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Transmission of Values in Muslim Countries: Religious Education and Moral Development in School Curricula

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Abstract

Recent international events have intensified interest among politicians, religious leaders, scholars and educational professionals about the way religion is taught in schools and its consequent manifestation as learned social behavior. Students’ understanding of other faiths alongside their own personal faith is being scrutinized and there are persistent calls for a reassessment of the emphasis placed on this in education. Indeed, the linkages of spiritual and moral development with religious education and civic education (with its focus on human rights and the duties and responsibilities of citizens in local, national and international contexts) are lively and contentious issues. Of particular interest are contrasts between curriculum-based approaches to religion adopted in secular societies (where state and religious institutions are separated as in many western nations) and religious societies (as in most Muslim nations).
From: Benavot, A. and Braslavsky, C. (Eds.) (2006). School Knowledge in
Comparative Historical Perspective: Changing Curricula in Primary and
Secondary Education. Comparative Education Research Centre, University of
Hong Kong, Hong Kong: Springer
7
Transmission of Values in Muslim Countries: Religious
Education and Moral Development in School Curricula
Rukhsana Zia
Introduction
Recent international events have intensified interest among politicians, religious
leaders, scholars and educational professionals about the way religion is taught in
schools and its consequent manifestation as learned social behaviour among students.
Students’ understanding of other faiths alongside their own personal faith is being
scrutinized and there are persistent calls for a reassessment of the emphasis placed on
this in education. Indeed, the linkages of spiritual and moral development with
religious education and civic education (with its focus on human rights and the duties
and responsibilities of citizens in local, national and international contexts) are lively
and contentious issues. Of particular interest are contrasts between the approaches to
these issues adopted in secular societies (where State institutions and religious beliefs
are separated as in many Western nations) and religious societies (as in most Muslim
nations).
This chapter focuses on formal approaches to spiritual and moral education in
Muslim countries and its development over time. Apart from outlining the key concepts
associated with this topic, it places contemporary patterns of schooling in Muslim
countries in a historical perspective. The chapter especially notices how historical and
political events have impacted upon the development of religious and moral education
in formal schooling in Muslim countries. Curricular emphases on spiritual and moral
education and religious education are analysed in comparative perspective, specifically
in relation to school time devoted to each component in subgroups of Muslim countries
(members of the Organization of Islamic Countries, OIC1) and, to a limited extent, with
secular countries (basically Western nations). Overall, the chapter seeks to provide a
broader understanding of the inclusion of religious and moral education in the school
curricula of Muslim countries, and discuss the role of such subjects in the development
of moral and social behaviour among pupils.
1
2 Transmission of Values in Muslim Countries
Spiritual, moral and religious education
International agreements regarding the search for individual identity are clearly
reflected in specific resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, namely the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN 1948), the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN 1976), and the Convention on the Rights of
the Child (UN 1989). In the latter Convention countries are required, among other
things, to accord children the right to nationality and identity, to ensure their survival
and development, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to ensure freedom
of expression and association. Article 12 asserts that States “shall assure to the child
who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely
in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in
accordance with the age and maturity of the child” (UN 1989).
Dearing (1995) amplified the concepts of spiritual, moral and religious education
in the following manner. Spiritual development in an educational context means
awareness and reflection upon one’s experiences; questioning and exploring the
meaning of experience; understanding and evaluating the possible responses and
interpretations; developing personal views and insights; and applying these insights to
one’s own life. Moral development, like spiritual development, is a multi-faceted
concept and includes such aspects as the knowledge of, and willingness to live by,
codes and conventions of conduct delineated by God, as well as the ones agreed by
society (non-statutory and those prescribed by law); and the ability to make judgements
on moral issues in the light of criteria based on responsible judgements. Personal
morality is the composite of beliefs and values of individuals, of the particular social,
cultural and religious groups to which they belong, and of the laws and customs of the
wider society. Children need to be introduced to concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ from
an early age so as to cultivate moral behaviour as a set of instinctive habits. Schooling
plays a major role in establishing the foundations of a value system. It is predicated on
the assumption that, with time, children will realize that life situations will constantly
arise where ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ might not be universal truths and that they will have
to make considered and morally consistent decisions according to the situations at
hand, and more importantly learn to take responsibility for their decisions.
Forms of school-based religious education vary considerably, mainly according to
the approach to religion that is adopted—that is, teaching about religion, for religion
and/or through religion. Even in secular schools, teaching for and through religion
often offers manifold opportunities to teach values, morality, ethics and civics with a
focus on rights, responsibilities and respect for differences. Religious education too,
among other things, has the potential to promote values of truth, justice and respect for
all. It also has the potential to teach the opposite of these—there are grey areas between
evangelizing, indoctrination, brainwashing and mere neutral knowledge transfer. Public
schooling, as the provider of education to the majority of students in most countries of
the world, is responsible for moulding students’ ethical concepts regarding personal and
collective living. Whether it remains religiously neutral is another matter and not under
consideration here.
Rukhsana Zia 3
Muslim countries: A historical perspective2
In the following section, very briefly, the evolution of Muslim countries over the past
centuries is traced and how their political context has influenced ‘Islamic resurgence’
and consolidation of an Islamic world view.
Muslim countries today are largely the outcome of diverse political and
geographical factors. Within a few centuries after the prophet’s death in 632 CE, Islam
spread at an electrifying speed to some three continents. Some refer to this
development as the ‘Muslim explosion’ (Ahmed 1999). Islam spread to South and
South-East Asia, southern Spain and Eastern Europe, North Africa and, by the
eighteenth century, to the Americas. Colonization challenged the Islamic world in the
nineteenth century. Out of the fifty-seven OIC States, all but three were colonized. The
independence and evolution of Muslim states started in the aftermath of the First World
War. Some states (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey) gained independence after the
First World War, while most remaining Muslim areas were decolonized and/or
established after the Second World War. The world’s Muslim population is presently
estimated at 1.6 to 1.9 billion, or approximately 22–27 percent of the world’s
population. Regional figures for 2003 indicate that Africa hosts nearly 54 percent of all
Muslims, while Asia and Europe are home to roughly 31 and 7 percent, respectively, of
the total Muslim population. Most Muslim countries fall in the low- to middle-income
bracket. The high fertility rate in most Muslim countries, coupled with a high
concentration of young adults, increases their vulnerability to civil conflict (Cincotta,
Engelman and Anastasion 2003). Human development indicators tend to be low in
most Muslim countries, making a case for a low quality of life known by the citizens of
these countries. Some contend that, politically, Muslim countries have a poor record of
showing solidarity to safeguard their identity, honour and interests (Syed 2005).
Colonization and imperialism became the harbingers of many fundamental
changes in the Muslim world (Al-e-Ahmed 1980), and initiated an era of introspection.
Western colonization affected all sectors of the economy and society, including
education. From the eighteenth century onward Muslim reformers appeared in different
parts of the Muslim world and, in the late twentieth century, various organizations
mushroomed to guard Muslim identity against ‘Westernization’ and to promote Islamic
culture (e.g., Ikhwan al-muslimin in Egypt or the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan). Such
organizations promoted an alternative, Islamic worldview for a whole spectrum of
political, economic, governmental and social issues. These reformist movements
shaped both attitudes towards the West and the essence of Muslim identity and,
depending upon the reformist ideology, ranged between two extremes in terms of spirit,
form and action (Shepard 1987). Academic and educational institutions resulting from
these movements varied as well, some acting as instruments of change and others as
guardians of tradition (Zaman 2002).
The Middle-East War of 1967 proved to be a watershed and, coupled with other
events such as the Iranian revolution, impacted a whole range of Islamic concepts
relating to political, economic, cultural and educational orientations. The strengthening
of nationalism brought together reformist forces, irrespective of religious leanings, to
work alongside each other for political independence. Calls for a Muslim Ummah
4 Transmission of Values in Muslim Countries
[community or people] intensified with the establishment of Muslim nation-states. The
formation of the OIC was one such response. In recent years, Islamic revivalism from
an extremist perspective, what is often labelled as ‘fundamentalism’, has in some cases
manifested itself in acts of violence, such as the New York and Washington D.C.
attacks of September 2001, the 2004 Madrid bombings and the 2005 London
bombings. This fundamentalist extremism must be separated from the humane and
gentle core of the religious creed that is Islam. In the wake of 9/11 a lot of anger in the
Muslim world has been projected outwards, especially towards Western countries, and
yet at the same time considerable angst has been directed inwards. The rhetoric
repeatedly emanating from the Muslim world maintains the historical emphasis on
Islamization and Muslim identity, but it is now progressively intermingled with the
need to “play a significant role in projecting a moderate image of the Muslim Ummah
(Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, quoted in Dawn 2005: 4). The OIC has initiated reforms to
make itself more dynamic, proactive and a true representative of the Ummah. It is
hoped that with more introspection by Muslim countries, the threat from extremists will
diminish accordingly.
Religious revival is visible in much of the world (Ahmed 2001: 218). Consider,
for example, evangelical Christianity in the United States of America and Hinduism in
India. In the Muslim world, too, efforts to define the relevance (or irrelevance) of the
message of Islam to the present modernized and globalized world are considerable.
There are on-going debates over the Qur’an and its interpretations; the hadith and their
authenticity; the differentiation of Meccan and Medinan surahs; the nature of Islamic
law and shari’a; the difference between shari’a and fiqh; the distinction between
ibadat (God’s worship) and muamalat (social obligations); and the role of ulema
(Islamic scholars) and the rulers/government. The debates over possible legal reforms
in the case of women’s rights and the rights of minorities are especially pronounced.
Questions are also raised over the legality of ulema as guardians/custodians of faith and
the myriad of interpretations. The most common contention is that, since Islam does
not have an ordained clergy, experts of all specialties are required to resolve
contemporary issues (ijtehad) that are usually beyond the scope of religious scholars,
thus ascribing to a more inclusive notion of the religious scholar.
Though Islamic traditionalists aspire for the shari’a to be the rule of the land, the
problem of implementation, specifically within the accepted framework of modernity,
poses considerable challenges. Since the shari’a has not been codified according to the
canons of most modern laws, there tend to be differences in legal decisions—even
among Islamic jurists of the same school (Nagata 1994: 69). This raises differences of
position on various issues within a country, which could impact inter alia upon the
establishment of a fundamental identity for its citizens. At another level, variances also
exist in the different Islamic States and hence legal rulings may vary from one country
to another. Thus, when discussing various social, educational, cultural or legal aspects,
grouping Islamic countries on the basis of their religion alone is extremely problematic.
Islamic education and education in Muslim countries
Rukhsana Zia 5
The following section shows how the Islamic world view influenced Islamic education
from being an inclusive phenomenon to the contemporary state of affairs where it has
been reduced to mere transmission of religious education. Education in Muslim
countries and Islamic (religious) education are at times used synonymously, but are not
the same. The following paragraphs explain why the lines of division tend to be
blurred.
Ilm (knowledge) plays a central role in the Muslim’s attitude towards life, work
and being (Hilgendorf 2003: 64). God and knowledge are inseparable with the in-built
implication that without knowledge one cannot know God and without God there is no
true knowledge. The organization of the traditional curriculum under Islam has been,
and continues to be, based upon the recognition that the Qur’an [Koran] is the core,
pivot and gateway of learning (Al-Saud 1979: 126-127) and is considered the basis for
the teaching of all disciplines (Husain and Ashraf 1979: 120).
Education in Islam dates back to the prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon Him)
Himself, who explained and interpreted his revelations in the mosque. Mosques
became the centres of instruction and such explanatory circles became the norm. While
mosques and mosque schools (kuttubs, also known as Qur’anic schools) continued to
offer religious learning and basic education, madrasahs were established to formalize
the need for higher education. With the break-up of the Muslim Empire, madrasahs,
which were supported by the ruling class, lost patronage and social support and, to
continue the educational process, had to resort to more rigorous religious schooling.
Different madrasahs/religious schools offered a different quality of education and
offered different curricular models. For example, the Dars-I-nizami (a popular
curricular model in madrasahs), Deo-bandi madrasahs, Farangi-Mahal (pre-1850
madrasahs), Nadwat al-Ulema (established post 1870s) and some others were intended
to produce scholars and intellectuals, and their syllabi also focused upon language,
metaphysics, rhetoric and logic, unlike certain others that kept a very narrow focus
upon religion (Peters 1996). Emphasis on religious schooling was further consolidated
by religious infighting among different sects, who sought to use education as a vehicle
for the development of their denominational doctrine to the detriment of creative
thought and experimentation (Hilgendorf 2003: 69). Many propounded that the ‘gate of
ijtihad (knowledge based upon reasoning) was closed for future independent or
rational inquiry (Mehmet 1990: 61), giving way to taqlid (acceptance of past
knowledge without question) as the order of the day (Gi’ladi 1992: 54-55). Qur’anic or
mosque schools faced a similar fate. Over the years Qur’anic schools, for various
reasons, did not expand their curriculum and were therefore not deemed competent to
provide an education more suited to contemporary societal needs.
At present, religious schools (Qur’anic schools and madrasahs) tend to attract the
poor who cannot afford the fees of Western-style schools. This creates a disparity in
access to quality education, and in further learning and employment opportunities for
children belonging to different social strata (Mernissi 1992: 80-81). Not only is this
instrumental in creating animosity among classes, it also translates into rejection of the
West, mostly by the have-nots, who are mainly students of the madrasahs or the public
school system. It is buttressed by anger towards governing elites who are seen as
puppets of the West. These conditions may engender the indignation towards the West
6 Transmission of Values in Muslim Countries
and Western lifestyles, rather than religious teaching, but this contention warrants
greater in-depth study.
At present the educational indicators of most OIC members are rather dismal. The
average primary school enrolment ratio for all OIC countries is about 81 percent, while
for some ten countries it is less than 50 percent. The average secondary school
enrolment ratio for all OIC countries is 45 percent, with some thirty countries falling
below 30 percent. The average university enrolment ratio for all OIC countries is about
11 percent. It is regrettable that nearly twenty-three OIC nations have an adult literacy
rate of 50 percent or below. Only twenty nations have literacy rates greater than 80
percent. It is obvious that Muslim nations have emphasized education, especially
science and technology, in order to keep pace with the modern world. However, the
quality and impact of education is another matter. Indeed, a large segment of the
population in these countries does not have access to any kind of schooling.
Nevertheless, though the modern reformers in Muslim countries faced the stereotype of
Westernized or Europeanized Islam, they did manage to bring to the fore the issue of
redefining Muslim intellect. Educational reforms were initiated to transform curricula,
which also brought into question the blind following of tradition. Despite efforts by
most Muslim states to modernize, some thinkers blame the countries themselves for
depriving their populace of their heritage (that is, by letting the majority of their
students vegetate in a state of semi-science while the elite few benefit from Western
education) due to the level of teaching in its institutions (Mernissi 1992:50).
Following independence, many countries tried to revive traditional values by
indigenizing the curricula of their colonial rulers and, in the case of Muslim countries,
the school curriculum was ‘Islamized’. The issue of whether this ‘Islamization’ was
truly Islamic deserves further scrutiny. In any case, the main outcome has been the
establishment of parallel systems of educational institutions comprising a mix of the
traditional and the secular. (This pattern is also visible in other social institutions).
Modern, allegedly Western education and ‘technical’ (Habermas 1974) knowledge—
with universal applicability though created and defined in advanced industrial states—
are imported with ease and with relatively little modification by developing nations and
most Muslim states. (Lately however, alternatives to Western science are being
encouraged in some fields like medicine.) This dependence is stronger in higher
education institutions as primary schooling and its contents are expected to genuinely
reflect national and local cultures. Areas of ‘private’ (Berger and Luckman 1967) or
‘practical’ (Habermas 1974) knowledge—which are found in informal and intimate
human relationships and often taught in schools as spiritual and moral education (in
subjects like religious education, history, social studies, arts, music and literature)—
more closely follow national or local heritages. It was precisely these subjects that were
indigenized (Islamized in the case of Muslim countries) after political independence
(Lewin 1985).
Types of educational institutions in Muslim countries
The above pages clearly show how the historical processes and the accompanying
political stages in Muslim countries have narrowed the concept of Islamic education, in
Rukhsana Zia 7
specific and schooling in general, to mere education for and through religion. The
following section specifically focuses on madrasahs to illustrate this point since they
were the main educational institutions in these countries and traces their evolution.
Traditionally speaking, mosques have been central to the learning process in the
Muslim world. From early times, kuttub provided the first educational experience for
Muslim believers. Everybody, regardless of class or status, attended the same school.
The curricular content of kuttub focused on basic education. It taught young boys and
girls how to read and write, and provided them with a basic foundation in essential
subjects: Arabic grammar, mathematics, and Qur’anic recitation and memorization.
The importance of the kuttubs cannot be underestimated. They were central to civil life
and were the main avenue for providing basic education to the public. As is the case
today, there was no segregation between boys and girls. Segregation only began at the
higher madrasah level. There, theology, philosophy, science, Arabic grammar and law
were taught to advanced students. Later, madrasahs developed into full-fledged college
and university systems by the tenth century and played a fundamental role in the
foundation of European centres of higher education (Nasr 1987: 125) and universities
(Al-Attas 1979: 102). Madrasahs were located in major mosques in important urban
centres and secured their reputation from the particular sheikhs and imams who taught
there. Well-known imams attracted students from all over the Islamic world.
Madrasah, an Arabic word, literally means a ‘place of instruction’. The term
madrasah is typically used as a generic title for all schools teaching Islamic subjects
(including, but not limited to, the Qur’an, hadith [prophetic traditions], and fiqh
[Islamic jurisprudence]). Such schools are considered similar in their focus on content
and teaching. Nevertheless, different madrasahs offer a varying quality of education,
have different sectarian affiliations and even offer different levels of instruction. Some,
like the Deo-bandi madrasahs of South Asia, aim to develop cadres of scholars and
intellectuals and thus place greater emphasis on language, metaphysics, rhetoric and
logic. Others are more narrowly focused on religion.
Traditional Islamic education in madrasahs comprises two broad fields: the
manqulat (the ‘transmitted’ subjects); and the ma’qulat (the ‘rational’ or ‘secular
subjects). Manqulat includes: Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir); prophetic traditions (hadith);
Arabic grammar (sarf), syntax (nahw) and language/literature (adab); jurisprudence
(fiqh) and principles of jurisprudence (usul ul-fiqh); and rhetoric (balaghat). The
ma’qulat, on the other hand, included logic (mantiq); philosophy (falsafa or hikmat);
theology (kalam); mathematics/astronomy (riyaziyyat); and medicine (tibb).
Madrasahs varied in their jurisprudential exclusiveness/inclusiveness (some being
attached to a particular madhab [school of jurisprudence], while others accommodated
teachers from different schools of jurisprudence). The madrasahs also differed in their
emphasis between the manqulat and ma’qulat and in other respects (e.g., some gave
more attention to hadith, while others focused on sarf/nahw). Madrasahs in Spain,
where Muslims reigned for nearly 800 years, are a classic example of the harmonious
interweaving of Islamic/spiritual with secular/earthly knowledge. This coincided with a
period in which Muslim scholars contributed to advances in the fields of science,
technology and philosophy, among others (Malik 2005).
8 Transmission of Values in Muslim Countries
As Muslim societies were colonized, secular educational institutions were
promoted by colonizers and came to supersede madrasahs and other religious
institutions. This was the beginning of disconnect between the two. Modern education
in these secular institutions catered to, and helped define, emergent elites, leaving
religious education offered in madrasahs for the poor. The idea brought by Western
administrations of a separation between the State and religion was viewed by most
Muslims as heresy. Madrasahs in the Muslim world responded by abandoning the
pursuit of modern sciences and secular subjects, thereby cutting the masses off from the
acquisition of secular areas of knowledge. The most radical shift in the curricular
content of madrasahs came about in the sub-continent and to a certain degree in
Indonesia. Politics and political gains, specifically in South Asia, were the particular
justification for the revival of religious education, i.e. Islamist ideology in these
religious institutions, specifically in Pakistan. Ironically, it was the financial support of
the United States and European countries which was instrumental in propagating the
strict mode of Islamic practice (International Crisis Group 2002, quoted in Zia 2003a;
Anzar 2003). At present, madrasahs in some countries of South Asia and the Middle
East, particularly Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, may ascribe to Wahabi doctrines of
practice, while in other regions, like South-East Asia, countries such as Indonesia have,
by and large, religious schools called pesantrens that teach a moderate form of Islam
encompassing Sufism. They have also tried to maintain a balance between the religious
and the secular. At present, religious institutions like madrasahs can be state-funded
and/or privately funded. Contrary to popular understanding, madrasahs cater to a very
small percentage of the population though they remain a part of the broader educational
infrastructure in Muslim countries. Of these, very few teach an extremist perspective of
religion. Considering the present scenario whereby religious institutions in Muslim
countries are under increasing international scrutiny, many governments are seeking to
regulate the madrasahs and their curriculum.
The following section charts the development of modern schooling and how it
evolved as a distinct stream as compared to the indigenous (madrasah) schools.
The development of ‘modern schools’
The expansion of ‘modern’ schooling, an international phenomenon since the mid-
nineteenth century, changed the organization and transmission of knowledge in
communities throughout the world, in general and Muslim countries in particular. In
Muslim countries, colonizers introduced and expanded modern schools. Modern
education systems in Muslim countries incorporated allegedly secular subjects for mass
education, predominantly geared to opening up economic opportunities. OIC nations,
being aware of the significance of an educated and skilled populace, have placed it high
on their agenda. Following independence, these schools were typically consolidated by
national governments into the public school system—a development viewed by many
as an import from the West and/or established by Western-educated policy-makers. In
fact the national systems of education of colonized countries were closely linked,
especially at the upper levels, to institutions in the United Kingdom or France, as these
were the primary colonisers of Muslim states. But a result of being ‘imported’ from the
Rukhsana Zia 9
West modern schools became the subject of considerable distrust, which partly explains
the neglect of science and technology in these countries. It is clear that, for various
reasons, education did not undergo stages of adaptation, appropriation and ownership
in Muslim countries. Modern schools, with their centralized planning, administration,
delivery of teaching, modes of assessment, knowledge codified in textbooks, and
spatial organization (by age groupings and subjects) were totally different from the
traditional madrasahs. Nevertheless, these and other indigenous schools have tended to
survive in these societies often as a discrete and parallel stream of schooling. Many
researchers though (Somel 2001; Ringer 2001; Fortna 2002) make it a point to
disengage concepts of ‘modernization’ from ‘Westernization’, especially ‘cultural
modernization’.
In today’s globalized world, education is increasingly seen as a passport for
military and economic success—and scientific achievement. The widespread criticism
of the ‘modern’ (public) schools in Muslim countries is partly based on the perceived
threat to Islamic morals and culture, especially those related to women (Ringer 2001:
212). The debate about modern education effecting morals has also been an issue in
other societies, such as the Russian Federation, Japan and the United States (Fortna
2002: 35-41). Many societies with differing religious and cultural backgrounds have
struggled with similar issues. In fact, the effectiveness of education and efficient
education systems notwithstanding, the role of Western education in Muslim nations
has also been discussed for its seemingly negative impact. Starrett (1998: 6-7)
describes the case of Egypt, where mass education is cited as a force, which fostered a
social, cultural, intellectual and political climate for formidable Islamist movements to
emerge. This characterization could be applied to much of the Muslim world. The
backfiring of government policies consolidated the position of the Islamists (Starrett
1998: 7). In the discussion over state-organized mass education, the ‘effects of civil
society’ are overlooked (Mazawi 1999: 332-335) or there is a tendency to rely on data
from official sources, which creates an incomplete or even distorted picture of
educational processes and realities (Fortna 2002: 152). Reliable data and credible
analyses are crucial for further clarity in discourses like these. Other distortions in
comparisons arise as a result of differences in teaching environments and teaching
methodologies, but these will not be discussed here.
It is clear, public schooling in Muslim countries has evolved as the predominant
way of education. The above pages also show how the traditional mode of education,
madrasah, has narrowed its curriculum to mere transmission of religious education,
while public schooling has evolved as a more inclusive phenomenon.
Basic values in Islam
The following section briefly delineates the basic philosophy of Islam and its values
relating to human rights, tolerance and citizenship. The purpose is to place in context
the Islamic teachings that are implicit in religious education in Muslim countries, be it
as a component of the curriculum in public schooling or in religious schools
(madrasahs).
10 Transmission of Values in Muslim Countries
Islam urges a balance between deen (religion) and duniya (worldly affairs) and a
good Muslim has to participate fully in both. This balance and order was modelled on
the life of the Holy Prophet and, for all Muslims, is deemed the ideal to follow. Even
so, it is not the achievement of the ideal alone that begets the reward; it is also each
person’s effort and motivation, according to his or her capacity and context towards the
ideal, which is deemed equally worthy of reward. When Arabs came in contact with
Greek science and philosophy in the ninth century, there emerged a new breed of
Muslims dedicated to an ideal known as falsafah. Their aim was to live rationally in
accordance with the laws that governed the universe. According to Islam, the world is
created by Allah and everything within it is amongst the actions of Allah. Scientific
activity in Islam developed as a search for an understanding of Allah’s world and these
scientific works inspired subsequent developments in a range of disciplines today.
Islam preaches moderation and has directed its focus basically at the purification
of motives (Abu Rida 1998: 22), the ultimate test being action and behaviour, not for
any worldly reason, but to fulfil Allah’s dictates. Thus, good deeds are judged in
accordance with their value and the intention of the doer. Muslims derive guidance
from the hadith (sayings of the prophet) and sunnah (life of the prophet). Islam is the
law of the individual as well as of the society. The emphasis is on unity and rejection of
everything that leads to divisiveness.
Rights and responsibilities in Islam are characterized by equity (all people are
regarded as equal in terms of their rights and responsibilities for their own actions) and
balance (regarded as moderation). Muslim law warns against the abuse of rights (Negra
1998: 64). Most scholars divide rights in Islam into two parts: the rights of God and the
rights of human beings. The former comprises rights that no one shares with Him, such
as acts of devotion. Rights of human beings are divided into four basic groups: natural,
personal, civil and political. It is especially useful to emphasize here the rights of non-
Muslims in Islamic countries. Governed by humanist principles, once a person fulfils
the obligations for citizenship (paying tax) nothing distinguishes a non-Muslim from a
Muslim. According to Islam, rights are entirely owned by God and human beings (as
vice-regents of God) can enjoy them in their relationship with God. Islam clearly
emphasizes human duties and moral obligations and, as such, human rights are a
function of human obligation and not their antecedent (Nasr 1980: 97). For Muslims,
shari’a (Islamic jurisprudence) is the source of human rights, which defines the
parameters of human activities.
There are strong allegations of mistreatment of women in Islam. Throughout the
world, and in Muslim countries, measures of gender equality show a bias in favour of
the male (Human Development Report, UNDP 1995). The gender development index
(GDI) of Muslim countries is considerably lower in comparison to that of Western
countries. In addition, issues concerning women become more pronounced with the
transformation of traditional social structures since women often bear the brunt of such
crises, due to poverty, urbanization and greater illiteracy. Again, these issues can be
seen in most developing countries as well as in Muslim countries. Hijab (the religious
word for modesty, but commonly understood as veiling) is another misunderstood
concept, especially in the West. It is further complicated by manifold attitudes toward it
within the Muslim world. Greater study is needed to establish if the restrictions placed
Rukhsana Zia 11
on women are due to Islamic teachings or because of the exigencies of a male-
dominated society over the centuries. Women occupy a special place in Islam and
women are perceived, partly because of the ways in which religion is embedded in
local social and cultural values (Delaney 1991; Zia 2003a), as most vulnerable to
radical change and influence. These influences, though, can vary according to class,
region and status. Suffice it here to say that, historically, women’s role in Muslim
societies has largely been restricted. The teachings of Islam clearly place both sexes as
‘equivalent’ rather than ‘equal’, whereby social functions and expectations differ across
sexes but are complementary, both within and outside the family (Hijab 1995: 335).
The fact that teaching through and for religion is the modus operandi in schools of
Muslim countries, should not be a cause for concern. Some scholars, as shown above,
propound that values espoused in Islam and Islamic teachings endorse ‘living together’.
Islam clearly insists on the adherence to the same rights, obligations and duties to
oneself and others as are prized in the modern day in all civilized societies. The basic
difference lies in the superimposition of the spiritual dimension as the primary motive
(Zia 2003b). To understand the prevalent values system in Muslim countries, it would
make immense sense to consider the impact of curricular content in schools with other
contextual factors that directly or indirectly impact upon the spiritual and moral
development of the child.
Religious and moral education in the school curriculum of
Muslim countries
Cross-national analyses of official curricular data for recent decades indicate that the
intended amount of annual instructional time, as well as the overall composition of
public school curricula, are quite similar in the Arab States to those found in other
regions of the world (Benavot and Amadio 2004). Differences are mainly one of degree
than of kind. This section probes the religious and moral education component of the
school curriculum in two ways: first, by extending the analyses to all countries with a
significant Muslim population (specifically, members of OIC3); and second, by
examining in greater detail the emphasis given to religious education, on the one hand,
and moral and spiritual education, on the other, in sub-groups of Muslim countries. To
be sure, there are other factors in Muslim countries, both within and outside the school
system, which affect student learning in these areas, but official curricular policies
leave an indelible mark on pupil orientations and attitudes.
The analyses presented in the tables below drew from the IBE database on
curricular time worldwide in two time periods, around 1985 and 2000 (IBE-UNESCO
2005a), following the methodology used by Benavot and Amadio (2004). Table 7.1
presents the proportion of OIC countries that teach religious education and moral
education in the two time periods and, of the countries that teach them, the mean
percentage of total curricular time devoted to these two subjects. Table 7.2 then makes
a comparison of the emphasis placed on religious education and moral education
between Arab States and non-Arab countries, who are members of the OIC.
12 Transmission of Values in Muslim Countries
Table 7.1: Religious and moral education in the school curricula of Muslim
countries belonging to the OIC, 1985 and 2000
Religious and moral education
1985
Grades
1-3 4-6 7-8
Number of OIC countries with official
curricular information 25 25 29
Proportion of countries that teach:
Religious education 64 76 72
Moral education 28 32 17
Of countries that teach the subject, mean
percentage of total curricular time devoted to:
Religious education 13 11 8
Range 2-33 2-32 3-24
Moral education 5 4 4
Range 2-8 1-10 1-8
Religious and moral education
2000
Grades
1-3 4-6 7-8
Number of OIC countries with official
curricular information 43 43 38
Proportion of countries that teach:
Religious education 58 60 66
Moral education 23 23 13
Of countries that teach the subject, mean
percentage of total curricular time devoted to:
Religious education 11 10 7
Range 3-27 3-16 3-14
Moral education 3 2 3
Range 1-6 1-6 2-5
Based on: IBE-UNESCO (2005a).
Table 7.1 reports that during the 1980s approximately two-thirds of Muslim
countries (64-72 percent) included religious education in their official school
curriculum and allocated about 10 percent of total instructional time to this subject
area. Moral education, on the other hand, was incorporated in far fewer national school
curricula (17-32 percent) and was allocated only 5 percent of total instructional time. In
comparisons across grade levels, religious education was taught with greater frequency
towards the end of primary education and beginning of secondary education, while
relative time allotments for this subject declined, on average, in the lower secondary
Rukhsana Zia 13
grades. Moral and spiritual education was less prevalent and allocated less instructional
time in lower secondary education.
In the most recent period (see the bottom half of Table 7.1), the prevalence and
relative emphasis on religious and moral education in Muslim countries have declined.
Smaller proportions of Muslim countries explicitly include these two subject areas in
the school curriculum (58-66 percent include religious education whereas 13-23
percent include moral education) and time allocations, on average, tend to be lower.
Since these over-time trends are based on different sets of Muslim countries, they are
not strictly comparable. Nevertheless, constant case analyses verify the basic trend—
namely, while religious education and, to a much lesser extent, moral and spiritual
education are important components of the intended school curriculum of Muslim
countries, the overall prominence of these subjects areas has declined during the 1985-
2000 period.
These findings are placed in sharper focus in Table 7.2, which compares patterns
in Arab States4 and in non-Arab Muslim countries. The findings reported in Table 7.2
clearly indicate that religious education has been, and continues to be, an extremely
important subject area in the primary and secondary school curriculum of Arab States.
Since the 1980s religious education has been taught in over 85 percent of all Arab
countries throughout grades 1-8. In non-Arab Muslim countries, by contrast, religious
education was taught less frequently in the 1980s and its prevalence has declined over
the past two decades. Differences in relative time allocations to religious education,
while smaller, favour Arab countries over non-Arab Muslim countries.
With respect to moral and spiritual education, a different pattern emerges. It is
mainly in non-Arab Muslim states where this subject is given greater prominence, not
so much in terms of official time allocations, but due to the fact of its being explicitly
included in the official curriculum. The greater prevalence of moral education in non-
Arab Muslim countries is found in both time periods.
The basic pattern to emerge from these analyses can be summarized as follows.
Whereas schools in Arab countries foster the spiritual and moral development of young
children almost exclusively through religiously framed subjects; schools in most non-
Arab Muslim countries tend to transmit value-laden contents via two subject areas:
moral education as well as religious education. The importance of moral education as
an explicit component of official curricular policy in the latter countries reflects, in
part, the emphasis given this subject in most Asian (non-Muslim) countries. Finally,
there is evidence that, at least in some Muslim countries, the relative place of religious
and moral education in the official school curriculum has become less salient over time.
How different are Muslim and Western countries with respect to the official
religious component of school curriculum? In terms of the combined time devoted to
religious and moral education, the answer is: not much; in both periods, circa 1985 and
(NAWE)5 allocated very similar amounts of time to these subject areas, with the former
allocating, on average, 1 percent more time than the latter (IBE-UNESCO2005a).
Table 7.2: Religious and moral education in the school curricula of Arab
States and non-Arab States belonging to the OIC, 1985 and 2000
Religious and moral education 1985
Grades 1-3 Grades 4-6 Grades 7-8
14 Transmission of Values in Muslim Countries
Arab
States
Non-
Arab
States
Arab
States
Non-
Arab
States
Arab
States
Non-
Arab
States
Number of OIC countries with
official curricular information 14 11 14 11 14 15
Proportion of countries that teach:
Religious education 86 45 93 55 86 60
Moral education 14 45 14 55 14 33
Of countries that teach the
subject, mean percentage of total
curricular time devoted to:
Religious education 148128105
Range 5-33 2-15 2-32 4-13 3-24 3-9
Moral education 6 5 4 4 n/a 4
Range 5-7 2-8 3-6 1-10 1-8
Religious and moral education
2000
Grades 1-3 Grades 4-6 Grades 7-8
Arab
States
Non-
Arab
States
Arab
States
Non-
Arab
States
Arab
States
Non-
Arab
States
Number of OIC countries with
official curricular information 19 24 19 24 18 20
Proportion of countries that teach:
Religious education 89 33 89 38 94 40
Moral education 11 33 11 38 11 15
Of countries that teach the
subject, mean percentage of total
curricular time devoted to:
Religious education 13 8 10 8 7 7
Range 6-27 3-17 4-16 3-15 3-14 3-11
Moral education 221224
Range 1-3 1-6 1-2 1-6 2-3 3-5
Based on: IBE-UNESCO (2005a).
Since 1985 there was a decline (0.6 percent for OIC and 0.8 percent for NAWE) in the
allotted time to religious and moral education in both groups. Even the ‘extreme’ cases
have become more similar: in 1985 the case with the greatest amount of time allotted to
religious and moral education in the OIC group was Saudi Arabia (30 percent); in
NAWE it was Luxembourg (18 percent). In 2000, Afghanistan was the OIC country
with the largest time allocation to religious and moral education (20 percent) and Israel
was the largest in the NAWE group (18 percent). Again, it needs to be reiterated that
Rukhsana Zia 15
official time given to religious and moral education is not indicative of the content,
much less the quality, of the classroom teaching and subsequent student learning.
Conclusion
Schools can consolidate what the child learns outside school, but the significance of
parenting and the roles of the mass media and influential religious, cultural and social
organizations should not be underestimated. The whole school, by and large, is geared
to nurture the child’s spiritual and moral development, with the school curriculum
given the overt challenge. Although this aspect of a child’s development is largely
attributed to religious education, it surely does not have a monopoly.
Schooling has an important role to play in the development of efficacious, moral
and responsible global citizens. The challenges for religious or moral education are
many, especially in a pluralistic, inclusive world. In Muslim and non-Muslim societies,
it is exceedingly difficult to assess the impacts of religious and moral education on
normative or non-normative behaviour, even more so on the basis of intended time
allotted to religious and moral education in school curricula. Having said that, a few
things are clear: most Muslim countries are not much different to developing countries
facing similar economic and human development challenges; most OIC countries show
a dismal literacy rate with very low school enrolments; Islamic education per se and
religious education taught in schools is not necessarily the same; there are differences
in how religion and religious education is interpreted by different sects within Islam;
most of the values explicit and/or implicit in Islamic teachings are similar to the values
prized in the modern world, but their interpretation, in terms of content and teaching
method, deserve further study; contemporary madrasahs cater to the educational needs
of the poor and, as such, offer a quality of schooling that has much in common to other
public schools catering to poorer social strata; during and after colonization Muslim
countries showed a rise in ‘Islamization’ in all sectors of society, and in some cases
Islamization was used as a tool to hang on to political power (Zia 2003b); finally,
modernity is prized by Muslim countries, but Muslims tend to be sceptical about
Western modernity, and consequently secularism as a main characteristic of modernity
(Kassim 2005).
Official curricular data shows considerable similarities in the relative emphasis
given religious and moral education in both Muslim and Western countries. In addition,
this emphasis is declining in both groups of countries. In Muslim countries religious
(Islamic) education is taught in schools rather than spiritual or moral education, that is,
teach through and for religion, rather than about religion. Among Arab States, both
Muslim and non-Muslim, where religious education is widely taught, but little
understood, there is an acute need to identify contextual conditions beyond differences
of religion. Given the historical context, specifically of recent past of colonization, it is
not unreasonable to expect that religious fervour moves beyond the confines of various
religious groups to mass nationalistic movements. Domination, forceful or subtle,
brings forth issues of identity, religious or cultural, among others. By the same virtue a
case could be made for colonizers (Western nations) who were thereby encouraged to
16 Transmission of Values in Muslim Countries
be more pluralistic to appease their colonized subjects, and hence steered towards
teaching about religion in their school systems.
Suffice here to add that even though religion might be taught differently in
schools in Muslim countries, perhaps the impact of religious schooling in Muslim
countries is ‘overstated’ (generally poor enrolment in formal schooling, while a large
populace remains out of formal schools; madrasah education even if considered
dubious is very small; religious education is not an unusually overwhelming part of the
curriculum; and, time allocation for the same has been on decline since the past two
decades). More attention needs to be given to other in-school factors like the content of
religious education and teaching methods.
Undoubtedly, the transmission of values in a culturally and religiously diverse
world is a formidable challenge for schools. Producing global citizens when contextual
realities outside school often offset the abstract (or concrete) school-based moral and
spiritual learning is a real dilemma that deserves further scrutiny since it concerns both
educational stakeholders and wider communities. Future discussions would do well to
draw upon insights from attitudinal surveys of children in and out of school, as well as
the relative impacts of different time allocations to religious education or moral
education.
__________________________
Notes
1. For more information on the OIC see: http://www.oic-oci.org
2. The first sections of this chapter draw upon another work of the author: Globalization,
Modernization and Muslim Education in Muslim Countries (Zia 2006).
3. The 57 members of the OIC include: [Arab States:] Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq,
Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine,
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen;
[Non-Arab States:] Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Benin, Brunei-
Darussalam, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia,
Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyz Republic, Malaysia,
Maldives, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia,
Suriname, Tajikistan, Togo, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan.
4. Grouping of Arab States was based on EFA regions; see UNESCO GMR 2005.
5. The NAWE countries are: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France,
Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco,
Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and USA.
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