Role of Mosque and Education in Islam
In the early Islamic period, the Masjid served many purposes, and took on a comprehensive role in the lives of Muslims. Not only was it a place of worship, learning and prayer, but it also functioned as a community’s political and social centre, writes DR SAMEEN AHMED KHAN.
Today, when we mention education, most would seldom think of Islam. Many a times, one hears phrases such as ‘secular education’ and ‘religious education.’ We need to remind ourselves about the importance and place of education in Islam. This is evident in many ways. The first ayat (verse) of the Holy Qur’an revealed to Prophet Muhammad (saws) was:
“Read in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created – created man out of a germ-cell. Read – for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One who has taught [man] the use of the pen – taught man what he did not know!” (Qur’an, Surah Alaq 96:1-5; English Meaning by Muhammad Asad)
The Qur’an urges us to, think, ponder, reflect and acquire knowledge that would bring us closer to Allah Almighty and to His creation. The Qur’an uses repetition in order to imbed certain key concepts in the consciousness of its listeners. The word Ilm (knowledge) occurs 750 times in the Qur’an, making it the third most repeated word. The word Allah and Rabb (Sustainer) occur 2800 and 950 times respectively. Along with the Qur’an, the sayings of the prophet Muhammad (saws) also prompted people to learn.
The word mosque comes from the Arabic word, Masjid, which means a place where one prostrates oneself, or a place of worship. The concept of the mosque originated during the life of Prophet Muhammad (saws), who built the first mosque during his Prophethood in Medina. In the early Islamic period, the Masjid served many purposes, and took on a comprehensive role in the lives of Muslims. Not only was it a place of worship, learning and prayer, but it also functioned as a community’s political and social centre. It was where believers assembled for prayers, where the Prophet delivered his addresses to deal with issues surrounding the social life of the community, where he educated his followers, where he explained revelations, where he met emissaries and discussed the merits of his message, where he dealt with internal and external political activities.
Historically, mosques were places of education, where both religious and the so-called worldly sciences were taught. They played a pivotal role in the lives of Muslims. Islam and knowledge went together, closely, and from the very early stages. The mosque played a great part in the spread of education in Islam. The association of the mosque with education remains one of its main characteristics throughout history. From the start, the mosque was the center of the Islamic community, a place for prayer, meditation, religious instruction, political discussion, and a school.
In every place, where Islam took hold, mosques were established, and basic instruction began. Once established, such mosques could develop into well-known places of learning, often with hundreds, sometimes with thousands of students, and frequently contained important libraries. Notable examples are the Mosques in Madina, Cairo (Al-Ahzar) and Damascus.
The first school connected with a mosque, was set up at Medina in 653CE, whilst the first one in Damascus dates from 744CE, and by 900CE nearly every mosque had an elementary school for the education of both boys and girls. Children usually started their schooling around the age of five. The very first thing they learnt was how to perform Salah and the recitation of the Qur’an. The primary schooling also included lessons in writing of Arabic along with reading. Along with the primary studies, the students were also taught the basic arithmetic which would enable them to carry out calculations related to the Zakat and the inheritance. The above mentioned instructions could be obtained in any mosque. For more advanced learning one could avail the schooling in the bigger mosques. This would cover instruction in Arabic grammar and poetry, logic, algebra, biology, history, law, and theology.
Some of the Madrasas attached to the mosques were world-class centres of learning at their time. The world-renowned Al-Azhar University is the oldest university in the world. It was established as a mosque in 358AH/ 969CE. Now, one can find over a hundred thousand students studying in it.
Throughout the history of Islam, the mosque has always played an important social role. It has been a place of prayer, a centre of political activities, an educational institution, and a focal point of communal life. The Khutbah (sermon) is an excellent opportunity to address the Muslim community.
The Khutbah has always occupied a pivotal role in informing the Muslim Ummah about her affairs and calling her to the appropriate actions. Allah (swt) has ordered that trade and all other activity be abandoned at the time of Salat al-Jumu’ah and that people assemble to hear the Khutbah:
“O You, who have attained to faith! When the call to prayer is sounded on the day of congregation, hasten to the remembrance of God, and leave all worldly commerce: this is for your own good, if you but knew it.” (Qur’an, Surah Jum’uah, 62:9; English meaning by Muhammad Asad.
The Khutbah is the institution of education started by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) for the wholeUmmah. Many of our Khutbah fail to address the basic tenants of Islam.
An ideal Imam is the one who can give a short sermon in the morning after Fajr, talk about Islam to non-believers over the day, give a lecture in the education institutions (schools, colleges, universities) when required and finally attend a conference with the media.
(The author, Dr. Sameen Ahmed Khan, works as a Professor at the Engineering Department, Salalah College of Technology, Salalah, Sultanate of Oman)