The Purpose of an Islamic School
and the Role of an Islamic School Teacher
Fawzia Gilani-Williams

    In order to come to some agreement regarding the purpose of an Islamic school, it may be beneficial to firstly elicit a definition of Islamic education. Educators generally maintain:

The purpose of Islamic education is not to cram the pupil’s head with facts but to prepare them for a life of purity and sincerity. This total commitment to character-building based on the ideals of Islamic ethics is the highest goal of Islamic education. (Al-Attas, 1979, p. 104)

    The emphasis can then be said to be on a value system. What is important is that the Muslim child be exposed to an education that predominantly teaches values such as obedience, care, forgiveness, respect and truthfulness etc. According to Sharif, Islamic education is ‘the device for helping an individual to full stature’, (1976, p. 45). This, he elaborates involves the ‘assimilation of Divine attributes’ leading to a life of ‘unity, power, freedom, truth, beauty, goodness, love, and justice’ (ibid). A more comprehensive definition of Islamic education was composed at the First World Conference on Muslim Education where participants were of the following view:

Education should aim at the balanced growth of the total personality of man through the training of man’s spirit, intellect, his rational self, feelings and bodily senses. Education should cater therefore for the growth of man in all its aspects: spiritual, intellectual, imaginative, physical, scientific, linguistic, both individually and collectively and motivate all aspects towards goodness and the attainment of perfection. The ultimate aim of Muslim education lies in the realization of complete submission to Allah on the level of the individual, the community and humanity at large. (Ashraf, 1985, p. 4)

    It would follow then that the aim of an Islamic school is to provide an environment which allows the student to realize these ideals and gain an education that enhances his spiritual, intellectual, imaginative, physical, scientific and linguistic growth. Using the above definition as an informative guide, one would expect an Islamic school then, to have facilities and a programme of learning that allows a pupil to develop his/her  sense of spirituality and build a positive relationship with God which becomes manifest in doing righteous deeds. 
    According to Ismail (Ismail, 1997, p. 36). there are ‘four basic patterns of knowledge. Although they are not inclusive, they are the most important patterns needed for producing effective, creative and successful teachers: 
    a. Causal Knowledge 
    b. Normative Knowledge 
    c. Experiential Knowledge 
    d. General Knowledge
    In addition to this, Ismail also gives four skill components, each of these having four sub-components (Ibid, pp. 36-7). These are said to ‘represent the very basic talents, qualifications and characteristics needed to develop a successful and effective teacher’. They are: 
    a. Knowledge of the subject matter 
    b. Wealth in internalized values and beliefs 
    c. Ability of transferring knowledge 
    d. Generating student’s cooperation and confidence 
    Essentially, the call is for a Muslim teacher to have moral values and professional knowledge and to be able to actualize these in daily life routines. They must be honest and sincere, and cultivate ‘faith in absolute values such as justice, mercy, truth, charity, love and righteousness, all of which are enshrined in the names of God’, (Ismail, 1997, p. 45). They must be familiar with classroom management, curriculum management, records management, to use a variety of teaching strategies and an understanding of learning modes. They must  have an awareness of each pupil’s background and motivate students raising their self-esteem. They are also effective in home-school liaison and have a reciprocal relationship with the administrative body. 
    In order to attain this in the Muslim student, the teacher is charged with competency. This essentially requires the teacher employed, to be proficient, effective and skilled in primarily the teaching of values and secondly in the specific field that he is being asked to teach. Teachers must have sufficient experience and training in the subject and be aware of development in that field. Along with this they must also be able to deliver the subject taking into account the different ability groups in the class and understanding the varied strategies of delivering the material. An understanding of a pupil’s learning style is also essential. A pupil must be given an environment that is positive for his or her personal development. By creating an atmosphere of approval the teacher sets the scene for success. 
    Other aspects of an Islamic school education include the provision of opportunities in physical education, languages, science, creativity and reasoning. However, all of these are delivered in such a way that there is no dichotomy between religion and so called secular knowledge:

An essential prerequisite is that religious and secular subjects should be made an indivisible whole. The compartmentalization of religious and secular education, based on a factitious division of life into spiritual and temporal, is not sanctioned by Islam. (Rauf, 1988, p. 63) 

    A Muslim teacher must therefore be one who follows this philosophy and tries to correlate the Islamic perspective with academic subjects that they teach.
    The role of an Islamic school teacher can be best understood by firstly considering what the essential constituents of a competent Muslim teacher are. The Islamic Society of North America delivered a workshop on the qualities of an effective Muslim teacher. One of the accompanying handouts was entitled: ‘What a good Muslim teacher is all about’. The personal characteristics of a ‘good Muslim teacher’ as described in the ISNA handout were:

Love for children; love for the profession of education; humility without weakness; health and vitality of  the body; psychological health and emotional balance; neatness, cleanliness and good appearance; eloquence and good pronunciation; intelligence and deep understanding; understanding students and their needs; strong command of the subject; broad and deep reading and knowledge; punctuality and respect for time; co-operation with the school system and policies; being courteous with students and fellow teachers; socialization with people and no isolation; knowledge and practice of Islam; to stay away from questionable sayings or deeds, even if it is lawful to do so; and sincerity. (ISNA handout, 1994)

    This description is one that ISNA has proposed as its criteria for the hiring of Muslim teachers. The description calls for an adult who possesses an affinity for children. One who enjoys the rigors and challenges of teaching. Appearance, mannerisms and intellect are factors that are seen to contribute to what a ‘good Muslim teacher’ is. In addition to this, a teacher is asked to have the following ‘professional characteristics’: 

Class control; respect for the student’s personality; involving the student in discussions and corrections; involving students in school activities; recognizing and dealing with individual differences; gradual reforming of student’s behavior depending on the situation; linking the lesson to lively practical applications; using fun and appropriate laughter; using the lecture style appropriately with the following considerations… using questions with the considerations to the following…(ISNA handout, 1994) 

    Baloch describes an Islamic teacher as one who educates a child ‘according to his level of maturity’. Such a teacher nurtures the child to have ‘faith in the One’ God, leading to the development of ‘a spirit of inquiry’ in order to procure an understanding of the universe and its operations. The pupil is then to ‘use his knowledge, skills, and understanding to improve himself and the society’, (Al-Afendi & Baloch, 1980, p. 165). 
    The purpose of an Islamic school and the role of an Islamic school teacher can also be presented by drawing on the early models of Islamic education and the teachers who were called upon to dispense knowledge to students: 

...because of the inseparable bond between ‘Islam’ and ‘education’, the teacher in a Muslim society has to be a ‘committed’ teacher, and consequently ‘accountable’ to the society... a teacher’s harsh treatment of a child was quick to attract attention and the great educators like Ghazzali ... and Ibn Miskwayh ...advocated the use of rewards, recognition, and recreation (play) by the teacher to motivate learning, rather than any form of punishment. Ibn Khaldun explained how physical punishment was psychologically harmful and distorted the normal growth and development of the child. (Al-Afendi & Baloch, 1980, p. 169) 

    A number of points are raised in this extract. Firstly, a teacher in a Muslim society is answerable to the people. His or her actions and words are the target of scrutiny. Moreover, he or she must be a dependable and responsible person whose role does not end with the bell but continues even after school, implying that a teacher’s professional duty is one that extends to society. He or she must not be seen to engage in any questionable activities. 
    There is also a point made that a teacher should not be severe and resort to punishing the child but use strategies involving positive reinforcement and also appreciate the value of play as a means of learning and providing the student with a motivating learning environment. 
    Shami raises the point that Muslim teachers who are trained in colleges and other professional institutions based on models from the West are not equipped to deal effectively with delivering an Islamic education to a Muslim child. This, he says is because such an institution does not cater for the spiritual development of the child. He calls for a teacher who is ‘responsible for the development of the soul ... the mind and body’, (Baloch & Afendi, 1980, p. 155). The implication may then be that teachers who are trained at the latter institutions should be given opportunities for Islamic development that will allow them to cater for the ‘mind and body’ of the student. 
    In one of his addresses on the topic of a new education system, Mawdudi once said:

If you teach history, geography, physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, astronomy, economics, political science and other social sciences without any reference to Allah ... a student will be unable to synthesize the conflicting ideologies into a unifying whole. Because of this intellectual polarization, his religious faith gradually weakens. Under the circumstances, he cannot remain totally committed to religion, however strong his faith may be. (Rauf, 1988, p. 64) 

This can be used to further highlight the necessity for a Muslim teacher to put subjects in the context of Islam. If subjects are not Islamized, the indication is that the resulting pupil, through not viewing God to be the author and controller, assigns the latter to something other than God. He will therefore suffer a weakness in faith. Mawdudi also believes that students should consolidate their knowledge in Qur’anic Studies and thereafter ‘be offered a course in comparative religion so that they can assess for themselves how mankind went astray’. (Rauf, 1988, p. 67) 

    There is also the point that ‘the most important quality of a Muslim teacher is not what he knows but what he is’, (Baloch & Affendi, 1980, p. 157). The emphasis is placed on the character of the teacher. The teachers must be exposed to exemplary behaviour on which to fashion themselves. Presumably this would come from the teacher training institutions in the first instance and then the leadership body within a school. 
    It is also important for an Islamic school, especially those that exist in non-Muslim countries to provide students with an understanding of their role and obligations not only to the Muslims who reside around them but also towards the non-Muslims. It is important that Islamic schools exude through their students the same neighbourliness towards the non-Muslim that Muhammad (sws) practiced and taught. 
    Hashim also agrees that the Muslim teacher is not just a professional worker but is also a mu’addib who concerns himself with instilling adab, (manners) in their students:

A teacher in the Islamic tradition is also a guide to leading pupils to the righteous path. Consequently, the excellence of a teacher in Islam is not only measured by his or her faith, beliefs, character and conducts. This notion of a teacher in Islam is a very important consideration in the preparation of teachers for an Islamic school system. (Hashim, 1997, p. 58)

    The purpose of an Islamic school is essentially to create an environment that reflects an Islamic ideology. It is warm, embracing, encouraging and its decor redirects its inhabitants towards God remembrance and good actions. The role of an Islamic school teacher is to then produce a wholesome child who carries out his obligations as set out by the precepts of Islam. The teacher’s directive is to educate a child by giving him or her the mannerisms and the etiquette that will serve the child and the community: To ultimately make the child understand the purpose of his life and to provide that child with knowledge that will equip him/her to pursue both worldly gains and most importantly after-life gains. Such a child does not feel coerced, stifled or imprisoned but feels motivated, free and eager. 

1. Al-Afendi, M.H. & Baloch, N.A. (1980), Curriculum and Teacher Education, London: Hodder & Stoughton. 
2. Al-Attas, S. N. (1979), Aims and Objectives of Islamic Education, London: Hodder and Stroughton.
3. Ashraf. S.A. (1985), New Horizons in Muslim Education, Cambridge: Hodder & Stroughton. 
4. Hashim, R, The Construction of an Islamic based-teacher Education Programme. Muslim Education Quarterly. vol. 14, winter 97, pp. 57-68.
5. Rashid, H.M, Some Critical Issues in the Socialization and Education of African American Muslims, Muslim Education Quarterly. pp. 19-26
6. Rauf. S.M.A. (1988), Mawdudi on Education, Karachi: Islamic Research Academy.
7. Sharif, M.M. (1976), Islamic and Educational Studies, Lahore: Ashraf Dar.