Table of Contents
Contribution of Abu-Hamid Al-Ghazali
Two contributions of Al-Ghazali
The approach of Sufism contribution in Islamic theory and practices.
Developing Competence for Modern Education System..
The aim of the report is to discuss about the two main contributions of Abu-Hamid Al-Ghazali to the conceptual foundations of Islamic education. This report will analyze the contribution of the Al-Ghazali approach of Sufism to contemporary discussions on critical pedagogy in Islamic educational theory and practice. It will examine the classical Islamic educational concepts and texts for the purpose of the essay along with evaluating how theories and approaches of Islamic education might inform practice in Muslim educational institutions in a range of contexts. This report will also develop competence to think educationally about Islam and apply new insights from relevant modern educational theory and practice to Islamic Education.
Islamic thoughts and practices have been greatly influenced by al-Ghazali, a representative of conciliatory Islam, for almost one millennium. There has been a new wave of combative Islam in the last few decades that has been perceived differently by people, as a danger and cause of destabilization, and as a new revival movement. The new movement is hostile in its objections of modern society, advocating for change in social lifestyles and violent eradication of current regimes (Sidani and Al Ariss 2015). The new movement is fueled by the teachings of al-Maududi and others, as well as their followers. This movement is due to the belief that Islam holds the solution to all aspects of problems facing the Islamic world. The future of the Arab and Islamic world is dependent on the results of the battle between the teachings of al-Maududi and those of al-Ghazali. In spite of the new movement and the conflict of teachings, al-Ghazali was one of the most dominant philosophers on education in the history of Islam.
First contribution: Al-Ghazali was a noteworthy part of spreading Sufism and Sharia. He was the first to consolidate the ideas of Sufism into Sharia laws and the first to give a formal depiction of Sufism in his works (Sidani and Al Ariss 2015).
The philosophy of al-Ghazali was focused on the relationship between God and his creation. He followed the traditional Sunnite in unfolding the essence and power of God. He also followed the Sufi undercurrents in understanding the association between God and humans. In understanding the mainstream of Islamic, he proposed his own ideas of the essence, characteristics, and deeds of God. Al-Ghazali divided the universe into two parts, just like the other philosophers, namely the transitory world and the everlasting after this life (Aminov, Magsumov, Sayakhov, Yepaneshnikov, Nasipov and Aitov 2018). According to him, the transitory world was not dependent on science, but by the will of God, who is in control of all events, regardless of its magnitude or timing.
According to Al-Ghazali, mankind lives in a society that is so evil that it would be best if man isolated himself from it. At the same time, he acknowledged that an individual was no match to a group, since societies were split into two groups, the elite rulers and the masses, and it was the elite who controlled the society. He also believed that the role of societies was to maintain the religion of God since he was the provider. The most vital attributes in a person according to Al-Ghazali are knowledge and awareness, which are obtained from the reason and inspiration or revelation by God. A virtuous man would be expected to isolate himself from the company of people and all evil and refocus his life to eternity, in the afterlife (Ayubi 2019). A man of virtue would be expected to rely on God and give up the struggle to achieve dominance.
Al-Ghazali was a philosopher of religion and ethics, though he ended up teaching his philosophy, which was focused on stability as opposed to change. His teachings were aimed at providing the education necessary to allow a man to follow the sharia so that he can glorify God, and gain everlasting happiness in the after-life. When Al-Ghazali talked of character formation, he emphasized that the parents and teachers had the obligation to bring up the children with the right kind of influence, since it is at this point that children formed their character. He encouraged parents to take their children to school at an early age, since their minds were more receptive at that point, and good character could be cultivated from that point.
Second contribution: In philosophy, Al-Ghazali upheld the essentially correct approach of mathematics and exact sciences. However, he adopted the techniques of Aristotelian logic and the Neoplatonic procedures and employed these very tools to lay bare the flaws and lacunas of the then prevalent Neoplatonic philosophy and to diminish the negative influences of Aristotelianism and excessive rationalism. In contrast to some of the Muslim philosophers, e.g., Farabi, he portrayed the inability of reason to comprehend the absolute and the infinite (Sidani and Al Ariss 2015). The reason could not transcend the finite and was limited to the observation of the relative. Also, several Muslim philosophers had held that the universe was finite in space but infinite in time. Ghazali argued that an infinite time was related to an infinite space. With his clarity of thought and force of argument, he was able to create a balance between religion and reason and identified their respective spheres as being the infinite and the finite, respectively.
Al-Ghazali referred to scholars as people who sought the truth and transformed their lives in order to live in accordance to the best of their knowledge, and in so doing serve as examples while disseminating their knowledge to the masses (Burrell 2016). He believed that the scholars would be rewarded in heaven due to their quest for knowledge, acting on the knowledge, and teaching it to the people. He also believed that the teaching process should be selective, taking in mind that not all information was fit for everyone. Some information was fit for the elite, while some were best kept hidden. Some information that could create confusion regarding religion was also hidden since it was necessary for the scholars to protect themselves from persecution (Firdaus 2019). Al-Ghazali was also concerned with the relationship between scholars and rulers, and that between scholars and the masses. Al-Ghazali was one of the most profound Islamic thinkers, who lived a short but productive life, influencing not only the Islamic world but also the European Christians.
Al-Ghazali's approach to Sufism has contributed to new development in the scholarship of business ethics and practice particularly in the Islamic community. When it comes to discussing whether Sufism contributed to contemporary discussions on critical pedagogy in Islamic educational theory and practice, it is important to establish a methodological framework, within which this discussion will take place. Based upon this proposition, a qualitative inquiry into whether Sufism does emanate the very spirit of Islam, as a religiously formatted sublimation of one’s strive to objectify itself within the surrounding reality (Burrell 2016). Given the fact that Sufism and Islam are indeed closely interconnected, in the historical and theological senses of this word, the suggestion that the mentioned ascetic-esoteric movement within Islam can be considered the religion's actual 'heart', appears formally legitimate. The reason for this is that due to being essentially the form of a cognitive/perceptual 'pantheism', Sufism does not quite subscribe to the monotheistic conventions of Islam. Sufism is considered a "heart of Islam" (Ahmed, Arshad, Mahmood, and Akhtar 2019).
One of the major differences between Islam and the rest of the world’s monotheistic religions (Christianity and Judaism), Muslims do not experience the temptation to anthropomorphize their god Allah. The reason for this is that the theological paradigm of Islam presupposes the sheer totality of the physically experienced emanations of divinity (Hardaker and Sabki 2018). This explains why the adherents of Islam make a deliberate point in refusing to come up with the visualized depictions of Allah – hence, establishing the objective preconditions for Islam to be considered the most ‘non-mystical’ of all monotheistic religions. After all, according to Prophet Muhammad, in order for just about anyone to be considered a thoroughly committed Muslim, who fully qualifies for the Islamic version of paradise, he or she simply needs to never cease being observant of the provisions of the Islamic law of Sharia, while facing life challenges. In its turn, this presupposes that the mystical leanings of Muslims are essentially counterproductive; because they derive out of these people’s unconscious strive towards ‘miracles’ – hence, revealing their lack of faith in Allah. After all, according to the theological paradigm of Islam, the Quran is itself the biggest miracle ever. In the formal sense of this word, Sufis fully adhere to the Quranic provision of Allah’s omnipotence (Hasan and Tanjung 2017).
What appears rather peculiar, in this respect, is that there is an unmistakable spirit of ‘pantheism’, emanated by the very manner, in which Sufis go about reflecting upon the idea of divinity. The reason for this is that, according to the proponents of Sufism, the surrounding reality’s physically observed emanations cannot be discussed outside of what God really is. Hence, the Sufi concept of the ‘unity of being’, which implies that the image of God can be found even in the physical reality’s most elementary components: “The insight that there is only one Absolute Being in the whole Universe and that whatever exists does so through his existence has been called ‘the philosophy of the Unity of Being” (Mokhtar 2019).
In this respect, Sufism can be well compared to Hinduism, as an essentially pantheistic religion, which sacralizes the surrounding nature, as the very source of divinity. However, as we are well aware of, in the theological sense of this word, the term 'pantheism' can be considered synonymous with the term 'paganism'. Yet, the very emergence of Islam in 622 A.D. was predetermined by the sheer strength of Muhammad's resolution to destroy all the pagan idols in Mecca. This also points out to the main conceptual inconsistency between Islam and Sufism – whereas, Muslims believe that Allah is an emotional being, who 'presides' over the universe, Sufis promote the idea that Allah is the universe itself (Ibad 2016).
Another major difference between Islam and Sufism has to do with how both of them reflect upon the effects of God’s existence on people’s lives. According to the proponents of mainstream Islam, Allah is indeed capable of bestowing the most committed believers with a number of different favors: “Allah is full of Kindness to (His) slaves”. The reason for this is that the very theological principle of Islam revolves around the assumption that, because Allah created people in his own image, just about any person is 'divine' to an extent (Ismail and Uyuni 2020). Sufis, however, does not seem to agree with this Islamic proposition. The Sufi line of reasoning, in this respect, is based upon the logically sound assumption that being ontologically 'superior', causes cannot even be partially contained in their effects: "God causes Man to know Him through Himself with a knowledge that is not linked to any faculty, a knowledge in which the existence of Man is merely metaphorical”.
In other words, divinity is not something that resides within an individual, which in turn implies that, while striving to attain the state of 'oneness' with Allah, people can only rely on themselves (Hardaker and Sabki 2018). Consequently, this suggests that in order for just about anyone to be able to come closer to the realization of God's 'shining truth', the concerned individual must be willing to remain on the path of spiritual self-improvement, which in turn would require him or her be thoroughly focused on accomplishing the task. This, of course, presupposes that, while trying to attain the 'statue of unity' with God, Sufis cannot help but to act in the manner inconsistent with this state's provision that those, unified with God, may not be considered the 'existential sovereigns' of their own. For Sufis, one's ability to experience the sensation of being ‘united’ with God, positively relates to the extent of his or her ‘mental integrity’, reflected by how the individual in question makes conscious inquiries in the totality of God’s wholesomeness (Lujja, Muhammed and Hassan 2016).
That is, Sufis do not relate to the ‘unity of being’, as the integral part of their life, but rather as the final objective of their religiously-cognitive quest. In other words, Sufi ‘Allah’ is more of a religious fetish than a concretely existing tribal deity, who is being primarily concerned with ‘safeguarding’ Muslims and with encouraging them to act in one way or another, by the mean of exposing believers to a variety of different ‘stick and carrot’ incentives. In light of the above-stated, the fact that Sufism is being closely associated with a number of essentially ritualistic practices (such as the ‘whirling dance’ of dervishes), appears thoroughly explainable (Mokhtar 2019). Because many of these practices are meditation-based, it will be fully appropriate to suggest that they allow Sufis to induce a certain psychological state of mind, which in turn makes it possible for them to experience the ‘ecstatic’ sensation of being favored by Allah. What it means is that Sufism can be best described as the tool of an ‘existential ego-centrism’, on the part of its practitioners – something that stands in striking contrast to the Quranic provision that it is specifically pleasing God (and not themselves), with which Muslims should seek to preoccupy themselves, as their main priority in life.
After all, the Quran clearly states that, in order for a Muslim to be favored by God, he or she must be an utterly humble person, fully capable of keeping its sensual urges under control – even if they happened to be formally religious: “Remember your Lord within yourself, humbly and with fear and without loudness in words in the mornings, and in the afternoons and be not of those who are neglectful” (Murphy and Smolarski 2020). There are various groups of Muslims. These include the liberal, conservative, reformist, progressive, socialist, traditional, and secular Muslims, among others.
These groups believe in different interpretations of the Qur’an. Many Muslims still rely on the traditional Qur’an hermeneutics for their daily guidance in behavior and ethics. Some of the followers who continued with the interpretation of the Qur’an after the death of the prophet include Ali Talib, Abd Abbas, Abdi Mason, and Ubai Kab. Ali Talib has given several interpretations but some scholars claim that some of his narrations are true while others are false (Mokhtar 2019). They applied their own experiences and wisdom in making judgments about Qur'an teachings. The interpretations by the companions of Prophet Muhammad are brief and do not explain all the verses in the Qur'an. Some of them have been recorded for the purpose of learning. Their interpretations are not structured according to the Qur'an verses (Sahin 2018).
Yet, it is namely the sheer sensuality of Sufis' love of God, which accounts for its foremost feature. Whereas, the conventional Islamic virtue of love towards God implies 'submissiveness', the Sufi one implies 'ecstasy'. This is the reason why there are a number of clearly defined erotic overtones to how Sufis elaborate on their understanding of what one's love towards Allah is ought to be all about (Sudan 2017). For Sufis, the notion of divinity is synonymous with the notion of an ‘overwhelming beauty’, whereas, the Islamic mainstream conceptualization of divinity presupposes that God is ‘omnipotence’ and ‘justice’. Unlike the rest of Muslims, Sufis do not seek the state of being ‘dissolved’ in God. Rather, they strive to experience the quasi-religious sensual pleasure, by the mean of reflecting upon what is the sensation of being ‘dissolved’ in God may feel like. Therefore, the suggestion that Sufism can be well discussed in terms of an ‘Islamic heresy’ is not altogether deprived of a rationale (Sudan 2017). The validity of why the approach of Sufism contributed to contemporary discussions on critical pedagogy in Islamic educational theory and practice can be illustrated by the following facts:
Firstly, Sufism is not directly linked to the Prophet Muhammad. In its turn, this implies that, even though Sufis do often cite from the Quran while seeking to justify the appropriateness of their views on divinity, there is the element of interpretative speculation to how they do it (Wahab and Masron 2020).
Secondly, Sufism teaches that there is an irreconcilable gap between what can be considered ‘external’ (exoteric) Islam, on one hand, and ‘internal’ (esoteric) Islam, on the other. In this respect, Sufism can be well compared to the esoteric doctrine of Kabbalah in Judaism (Sahin 2018). After all, just as it is being the case with Cabbalists, Sufis do believe that, in order for a Muslim to be able to reconcile with God, the concerned person must be capable of recognizing the ‘secret signs’ of God’s nearby presence, which in turn implies that he or she must be utterly imaginative/mystically-minded. As Chittick pointed out while outlining the Sufi philosophy of Ibn Arabi “Unveiling is the knowledge that God gives directly to the servants when he lifts the veil separating himself from them and ‘opens the door’ to the perception of invisible realities unveiling is associated with imagination”. This idea, of course, cannot be referred to as anything but highly speculative, as there are no references in the Quran, as to the fact that a Muslim believer must necessarily be imaginative/mystically minded, in order to be able to win favors with God (Agus, Mohamad, Hisham, Yusof, Hasan and Ghazali 2018).
Thirdly, Sufism opposes the idea that in the eyes of Allah, all Muslims are equal. As Corbin noted: “Sufism divides men into three classes: (a) the disciples of the science of the heart… the mystics; (b) the disciples of the rational intellect… the scholastic theologians; (c) simple believers”. According to Sufis, it is specifically those Muslims that belong to the first of the mentioned categories, who have what it takes to be able to gain an in-depth insight into the divine essence of Allah, which in turn implies that, when compared to the mystically-minded Sufis, the rest of Muslims are less ‘worthy’. It is understood, of course, that this particular Sufi belief contradicts the egalitarian spirit of Islam, as a religion that proclaims that it is not the manner how a particular Muslim thinks (meditates), which is being reflective of his or her ‘worthiness’ in the eyes of God, but rather the way in which the concerned individual acts (Wijaya 2020).
Fourthly, Many of Sufi practices, the participation in which is expected to 'enlighten' Muslims (such as mentioned earlier 'whirling dance') are essentially heathen. One of the reasons for this is that the attainment of the state of 'enlightenment', which these practices supposedly enable, appears to have the essentially mechanistic subtleties. After all, if one 'whirls' for long enough, he or she will indeed be able to get dizzy to an extent to beginning to see 'mystical things'. In its turn, this implies that the fact that some Sufis are indeed capable of altering the workings of their psyche has nothing to do with the self-presumed 'godliness', on these people's part. Rather, it indicates that Sufis tend to ignore many of the Quran's foremost commandments – especially the ones that prescribe believers to adopt a strongly intolerant stance towards polytheism/paganism: "Fight them (heathens) until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone in the whole of the world". This, of course, can hardly be thought of as the indication of Sufism's 'loyalty' to the true spirit of Islam (Zahrin, Shaharuddin and Abd Malik 2019).
Lastly, Sufism implies that it is possible for a Muslim believer to attain a state of semi-divinity. The validity of this suggestion can be shown, in regards to the fact that, contrary to what the Quran teaches, Sufis tend to think of Prophet Muhammad in essentially the same way as Christians think of Jesus – that is, they believe that Muhammad was nothing short of a semi-divine figure, who deserves to be revered as much, as Allah himself. Moreover, some Sufis claim that just about any Muslim can be elevated to the position of being considered a Muhammad's equal: "As the (Sufi) mystic becomes more attuned to subtle messages (from God), more surrendered and more obedient to the Divine Intent, the transmutation of Spirit into Matter may become increasingly concrete" (Sahin 2018). Besides the fact that this idea contradicts the Sufi assumption that divinity cannot possibly extrapolate itself in a mortal man, it also appears utterly inconsistent with the theological postulates of the Quran, as a book that presupposes that, in their relation with Allah, all Muslims are nothing but his lowly slaves. This once again suggests that, even though Sufism and Islam are indeed closely related, they do not derive out of each other – something that would have been the case, if Sufism was a direct extrapolation of the spirit of Islam (Wahab and Masron 2020).
Apparently, there is indeed a good reason to think of Sufism in terms of an 'Islamic heresy'. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that this somehow implies the sheer 'wickedness' of the exoteric-ascetic movement in question. Quite to the contrary – when compared to Islam, Sufism appears to be much more progressive, in the sense of how it 'frees' the notion of the divinity of the prejudices of a tribal/primeval living. Whereas the strictly Quranic description of Allah, presumes him being a revengefully-minded deity, who cannot be referred to as 100 per cent omnipotent, Sufis think of Allah as an impartial and yet intelligent/loving force, which animates the universe (Wijaya 2020). This, of course, naturally prompts Sufis to adopt a rather tolerant attitude towards the affiliates of other monotheistic religions, which in turn advances the cause of a religious peace on Earth.
Contemporary scholars are against the idea of perceiving Islam as a political group. They are in favor of separating contemporary secular democracy with religious matters. They believe that the teachings of the Qur’an were meant to be applied during the time when it was written and their application to the current world should be done sensibly (Abd Rahman and Yucel 2016). Traditional interpretations maintain that the Qur’an and the hadith authorize an Islamic government. Liberal Muslims are also against the traditional interpretation of the concept of Jihad as armed violence. They propose that this should be interpreted to mean an inner religious struggle. These Muslims advocate for non-violence and forbearance, and are open to peaceful solving of conflicts with other Islam groups, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and other religions.
Contemporary Muslim scholars are also against the Islamizing of knowledge and coming up with divisions meant for Muslims, for instance, divisions like the economics of Islam or the science of Islam. These scholars feel that the secular sources of knowledge are sufficient and there is no point in studying knowledge from religious perspectives (Abd Rahman and Yucel 2016). Supporters of Islamizing knowledge propose that the knowledge that should be used by Muslims should have concepts of civilization and western culture eliminated from it. In addition, Islamic concepts should be infused in all branches of current knowledge. The interaction of Muslims with the rest of the world is influenced by their understanding of the interpretations of the Quran. The intensity of interpretations of Quran verses differs from one group to another. It also contains the rules that Muslims should adhere to while worshipping and the religious obligations of each person. The Quran does not clearly differentiate between the law and ethical issues. However, it plays a very important role in the education system of Islam (Agus, Mohamad, Hisham, Yusof, Hasan and Ghazali 2018).
In any modern educational system, the dominant issue is the types of methods used for instruction. The curriculum is usually designed to cater to the educational needs of all students. However, methods of presenting it to students are usually tabled in educational legislation. Many experts argue that it is necessary for teachers to use different methods of teaching in order to ensure effective presentation of curricula. The major concerns of teachings methods include ways used by learners to obtain information, how to use theoretical knowledge to acquire experience in work situations, and how to use teachings aids effectively in order to achieve positive teaching outcomes. Good teaching methods equip learners with problem-solving skills and empower them to think critically and creatively. In addition, they empower learners to apply theoretical knowledge in real-life situations. Teachers use a relationship between the effectiveness of a centralized educational system and the teaching methods in presenting the curriculum to learners (Abd Rahman and Yucel 2016).
Book-centered teaching methods discourage the participation of learners in the learning process and as such result in poor academic outcomes. In Islamic educational systems, instructors are free to choose the learning methods they deem appropriate. It was found that the dominant teaching method used by teachers was lecturing. This was due to the unavailability of materials to support other teaching methods, lack of adequate training among teachers, large class sizes, excessive workload, and the great pressure of completing the curriculum. Many schools had inadequate materials that could support other teaching methods. In addition, teachers lacked the pedagogical skills needed for the effective application of those methods. Overcrowding in classes was a hindrance to the use of certain teaching methods that involve interactions among students.
Moreover, the time allocated for a single lesson was inadequate to complete the learning material assigned for that day. It was also found that teachers were under great pressure of getting through the textbooks and so chose to use methods that facilitated speedy completion of learning material (Abd Karim, Baharudin and Hamdani 2019). The major reasons that caused overreliance on traditional teaching methods were inadequate training and directives from the Ministry of Education that ordered teachers to use textbooks and avoid other learning materials. Allowing teachers to use other learning materials, improving teacher training programs, reducing the amount of learning content in the curriculum, and increasing the duration of individual lessons could be effective in alleviating the problem.
It can be concluded that the two main contributions of Abu-Hamid Al-Ghazali to the conceptual foundations of Islamic education are spreading Sufism and Sharia and upholding the essentially correct approach of mathematics and exact sciences. This report has analyzed the contribution of the Al-Ghazali approach of Sufism to contemporary discussions on critical pedagogy in Islamic educational theory and practice. Sufism and Islam are indeed closely interconnected, in the historical and theological senses of this word, the suggestion that the mentioned ascetic-esoteric appears formally legitimate movement within Islam as it can be considered the religion’s actual ‘heart’. It has examined the classical Islamic educational concepts and texts for the purpose of the essay along with evaluating how theories and approaches of Islamic education might inform practice in Muslim educational institutions in a range of contexts. The report has developed the competence to think educationally about Islam and apply new insights from relevant modern educational theory and practice to Islamic Education.
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