The compatibility of education and the Islamic faith is clearly elucidated in the holy Quran, “Read, in the name of God, who created man from a clot of blood. Read in the name of God, who is generous and taught man by the pen what he knew not’’ [Surat Al-Alaqvs 1-5], were the beautiful words of God as first delivered by Arch Angel Gabriel to forty year old Muhammad, the son of Abdullah, who was meditating in a cave on mount Hirah on the outskirts of the Arab city of Mecca in 610 AD.
The most fundamental tool of learning, the pen is clearly mentioned in the very first revelation to the Holy Prophet Muhammad PBUH. Of significance is also the emphasis on reading as ‘‘Read’’ was the very first word that was revealed to the unlettered Prophet. In this verse, Allah SWT is portrayed as a teacher, who generously taught mankind by the pen to rid the world of ignorance. Reading, teaching and writing are all processes of education. Therefore, Allah SWT has established fundamentally by his first revealed words to his apostle and messenger Muhammad PBUH, education as the basis of faith and human existence. The difference between believers [Jews, Christians and Muslims] and unbelievers is that the former attributes all knowledge to God and acknowledges him, as the architect of the universe, while the former does not.
Throughout the history of the Muslim world, beginning from the era of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH through the period of the Rashidun and non-Rashidun Caliphacy into the contemporary times of modern independent Muslim nation states of the Middle-East, North Africa, Turkey and the Balkans, there has never been a conflict between faith and education. The Muslim world was renowned throughout history, as a leading light in rapid advancement in the improvement of all aspects of life through education. Practical application of knowledge in the day to day life of the Muslim community of Medina under the leadership of the Holy Prophet Muhammad is best recorded in history when the services of a highly educated Persian strategist, Salman al-Farsi was engaged in various aspects of administration and defence of the emerging state. He was clearly distinguished for his military advice in what is recorded as the Battle of the Trench, which turned the tide of imminent defeat to a decisive victory for the Muslim state of Medina against a mammoth coalition of enemies, who wanted to destroy the fledgling state. The Arabs realised their own backward culture as compared to Persia, which was one of the greatest ancient civilisations. The conqueror would learn from the conquered.
The conquest of the vast Persian empire and the mass incorporation of the non-Arab world into the rapidly expanding Muslim state was the beginning of the golden age of Muslim history; an age where centres of learning throughout the Islamic world from Damascus to Baghdad and Andalusia [Muslim Spain] flourished in the splendour of education. These centres were relatively open societies and hubs of learning, attracting scholars of all religious faiths and races from all over the known world.
In contemporary times, leading Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, have continued the legacy of pursuit of knowledge as a means of improvement in the quality of life in all aspects. For these countries, the Islamic faith is not conflicting with education but perfectly compatible and seamlessly complimentary because education is neither Western nor Christian but universal.
The literacy rate in the world’s most ultra conservative Muslim state, Saudi Arabia, is put at 75 per cent. The direct result of this educated population is a country whose resources are efficiently managed for the benefit of all its citizens. Today, Saudi Arabia is an affluent state with a per capita income of about 55,000 USD with life expectancy put at age 80. Saudi Arabia ranks very high on Human Development Index HDI at 39TH position. positively in matters of faith.
Also, the Saudi government has been able to organise and efficiently manage the yearly pilgrimage by Muslims from every part of the globe to Mecca and Medina, thereby making the Hajj, which is one of the pillars of Islam easy and spiritually fulfilling for the global Muslim community. Thanks to technology, the Saudi government has been able contain with a measure of reasonable success the challenges posed on each occasion.
However, the case among some Nigerian Muslims and in particular among a broad section of the North of the country is markedly different. The violent Boko Haram insurgency that seeks to destroy all vestiges of Western influence in Nigeria is as a result of a pre-existing anti-Western education and culture because of the Judeo-Christian heritage of the Western world. This impression of education being a Judeo-Christian Western exclusive preserve, has led to a total rejection of enlightenment and modernity. When education was eventually accepted, it was with reluctance and deep reservations. The quality of education in the North was considerably watered down on the basis of a compromise, arising from the insistence on a curricular that will fuse Islamic and Western education by the Northern leadership establishment. Whereas Islam is a faith, education is neither Islamic nor Judeo-Christian. Education is a universal knowledge that God the creator endowed mankind with. Western education is in reality, a hybridisation of earlier knowledge from all ancient and modern civilisations.
That the West introduced universal education to Nigeria and continues to lead the way does not make it a wholly Judeo-Christian Western heritage. This is so because what is generally referred to as Western civilisation is a product of a society that has embraced pluralism and racial diversity to the extent that the West today is a microcosm of the entire universe domiciled within a geographic space. The openness of Western societies, much like the Muslim societies of the golden age, makes it possible for the diffusion of knowledge from the four corners of the globe towards the Western hemisphere. The best of Arabs, Persians, Asians, Africans and Indians are not in their continents of origin but in the West, where their talents are nurtured to fruition for the prosperous benefits of the Western world. Western civilisation through education is actually a collection of the best of universal values, norms and learning, which should be embraced by all without reservations arising from religious sentiments or prejudice.
Clearly, the brand of Islam practised in northern Nigeria that holds back universal education because it is perceived as Western has no parallel in Islamic history. Boko Haram is un-Islamic but only a unique Muslim belief peculiar to northern Nigeria. By embracing education, northern Nigerian Muslims are not accepting a Western invention but a universal God-given embodiment of knowledge that was enriched and still being advanced by Muslim scholars throughout the ages.