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16 March 2010

Competent Professionals with Adab

Dr. Mohd Sani Badron
Fellow Kanan

16/02/2010 | The Star
Crass materialism and anti-intellectualism which manifest in any society betray the following fact: that the emphasis of its imbalance educational system is simply on the physical, material and quantitative aspects of man.

In Islam, the objective of education emphasizes rather on the mind and soul, which define and refer to the reality of human being. Man is educated with an eye to raising the level of his adab, culture and civilization.

The purpose of education should not merely to improving student's economic and social position in terms of career and vocation, nor merely giving the individual a leg up the economic and social ladder.

Teachers' purpose should not be for students to adjust to the environment, but rather for them to improve themselves and their surrounding environment, leading to amelioration of culture and civilization.

In this light, the teaching and learning of skills alone does not necessarily constitute education in its true sense, even if such training is usually easier and more easily measurable.

For that matter, even the teaching and learning of the human, natural or applied sciences alone does not necessarily constitute education if it is merely cramming students' memory with details.

There is a big difference between learning (ta‘allum) and education (ta'dib).

In ta'dib, the knowledge and sciences (‘ilm)-that which is to be instilled into education's recipient-must be purposive or beneficial knowledge. This ensures that knowledge is being put to good use in society.

As such, in Islamic education, concomitant action is emphasized as much as true knowledge, so that human conduct is guided to conform to revealed truth.

According to Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, in Islam, "there is no worthwhile knowledge without action accompanying it; and no worthwhile action without knowledge guiding it."

It is adab that which should direct the use of any professional knowledge; it is adab that which bring the light of Islam, as religion and civilization, to illuminate the technicalities of any specialization pursuit.

In such an educational framework, narrowly trained professionals envisaged to be produced by mere learning, are replaced with competent professionals with adab.

To a certain extent, there is a parallel here with a stream of Western tradition espoused by John Stuart Mill (d. 1873), who called for philosophic professionals, who "would demand principles and be capable of apprehending them."

According to Mill, "Men are men before they are lawyers, or physicians, or merchants, or manufacturers; and if you made them capable and sensible men, they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers or physicians" or any other professional.

In order that education helps people to learn to be as intelligent as they can be; this involves thinking and exercising critical judgment, which rescues them from stupidity, ignorance and torpor.

According to Charlie Dunbar Broad (d. 1971), a philosopher of science specialized in philosophical aspects of psychology, progress in knowledge of social system is contingent upon deliberative alteration of the emotional constitution of mankind by removing superstitious beliefs and the like.

Indeed, such instruction which renders intellectual discipline, would lead to considerable advantages. Among others: ritually, there will be less superstition; socially, less disorder; organizationally, less disrespect for superiors; politically, less faction and wanton opposition to legitimate government; and, bureaucratically, less rash and capricious judgment of public affairs.

However, while Mill's philosophy of education does not go beyond intellectual development, Islamic education in term of ta'dib covers both, intellectual as well as moral development.

Ta'dib renders mental discipline, and at the same time, impresses ethical habits, as education so conceived should also help people to learn to be as ethical as they can be.

Some Western thinkers, likes Yves René Marie Simon (d. 1961), have made similar assertion, that the education of ethics may increase human moral conception, and advance his moral conscience on good and evil.

Examples of the global advancement of human conscience are on the issues of the treatment of prisoners of war, the problem of destitution, the issue whether aggressive war can be justified, child labour, and so on.

Be that as it may, the progress of moral consciousness requires, among others, the teaching and learning of a reasoned account of the nature and the grounds of rights actions. This demands the principles of the morally commendable or reprehensible; and the well nurtured capability of apprehending those principles.

Such definition of ethics requires well-defined ethical concepts as well as the justification or appraisal of moral judgment-and the discrimination between right and wrong actions or decisions-which must be adequately, articulately and coherently set forth.

In reference to that, the competent judgment of contemporary scholars such as Abdul Khaliq, Mohamed Ahmed Sherif, and Muhammad Abul Quasem, just like that of those Orientalists such as Majid Fakhry and Richard Walzer, is that al-Imam al-Ghazzali's ethical thought stands out to be the best.

Al-Ghazzali's ethical view is the best in terms of being an articulate, a far-reaching as well as fundamental synthesis of the currents in Islamic thought. This includes the contributions by Qur'anic exegetes, traditionists, theologians, philosophers, and Sufis.

As it is, the ethical thought of al-Ghazzali is mostly contained in his works Mizan al-‘Amal and Ihya' ‘Ulum al-Din. A comparative study would find that the former is more methodical while the latter more comprehensive, in their respective presentations of a positive moral theory of a high order.

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