styles.
Some Muslim scholars argue that existing teaching methods are not consonant with a real Qurʿānic approach to education, and pedagogues point out that these patterns do not promote the intellectual and moral development of young people or prepare them to function in modern societies. Nonetheless, the criterion of good teaching in the civil sector remains the number of students who successfully pass the national examinations, the primary purpose of which is to identify those (usually of elite background) who are qualified for further schooling; the majority receive only an elementary education, and the number of functional illiterates remains high.
Governments now accept the need to upgrade teaching staffs, modernize curricula, and improve facilities. Many are turning to modern technologies to improve educational practices. Turkey, for example, has created an “Open University” in which classes are conducted via television. Large numbers of teachers are receiving instruction in subject matter and pedagogical techniques, and it is hoped that thousands of students will be positively affected. Computers are also being emphasized in many countries. Such technologies can play a useful role, but only if a new orientation toward education is accepted within a society. In other words, quality must replace quantity as the major criterion for educational policymakers; political elites must recognize that development requires creative, independent, resourceful citizens capable of critical reasoning and moral judgment, and they must be willing to allocate the necessary resources to create the educational systems that produce such citizens.


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Dietrich ReetzOriginal article by Joseph S. Szyliowicz

Educational Reform

The challenge for educational reform in the Muslim world is steep. By the turn of the twentieth century, Islam has become a globalizing force and demands for reinstituting religio-moral education have produced tensions between Muslims and the dominant capitalist Western globalization forces. In the five hundred years since the Spanish inquisition, which dismantled the last intellectual and cultural stronghold of Islam in Europe, Western forces had failed in their goal of “modernizing” the Muslim world, mainly because of their double-standard policies. Focusing on modern skills and vocations as the only means to reform made existing Western-imposed educational reform paradigms almost obsolete. In Barazangi 's opinion, Muslim educators need to understand issues of pluralism, secularism, and the individual belief system. The problem lies mainly in confusing these issues as well as in applying the ethnic-religious divides when addressing the public-private domains within the Islamic belief system (Barazangi, 2004). Barazangi warns against the “addition of contents, concept, themes, and perspectives to the curriculum without changing its basic structure, purpose, and characteristics,” stating that it is twice as important in the context of the current political climate. That is, she explains, “the universal beliefs of Islam that [are] rooted in the Qurʿān are often confused with the… individual cultural and ethnic interpretations of these beliefs, especially because these interpretations are predominantly exercised by males.”
Understanding the dynamic relationship between the universal belief system and the individual views of Islam was central to the determination of the nature of educational reform in Muslim societies and minority communities during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and it has become more central in the twenty-first century. This centrality, represented in the five major challenges that are addressed in the five sections of this article (preservation verses revival of Islamic culture, changing functions of education,…) is essential for discussing changes in curricular and instructional policies and their implications for attitudinal change.
The Muslim world initially rejected as irrelevant changes introduced from Europe in the early nineteenth century. Changes in technical, military, and vocational training dictated by local rulers and elites did not conform to the traditional educational practices that were the remnants of Islamic education. Comparing these practices with recent changes runs the risk of overstating where and how educational reform has taken place, particularly so when outside systems have been imposed. Zia 's (2006) claim that, contrary to modernity, globalization is not an outgrowth of a Western worldview is not credible because neither indigenous ideas and ideals, nor norms and attitudes form the basis of the process of reform. Consequently, transformation of these ideas and attitudes has not occurred.
Literature from the early twenty-first century indicates that old practices have not been reformed and that changes have resulted in no significant attitudinal or cultural development (UNDP, 2002–2005). Changes introduced by colonials and missionaries resulted in setting the European utilitarian mode—training for jobs and services—and the Muslim altruistic mode—developing
the Islamic character—modes against each other. This tension has resulted in centralized state-controlled educational institutions and a complete departure from Islamic education. Postmodern attempts to privatize seminaries (maʿāhid) of secondary and higher religious or secular education have created business opportunities for 
investors instead of producing changes in the old stagnant systems.
The intellectual stagnation that has characterized the Muslim world since the early fourteenth century has remained despite mass and compulsory schooling in the postcolonial era. The political upheaval found in many Muslim societies in the early twenty-first century has furthered governments ’ resistance to new ideas, particularly those related to female higher Islamic learning, instilling a fear of being stamped by the natives as agents of the Western hegemonic globalization process, or accused by Westerners as “Islamists.” It is also probable that governments ’ resistance has been the result of their own acceptance of the “Islamists” views or in order to appease Western governments that support their hold on power.

Preservation versus Revival of Islamic Culture.

The Islamic world 's reaction to Western-introduced changes in education has lacked the intellectual dynamics that once marked its educational system, in which formal and informal teaching and learning were founded on the accomplishments and needs of teachers and pupils. Nasr (1987) discusses the oral transmission that produced some highly knowledgeable, though illiterate, Muslims. Western educational practices in the Muslim lands did not produce the same economic, intellectual, and social development that they did in Western Europe and North America. Educational objectives outlined by Muslim educators have remained ambiguous; although their philosophy claims to be rooted in the ideals of Islam, their pedagogical strategies contain both modern methodologies and political, nationalistic rhetoric. The present inconclusive, fragmented, and contradictory literature on Muslim educational reform, in both English and Arabic, indicates that educational transformation is an unstable process, one that has been made more uneven because societal fabrics in Muslim societies have been dismantled as a result of contemporary military and cultural wars, in the name of democracy and women's emancipation.
No full account of curricular reform is available, despite the many reports on changes in the instructional process and the increased number of schools, universities, and student enrollment. Reports by Albert Hourani (1981 and 1983), UNESCO (1995), and others largely praise the progress of the “reformed and modernized” education system. However, Nasr (1987) and Barazangi (2004) question such conclusions, which they argue confuse traditional Islamic reform with fundamentalism and modernity with nationalism. Recently, tensions between Muslim apologists who claim moderation and Muslims who use extreme means and interpretations to reinstate Islam created further confusion between the objectives of preserving the Islamic culture and the imposed norms of reformation coming from outside the Muslim world.
These changes were and are still being rejected by local peoples and religious leaders in majority Muslim societies and minority Muslim communities in different parts of the world who traditionally have been suspicious of any new type of formal education, although foreign cultural practices had been integrated into local systems during the eighth and ninth centuries. Local peoples and religious leaders have considered European and American educational changes irrelevant, alien, and expressions of colonial exploitation and missionary attempts to Christianize the population. These views are not baseless, as missionary education systems, foreign private-school systems, and colonial government–supported school systems attest (British Parliamentary Records vol. 137 [1905]) and as neocolonial strategies, mainly by the United States, that exploit the radical response of some Muslim groups, demonstrate. The idea of special girls ’ schools was introduced by Catholic missionaries in the Indian Subcontinent and the Levant during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In these schools, girls were taught embroidery, home economics, domestic skills, and nursing; they were also taught the Bible. Boys were taught office skills; agricultural, military, and vocational trades; and some fiqh (jurisprudence) to serve government needs. The rising tension between the so-called secularists and Islamists became more polarized with the American neocolonial ambitions in the Middle East and Central Asia during the second half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century. Though these ambitions are especially pronounced in Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan, they have affected all Muslim societies.
Educational objectives in the colonial and postcolonial periods shifted from an emphasis on discipline for both children and adults during the pre-modern era to a formalization of the relationship of citizens to the state to meet its economic and political interests or the recent demands of globalization (Eickelman, 1985). Local governors ’ policies weakened the katātīb (plural of kuttāb) and madāris (plural of madrasah), often distributing the schools’ waqf (endowment) among the ruling class and missionary societies to establish private schools. Heyworth-Dunne (1968) suggests that system imposed by the Egyptian ruler Muhammad ʿAlī (r. 1805–1849) is the key to understanding why Egypt 's present system is so defective and poorly adapted to the country. Although he established a military school (1816), technical and engineering schools and colleges, and a medical school (1827), these schools were for men only and were staffed by European Christians. This instructional system also neglected women's education, particularly at the secondary level, and training of teachers for the elementary and the preparatory schools. But most of all, the system was not coordinated with traditional practices and appeared to operate as a rival or even as a substitute for them. New subject matters were divorced from Qurʿānic study and the sciences of antiquity such as biography, astronomy, geography, and medicine. In addition, the system had little or no direct intellectual purpose; it existed primarily to train the local people to serve colonial and local government interests. Despite many recent changes, the Egyptian system is still affected by the tension and confusion between the secular and religious, the national and global (Daun and Walford, 2004).

Changing Function of Education.

Sanderson (1975) points out that Islamic education achieved its goals in colonial Sudan and Northern Nigeria to pass on the customs of the adult community, to teach children the cultural knowledge and skills they needed to function effectively in society, and to instill in them beliefs about the relationship between the seen and the unseen in the universe. In the twenty-first century, however, these skills are seen as “taboo” in response to the Western onslaught against “religious” teaching, as both Westerners and Muslims confuse religious education with Islamic higher learning (Barazangi, 2004).
What remained of the Islamic education system became peripheral during the colonial period, reserved for underprivileged students such as those from poor rural and urban areas. Primary Islamic education, for example, came to a standstill in the Ottoman Empire when Turkish replaced its main language, Arabic, as the medium of instruction in most government schools. This occurred also in the colonial period when colonial languages replaced local languages in occupied Muslim lands. These changes in instructional practices transformed people 's ideas about religion and its importance to community development by removing the teaching of Islam as the basis of character formation and making it a new subject called “religion,” without primary status in the curriculum (Starrett, 1998). Government schools became agents of colonial policy, used to control Muslim rulers, administrative management, and agricultural productivity. As described by Leila Ahmad, when enrollments grew, girls were denied places in classrooms and tuition was instituted in secondary schools, making girls ’ education a low priority (Ahmed, 1992).
The English colonial system penetrated the Indian subcontinent, the majority of the Middle East, and many African nations, even though it claimed that it did not interfere in internal affairs (Ali A. Mazrui, The Africans: A Triple Heritage, Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1986). The French colonial system in North and West Africa and in Syria and Lebanon assimilated the existing system to the point of annihilating it (W. Bryant Mumford, Africans Learn to Be French, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1970). It contributed further to diverting the rural system from traditional Islamic education to superstitious social customs, dogmatic and nationalistic creeds, and passive Ṣūfī orders. And instead of strengthening institutions of higher learning, such as the oldest, the 1,110-year-old al-Qarawīyīn in Fez, Morocco, the colonial government dismantled many old centers. The recent revival of such centers as cultural landmarks has not restored their intellectual value. Thus, attempts to reverse the dismantling process with the hope that this process will lure Muslim immigrants to go back to their Muslim lands have also failed as European and North American societies attempt to assimilate instead of integrate the new waves of Muslim immigrants (Barbieri, 1999).

Comparing the Three Schemes of Education.

A comparison of teaching in the katātīb and madāris to the colonizers ’ technical, military, and vocational training or the missionaries ’ book knowledge is not an accurate indicator of educational reform. Neither do the mushrooming Muslim schools in the West represent a reform (Barazangi, 2004). What is obvious, however, is that educational practices have changed from informal family-based, formal teacher-centered, and informal decentralized tarbiyah (character and intellectual development) to either formal missionary-controlled, state-centralized schooling, or privately funded institutions that are attempting to integrate modernized teaching tools and material within the same social norms of the decentralized extended-family and tribal system. These new schemata have added to the debate about reform but have not effected a major shift in the educational process. Inserting tarbiyah within “secular” education does not address the fundamental need to replace the existing bureaucratic system (Barazangi, 2004). The concept of tarbiyah has been reduced to passing on the skills and information needed to qualify for a job.
Classically, the function of teaching was primarily Qurʿānic talqīn (acquisition and dissemination of meaning and spirit): essentially, instilling community values while combating illiteracy. Other types of kuttāb taught some knowledge of akhbār (history), ḥisāb (simple arithmetic and reckoning), and elementary Arabic naḥw (grammar), reading, and writing. The function of the madrasah was to complement the objectives of both kuttābs, as well as the halqah's advanced ʿulūm al-Qurʿān (Qurʿānic sciences), ʿulūm al-ḥadīth (sciences of the Prophetic tradition), and their ancillary sciences of Arabic naḥw and ādāb (literature). Thus, ḥikmah (wisdom), kalām (philosophy/theology), manṭiq (logic), ʿilm al-nujūm (astronomy), music, and ʿilm al-ṭibb (medicine) were part of the curriculum even early in the nineteenth century (Ali, 1983). Government and missionary schools, meanwhile, sought to implant European secular and Christian values of agrarian, office, and class bureaucracy (Bennabi, 1969). In the twenty-first century, governments are still struggling to squeeze specialized courses of study into the old curricular structure instead of dismantling the obsolete systems. Emphasis on computerized instruction and online resources has not changed the dynamics of learning, nor the learner-teacher relations (Barazangi, 2007).
Traditional and colonial modes of instruction represent a departure from the Islamic perspective that was instrumental in the evolution of the Islamic civilization. Rahman (1982) notes that intellectual stagnation occurred during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when manuals and commentaries dominated, and suggests that the educational process had virtually ceased to function by the late 1500s when the Andalusian Islamic community in Spain was dismantled. Eickelman, however, sees the mnemonic devices of Islamic education as a continuation of the socialization process even during and after the colonial period, when systems of mass and compulsory schooling were legislated. Barazangi (2004, 2007) asserts that despite the many efforts to integrate these two modes into a third schema, the basic dynamics of seeing the learner, particularly the female, as a preserver of culture instead as a generator of new knowledge still dominate.
The Islamic educational system was abandoned when state and colonial governments made decisions for local people and Muslims lost their scholarly and intellectual initiative. With the exception of scattered scholars and artisans during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries that Nasr points out, Islamic educational practices fell into abeyance. Attempts to expound the positive attitude of Islam toward science by those Rahman calls “pre-modernist reformers” resulted instead in a complete separation of “Islamic” and “non-Islamic” knowledge. The strategies of nationalist elites such as Maʿrūf al-Raṣāfī (1877–1945) of Iraq attest to differences in attitude, especially toward the implications of modern science for the traditional Muslims ’ worldview and faith. These different attitudes and strategies created further confusion about how to reintroduce science and technology in the culture. As Bennabi notes, the aspirations of some elites and rulers were not those of the community or the masses, but those of the colonials, missionaries, and romantic Orientalists. Recent new visions—be they the “Islamization of Knowledge” as envisioned by Ismāʿīl Rājī al-Fārūqī (Islamization of Knowledge: The Problem, Principles, and the Workplan, Islamabad, 1982), or its misapplication in a separatist, radical mode—have further isolated the masses of Muslims from the decision-making process (Barazangi, 2004).The practical implications of these differences in attitude and of alienated aspirations may be seen in the varied and conflicting responses to modernization and in the present disparity between the ideal and the reality of the Muslim world, particularly in educating women. Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan 's call in 1860 for the reinterpretation of the Qurʿān in light of modern experience, for example, failed because his views were not based on the Islamic perspective. He was not able to implement them in the Aligarh Muslim University of India, which he created to integrate religious beliefs with a modern scientific outlook. Other reform ideas put forth by rulers and elites who had studied in Europe had similar negative results.

Community Development and Educational Progress.

The rival Muslim and European education plans were in place until the second quarter of the twentieth century, when turmoil was the common factor in the social, political, and educational systems of occupied Muslim lands until military and political independence was achieved in the 1950s and 1960s. Elites, Bennabi adds, contributed further to this turmoil by adopting Western ideas of change as the only means for reform without considering the actual needs and sociopsychological factors of the community. Impositions and assessments of Muslim education through biased reporting by Western media during the first decade of the twenty-first century have added to the turmoil and the misunderstanding of Muslim educational systems globally. Reports by some journalists and politicians have infringed on the education profession and misled the general public, and some have contradicted their own “vision” in using a double standard when comparing the value of education in America with that of Muslim societies, or when making sweeping statements about textbooks as inciters of violence. Such claims are refuted by the empirical findings in Doumato and Starrett (2007).
Postcolonial changes, which almost uniformly in-
volved modern educational instructional schemes, also resulted in confusing outcomes. Education authorities lost their enthusiasm, lacked planning and balance in educational development, and have been pressured from outside to change, but without being given the tools or the skills to do so (Barazangi, 2007).
The general uncertainty of objectives of educational reform has prevailed with some exceptions. For example, the goal of returning to regional languages (European languages became secondary to Arabic, Persian, or Urdu as the means of instruction in public schools) has been achieved on a limited basis. This uncertainty is evident in African countries, especially those in North Africa (Abdelhamid Mansouri, “Algeria between tradition and modernity: the question of language.” PhD diss., State University of New York at Albany, 1991), and in Asian countries, particularly in Pakistan, where a full transition could not be effected because of misleading popular media accounts about madrasah enrollment (Tahir Andrabi, 
et al., “Religious School Enrolment in Pakistan: A Look at the Data,” Comparative Education Review 50, no. 3 [2006]: 446–477). With the emphasis on nationalistic sentiments, the restoration of Arabic—the language of the Qurʿān—for instruction became an ideal. Meanwhile, those using regional languages for instruction expended energy on the translation of European textbooks instead of writing new, native textbooks. Twenty-first-century calls for ethnic minority human rights and the need to recognize minority vernacular languages have diverted educational reform foci and exhausted existing resources instead of solving issues of inequality in instruction.
The rapid increase in the number of schools in Muslim societies in the post-modern era has not kept up with population growth or with the demand for education. High levels of illiteracy persist (UNESCO, 1995; Zia, 2006) and, notwithstanding arguments concerning the definition of literacy and the value of oral transmission, the levels and types of education available to women are still inferior to those available to men (Barazangi, 2004). Educational quality is sacrificed inadvertently in pursuit of universal schooling and mandatory elementary education because of the lack of human and other resources and of coherent regional planning and technical competency (UNDP 2000–2005). Intellectual production, as Bennabi lamented earlier, is still hindered because Muslims value Western products (such as modern technical tools, and, more recently, audiovisual equipment and computer programs) and wish to acquire them, without researching the ideas behind these products.
The nature of educational transformation has varied among Muslim countries, reflecting the development model adopted, the post-1969 Muslim world 's economic and political polarization, and the role played by oil-rich countries and their international benefactors. For example, the relation between tradition and change in the Malaysian context did not arise from the question of cultural change, in which women's place is used as the central discourse, as in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan. Instead, Muslim religious groups have used a new discourse to defend against the encroachment of Western ideas. However, by emphasizing the question of morality, epitomized in attire and sex segregation, particularly in higher education institutions, Malaysian reformers have indirectly restricted the intellectual role of women in the development process. Malaysian educational reform has not changed the intellectual, attitudinal, and cultural development of the Muslim masses. As similar movements of reform are spreading in other Muslim communities from Indonesia to North America, it sometimes seems questionable whether there ever was an educational reform.

Educating Muslim Minorities in the West and the Globalization Process.

Economic openness, particularly in the oil-rich Gulf societies, has not always been accompanied by political, cultural, and educational openness. There are still generational and regional variations in accepting Western standards of globalization (Daun and Walford, 2004). In addition, “Islamists,” in response to globalization, have politicized Islam; but, more importantly, they have made Islam surface again as a globalizing force. Whether by imposing their own interpretation of Islam or by awakening the masses to their Islamic identity, these movements have created a new dilemma for reform: “Who has the authority to 
reinterpret Islamic primary sources, education, and knowledge, and how?” This has become a dominant question as intellectual Muslim women, mainly in the West, such as Barazangi and others, begin to reinterpret religious texts as well as the international civil laws (Barazangi, 2004). It is unknown who may advance the new paradigm in educational reform, and what this new paradigm might be.


  • Barazangi, Nimat Hafez. Woman’ s Identity and the Qurʿān: A New Reading. Gainesville, Florida, 2006. Theoretical and practical synthesis of Muslims ’ education, particularly women's education in Islam. Offers a bold call for women's higher Islamic learning and participation in the interpretation of the Qurʿān and Western human rights documents as the means for attitudinal transformation toward women and by women concerning their education and emancipation from within.
  • Barbieri, William. “Group Rights and the Muslim Diaspora.” Human Rights Quarterly 21, no. 4 (1999): 907–926.
  • Bennabi, Malek. Mushkilat al-thaqāfah (The Problem of Educating). Translated from the French by ʿAbd al-Sabūr Shāhīn. Beirut, 1969. Originally published as Le problème des etude.
  • Bennabi, Malek. Islam in History and Society. Translated from the French by Asma Rashid. Islamabad, 1988. Originally published as Vocation de I’Islam (Cairo, 1959). Realistic analysis of the relationship between education and cultural development in the contemporary Muslim world by a native Algerian Muslim scholar.
  • Daun, Holger, and Geoffrey Walford, eds. Educational Strategies among Muslims in the Context of Globalization: Some 
National Case Studies. Leiden and Boston, 2004. A rich collection of case studies on Muslims ’ education in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Morocco, Somalia, West Africa, Sweden, England, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Greece.
  • Eickelman, Dale F. Knowledge and Power in Morocco: The Education of a Twentieth-Century Notable. Princeton, 1985. Unprecedented anthropological analysis of the power of knowledge in a Muslim society. Chapter 3, which deals with the Qurʿānic presence in Muslim intellectual and social development, deserves particular attention.
  • Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939. Cambridge, 1983. This volume and the title that follows are considered by Western and Arabic Middle Eastern scholars as classical works on reform and modernization in the region.
  • Hourani, Albert. Emergence of the Modern Middle East. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1981.
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. Traditional Islam in the Modern World. London and New York, 1987. Leading work in deciphering traditional Islam and its contrast to fundamentalism and modernism with respect to Western scholarship. Part 2, “Traditional Islam and Modernism,” is particularly illuminating. The notes are rich with primary and secondary sources.
  • Rahman, Fazlur. Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition. Chicago and London, 1982. Definitive work for understanding contemporary Islamic intellectualism as the essence of higher Islamic education, and the implications of the method of Qurʿānic interpretation to the development of the intellectual Muslim.
  • Sanderson, Lillian. “Education and Administrative Control in Colonial Sudan and Northern Nigeria.” African Affairs 74 (October 1975): 427–441.
  • Starrett, Gregory. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Field Mission Reports on Muslim Countries. Compiled by Mumtaz Al Anwar. Delhi, India: UNESCO, 1995.
  • Ayyub Ali, A. K. M. History of Traditional Islamic Education in Bangladesh: Down to A.D. 1980. Dhaka: Islamic Foundation of Bangladesh, 1983. Though reporting mainly on Bangladesh, the author presents the development of Muslim education from Islam to 1980 that prevailed throughout the Indian Subcontinent.
  • Barazangi, Nimat Hafez. “Action Research Pedagogy in a New Cultural Setting: The Syrian Experience.” Action Research 5, no. 3 (2007): 307–318.
  • Doumato, Eleanor Abdella, and Gregory Starrett, eds. Teaching Islam: Textbooks and Religion in the Middle East. Boulder, Colo., 2006. Insightful empirical studies on the realities of religious education vis-à-vis the United States ’ reaction and proposed educational reform in the Muslim world.
  • Heyworth-Dunne, J. An Introduction to the History of Education in Modern Egypt. London, 1968.
  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Arab 
Human Development Reports, 2002–2005. New York: UNDP, 2002–2005.
  • Zia, Rukhsana, ed. Globalization, Modernization, and Education in Muslim Countries. Hauppauge, New York, 2006. A different perspective on Islamic education and Muslims ’ education in Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Oman, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Northern Nigeria, and Turkey.
General Works
Regional Accounts
Nimat Hafez Barazangi

The Islamization of Knowledge

The notion of “Islamization of knowledge” has generated a lively discourse within the circle of Muslim social scientists as well as others. Underscoring the “sense of responsibility” that comes with knowledge (ʿilm), Fazlur Rahman (1919–1988) makes an important observation: “The question to be posed then is: how to make man responsible? This is the basic problem that those of us who entertain this subject, Islamization of knowledge, have in mind…. Actually what we should be saying is that the modern world has misused knowledge: that there is nothing wrong with knowledge, but that it has simply been misused” (1988, p. 4).

The Nature of Knowledge.

The question of whether knowledge is neutral or value-loaded is complex and not as simple as conceived by Rahman. Long before the emergence of the movement for Islamization of knowledge in North America, Sayyid Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī (1903–1979) touched on the subject:“In all sciences, there are two aspects. One aspect consists of realities of nature, i.e., facts. Another aspect is the human viewpoint which classifies these facts, moulds them into theories and formulates some concepts. These two aspects need to be distinguished. As far as facts are concerned they are universal, they are just facts. But for instance, the Marxist mentality organizes these facts according to Marxist outlook…. Similar is the case with Western scientists. They have their own peculiar concept of universe, God and man. From these examples, we can see that each ideology shapes knowledge and science according to its own point of view….” (1998, p. 81).
The issue at the core, in the opinion of the proponents of the Islamization of knowledge, has been essentially epistemic and methodological. Scientific knowledge is generally considered objective, real, and value-free. The very concept of “Islamization of knowledge” or “Islamic science” raises a basic question: Are the realms of physics and chemistry, or sociology and political science, for instance, and “religion” exclusive and independent of each other, or is a marriage between “religion” and empirical knowledge possible? In the context of the twenty-first century, it becomes more important to understand why, when the postmodernist scholars were questioning even so-called modernity, some Muslim social scientists try to go back to a “tradition” that is perceived as the opposite of modernity. Any call to return to the norms of the Qurʿān and the sunnah, supposed to be seventh-century texts, creates questions about its relevance to the modern world.

Islam and Modernity.

This perception of European society as modern and enlightened, and of traditional societies as locked in the past, has been an integral part of the colonization project. The role of religion in a supposedly enlightened European society was marginalized and reduced to personal faith and practice. Those who believed otherwise were, consequently, regarded as unenlightened, deprived of the light of reason and critical thinking. This and other presuppositions of the western social sciences filtered into the mind and soul of the Muslim elite who were educated and trained in the western tradition. Against this backdrop, when a group of Muslim social scientists in the early 1970s came forward with the idea of Islamization of knowledge, not only their western friends but many Muslim scholars could not appreciate the concept. Three major responses could be discerned among them. First, knowledge is neutral; we cannot have a Hindu physics or a Christian sociology. Second, the mixing of “religion” and empirical sciences would be a step backward. Third, “Islamization” is only a political slogan for the legitimacy of certain Muslim rulers who acquired power through undemocratic means.
From a historical perspective, the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries saw a serious crisis in the Muslim communities. External political pressures, including the spread of secular and missionary educational institutions, caused tension and a visible divide in the Muslim society. The traditionalist response was twofold. Its total rejection of so-called western secular education was followed by efforts to protect ʿaqīdah (faith), assuming that formal teaching in how to recite the Qurʿān and read some legal texts, without full understanding of the spirit and message of the Qurʿān, was enough to protect ʿaqīdah in an increasingly secularized world. Second, the tension created by westernization and secularization resulted in a mushrooming of religious schools in rural as well as urban areas. Religious institutions in the early and medieval periods were centers of learning and produced intellectuals and scholars. The rise of formalism in madaris (sing: madrasah or school), on the contrary, resulted in the loss of critical thinking and freedom of ideas,thus contradicting the Qurʿānic and Prophetic dictum, “Conduct deep thinking in dīn (religion)” (al-Tawbah 9:122; also the Ṣaḥīḥ of Muslim).
One major reason pointed out by Rahman (1982) for this duality is, ironically, the decline in direct teaching of the Qurʿān in the madaris and jamiʿat religious seminaries. Religious schools got involved in discussing controversial and hypothetical issues such as the miraculousness (iʿjāz) of the Qurʿān, the possibility of seeing Allāh with the physical eyes, determinism and free will, and so on. He mentions four major reasons for the widening gap between so-called religious and secular education. First, there is the assumption that knowledge is limitless but life is short, and therefore religious knowledge is enough for individual salvation in the hereafter. Second, Ṣūfī teachings focused on the purification of the self rather than concern for worldly progress. Third, jobs were readily available for the graduates of dini madaris in mosques and schools. Finally, the theologian al-Ghazālī (eleventh century) had condemned philosophers (Rahman, 1982, pp. 33–34). This division and classification of knowledge as religious or secular became one major reason that scientific development lagged in the Muslim world.

Birth of the Islamization Movement.

A new concept of reform was introduced in the early 1970s when a group of Muslim social scientists, mostly trained and educated in American, Canadian, and British universities, founded the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS) at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago in 1971. Its founding Executive Board included Professor Ismāʿīl al- Fārūqī (United States), Professor Anis Ahmad (Pakistan), Dr. ʿAbdul Ḥamid Abū Sulaymān (Saudi Arabia), Dr. Al-Tijani Abugidiere (Sudan), and Dr. Abdul Haq Ansari (India). The purpose was not merely to add a few references from the Qurʿān or ḥadīth as a prefix to the existing knowledge of social sciences. They called for basic research, for critical review of the presuppositions of western social science theory and research, and for taking stock of the Islamic intellectual tradition. One of their major objectives was to reconstruct the social sciences on Islamic epistemic foundations.
The founders of this movement, under the leadership of Professor Ismāʿīl al-Fārūqī (d. 1986), organized seminars, workshops, and working groups on the methodological and applied dimensions of Islamization of the social and human sciences. In due course there evolved a community of Muslim social scientists with a common vision. The First International Conference on the Islamization of Knowledge was held in Europe in 1977. The International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) was established in Washington in 1981. A work plan and a theoretical framework on Islamization of knowledge was presented at the Second International Conference on Islamization of Knowledge, held in Islamabad in 1982. The proceedings of this conference provided both theoretical and applied models of Islamization of disciplines such as history, sociology, the physical sciences, and technology.
The genesis of this enormous task, taken up by the AMSS and the IIIT, of Islamization of knowledge, can be traced back to 1962, when Sayyid Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī, while launching the Islamic Research Academy at Karachi, focused on conducting basic research and reorientation in social sciences. In his inaugural address he called for an epistemic paradigm shift in the disciplines of the social sciences. He also called for a three-pronged strategy for social change. First and foremost, a critical appraisal of western thought in social sciences was needed in order to liberate the Muslim mind from the intellectual and cultural colonialism of the west. Second, classification and reorganization of the social sciences on the basis of Islamic value systems would lead to value-based psychology, sociology, economics, and political thought. Third, a curriculum reflective of this approach should be developed, and new textbooks produced for the various social sciences (2000, pp. 13–15).


The proponents of the Islamization of knowledge defined their project as follows:“It is rather a way and a method to formulate a methodological, scientific, mental approach to the humanities, social sciences and applied sciences. The ‘Islamization of Knowledge’ is scientific knowledge—the knowledge that originates from Divine norms and ideas. It is rational in its outlook, its approach, its search, its critical examination of the problems of life, and its treatment of individual society, nature and laws that govern its working” (Sulaymān, p. 85).In other words, it offers a general theory of knowledge founded on the integration of revealed knowledge and values with the rational, empirical socioeconomic and political thought and behavior of modern man. It is not a backward movement or a revival of premodern conservatism. It calls for moving forward with an ethical and moral worldview in a world of high technology.
A twelve-step plan for this ambitious task was proposed. It included the defining of presuppositions, the development of a theoretical framework, and an outline for the production of textbooks in the social sciences and humanities and the creation of universities where this new knowledge may be tested, researched, produced, and disseminated. The establishment of two institutions of higher learning, the International Islamic University, Islamabad (1980) and the International Islamic University of Malaysia (1983), offered a unique laboratory situation for the movement to test its products. The movement intended not only to develop new approaches in social sciences and other disciplines, but also to Islamize traditional disciplines such as fiqh (jurisprudence), Islamic law, and history.
Islamization of the traditional ʿulūm (sciences), or fiqh, means at least three things. The first is a fresh rethinking in the area of uṣūl al-fiqh (philosophy of Islamic law), a critical review of the foundational principles of jurisprudence in the five major schools of law. The second is the development of Islamic responses and solutions (ijtihād) for contemporary economic, social, political, legal, and cultural issues, based directly upon the Qurʿān and the sunnah, thus liberating fiqh from the grip of a traditional mind-set. The third step is the application of comparative fiqh methodology in teaching and research, in order to identify universals and particulars in Islamic law to be applied to issues faced by the Muslim ummah in both majority and minority contexts. Some of the contemporary Muslim thinkers, including Taha Jabir and Abū Suleymān, have written on these three aspects. They have pointed out that a rigid fiqh cannot meet the test of time; therefore, the maxims and even the foundational principles (uṣūl al-fiqh) should be reinvestigated and new maxims (qawaid al-fiqhiyyah) developed wherever necessary, within the parameters of the Qurʿān and the sunnah. Still, no effort to Islamize knowledge can disregard the role of the methodology of uṣūl al-fiqh. Its proper understanding is the key to the process of Islamization in the social, physical, and natural sciences.

Status of    the Project.

The movement for Islamization of knowledge is still in the process of maturing. Perhaps it is too early to judge and evaluate its impact on the intellectual map of the Muslim ummah. It is time for a critical appraisal of the philosophy, and of its application in academic and research works, from both an insider 's and an outsider 's perspective. The reviews that have been undertaken so far have been partial and start from the wrong point of view. They also suffer from a lack of historical accuracy, as, for example, in attributing the beginnings of the Islamization movement to Saudi Arabia or in misrepresenting the viewpoints of some of its proponents.
Flexibility and intellectual differences among the scholars involved should not be considered a weakness but a strength of the movement. A careful study of the approaches of al-Atlas and al-Fārūqī shows certain differences, but also a common concern for the resilience and revival of Islamic thought. Al-Atlas is more interested in the inner dimensions of the self with emphasis on the spirit of knowledge and education, which he calls taʿdib. This, in his view, is the major cause of the lagging behind of the ummah. Al-Fārūqī, on the other hand, pleads for ijtihād, the use of rational and innovative methodology, the restructuring of the educational system, and the production of new textbooks in the social and natural sciences that do not subscribe to the Eurocentric worldview as the key to progress and development of the ummah.
The production of several pioneering works on how various disciplines can be Islamized indicates the viability of the project. Efforts have been made in psychology, anthropology, economics, law, philosophy, visual arts, and history to demonstrate how these disciplines can be Islamized (Toward Islamization of Disciplines, 1989; Islamic Source and Purpose of Knowledge, 1988; Toward Islamic English, 1986; Islamization of Attitudes and Practices in Science and Technology, 1989; and American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 1984). These pioneering works question the epistemic foundations of social sciences and suggest an alternate basis of these disciplines. Man 's social, economic and psychological behavior, for example, is approached from a measurable ethical and moral axiological perspective. Human response to social and other needs is considered from a universalistic ethical view point, which is not particular to the Muslim community.
The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences has provided a valuable academic forum for intellectual discourse among concerned Muslim social scientists and others. A number of other institutes, such as the Islamic Foundation and the Markfield Institute of Higher Education at Leicester, though having no links with the IIIT, have made remarkable contributions through scholarly works published and academic programs offered at the graduate level. Most important is the contribution of the Islamic Foundation in producing a series of works on Islamization of the economy and banking. A few representative works are: Khurshid Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Economics, Leicester, U.K., 1980; S. N. H. Naqvi, Ethics and Economics: An Islamic Synthesis, Leicester, U.K., 1981; Ziauddin Ahmad et al., Money and Banking in Islam, Jeddah, 1983; M. Taqi Usmani, An Introduction to Islamic Finance, Karachi, 1998; M. Umer Chapra, Islam and the Economics Challenge, Herndon, Va., 1992; M. N. Siddiqi, Insurance in an Islamic Economy, Leicester, U.K., 1985; and M. N. Siddiqi, Partnership and Profit-Sharing in Islamic Law, Leicester, U.K., 1985; M. Umer Chapra, The Future of Economics ‘An Islamic perspective ’, Leicester U.K., 2000. The major contribution of these works is questioning the validity of the present economic order. The dilemma and crisis of modern man, in this author 's view, is essentially ethical and moral. The capitalist, for that matter even the socialist-Marxist economy share in a secular, positivistic, pragmatic and self-centered paradigm of development where economic policy and decisions are not made on purely ethical and moral considerations. People 's world- view, vision of society, concept of ethical quality of life has practically no relevance to economic production, consumption and distribution.
The pioneering works on Islamic economic challenge the ethical foundations of the so-called new economic world order and based on a scientific analysis of economic problem of man propose a paradigm shift from a positivistic, profit centered economy to a holistic welfare model in which economic decisions are made on the basis of global ethical principles.

Future Prospects.

It is difficult to predict to what extent this movement will influence intellectual trends and the thinking of the ummah in the west and the east. The existence of academic and intellectual centers committed to the Islamization of knowledge in the United States and Europe is nevertheless a cause for optimism and hope.


  • Alwani, Taha Jabir al-. “The Islamization of Methodology of Behavioral Sciences.” American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 6.2 (December 1989): 227–238.
  • Chapra, M. Umer. The Future of Economics  ‘An Islamic perspective ’, Leicester, U.K., 2000.
  • Fārūqī, Ismāʿīl R. al-. Islamization of Knowledge: General Principles and Workplan. Washington, D.C., 1982. Essential introduction to the understanding of contemporary trends in Islamic education and thought by an American Muslim scholar.
  • Fārūqī, Ismāʿīl R. al-. “Islamizing the Social Sciences.” In Social and Natural Sciences: The Islamic Perspective, edited by Ismāʿīl R. al-Fārūqī and Abdullah Omar Nasseef, pp. 8–20. Islamic Education Series. Jeddah, 1981.
  • Golshani, Mehdi. “How to Make Sense of Islamic Science?” American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 17.3 (Fall 2000): 1–21.
  • Husaini, Sayyid Waqqar Ahmed. “Humanistic–Social Sciences Studies in Higher Education: Islamic and International Perspectives.” In Social and Natural Sciences: The Islamic Perspective, edited by Ismāʿīl R. al-Fārūqī and Abdullah Omar Nasseef, pp. 148–166. Islamic Education Series. Jeddah, 1981.
  • International Institute of Islamic Thought. Islam: Source and Purpose of Knowledge. Herndon, Va., 1988.
  • Mawdūdī, Sayyid Abū al-Aʿlā. “Mawdudi on Science.” Translated by Rafat. Journal of Islamic Sciences 10.2 (1998): 81.
  • Mawdūdī, Sayyid Abū al-Aʿlā. Role of Academic Research in an Age of Civilizational Struggle. Karachi, 2000. Keynote address delivered on Sept. 22, 1963 at the Islamic Research Academy, Karachi.
  • Rahman, Fazlur. Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition. Chicago and London, 1982. Definitive work for understanding contemporary Islamic intellectualism as the essence of Islamic higher education, and the implications of the method of Qurʿānic interpretation for the development of the intellectual Muslim.
  • Rahman, Fazlur. “Islamization of Knowledge: A Response.” American Journal of Social Sciences 5.1 (September 1988): 3–11.
  • Sulaymān, ʿAbdul Ḥamid Abū, ed. Islamization of Knowledge: General Principles and Work Plan. 2d ed. Herndon, Va., 1989.
Akbar S. AhmedUpdated by Anis Ahmad