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CHALLENGES

Education in Australia:

An Islamic Perspective

Elsayed Kandil


It is probably redundant to reiterate the fact that the very first word revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (s) was the command: "Read!". The miraculous aspect however was that the Prophet (s) himself and many of the people to whom he was to pass the message of Islam were illiterate. The obvious implication is that to those who will respond to the call of Islam, the primary means of acquiring knowledge shall be through reading. But to read requires material to be written. In today's high technology environment, the read/write concept may easily be extended to the interactive multimedia domain.

Looking into the current educational environment, the subjects of learning cover the immediate needs of a western cultured society. To a Muslim, this range does not go far enough. The future of Muslims in Australia depends to a large extent on acquiring knowledge within an Islamic framework. Islamization of knowledge is now an accepted goal, and indeed a challenge, for our generation. Survival of Muslims and Islam in Australia will depend on the extent of achievement of this goal. While the number of "Islamic" schools is increasing, their contribution in fulfilling the required goal leaves something to be desired. Needless to say that, at least for the time being, Islamic universities are still in the future.

There is no shortage of adequately qualified "Muslims" at all levels. The problem lies in their level of commitment to Islam. Few people would disagree with the fact that for many of them, the image of Islam they present in their day-to-day attitudes and behaviour patterns reflects negatively on Islam itself, let alone on Muslims in Australia in general. That being said, what we are looking for is not to stop at identifying the problem but to move further and find a solution.

Again, it is probably redundant to reiterate the fact that the solution lies in educating the educators about how to accept what Allah (swt) says and what Rasulullah (s) said as our final arbitrators on whatever issues raised in our lives:

"The believers, whenever they are asked to go back to Allah and His Messenger to arbitrate among them, would invariably respond by saying: We heard and we obeyed . . ."

(Quran, 24:51)

"No believing man or believing woman, once Allah and His Messenger have decreed on an issue, should have any alternative option on that issue . . ."

(Hadith)

The sad fact is that while few Muslims dare to openly object to that, many still raise all the "But(s) and if(s)". In the current fragmentation of Muslims into numerous societies, associations, leagues, and institutes, etc. on nationalistic, geographic and/or linguistic bases, it is hard to find a starting point. Over the many years in being involved with the Muslim community in Australia, a starting common point is finally available in the form of a proposed plan. It provides a vision or a mission statement over which few would disagree. From this mission statement, areas of necessary range of actions and activities may be derived which, when implemented, will enable the achievement of the desired results in the mission statement. The intended outcomes and strategies to achieve them are outlined. Here is the mission statement:

"Muslims in Australia want to become a united force that is effective and efficient within the framework of the culturally diverse Australian society. Muslims actively and constructively contribute in this society with a share proportionate to their number, abilities and resources, and share in making the decisions concerned with the development, advancement and welfare of the Australian people in general and Muslims in particular. In this society, Muslims in Australia enjoy their full rights to practice the teachings of their religion and free expression of their points of views on the issues and affairs that concern them as individuals and groups".

Proceeding from this mission statement, the following areas of actions can be derived which, when implemented, will enable the achievement of the desired results mentioned in the mission statement. These are not necessarily in order of priority:

It must be noted that the intended outcomes and the strategies mentioned in this proposed plan are for the long-term future and are not detailed plans for execution. Detailed short-term plans may however be derived from the proposed plan as and when the necessary resources are available.

As you can see, education cannot and should not be tackled in isolation of the whole set up. One of our manifested drawbacks as a Muslim community is resulting from taking bits and pieces of actions in isolation and often with little or no coordination. The result is inefficient use of the scarce resources of the community. The outcome tends to be fragile, redundant and disappears with the person(s) carrying them out.

To give an oversimplified example, let us take the first intended outcome in the area of education and training of the proposed plan; viz

"Responding to the needs of Muslims in the different educational and professional areas".

Strategies to achieve this first outcome include:

Now suppose for example, that Muslim organisations and/or individuals go ahead and establish educational resources where they are not immediately needed or where they are competing with existing Muslim educational resources. It does not need high level of economic rationale or expertise to find out that the result leaves a lot to be desired in terms of the overall interest of the Muslim community at large.

Without an overall plan based on an agreed-upon-vision, Muslims in Australia will continue to be inefficient in utilising their limited resources. If that happens, we should not blame the society, prejudice, racism, etc, we should blame no one and nothing but ourselves.

I am inviting a wider discussion on this and other related issues in the hope that Muslims in Australia would achieve their desired outcomes sooner rather than later.



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