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« Maimonides on Giving | Main | Speaking in Tongues [Updated] »

Oct 20, 2003


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i did not follow all of your linke yet. there is a simple paradox of education that gets ignored when folks talk about the Islamic world.

talk of education and economic development has to come in the context of structural changes in society.

the radical muslims that everyone fears are all educated to some extent, and do not come from the poorest economic classes. think of the 9/11 hijackers, or the irony that the Taliban were Taliban, students. The jamat-i-islami in Pakistan, for example, is made up of the "educated" lower middle classes. The truely poor, hungry and illeterate have no time for politics.

so our discussion has to shift to what sort of education, what sort of economic development, in what sort of a society.


Dear Jawad,

You are correct in pointing out that the type of education is as important as education. The BBC recently ran an article about The University of Holy War that addresses what happens when the educational process is ideological, not critical.

Being a product of the US liberal arts system, I have to confess to being a strong a proponent of it. The development of the critical thinking apparatus it imparted to me did nothing to lessen to my faith, but in fact strenthened it. However, it has also equipped me to understand that what is happening in the ummah now is disgraceful in terms of how we talk about our religion.

Having said that, I also appreciate the ideal of institutions of Islamic learning. Roy Mottahedeh's excellent historical novel, The Mantle of the Prophet walks you through a history of how learning and education have been viewed and taught in a small corner of the Muslim majority world. I found the book to be eye-opening, and wonder where that intellectual rigor has gone. It was based on rote only insofar as great works were to be memorized; they were also to be challenged and engaged with, so that the students were encouraged to disagree, or build up supporting arguments.

As for the economically disenfranchised, I see education as a means to move out of that position - and yes, that does presuppose a functional economic system - and to resist co-option by external forces. While the 19 hijackers may have been well-educated, what was lacking was a place for them to guide that education. And it is quite easy for those with some knowledge to become demagogues as well. So there are two issues here, but I believe that if a proper education system is in place - none of the 19 were educated at home - then the society is equipped to deal with an educated class of people, not an educated elite. This structure then helps in the development of said societies.


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