Before beginning a presentation of some concrete and realistic proposals, we should ask how we can discover the basic meaning and content of this “Islamic education,” which we keep referring to without explaining exactly what we mean. If the objective is indeed to stop importing pedagogical methods and curricula from the countries of origin and to think of a project adapted to the realities of or societies, we still need to know the aims of this education.
The sum of the reflection we presented in part I gives us substantial help. The heart of the Islamic message rests on the affirmation of faith in God and the diffusion of the spirituality that this is bound to engender. To be able to acquire a healthy practice presupposes that one has some fundamental knowledge of the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition and of the basics of ritual, law, and jurisprudence. The universality and “comprehensive character” of this message also requires a knowledge of the context in which individuals have to act in order that they may have the means to live consistently with the demands of the morality of their religion. This knowledge of the milieu must be coupled with the constant exercise of a critical spirit able to understand, select, reform, and eventually innovate in order to establish a faithful connection between the universal principles of Islam and the contingencies of the society in which Muslims live.
If we consider all these elements and try to extrapolate the areas with which “Islamic education” is concerned, we might say its first objective is the education of the heart, which links the consciousness with God and should awaken us to an awareness of our responsibilities toward ourselves, our bodies, our relatives, our communities, and the human family at large. The second objective is the education of the mind, which should both be able to understand the message of the scriptural sources and develop a knowledge of the environment and the human beings who live in it in order to make it possible for reason to find the way of faithfulness in everyday life. The third objective, joining the education of the heart with the education of the mind, is to make it possible for all Muslims to enter into personal growth and, consequently to become autonomous in their lives, their choices, and, more generally, in the management of their freedom. The spiritual education that should lead individuals to a conscious awareness of “the primal need of Him” in the depths of their beings should at the same time impress in those same beings the need to be completely independent of people. Faith in God cannot justify any alienation: on the contrary, it calls, as we have seen, for an inalienable freedom and for the search for the complete liberation of heart and spirit.
This reflection on the demands of the message of Islam as we have presented it in part I has made it possible to set three fundamental objectives that give direction to Islamic education as we think of it. We may then go further and establish the content of that education. If the learning of the Qur’an, the tradition, law, and jurisprudence are fixed, according to the model proposed so far by the mosques and related organizations, we must add to it an in-depth knowledge of the environment, adapted for different age groups: mastery of the language, familiarity with the history of the country, knowledge of the institutions, study of the culture, social dynamics, and the political landscape, and so on. It is impossible to flourish independently without having the spiritual and intellectual means to discover who one is, where one lives, and how to plan one’s way of faithfulness. The universality of the message of Islam is not adequately served by an intellectual hodgepodge through which students are supposed to acquire the tools they needs to face the difficulties and to discover for themselves how to use them. To educate is to provide the tools that will enable individuals to grow into independence by acquiring the capability to look for personal and collective solutions. This is what must be central to the programs we are proposing for Western Muslims. The study of the environment and of people is an essential part of this learning process, and it is the only way to avoid a so-called Islamic education that is completely disconnected from reality and in total contradiction with the principles that it claims to respect. Nevertheless, it must be noted that this study of the environment and of collective psychology will inevitably press teachers into revising the way they teach the Qur’an, the Sunna, and Islam in general. If things were the same as in the students’ countries of origin, the teaching methods and the presentation of the subjects would naturally have to take into account the milieu in which the education was given. We are not talking about teaching a “new Islam,” as we have said several times; it is a matter of knowing the objectives of or sources and of reading them with new eyes in order to be true to ourselves in the West as in the East, today as yesterday.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the objectives and contents of what we call “Islamic education” are vast, demanding, and operative at various levels. How should we proceed? Have we even the means to achieve these objectives? Is the environment open to the success of this project, or should we redesign everything and think of a parallel school system? Some people have opted for the latter solution and created private Islamic schools; others are trying to work within the public school system. Let us study these alternatives.