|THE ROLE OF EDUCATION IN ISLAM: THE THREE “T’s” ~ TA’LIM, TARBIYAH & TA’DIB
Our children are back to school again! That means more books, more learning and more commitment on the part of parents, children, the community and the larger society.
In my first message to parents and children of the SNMC school I want to explain where Islam stands in terms of education of our children within the larger Canadian context.
Education is about the harmonious development of mind, body and soul. It helps equip human beings with the required skills and experiences needed to meet the challenges of a competitive society; it prepares children to live as caring human beings in a pluralist society such as Canada is. Thus, with effective dissemination of these roles students attain peace in personal life, within the community, larger society, the global village as well as they gain the pleasure of God.
Muslims mostly use following three terms to describe education — ta’lim ,tarbiyah and ta’dib. Each bears a slightly different connotation but embodies various dimensions of the educational process as contained in the primary sources of Islam – the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Any one of these terms would sufficiently convey the meaning of education as it is generally accepted in the world today. A more detailed etymological study, however, will reveal an instructive cross-section of various nuances that can help to refine the meanings they all bring to the broad concepts of practical and theoretical education.
This term is widely used in a formal sense, stemming from the Arabic root ’alima which means to know, to be aware, to perceive, or to learn; it relates to knowledge being sought or imparted through instruction and teaching. Ta’lim refers to types of instruction whose mental activities and disciplines result in the gaining of knowledge the learner did not previously possess. It could also be defined as the process of transmitting or imparting knowledge to a person that will help in training his or her mind and in developing reasoning powers. Thus, ta’lim is central to the process of instilling knowledge in such a way that both the giver (teacher) and recipient (student, or learner) add meaning and value not only to their own lives, but to the total enrichment of their community, society, and to all of human existence.
The word tarbiyah comes from the root raba, which means to increase, to grow, to nourish, or to perform the gradual process of growing of something to the stage of completeness or maturity. In contemporary Arabic usage, the tarbiyah is often used to denote education. It is associated with the purposeful intention of putting affairs into a right and proper state or order. At this level, the term applies to the growth process of humans, plants and animals. Among Muslim educators, tarbiyah is perceived as an educational process by which the human personality is brought up through one stage to another, until the stage of complete maturity is attained. In short, tarbiyah refers to education in its broadest sense, meaning the development of the human personality and the nurturing and rearing aspects of education, especially as applied to the young.
Both ta’lim and tarbiyah are used in contemporary administrative affairs, particularly in predominantly Muslim societies. Tarbiyah is seen as distinct from ta’lim in that the latter has a closer semantic relationship to ‘ilm – knowledge that is generally understood to be the result of formal education. For Nasr (1987), tarbiyah is the highest level of education in that it embraces the development and education of the whole being.
The third term used in Islamic education is ta’dib. Its origins are in the root adaba which means to be cultured, refined, or well mannered; disciplined and trained in mind and soul. Ta’dib suggests the social dimensions of a person’s development, being a process by which the most desirable attributes of mind and soul — in terms of proper behaviour and ethical conduct — are acquired. This is the rationale of Islamic education that emerged historically in the teaching systems developed through mosques and madaris. Some describe adab as education that focuses at the highest level on the development of the whole human being. It involves discipline of the mind and spirit in order to attain recognition and acknowledgement of each individual’s proper place, appropriate to their physical, intellectual and spiritual capacity and potential. This means that in Islam, education can never be separated from adab in its most profound sense, because adab encompasses the spiritual level of human awareness. Some Muslim scholars suggest that an emphasis on adab, which includes action (‘amal) in the educational process ensures that ‘ilm (knowledge) is being put to good use in society. Thus, these three terms together — t’alim, tarbiyah and ta’dib — fully define the goals of education in Islam.
Modern Muslim scholars see education in Islam as a wholistic process, one involving the complete personality (insan kamil), including one’s rational, spiritual and social dimensions.
This comprehensive and integrated approach to education strives to produce a morally good and well-rounded person through balanced training of the spirit, the intellect, the rational self, the emotions and the bodily senses.
This approach is wholly coherent with Islamic educational theory, in which the objective of gaining knowledge is attained through striving for perfection of all dimensions of the human being.
Thus if the goal of education in Islam is the balanced growth of human character, the soul should receive equal attention with the intellect. The separation of human spiritual development from the rational temporal aspects of personality is the main cause of psychic degeneration and loss of identity.
Education in Islam must therefore be a twofold process involving acquisition of intellectual knowledge as well as spiritual experience, for the two are fundamentally inseparable for the healthy nurture of the whole human being.
Acquiring knowledge in Islam is not endorsed as an end in and of itself, but as a means to stimulate increased moral and spiritual consciousness, making education not merely a destination, but a life-long journey. It is, in reality, the art of justly dealing with human nature at various levels and in diverse contexts, thus ensuring healthy growth and maturation of each person’s identity and self-awareness within the framework of his or her society.
In this vein, we can see that a wholistic understanding of education ultimately benefits both the individual and the wider community. Thus, education must aim both at those who are fulfilling and fulfilled, who engage in a society where they can both give and receive strength and nourishment.
Unless education is shaped to be a truly fertile ground for the entire human and communal life cycle, it will not have explored or fulfilled its true aim.
Let me conclude by stating the following: It is evident that education in Islam comprises much more than formal schooling – it is a life-long process. The Islamic educational theory acknowledges that education takes place continually, not only in the classroom. This insight is evident in the words ta’lim, tarbiyah, and ta’dib, all of which refer to different aspects of the Islamic education process. These three inter-woven terms express multivalent concern for individuals, the environment and society as a whole, thus representing the comprehensive scope of both formal and informal education in Islam. For Muslims, then, the entire world becomes their classroom – the abundant and diverse theatre in which one’s journey to moral perfection and intellectual excellence are embodied to the benefit of all society (humanity).