EDUCATION DURING THE DAYS
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.)
By Hafiz Dr. Nafisuddin M.A., LL.B.
(Translated by Hafiz Ahmad Mustafa)
The period prior to the advent of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) is known to the Muslim World as the Era of Ignorance, for many reasons. Firstly, there was hardly any semblance of the light of knowledge. Anti-cultural trends, that is, pride and prejudice, barbarism and brutality were at a premium. Only a few of the dynasties could boast of persons with some kind of smattering of knowledge. Most of them were "unlettered" (Ummi). Qur'aan Majeed refers to the Arabs of those times as unlettered:
"It is He Who has sent amongst the Unlettered an apostle from among themselves, to rehearse to them His Signs..." (62:2).
The Holy Prophet did not take his lessons from any one, Arab or non-Arab, pagan or one of the people of the Book, nor did he pick up any information from the earlier scriptures. He did not in fact approach any one or open any book for the purpose of learning anything from them. The Holy Qur'aan refers to the Holy Prophet as "unlettered." (7:157).
There is a saying reported from the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.): we are an "Unlettered" people and we do not know how to write or how to do sums. It is learnt from a report by Ibn-e-Qutaiba that those who had an elementary knowledge did have some kind of facilities in that behalf. The people of Taif had a literary taste and one Gilan bin Salama Saqafi used to hold a weekly literary session where poems were recited. Warqa bin Naufal, a resident of Mecca, used to give lessons in Torah and Injil to the Arabs and he was regarded as a highly learned person.
Qur'aan Majeed in its verses refers to the implements of reading and writing which shows that there did exist in those days some kind of education with the Arabs. Following are a few of the verses -
"Noon. By the Pen and by the (Record) which (men)..." (68:1)
"(Written) by the hands of scribes." (80:15)
"Every matter, small and great, is on record." (54:53)
"Oh ye who believe! When ye deal with each other, in transactions involving future obligations in a fixed period of time, reduce them to writing. Let a scribe write down faithfully as between the parties: let not the scribe refuse to write: as God has taught him, so let him write..." (2:282)
Of the days of the Holy Prophet, we can given details on a definitive basis of the type of education that was given to the people and how. As mentioned before the Holy Prophet did not have the benefit of formal or informal instruction. Revelation started to come to him the age of 40 which commenced with the word Iqra - 'Read', vide verse -
"Proclaim! (or Read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created - created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, - He Who taught (the use of) the Pen." (96:1-4)
The following are some of the verses which make a mention of the instruction -
"High above all is God, The Kind, The Truth! Be not in haste with the Qur'aan before its revelation to thee is completed, but say, 'O my Lord! Advance me in knowledge'." (20:114)
"And they measure not the power of Allaah its true measure when they say: 'Nothing doth God send down to man (way of revelation)': Say: "Who then sent down the Book which Moses brought? - A light and guidance to man: but ye make it into (separate) sheets for show, while ye conceal much (of its contents): therein were ye taught that which ye know not - neither ye nor your fathers.' Say: 'God (sent it down)': then leave them to plunge in vain discourse and trifling." (6:91)
"And thou wast not (able to recite a Book before this (Book came), nor art thou (able) to transcribe it with thy right hand:..." (29:48)
The education and training of the Holy Prophet was through Revelation, that is, far above the formal and conventional means. The Holy Prophet himself taught his followers through sermons and not in the formal manner of giving lessons from out of books to be taken down in copy books. It was one of his duties to do so -
"... We have sent among you an Apostle of your own, rehearsing to you Our Signs, and sanctifying you, and instructing you in Scripture and Wisdom, and in new Knowledge." (2:151)
The Book he was to teach from and to present to the people was Qur'aan Majeed. It laid the foundation and the basis of Muslim Education and instruction from beginning to the end. It is a book in the Arabic language and the teacher was also an Arab personality -
"And before this, was the Book of Moses as a guide and mercy: and this Book confirms (it) in the Arabic tongue; to admonish the unjust, and as Glad Tidings to those who do right." (46:12)
"We sent not an Apostle except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them. Now God leaves straying those whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases: and He is exalted in Power, full of Wisdom." (14:4)
In the company of the Holy Prophet, there were besides the Arabs, others who took instructions from him: Salman from Persia, Bilal from Abyssinia, Sohail from Byzentine.
The important thing with the Holy Prophet was the practical training that he gave insisting upon side by side the lessons in Qur'aan Majeed. He was the first to demonstrate and act upon the Qur'aanic principles and gave ample and manifest examples of the Divine teachings before people. This is how the followers learnt to believe and to act according to their belief.
As soon as the verses of Qur'aan Majeed came down the Holy Prophet committed them to memory and had them preserved in writing. There were a number of persons especially put on this job. When Hazrat 'Umer visited his sister's house he found her reading Qur'aan Majeed from the collection of papers. This shows that Qur'aanic verses used to be written down.
In the city of Mecca, the Holy Prophet used to given instruction personally; and when a delegation of Muslims asked for a teacher, the Holy Prophet used to send a Muallim (a teacher) along with the delegation. At the time of the second pledge of Uqba, 12 of the men who had come from Medina, asked for the services of a teacher. The Holy Prophet accordingly deputed Masa'b bin 'Umair.
The Holy Prophet took great interest in spreading knowledge and gave it a priority over other matters. As soon as he reached Medina on migration from Mecca, he at once put Sa'id bin al-'Aas on this duty under his personal supervision. Again, those of the persons taken prisoners at Badr, who were destitute but literate were offered their freedom in return for teaching ten boys each. This is now Hazrat Zaid bin Sabit learnt to read and write.
There was a body of scholars known as Ashaab-i-Suffah (people of the platform) who were day and night devoted to learning of Qur'aan Majeed and Sunnah. The Holy Prophet had set apart for them a place in the south-east part of the Mosque which served as the class-room as well as a Boarding-House. It would be just and right to call it the first residential school in Islam. The Holy Prophet used to look after the needs, food, etc. of these scholars. They were taught Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence). They were also given lessons in Tajweed - the proper manner of recitation of Qur'aan Majeed and they were known as Qaris. There were day scholars also who used to come from different parts of Medina to attend to lessons alongwith Ashaab-i-Suffah.
At one time there were 70 of them, and finally their strength increased to 400. The experts and specialists from this school were deputed to different tribes to preach Islam and given its Message to as large a number as possible. In the battle of Ma'oona, 70 out of these expert scholars were sent out to give instruction in Islam. Students used to come to this school from far off places and after completion of their course of study, would on return impart the teachings of Islam to their own people.
In addition to the Suffah school, there were at least 9 mosques in Medina which served as teaching places for their neighbourhood. Quba was personally inspected by the Holy Prophet every now and then, to supervise the school at that mosque. The Holy Prophet had ordered that people should get lessons from their neighbours and people of their locality.
How great was the interest taken by the Holy Prophet in education can be known from the fact that once when he came to his mosque he saw two groups of people, one engaged in prayers and the other busy in teaching and learning Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence). The Holy Prophet observed that both were engaged in good work but the other was better - those who were engaged in learning and gaining knowledge. He said that he himself had been sent as a teacher and took his seat with the group engaged in teaching The companions used to regularly attend the sermons and lectures of the Holy Prophet who used to remove their difficulties in a simple way with a few but comprehensive words.
There were also prepared specialists in different subjects during the days of the Holy Prophet. He would direct those who wished to learn the Qur'aan to the specialists in the Holy Book and to those who like to know about the law of inheritance and the rules of arithmetic, to attend upon the persons who had already mastered the same. There are sayings of the Holy Prophet to show that teachers were prohibited from taking any compensation or remuneration for the lessons given by them. 'Ibaada bin Samia, one of the teachers amongst the people of Suffah, was offered a bow by one of his pupils but the Holy Prophet asked him not to accept it.
The Holy Prophet also prepared persons proficient in foreign languages, to serve as interpreters with foreign delegations. Zaid bin Sabit was fluent in the Abyssinian, Hebrew and Greek languages. Under the orders of the Holy Prophet, he had learnt the art of letter writing in a short time. Hazrat Abdullah bin Zubair was another distinguished person who knew a large number of languages. It is indeed surprising to note that in a very short period the rate of literacy grew by leaps and bounds and it became possible for Muslims to make political and diplomatic correspondence with full force and good effect.
Exchange of letters with kings and rulers of other countries became a regular practice. There were correspondents in each part of the dominion, nominated by the Holy Prophet, who used to compile and send reports about men and matters of their respective places. With the expansion of the Islamic dominions it became necessary to give further impetus to and enhance the activities for importing education so that teachers could be sent wherever and whenever needed.
The Governors of distant places had definite instruction that they should take keen interest in providing facilities for education for the people. We know it on the authority of Tabari that the Holy Prophet had appointed a Chief Inspector of Education in Yemen, one of whose duties was to under-take inspection tours of different places to supervise the educational institutions of the areas.
Education of women in the days of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.):
The position and role of woman in the Islamic society is not at all controversial; it is rather unquestionable. Woman is considered to be the promoter, preserver and processor of the human race. Islam, therefore, puts great emphasis on the proper education of women. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) declared in clear and unambiguous terms that it was the bounden duty both of men and women to learn and acquire knowledge: making no distinction between the two. The Holy Prophet himself laid the foundation of the system of education suitable for women. In every age, it has been embellished and adorned further and further. Once a week the Holy Prophet used to go to a special gathering of women and children for their education and instruction and to answer their questions. Once the Holy Prophet thought that perhaps the womenfolk had not attended his sermon. He therefore took special care to repeat the same to them and advised them on many matters of their special interest.
There is a tradition to the effect:
"If one has a maid servant and he provides her with education, good and proper, brings her up on right lines, gives her useful training and then he sets her free and takes her as a wife through proper wedlock, his reward is two fold."
There is another tradition to show that the Holy Prophet expressed a desire to a lady that she might teach one of his consorts to read and write.
There were only 16 or 17 literate persons amongst the Qureish. - Amongst these few, was a lady Shifa bint 'Abdullah 'Adviah. She became the tutor of Hazrat Hafsa (R.A.), one of the consorts of the Holy Prophet, under instructions from the Holy Prophet. Besides her, Hazrat Umme Salma (R.A.) also knew how to read and write. Hazrat Aisha (R.A.) received her education after her marriage. She used to recite Qur'aan Majeed by sight; she was not as adapt in the art of writing, according to a report. Besides her knowledge of different branches of religion, she was highly proficient in the facts of history, in the science of Tib (medicine). She had instruction in Tarikh (history) and Adab (literature) from her revered father. She learnt Tib from members of the delegations that came to the Holy Prophet from different parts of Arabia. For religious instructions she had every opportunity, being in the company of the Holy Prophet most of the time. She used to ask again and again what she could not grasp or understand at first hearing. Hence Hazrat Aisha has a high place in religious knowledge and practice.
Once Holy Prophet had observed that "half the knowledge should be had from Aisha." She was the first lady teacher, tutor, instructor and interpreter in Islam. Boys, women and men to whom the orders regarding segregation (hijaab) did not apply, would come to her room and other men would sit outside her room which had a curtain drawn in between the inmates and those siting outside. She used to answer all questions to their utmost satisfaction. Religious knowledge had been greatly strengthened and straightened, spread and vastly made known through the efforts of Hazrat Aisha (R.A.). Her services to Islam and Islamic knowledge continued long after the demise of the Holy Prophet.
Hazrat Fatima (R.A.) was a scholar not only of Qur'aanic teachings, principles and commands but also she was a master of the art of rhetorics, impressive speech and poetry. Her lectures and talks were of a very high quality and of learned contents. Similarly, her two daughters Hazrat Zainab and Hazrat Umme Kulsoom and her grand daughters: Sakina, Fatima and Sughra were duly and thoroughly adorned with noble education and admirable manners.
In conclusion, the Holy Prophet had all the love and care for education and the means of spreading it to every man and woman. It was because of his great and constant endeavour, that education was carried to every home and hearth in his life time. Strangely those who, a short while ago were utterly ignorant and were the cause of utmost trouble due to their barbarism and brutality, adorned themselves with the best of manners and education in the company of the Holy Prophet, and became the teachers and leaders of other people and nations. When they took the reigns of Government and were at the helm of affairs they made the Islamic countries progressive, enlightened and highly civilized so that peoples and countries came to join their fraternity. They were thus the cause of increasing and enhancing not only the prestige of their dominions but also ever expanding the boundaries.
(Courtesy: Yaqeen International)