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Islamic Intellectual & Educational Traditions in the Malay World

Dr Azhar Ibrahim Department of Malay Studies National University of Singapore mlsai@nus.edu.sg

Seminar Outline

This seminar is divided into three main parts. The first part highlights the Islamic intellectual and educational traditions that have emerged during the period of classical Islam. These are the ( a ) philosophic and adab school ; ( b ) the tasawuf/Sufi tradition, and the dominant naqliah or orthodox-legal tradition. Each tradition projected their ideas on education and intellectualism to society at large. The second part deals on the Islamic intellectual and educational institutions that have emerged and evolved in this region namely the pondok, pesantren, langgar, surau. These were the learning centres where the kitab jawi had been produced and transmitted. The rise of the local ulamas can be traced to these institutions. The third part of the seminar will chart and evaluate the rise of modern Islamic educational and intellectual tradition in the region with the introduction of madrasahs, and later on Islamic colleges and universities. These new institutions not only reflect, but also become the site where various intellectual inclination (namely the traditionalist, the reformist and the revivalist ) are pursuing their education and dakwah. Overall this seminar, with an emphasis of the historical and sociological analysis, aims to draw attention to the importance of nurturing an educational and intellectual culture, in line with the demands and challenges of modern Muslim society.

Focus of Seminar:

Overall this seminar, with an emphasis of the historical and sociological analysis, aims to draw attention to the importance of nurturing an educational and intellectual culture, in line with the demands and challenges of modern Muslim society.


( a ) Highlighting the intellectual traditions of Islam and its link to our educational institutions

( b ) Identifying the dominant intellectual and educational traditions that have emerged in the Malay Indonesian world

( c ) Analysing the dynamic roles of human and institutional agencies that shaped the region’s religious and cultural life



The Islamic intellectual and educational traditions that have developed during the period of classical Islam.


a ) philosophic and adab school


b ) the tasawuf/Sufi tradition


c ) the dominant naqliah or orthodox doctrinal-legal tradition

Each tradition projected their ideas on education and intellectualism to society at large. These traditions existed side by side, and invariably competing for ascendancy within the Muslim societies. These competing strands demonstrated the plurality of the Islamic intellectual traditions, although the dominant strand(s) came into being often due to the patronage of the dominant establishment, or the alignment towards the latter.

General Introduction to Islamic Education

Generally Islamic educational philosophy is idealistic-normative in its orientation. No science of education per se, but all major thinkers pronounced ideas on education in some ways or another. This means the vision and objective of education is very much connected with what each thinkers/strand of ideas believes the type of human being and society that Muslims should emulate and nurture.

Moreover the divergences of views, priorities and priorities of these thought shows that there is no single or monolithic educational/intellectual thought that could represent the Islamic education thought. 1

It is also interesting to note that the educational thought by most of yje classical thinkers are primarily about the education of young by parents and teachers, at home or at school

(maktab )

Key Concerns

There are several key emphases in Muslim educational concern in the classical past. First is pertaining to human soul. Very much in its medieval expression, soul is seen as the path to knowledge or perception for it distinguishes between sensory perception and intellectual perception.

Second is on character formation (regardless of perspectives: practical philosophers emphasizing on household management; Moral philosophers and sufis on childhood

1 It is important that we do not read their ideas of education as “pristinely Islamic”, nor one idea could represent the Islamic ideas. The rich Islamic traditions speak not only of plurality of ideas but the persistent competition of ideas took place since there was a conviction to advance the most correct meaning to the Muslims in general. Therefore, romantic readings must be avoided and the need to relate as to whether these educational perspectives could help us to understand our positions today


exposure to ethics and moral training ; Jurists on rights, nursing and childhood rites ; physicians on pediatric aspects )

Third is instilling God-consciousness. That existence has purpose to fulfill the amana (trust) of God’s steward on earth. That education should be directed towards making a God-conscious person who fulfills his duties and rights.

Fourth imbibing Ethical-Morality integrity, through the acquisition or mastery of knowledge and through training (education/training) and through socialization

Divine Command on Seeking Knowledge

Seeking knowledge and reverence for knowledge is central in the Islamic doctrinal position. As summarized by one Muslim scholar: “Islam gave a great deal of importance

to reading, writing and learning. Ilm’ ( knowledge/science ) is repeatedly stressed in the

Qur’an. Some of the attributes of Allah are the alim ( knower), khabir ( informed ), etc.

‘Read’ is one of the commandments of Allah. The Qur’an says, ‘Read and thy Lord is most Generous, Who taught by the pen, Taught man what he knew not. Nay, man is

surely inordinate, because he looks upon himself as self-sufficient.’ ( Qur’an, xciv, 3-7)

Qur’an in fact equates ‘ilm with nur (light) and jahl ( ignorance ) with darkness.

The Prophet also encouraged learning by his famous saying that the ink of a scholar is more precious that the blood of a martyr.” 2



Intellectual and Educational Traditions of Classical Islam

( I ) Ikhwan al-Safa ( Brethren of Purity )

A circles of scholars of like-minded based in Basra and Baghdad. Primarily they were a

secret ethico-religious circle, as a reactionary force during the Abbasid period. Launched an encyclopedia entitled Rasail Ikhwan al-Safa, completed by 372 A.H, with 53 Epistles

in it.

Objectives: Uphold faith and build a utopian spiritual city, where everyone has a place.

“The general aim of educating the citizens of the ‘Expected Realm of Righteousness’ is repeatedly stated to be the refinement (tahdhib) of the soul and the purification (tathir ) of the moral.”

2 Asghar Ali Engineer, “Perspectives on Islam and Philosophy,” in M.T Ansari (ed.) Secularism, Islam and modernity : selected essays of Alam Khundmiri. (New Delhi, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001), p.



They divided sciences in 3 classes


a ) Mathematics:


b ) Physics


c ) Metaphysics: ( i ) psycho-rationalism ( ii) theology, law, politics etc

On acquisition of knowledge: 3 ways


1 ) by means of senses


2 ) by means of reason


3 ) by way of initiation and authority ( from master/teacher )

Notion of plurality and cosmopolitanism

Highly eclectic in their philosophical affliation. It is their eclecticism which had brought them into much conflict with both the theologians and philosophers

Central ideas in Education

( a ) The aptitude to learn belongs to the soul alone. The objective of teaching is to purify the souls of the taught, so parents and teachers are important agents as transmitters and moulders of values and precepts.

( b ) A child acquires habits, knowledge, doctrines and hobbies by imitation as a result of contact with those around him. A child often consider his parents as perfect as he imitates them.

Stages of Education/Instruction

Elementary (maktab) on reading, writing, al-Quran, history and literature under a teacher ( muallim ) – Learning through the method of imla’ ( dictation ) and talqin (instruction) without much reasoning deliberation since the reasoning faculty ( alquwwa al-aqila) is yet to be developed. But beyond fifteen years of age, the methods of bath (discussion) and mudhakara ( deliberation ) were added, apart from the possibility of ilham ( divine inspiration )

The Brethern emphasized great effort on educating the youth, for moulding of their mind will be at its best, in comparison to adults, who are deemed to have acqyited “false opinions, bad habits and wild morals.” As mentioned in the Rasail:

“Know that the mind before it receives a science or a belief is like white clean paper with no writing on it. If anything, right or wrong, is written on it, then the space is covered, and it will be difficult either to erase what has been written or to write something else beside it.”


Ibn Sina ( Avicenna ) 980- 1037 AD

A comprehensive vision : Overall growth of an individual: physical, mental, and moral.

Also a training of a particular trade/craft in which one performs in society. His concern

is on

“The making of an upright citizen, sound in body and mind, and preparing him for some intellectual or a practical work.”

The specialization stage either on one’s craft or trade, or to those who are capable and desire so, expose to philosophical/theoretical training.

He discussed in details on the educational stages for human being, especially giving priority to childhood training:


1 ) Infant stage ( birth to second year )


2 ) Childhood stage ( 3 rd to 5 th year )


3 ) First stage of teaching ( 6 th to 14 th year )


4 ) Specialised education ( 14 th year onwards )

Aspects of education that is to be appropriated and considered, apart from the basic Quranic literacy. These are: (a) the link between educational and vocational or occupational needs of the children so that they could function in society ; ( b ) physical exercise or play to develop the motor skills ; ( c ) music, so as to brings the feeling of joy, purity and exaltation in perceiving harmony and discord, treble and bass etc. ; ( d ) recitation and appreciation of poetry, the latter with moral message of being in good conduct, eloquence in speech and acts etc

On Moral Education:

The Importance of ( a ) giving incentives and ( b ) preventive measures. He calls for refraining of physical punishment for it lead to more negative result

Ibn Miskawaih ( 932 1030 A.D. )

On the Centrality of Ethics in Muslim thought:

“The purpose of knowledge in Islam is to reach Truth ( ie God ) whereas the purpose of ethics is to behave in accordance with this truth ( ie God’s law).

Therefore, ethics has been the main interest of Muslims since it deals with the fundamental nature of all actions in Islam, and by extension, the nature of the Islamic law (shariah ). To put it another way, ethics for a Muslim are the practical implications of his faith in God…It is ethics that, according to the

and it is ethics that

distinguishes man from his fellow man, though otherwise they would enjoy the

same status.”

Quran, enables man to fulfil the purpose of his creations…


Thahdib al-akhlaq ( Refinement of Character ) his magnum pus, which exerted considerable influence to the traditions of Muslim ethics in the classical period, such that it influenced Al-Ghazali, Nasuruddin al Tusi and Jalal al-Din al-Dawwani.

The supremacy of ethics in human being’s education. The ultimate purpose of man’s education is to attain saadah ( happiness ).

“Whoever in his youth happens to be brought up by the rules of Shariah and is made to observe its duties and provisions until he is habituated, then studies books of ethics until these manners and good qualities are confirmed in his soul by proof; then he studies arithmetic and geometry, so he becomes accustomed to true speech and correct demonstrations.”

The training of the young includes the following:


a ) Praising to the young when they do good things


b ) Abstinence from luxury of food, drink and fine clothing


c ) Admire generous traits


d ) Be warned of punishment of misdeed.

The Importance of Man rectifying his own Defects


a ) By asking friends to tell our defects


b ) By knowing it through our enemy

( c ) By mixing with people and ascribe to oneself the defects he sees in others

( Miskawahy quoting Al-Kindi’s position )

Miskawaih favours a general love for humankind because no human community can exist without it. Those who choose to remain in cloisters, away from society ( for fear of corruption ) was criticized by him since perfection of ethics could only be possible amongst other human beings. His ethics emphasizes social ethics, which includes both an individual and social conscience.

In short perfection of human soul and the intellect and morality, in order to attain saadah, cam only be attained through human efforts through education and socialization.

Al-Ghazali ( 1050 1111 A.D.)

The primacy of knowledge and education in his thought, attested by the first section of his famous Ihya Ulumuddin [The Revival of Religious Sciences] is the Book of Knowledge

The hallmark of his educational vision is a synthetic ones, blending the traditions of legal, philosophical and mystical educational thinking. But he prefers, due to the tumultuous contexts of his time, a thinking that is characterized by continuity and stability rather than change and innovation. Somehow his conservatism is reflected in his classification of sciences, which in Muslim intellectual history had caused much confusion in relation to the importance and primacy of knowledge that Muslims should acquire and master.


Educational Ideas

Al-Ghazali educational ideas represent the traditional orthodox position, which made strong impact in the Sunni world.

In his educational thought, the training of the young is given attention:

( a ) Parental role at home, which provides the environment for the children to practice their religious obligations eg, parents to ensure prayers, fasting etc

( b ) Socialization in the acquisition of good character. Parent take charge of peer group which the child is mixing with. Keep away the child from “men of letters or poets” – suggest the potential corruption of the mind that could ensue.

( c ) Habituation. cultivation of good habit ; eg. on the good manners and habits of sleeping, eating, and social disposition ; prevent form indulging in luxury

Ghazali main educational thought spread through his works, but primarily in Kitab al ‘Ilm and Mizan al Amal. Nevertheless, the primacy of his treatment is moralistic education of children and the bulk of it on the curriculum and educational method of adult who are to be initiated into religious or mystical training.

On Curriculum Classification of sciences and justification of its significance and priorities ( including prohibition against the “undesirable” )

Al-Ghazali gave more priorities on the study of how to cultivate to morality and piety in order to be practiced in life, rather than an advance, systematic theoretical studies.

( Think of its impact )

* The Path to be Chosen: On seeking knowledge through human effort (reasoning ) OR through the cultivation of character to purify the soul, in the fashion of the mystics/Sufis. Both are legitimate as both can also be complemented, as demonstrated in his life.

Nevertheless, as demonstrated in the later part of his life, his priorities was more on the sufistic dimension of the religion. To human sciences, to him are superficial. H e considered Sufism as the best approach, leading man to positive knowledge about God and life:

“ I apprehend clearly that the mystics are men who had real experiences, not men of words, and that I had already progressed as far as possible by way of intellectual apprehension. What remained for me was not to be attained by oral instruction and study, but only by immediate experience and by walking in the mystic way.”

Main ideas of Al-Ghazali:

1. Primary essentials of religion can be had only through revelation


3. Reason can be source of knowledge, but not the only source since revelation and intuition are another two sources

“ Reason is similar to a healthy vision and the Quran is similar to the bright sun. The one who seeks guidance in one of them without the other is certainly among the stupid. If he thinks that the light of the Quran suffices him without reason, then he is comparable to one who exposes himself to the light of the sun with his eyelids shut, then there is no difference between him and the blind, for ( the existence of ) reason with Shariah is like light upon light.”

4. Philosophy is nothing more than common sense, so it cannot give truth equal to revelation

5. God is the cause of all that we see around as also of ourselves

6. Reason cannot help us to know God, but only intuition is possible.

Ibn Taymiyya ( d. 728/1328 )

Ibn Taymiyya’s idea was conditioned very much by the historical development of his time. The sacked of Baghdad by Mongols, with the consequent rise of sufism and the general breakdown of social fabric, could explain the reason for the affiliation with orthodoxy in his thinking. His position affirms the importance of Muslims to return to the salafs teaching, deemed as the pristine and authentic paradigm. Thus he opposed, to the prevailing ideas and beliefs of his time, such as:


a ) The speculative hellenic inspired philosophy


b ) The excesses of sufistic thinking


c ) The accretions of popular beliefs ( kurafat )


Curriculum – must all be directed at man’s endeavour to submit to Allah swt. Quran and Sunnah as primary authority

Distinction made between science and vocation. Science refers to body of knowledge that would enhance man’s life, refining it as a person. Vocations primarily the practical knowledge/skill/craft needed for man’s functioning in society.

Taymiyyah broadened the category of what should constitute in the curriculumsuitable and needed for his context, eg swimming, riding and military skills

Excluded from his curriculum ( compare Ibn Sina’s ) are: poetry, philosophy and music. deemed as harmful and superfluous, if not could lead to the tarnishing of aqidah

Incumbent upon Muslims to seek knowledge. But as we are living in a complex society, the obligations are grouped into three: ( a ) fard’ ayn ( eg learning Quran and Hadith ) ; ( b ) fard kifayah ( eg, medicine , law ) ; ( c ) mustahabb( sunnah ) highly recommended


Traditional religious parlance/idioms is very much part of Taymiyya’s deliberation on education. A pious, God-conscious is a model learner. Educations primarily couched in religious terms. In seeking knowledge, the drive towards purifying the heart is fundamental, which in turn dependent upon one’s ibadah and self-contemplation. Eg, overcoming the desires of lower passions and the power of the mind.

Without it, acquiring knowledge will be affected, especially the danger of acquiring a partial knowledge. One must avoid becoming half or mediocre logician/jurist/physicians -- which will have great effect to society.

By a traditionalist-reformist, Taymiyya deliberated a detailed approach to learning and knowledge. Herein lies the significance of his ‘reformistic’ bend, that is through education. He spend time not only to deliberate on which knowledge should be prioritized, but also how it should be learned and mastered. In addition he noted how teachers themselves should conduct teaching. Among others he delineated the need of :

(a ) aware of learners’ capacity ( differentiated study )


b ) graduation of learning ( progression not static )


c ) integration of theory and practice


d ) applying diversity of methods

Teachers are made to ensure, among others, that they should not misled their students into esoteric teachings or leading them into enmity and hatred etc. (Refer article by Abdullah S. Al-Fahd, p. 17 )

Methods of teachings could be devised appropriately according to the needs such as ( a ) lectures ; ( b ) dictation ; ( c ) correspondence ; ( d ) discussion and debate ; ( e ) by practice and exemplary ; ( e ) socratic method of questions and answers.

It is in this context that one can see the divergence of his views on education. A comparison to that of Ibn Sina’s liberality and Taymiyyah’s orthodoxy is a good example.

Taymiyya’s affirmation of serving God, while noting the excesses which may be the result of ( misled ) sufistic thinking :

“Man is the servant of God, and in the service of God lies his perfection and glory. The more one serves God, the more perfect one is. If he thinks that he can transcend the boundaries of servanthood, or that transcendence is a mark of perfection, he is most ignorant, and most removed from the right path.”

Taymiyyah’s position is clear on Sufism/tareqat, as long as it does not commit bidaah

( unauthorized innovation )


Ibn Khaldun ( 1332- 1406 A.D. )

Ibn Khaldun is one of the great thinkers of medieval Islam. --recognized as a historian whose writing espoused the correct understanding and presenting of history.

Ibn Khaldun and Human Reason

In his writing, -- constant affirmation of the importance and the gift of human thinking to mould his destiny, to co-operate amongst them as well as to comprehend the teachings of the religion.

“God distinguished man from all the other animals by an ability to think……Man has this [ perception] advantage over other beings: he can perceive things outside his essence through his ability to think ”

Reason and causal analysis was highly valued by Ibn Khaldun. His project to study and examine society and culture by rational approach made him to be regarded by some traditionalist, as a “secular rationalist” :

“ The ability to think is the quality of man by which human beings are distinguished from other living beings. The degree to which a human being is able to establish an orderly causal chain determines his degree of humanity.”

As a historian, Ibn Khaldun gave primacy to empirical and rationalistic thought and his aversion to metaphysical discussion is obvious.

Ibn Khaldun's advice on acquiring and mastering knowledge, and one element he noted is the efficacy of logic in human discourse :

" Man ability to think is a special gift that God created exactly as He created all

means the beginning of orderly and well

His other creations


arranged human actions ”



craft of logic ( knowledge of

the ) way in which ability to think and

speculate operates. Logic describes it, so that correct operation ………… ”

Ibn Khaldun and Knowledge

The wide-ranging issues and problems that were taken up and elaborated show the broad intellectual horizon to this fourteenth century thinker. His breath of knowledge is profound, not only in its varieties but also his in-depth understanding, albeit in its medieval peculiarities.

---the aim and use of knowledge must be directed towards in human living. ---contrary to the medieval religious savants, who in their fervor of affirming divine sciences neglected the sciences of social dimensions which is no less emphasized in Islam.


---quest for knowledge, has no boundaries, as long as it fulfill the purpose of man’s improvement and perfection, as encapsulated in his assertion:

“The accidents involved in every manifestation of nature and intellect deserve study. Any topic that is understandable and real requires its own special science.”

Ibn Khaldun regretted very much some of the attitude of fear amongst Muslim in regards to learning and accepting the sciences and knowledge from other civilization.:

“ When Muslims conquered Persia and came upon an indescribably large

number of books and scientific papers, Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas wrote to Umar bin al-Khattab asking him for permission to take them and distribute them as booty among the Muslims. On that occasion, Umar wrote him: ‘Throw them in the water. If what they contain is right guidance, God has given us better guidance. If it is error, God has protected us against it.”

Three types of knowledge were identified by Ibn Khaldun:


I ) Knowledge of essences


II ) Knowledge of the material and of human cultures


III ) Knowledge pertaining moral

Although he made a claim that his intellectual project is original and pioneering, ---he did not subscribed to the idea of a fixed and final discourse or intellectual pursuit. Humbly, noted that insightful scholars may develop and perfected his science in the future,

“ A person who creates a new discipline does not have the task of enumerating all the individual problems connected with it. His task is to specify the subject of the discipline and its various branches and the discussions connected with it. His ancestors, then, may gradually add more problems, until the discipline is completely presented.”

Ibn Khaldun and Education

To give the children primarily the Quranic education is not suffice. This is the point he made when comparing the educational approach as practiced in the Maghrib and the Muslim Spain.( Andalusia ) In the latter, he noted, its comprehensive training of language, poetry and rhetoric, apart from the study of Quran and hadith, resulted in an environment, conducive for intellectual growth.

He agrees to the idea of Ibn Arabi on the approach of imparting knowledge to our children. Foremost they are to be taught poetry and philology, followed by mastering arithmetic and “ then go on to the study of the Quran, because with his ( previous ) preparation, it will be easy for him…” Hence, after agreeing to Ibn Arabi, Ibn Khaldun reflected upon the same problem in his own society,

“ How thoughtless are our compatriots in that they teach children the Quran

when they first starting out. They read things they do not understand and work hard at something that is not as important for them as other matters……The


student should study successively the principles of Islam, the principles of jurisprudence, disputation, and then the Prophetic traditions and the sciences connected with them…”

Ibn Khaldun points out the problems and consequences of imprinting an authoritarian mindset or character to the young:

“ Severe punishment in the course of instruction does harm to the student, especially to little children, because it belongs among ( the things that make for a ) bad habit . Students, slaves, and servants who are brought up with injustice and ( tyrannical ) force are overcome by it. It makes them feel oppressed and causes them to lose their energy. It makes them lazy and induces them to lie and be insincere. That is their outward behaviour differs from what they are thinking, because they are afraid that they will have to suffer tyrannical treatment ( if they tell the truth ). Thus, they are taught deceit and trickery. This becomes their custom and character. They lose the quality that goes with social and political organization and makes people human, namely, ( the desire to ) protect and defend themselves and their homes, and they become dependent on others. Indeed, their souls become too indolent to ( attempt to ) acquire the virtues and good character qualities. Thus they fall short of their potentialities and do not reach the limit of their humanity. As a result, they revert to the stage of the lowest of the low.”

“That is what happened to every nation that fell under the yoke of tyranny and learned through it the meaning of injustice. One may check this by (observing) any person who is not in control of his own affairs and has no authority on his side to guarantee his (safety)………Thus, a teacher must not be too severe toward his pupil, nor father toward his son, in educating them …”

There are a number of educational practices which Ibn Khaldun outlined so as to achieve the desired goals in education. Among others are:

( 1 ) matching the level of comprehension of students while teaching them. The method

must be gradual and revisions are needed so as to give good grounding to the subject matter;


2 ) memorization should be avoided;


3 ) subjects should not be taught in a broken sequence and


4 ) it should be taught in appropriate length ;


5 ) two subjects should not be taught together for fear of incomplete mastery and


6 ) the interacting with scholars located elsewhere so as to learn from them ; and

( 7 ) ensuring that theoretical learning must be accompanied by practical application, that is education must be practical rather than theoretical.

In short, the cultivation of the skills and ability to think is very much emphasized by Ibn Khaldun.

Not only he laid out the fundamentals and correct approach of learning, he also reminds of the psychological impediments which should taken into consideration.

Ibn Khaldun also briefly discussed on the types of study or research that are commonly practiced, thus giving us some ideas of a scholar’s preoccupation.


Ibn Khaldun divided science into:

( i ) rational, which means philosophical sciences, comprising of mathematics and metaphysics.

logic, physics,

( ii ) traditional or religious sciences concerning the study of Quran, Hadith, fiqh, kalam and tafsir.

( iii ) linguistic sciences, referring to grammar, rhetoric, philology and literature.

Ibn Khaldun and the Science of Culture ( Ilm al- Umran )

Ilm al-umran as he elaborated in Muqadimah, according to him is a new science which he theorised and considered it as " something new, extraordinary and highly useful." But after claming that he delienated an original science, he noted that the science could be developed further. A basic premise of this new science is elaborated briefly:

“The criterion for distinguishing truth from falsehood in the [study of historical] reports according to [their] possibility and impossibility [ is to be found] in our study of human society (i.e. culture ). We must distinguish between: ( a ) the modes pertaining to its essence and invoked its nature, ( b ) that which is accidental and need not be reckoned with, and ( c ) that which cannot possibly occur in it. When this is done, we will have a criterion…demonstratively infallible.”



Islamisation of the Nusantara and the Emergence of Educational centres

“Thus the Islaimic faith had, in many respects, a revolutionising and modernizing effect on Indonesian and Malay society.”

W. F Wertheim, Indonesian Society in Transition

Prior Islamization, Hindu-Buddhistic was the dominant religion, but was more confined amongst the upper strata, while majority of the people were very animistic in their beliefs. But the coming


of Islam, would change the form and content of the Malay-Indonesian peoples. The spread of Islam in the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago as early as the eleventh century. The process of Islamization was gradual, beginning from the coastal regions. The agents of Islamization were diverse. ( eg. thre role played by traders, sufi missionaries, local rulers etc) Thus there was no monolithic Islam in terms of its orientations.

Although, we agree that Islam shaped the worldview and values of the Malays of Southeast Asia, it is important that we are aware that the religion, like other cultural or ideological phenomena, is historically conditioned. Put simply, religion/civilization is invariably conditioned by its surrounding e.g. historical experience of the people, group interest and intellectual climate

Three main variants/ orientations of Islam, namely the Feudalistic, the Sufistic and the Humanistic emerged and penetrated in varying degree in the Malay world. Historically, these orientations were competing for predominance. Inevitably, the orientations which were favoured by the ruling class ( feudalistic Islam and speculative sufism ) predominated Malay religious thoughts.

( 1 ) The Sufistic Orientation

*an affirmative and devotional Sufism ( ascetic- mystic and frugal living ) Generally, Sufism means an intuitive /inward approach in religion, practicing simplicity and frugality and shunning away from this worldly excesses. The goal is to attain perfection in life and salvation in the next life.

But throughout history, Sufism had been defined and interpreted by many in many ways, some clearly depart from its original aim.

*otherworldly and speculative sufistic tendencies [ Mysticism ] total rejection of the world or any form of participation of this worldly affairs. The goal of life is to attain union with the Creator the idea of human perfection limited ( if not against ) the values as enjoined by Islam.

This orientation can be clearly seen in the medieval Malay sufi works, especially as espoused by Hamzah Fansuri [ see Hamzah’s poems and syarah ( lectures in prose ) ]

* also Sufism in its popularized versiondubbed also as pseudo-sufis and many are charged as devitionist

( 2 ) The Feudalistic Orientation

It is primarily a type of religious orientation that manifested/practiced amongst the feudal ruling class ( Rajas, sultans, chiefs, courtiers and their supporters ) In this orientation, the values of Islam being interpreted to suit their group’s ideological interest --as such Islam was interpreted and understood in an authoritarian fashion. Total obedience to the ruler, regardless of any ethical or religious considerations, was regarded as service to God. Submission to the ruler was absolute even though he was a tyrant. Also the feudalistic values exhibited dualistic values, whereby sensate practices were glorified alongside paying lip-service to the religious ideals.


( 3 ) The Humanistic Orientation

An orientation which advocated values that very much ‘closer’ to the Islamic ideals. Amongst the values that it prioritize is justice and equality ; dignity and centrality of man is foremost accorded; the recognition of the use of reason ( akal ) so as to enable man to attain perfection; emphasis on the importance of justice, man’s accountability and of knowledge to enlighten man’s life.

Theosophical Sufism amongst the Malays of Southeast Asia

Syed Muhammad Naguib al-Attas accorded a high appraisal of the Sufism which penetrated into Malay religious thought, especially as pioneered by Hamzah Fansuri, a Malay sufi-poet in the seventeenth century Acheh ( N Sumatra ).

It was through Islam, and specifically, the discourse of mysticism as initiated by Hamzah Fansuri

, that gave a substantive intellectual contribution to Malay thought. To Al-Attas, his mystical

tracts where he propounded his doctrines, were the first systematic and rationalistic discourse

which appeared in Malay language.

In general, Islam noted Al-Attas, introduced modernity and rationality in Malay worldview:

Hamzah Fansuri’s Poems ( syair ) and Prose ( mystical tracts )

Hamzah’s wrote eloquent verse and prose to expound the doctrine of Wahdatul Wujud ( Unity of Being ) which primarily aimed bringing the life of the sufis to reach the goal of unity with the Creator. However, this would only be possible, according to him if man devote absolutely to; ( a ) the sufi way/path ( tareqat ); ( b ) understanding the Reality ( hakikat ); ( c ) comprehending and attaining esoteric-wisdom/gnosis ( makrifat ) and ( d ) abiding the religious law ( shariat )

Other points in his teachings: ( a ) denial of man’s self, ie. Self-annihilation; ( b ) absolute renouncement of all material and earthly relations; ( c ) that the world is illusion; ( d ) avoid superficiality in religious life ( ie following religious law but devoid of its spiritual conviction ; ( e ) combating human passion [ nafsu ] ; ( f ) that knowledge worth pursuing is only the sufi mysticism ( Love of God ) and ( g ) as such the exercise of man’s reasoning should be shunned away because mystical intuition is the fountain of knowledge; ( i ) the importance of man to look introspectively of his spiritual condition ( know thyself so as to know God )

Theosophical Sufism that penetrated into Malay religious life, historically had much support of

the Malay ruling class. But Sufism may not necessarily understood as an inward or intuitive approach in religion, because like in many medieval religion, mysticism was other associated with

a kind of magical or supernatural powers. ( as documented in medieval Malay court chronicle )

The growth of Sufism, with its ‘tolerant’ and ‘humanistic’ concern facilitate the spread of Islam

in the earlier phase of Islamization. The growth of tareqat ( sufi brotherhood/ order ) in Southeast Asia. Eg. Naqshabandiah order etc


The Emergence of indigenous Islamic educational institutions

The second part deals on the Islamic intellectual and educational institutions that have emerged and evolved in this region namely the pondok, pesantren, langgar, surau.

a ) The use of Kitab Jawi ( the Kitab tradition in the Malay-Indonesian world )


These were the learning centres where the kitab jawi had been produced and transmitted.

b ) The Ulama Nexus, Regional and International


The rise of the local ulamas can be traced to these institutions.

Please refer to Azyumardi Azra, “Education, Law, Mysticism: Constructing Social Realities,” in Mohd Taib Osman (ed.) Islamic Civilization in the Malay World. ( KL:

DBP, 1997)



The Emergence of Madrasah, Islamic Colleges and Universities

The third part of the seminar will chart and evaluate the rise of modern Islamic educational and intellectual tradition in the region with the introduction of madrasahs, and later on Islamic colleges and universities. These new institutions not only reflect, but also become the site where various intellectual inclination (namely the traditionalist, the reformist and the revivalist ) are pursuing their education and dakwah.

Impact of Modernity on Muslim Education

Reform and Change : Rethinking Muslim Education

Modernity making sense of our position in the midst of changes wrought within and without our society

19 th Century Reformers noted the backwardness of Muslim societies --did not make much progress in sciences although their huge amount of resources in the modernization plan by Muslims governments. The reason for this inertia, is the absence of philosophic spirit within the education system itself:

“The reason is that teaching the philosophical sciences was impossible in those schools,


and because of the non-existence of philosophy, no fruit was obtained from those sciences that are like limbs. Undoubtedly, if the spirit of philosophy had been in those schools, during this period of sixty years they themselves, independent of the European countries, would have striven to reform their kingdoms in accord with science. Also, they would not send their sons each year to European countries for education, and they would not invite teachers from there to their schools. I may say that if the spirit of philosophy were found in a community, even if that community did not have one of those sciences whose subject is particular, undoubtedly their philosophic spirit would call for acquisition of all the sciences.”

The challenges is not just about keeping up, but how our historical and traditional heritage/culture are made relevant for the fast changing environment

One of the challenges is to ensure that Muslim educational ideas and institution function effectively and substantively for Muslim individuals and community. We need to build a pool of Muslim intelligentsias who are functional in their society , having the traits of

(a) identifying constantly of the needs and challenges of his society ;

(b) defining the issues and challenges confronted by his community in particular and of humanity in general ;


analyzing and scrutinizing responsibly on the issues and challenges confronted


upon diagnosing it, able to suggest alternatives and solutions out of the predicaments ;


emphatising of the challenges by his community and society in general, buttressed by a

sense of hope

Overcall call for overhaul in Muslim education of its philosophy, pedagogy, and methodology of assessment, curriculum planning etc

Quranic notion of knowledge and education revisited after a long history of ‘accretion and development since the medieval past. To accept what the past formulation as intrinsically “islamic” is tantamount of limiting the universal values of Islam and historical denial.

Islamizing Knowledge and Education The search for consolidating and redefining Islamic education was made in the 1977 Mecca Conference -- Saudi sponsorship a movement towards Islamization of education. The creation of Islamic Universities the call for Islamizing knowledge, science, language etc

Several propounders


a ) Syed Naguib Al-Attas


b ) Ismail Faruqi


c ) Syed Hossein Nasr


d ) and its criticisms eg by Fazlur Rahman

Fazlur Rahman’s Call for Reforms

Quranic vision knowledge that will be of beneficial result to mankind science as serviceable to mankind apart from physical universe, it counts the human minds( al-nufus ) historical studies of societies – studying one’s and others to further understand the humanity – this understanding leads to sociological discernment


Yet the normative ideals as pronounced can only be legitimately called “quranic” or “Islamic” if it is present in Muslim society and that the present educational institutions nurture, support and develop it creatively and critically

Fazlur Rahman problematizng “our present problem” and call for reconstruction of educational system According to him

“our society suffers from an almost universal indifference and apathy to the importance of knowledge. It is ironical, indeed, that a people whose religious teaching takes its stand squarely on the platforms of knowledge and whose predecessors have accomplishments to show to the world which are truly dazzling in all the branches of knowledge, should care so little for the acquisition of learning and set so little value on it.”


a ) Ideological (dis)orientation amongst Muslims


b ) Dualism of educational policy and practices. Outmoded educational philosophy and

curriculum resisting adaptations ( c ) Language underdevelopment since “ pure concepts never arise in mind ; concepts take their birth along with words. If there are no words ( because the is no adequate language ) fruitful

concepts are not born,

( d ) Pedagogical and examination methods that need radical change

The place of Ethics in Islamic education needs serious attention

How to place emphasis on personal ethics into one that is more communitarian and universal. -How much the science of ethics are studied in our curriculum - A rich ethical tradition deliberated and developed in the classical past remain neglected today

The curriculum of Al-Azhar and the Sunni world Ahmed Shalabi noted the inadequacy of the curriculum not up to date with the vast changes occurring in society a look into Al-Azhar’s curriculum. The latter may be able to resist western encroachment but it lacked its internal dynamo for growth outmoded curriculum associated with “authenticity” – modernization of Azhar was superficial--

Educational Dualism in Developing Muslim societies : Malaysian case

Historical precedent ; imitative planning in post-independent period colonial model adhered dilemma of parents to choose between national secular and religious traditional the latter jealosy guarded while the former given priority highlight bureaucratic problems and the will to change -

The Reforms within more effective from Without Indonesian Pesantren --Rethinking the use of kitab kuning materials and perspectives reconstruction of educational methods of pesantren is greatly needed fiqh overemphasis neglect the fundamental methods of induction and cognitive predominates theological deliberation limited only to the favoured schools without exposure to others

But the most significant aspect, albeit its limitations, is that madrasas provide educational avenues for the majority poor


Post 911 saw some madrasahs being made responsible for breeding grounds for radicalism and extremism

Refiorming Madrasah/ Sekolah Agama.

(1 ) Introducing “secular” subjects in these schools so that the graduates will remain relevant for the modern economy and society.

( 2 ) Introduction of kalam philosophy into Pesantren/Madrasah

-- Theology taking up the universal subject matters yet grounded contextually - -- Training and exposure in philosophy will open path for criticism, skepticisms and


(3 ) Tackling Exclusivism of Madrasahs in the Multi-cultural Contexts. ( Madrasah coming into terms with Pluralism ) --allowing different sects and religion study together -- faith based schools being inclusive -- madrasah teaching the ‘other’ faiths/creeds

“In the global community towards which mankind is moving, it would be unfortunate if diversity was lost, but diversity does not mean isolation from the main stream, nor can it be achieved by focusing only on common or shared values. A better understanding in a pluralist society requires being sympathetically aware of the points of difference as well. Pluralism cannot be achieved by isolated educational systems, nor can be a better mutual understanding be developed without learning about each other’s beliefs and practices. A comprehensive religious education enlightens not only by removing misunderstanding and prejudices about each other, but in the process the person being educated may perhaps achieve even a better understanding of his and her own identity.

Creative Alternatives

Open Madrasah for a new society, nor fulfilling society’s urgent need -- source of education for the poor. The institution as a malleable that could be tailored for contemporary needs

Concrete reforms and Teacher Training

Higher levels of Islamic studies, that would produce pools for teacher-trainees IAIN Reforms in Indonesia : educational focus away from traditional approach, in the areas of:


a ) Curriculum


b ) Teaching styles/methods


c ) Critical discourse and analysis


d ) Appropriation of social sciences


e ) Thorough grounding in classical Islam


f ) Contextual exposure with local milieu


Challenges and Issues in Reforming Islamic Education


1 ) On the importance of integrated curriculum --To address dualism in education


2 ) On religious education in multi-cultural contexts


3 ) Philosophy and Social sciences in Religious Education and Religious studies

( 4 ) Open madrasah and access of education and its quality and viability to society’s and nation’s needs

( 5 ) Madrasah curriculum in planning for not just the socio-eco needs of the society’s but also on aspects of democratic morale, civicness and multiculturalism

( 6 ) Muslims creative responses to the modern world and Western-derived knowledge

The developing Muslim world needs more creative and critical engagement with the West, always focusing on how best and to what extent that should learn from the latter, and how Muslims to can contribute towards the present humanity as they had accomplished before. In addition, as long as Muslims are subjected of fear that Western ideas are all out to undermine them, there could never be a proactive attitude in dealing with Western ideas.

As such, “those who believe that Islam is still a living force” noted Muhsin Mahdi “cannot be afraid of such an open encounter with modern Western culture.” (Mahdi 1988, pp. 72-73). Mahdi also points to the naivety of certain Muslim circles that think that Muslims need only to learn the Western scientific and technological advances, while its thinking and culture must be shunned for fear it would only contaminate Muslims’ mind. He asked Muslims whether such a distinction is tenable for there are serious ramifications of this position. Its persistency will only mean a superficial understanding of the Western culture and its path to progress and development.

During the period of religious revivalism, many Muslim circles subscribed to the romantic idea of an Islamic golden age that produced the “authentic” and glorious education system, producing many scientists and thinkers. This enamoured enthusiasm of a pristine Islamic model went hand in hand with a clamour for the search of the so-called Islamic epistemology of various realms of knowledge, including education. In several Muslim countries, the Islamisation of education becomes a celebrated project, though many core educational issues, such as educational access and infrastructures, curriculum and pedagogical practices, teacher-training and the like are much more important than those ‘Islamic epistemic’ fervor. Such misplaced concern is further aggravated by an absent of critical intellectual circles, while the state power appropriating Islamic symbolism to cover up their inabilities to address fundamentals issues and policies of their countries.

Today, Muslims’ societies, like all other Third World nations, face surmountable challenges in building educational infrastructure, with often low budget given to education, alongside an underdeveloped intellectual culture beset by many factors, such as repressive authorities, clerical interference and brain drain due to political instability and economic depravity. The challenge today for Muslims is no longer about choosing between Western knowledge and the Islamic ones. Muslims, like all other believers, need to ensure that its educational endeavour is one that imbue a strong critical and creative dimensions, always at the forefront in blending the


endogenous and exogenous knowledge, according to their contextual needs, while envisaging to contribute knowledge to the larger humanity. As a saying attributed to the Prophet: “The best among you is he who is best for people”. Today, Muslims have to grapple which of their past traditions can be made relevant today, inasmuch as the creatively select the best of the modern knowledge and sciences for their own development.

All societies, not excluding Muslim societies, are subjected to changes and are in need of an education for change. The functioning of a modern society cannot afford a sector within it to remain aloof or ambivalent about the changes that are taking place around them. “In our age it is not enough,” writes Mannheim, “to say that this or that educational system or theory or policy is good. We have to determine for what it is good, for which historical aims it stands and whether we want this educational result.” This is exactly expressed within the Islamic religious educational institution in Indonesia ( known as pesantren), that often cites an Arabic proverb which form part of their ideals that is “to conserve the good of the past, and to appropriate the best of the present.” (Al-Muhafazhatu ‘ala al-qadim ash-shalih wal-akhdzu bil-jadid al-ashlah )

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