Education in Islamic Education
Educators And Institutions Of Primary And Higher Education
During the first four centuries of Islam, the storyteller (qass), the poet (sha'ir), and the transmitter of poetry and narrator (rawi) —main representatives of the oral tradition in Arabia before Islam—continued to fulfill their educational function. Now they did so, however, along with the educators of the new Islamic society such as the reciter (i.e., teacher) of the Koran (qar'i); the elementary schoolteacher (mu'allim); the instructor/educator (of upper class children; mu'addib); the scholar ('alim; pl., 'ulama'), the expert in religious law (faqih; pl., fuqaha'), and the master or professor (shaykh) in one or more branches of scholarship.
In the early period of the Umayyad dynasty (ruled 661–750), the elementary school (kuttab, maktab) for pupils starting at the age of six to seven is already found to be firmly established. The education of young princes had reached a high standard of excellence and the educator was a figure of some standing at the royal court.
Under Abbasid rule (750–1258), learning and studying in the humanities and natural sciences advanced remarkably, in addition to intensive studies in the religious disciplines. This was the time when the civilization of Islam became what is called a "learning society," with the written word as the basis for knowledge. In Baghdad, the "House of Wisdom"—a famous translation academy—was officially sponsored by the caliph al-Ma'mun (ruled 813–833) to prepare professional Arabic translations of philosophical and scientific works, particularly those in Greek. The translation movement was carried for the most part by Christian Syriac scholars. It advanced significantly the Islamic scholars' creative adaptation not only of the Hellenistic heritage, but also of the Byzantine, Iranian, and Indian. In Cairo, the Shiite Fatimids (ruled 909–1171) founded academies, at which not only Shiite theological tenants but much of the intellectual heritage of the Greeks and Persians was studied. The famous Al-Azhar in Cairo was founded in 970, eventually becoming the principal religious university of the Islamic world. High schools conducted on Sunnite principles followed under the Ayyubids (twelfth to thirteenth century). Major centers of learning also developed in cites such as Damascus, Aleppo, Basra, Kufa, Qom, Mashhad, Isfahan, and Farghana in the East; Qayrawan, Tunis (with its famous mosque-university, the Zaytuna), and Fès (with its Qarawiyyin mosque) in the West; and Córdoba, Sevilla, Toledo, Granada (and its Alhambra) in al-Andalus (Islamic Spain).
The natural sciences were practiced and taught in laboratories, observatories, and hospitals, such as at the famous medical schools in Gondeshapur (Iran), Alexandria (Egypt), and Harran (Iraq). Great achievements in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry/alchemy, medicine, pharmacology, optics, physics, engineering, architecture, irrigation, and agriculture attest to the industriousness of medieval Muslim scholarship in observation, experimentation, and theoretical consideration. Indigenous thinking is also evident in the narrative and descriptive disciplines such as history and geography, in the codification of the law, and in the development of comprehensive systems in philology and grammar. Classical Islamic philosophy demonstrates originality and brilliance in abstract thinking. Sufi (mystical) orders had a very significant share in the transmission of knowledge ('ilm) as it was generally considered a prerequisite for gnosis (ma'rifa); and influential scholarly families played a decisive role in recruiting, funding, and controlling the intellectual elite of medieval Muslim society.
To meet the growing need for skilled personnel, colleges specialized in legal and religious instruction were established: the local "mosque" (masjid) college dating back to the eighth century; the law school/college (madrasa) from about the tenth century on; and the "shrine" (mashhad) college. The most important type of college, the madrasa, flourished in the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, with the famous Nizamiyya in Baghdad, founded in 1057 by the vizier Nizam al-Mulk (d. 1092), being the most notable example. The madrasa college became a characteristic feature of Islam's culture and civilization. It was often financed by a pious endowment (waqf), supporting both faculty and students; built close to a large mosque, combining living and teaching accommodations; and led by an imam-professor. The curriculum was largely confined to: religious law (shari'a) and Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh); the Koran and Koranic exegesis; theology; the Prophetic Tradition; along with Arabic language and literature, and logic (the latter two disciplines were considered as "instrumental," one for the accuracy of expression, the other for the correctness of thinking). With the rise of an extensive network of these institutions of Sunni higher learning in the Eastern Islamic world, the religious scholars ('ulama') —by then thoroughly professionalized under state patronage—and their restricted madrasa curriculum came to have a far-reaching impact on the overall cohesiveness and unity of Islamic thought. To be sure, this also led to conservatism and, among certain scholars, to an opposition to secular learning.
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