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Imam Ghazali’s Educational Views

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The great Imam Ghazali was born in the year 1058 in Tus (Persia) nowadays Iran. Imam Ghazali was educated by one of the greatest theologians of his time by the name of Imam al-Juwayni who was also known as Imam al-Haramayn. At the age of 33 he was given a leading teaching position in the Nizamiyya higher educational institute, a well-established Sunni theological institution in Baghdad. Imam Ghazali realized that the intellectual fame he was receiving for his academic work had placed his spiritual wellbeing in great danger. He then delved into the philosophy of Sufiism by leading a life of self-discipline. This was towards the end of his life after experiencing life, teaching and learning and debating with many, he came to realization that he was missing out on the spiritual part of his life in comparison to the emphasized usage of rationality. We read into his life, spiritual experiences and personal development, which have been reflected in his book ‘al-Munqidh min al-Dalaal’ (‘Deliverance from Error’). It was during this time he produced ‘Ihya Ulum al-Din’ (‘The Revival of Religious Sciences’). Later he returned to Persia and passed away in the year 1111. Imam Ghazali’s best work on the topic of moral and practical foundations of education is found in his epistle ‘Ayyuhal al-Walad’ (‘Oh, Son’) (Cook 2010). I will briefly discuss both of these books to derive some of his educational theories and juxtapose with today’s Islamic education system.

According to Imam Ghazali, the aim of teaching and learning should be the study of the divine knowledges, and sciences which bring humans closer to their creator by making them realize purpose of living and breathing, otherwise they are useless (‘Ayyuha al-Walad’). Many critiques disagree whether this book was written for senior Muslim higher educational institutions or just for lay people to learn the basics of knowledge and get closer to God almighty. Because, question arises why the students of higher educational colleges wouldn’t not know the basic purpose of seeking knowledge which is gaining closeness to the almighty as well as critically reflect over their learning during student days. He encourages students to attain the ‘pearl’ or the ‘treasure’, which is knowledge of the hereafter, however he does not discourage other branches of sciences, but then again, he deems them to be lower. He believes that the education of children should be of guidance, being on the right path, mannerism, being nurtured or being civilized/cultured, rather than correcting them (‘Ihya ulum al-Din’), and this pedagogical idea of education was repeated in many Islamic medieval writings.

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We discussed during our seminars with Dr Abdullah on this concept of Adab, some have said the Greek concept humanism of Paidea literally being civilized or cultured in Greek, it was transmitted into Syriac then into the Arabic literature. We as readers of medieval classical writings must be critical of the textbooks, background of the Authors as well as their location with political contexts etc. What I mean is that, Imam Ghazali was not an Arab, rather he was a Persian Sunni Muslim with mastery in Arabic language, and he actually wrote his ‘Ayyuhal al-Walad’ (later transmitted as book) in the Farsi language, which was later translated in Arabic.

We also notice of Imam Ghazali’s educational ideas, his pedagogical abilities and his teaching experiences confirms him to be a distinguished educator rather than simply a pious spiritual scholar. From his writings, there can be seen two things significant to education: one is that he mixed his Persian cultural values with Arabic as well as ancient Greek values and morals of education which he presented as Sufi values, and the second is that any spiritual study must begin with traditional Islamic belief. He considered the religious sciences as the main body of studies for those seeking higher education (Gunther 2006).

The educational ideas of Imam Ghazali are contained mainly in his 'Ihya ulum ad-Din' ('The Revival of Religious Sciences'). From his study he became convinced that Sufiism is the best way, and most of his educational ideas are surrounded around the notion of Sufiism and they have implications for the way he views education in Islam. For example, he focuses on the spiritual side of man and aspects relating to the purification of the soul. Despite the fact that he lived at a time in which Kalaam (scholastic theology), and Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) were very popular and widely studied sciences, and Imam Ghazali himself had been heavily involved in them, he doesn’t seem to give a lot of importance to Ilm al-shariyah (divine knowledges). Imam Ghazali’s educational views can be divided into two aspects. The theoretical aspect and the practical aspect. The theoretical aspect is centred on the concept of knowledge, whereas the practical aspect is centred on his elaboration of student-teacher interaction (Gunther 2006).

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