Islam and Education

By Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi


We can now discuss the thoughts of Said Nursi’s in the universal context as he has given his most holistic harmonious universal approach to various problems about educational empower¬ment and integration of religion and science and the reflec¬tion on thinking of Nursi on these civilization challenges for Muslims are very appropriate and most rewarding.

On educational front, efforts of Nursi’s contemporary and successor visionaries of Islam like Shibli, Maududi, Sir Syed and Ismail Raji Faruqui have met but with very less success in convincing the traditional Muslim clergy about the tenacity of modern sciences like religious sciences. But Madrasah Zahra model presented by Nursi stands for “in¬tegration of knowledge”, and his view that religious subjects should be taught in the secular schools (Maktabs) and that the positive sciences in the religious schools (Madrasa), so that the students of secular education are salvaged from irreligious behavior. The religious schools from bigotry are very progressive. Moreover, his ideas about integration of science and technology with education are very futuristic and rewarding given the pathetic situation of Muslims in educational field worldwide.

The unique features of Madrasat-uz Zahra model make it a most suitable and culturally viable model for Muslims in its global perspective also. Therefore studying this mod¬el in depth is highly desirable in the context of the consum¬erist tendencies emerging in the spheres of education and technology alarmingly, with no exception of Muslims and non Muslims, by relegating spiritual and moral values to margins. Nursian model provides an alternative which meets the demands of modern times but does not neglect the much needed values the education should imbibe to face the chal¬lenges in the wake of aggressive atheism, plague of material-ism and scourge of naturalism etc.

We should not forget that Nursi criticized his own concep¬tion of modern science as it was formulated during the new ‘Said period’. But he still did not deny “the utilization of the findings of modern science, especially the use of modern inventions”. Thus there was evolution in the views of Nursi’s intellectual perspective which tended to downplay the find¬ings of modern science in the interpretation of the religious texts.

Nursi admitted this lapse in the later stages of his intel¬lectual life, and held it to be an error: an error he once defined as “polishing Islam”.

It is true that Nursi realized some of the shortcomings of modern science, but this realization does not reflect a com¬prehensive critique of it. For example, Nursi arrived at the conclusion that modern science is not interested in meaning, but it is lost in dealing with the details of the material real¬ity. He also realized the fact that modern science is literalist, but instead of relating this literalism to the quantification of science, he, rather, identified it with material causality and formulated his intellectual discourse for its refuta¬tion.

But Said Nursi had a different perspective on science. He argued that “Islam is the master and guide of the sciences, and the chief and father of all true knowledge.” For integra¬tion of knowledge, his view is that religious subjects are taught in the new secular schools (Maktabs) and that the positive sciences are taught in the religious schools (Ma¬drasa). He argued that if the students are taught in this method, those in the secular schools will be saved from being without religion, while those in the religious schools will be saved from bigotry. A beautiful combination of scientific and religious sciences as envisaged by Nursi can be seen from this statement: “The light of the conscience is the religious sciences. The light of the mind is exact sciences. Reconcili¬ation of both manifests the truth. The student’s skills de¬velop further with these two (sciences). When they are separated, from the former superstition and from the latter corruption and skepticism is born.”

He wanted to integrate the science of modern times with Islamic thought. But his theory of integration was the new exegesis of the Qur’an to be written, almost exclusively, in light of the findings of modern science, and he tried to put it into practice with an added enthusiasm.

According to Nursi, the Quranic verses are the eloquent language of Qur’an. It is not to be searched for in Greek philosophy or, if you are a free thinker, see how ancient philosophy and science have imprisoned minds within the walls of some errors and thrown them into abjection. How¬ever, the new scientific approach has brought down the walls of that prison. It is clear that the key to the treasure of the aspects of Quranic verses is the eloquent language of the Quran. It is not to be searched for in Greek philosophy.

For sure the greatest obstacle, which causes us to suffer misery in the world and the Westerners to be deprived of happiness in hereafter, and which causes the sun of Islam to be eclipsed, is the supposed conflict between some outer aspects of Islam and certain established scientific facts. This is strange, to say the least, for how can something be in conflict with the very phenomenon that has given rise to it? For it is Islam which has given shepherded [sic.] the sciences, and even given birth to many of them. Yet the fallacy of conflict between Islam and science continues to prey on our minds, driving many to hopelessness and serving to close the doors of knowledge and civilization to many Mus¬lims.

In addition to the claim of objectivity, we should mention another important premise which influenced his intellectual perspective in a just as important manner: the linear conception of scientific progress. Nursi approached this premise in an equally uncritical way, and he adopted it into his intellectual perspective without showing any sign of resistance.

Therefore, he did not see any problem in declaring the traditional schools as obsolete. Had he approached the issue philosophically, he could have realized that the type of accumulation modern science appreciated was the accumulation of particular “facts” which paved the way for its emergence and, according to this perspective, unquantifiable entities cannot be considered in this category. From the perspective of modern science, only ideas, theories, or facts which but¬tress its legitimacy and functionality could be considered as accumulating and, therefore, incorporated in its domain of inquiry, not the accumulated wisdom.

Of humanity or the truths of traditional intellectual disciplines which came to existence in light of the teachings of revealed truths. Quite the opposite, for modern science there is a deep dichotomy between the two, and they cannot be reconciled with each other by any means. Thus, modern science meant to Nursi the driving force for the emergence of a new humanity in the West as well as the seed of a new Islamic civilization in the Muslim World.

God’s primary purpose for sending His wise Book is the guidance of people. All human beings are not on the same level of understanding, nor are they specialists in every branch of science. Therefore, God speaks in His scriptures in a way understandable to everyone. Those of a higher level of understanding and having expert knowledge can benefit from anything that is addressed to all people. But when a work addresses only scholars, things may become difficult for common people. Furthermore, people cannot easily abandon their habits or be freed from the things they have been familiar with for a long time. People often find it hard to deal with abstractions, but find it easier to understand things expressed with metaphors and similes, as these are closer to everyday life. For this reason, truths are usually presented in familiar terms or forms and thereby effectively presented for guidance.

To approach the issue more theoretically, what led Nursi to develop a politically motivated intellectual discourse to the extent of including the composition of a new exegesis was his unquestioned adoption of the idea of progress. His unreserved sympathy towards the cultivation of modern science was mainly related to this adoption. Bediüzzaman wa conscious that “mind, knowledge and science became dominant in this age”.

Even if teachers do not mention Allah, he attracts atten¬tion to the properties of each science showing Allah; he shows the events in the branches of science like economy, astronomy, philosophy, physics and chemistry as evidence of the existence of Allah through detailed explanations.

Only this view of Said Nursi shows that he has a philosophy that sees belief and science, and the education of them as interrelated.

Said Nursi observed all scientific events through the eyes of a theologian and he explained his approach successfully within the boundaries of the reasoning of the mind. He stated that the Qur’an included exact sciences and encouraged them. The decree of Islam about the outcomes of science is important in that it shows what causes those results.

The approach of science that neglects belief in Allah and overlooks the place and function of religion brings about “literal meaning”, that is, viewing beings on behalf of them¬selves, in terms of causes. The scientific approach that takes into consideration the power of creation and effect of Allah is related to “signified meaning”. That is, viewing things on behalf of Allah is the correct approach. To carry out scientific studies with the name of Allah does not mean that mind is put aside or neglected.

On the contrary, mind should step in to see the creative pow¬er of Allah. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi expresses this as fol¬lows:

“If you cannot encompass this elevated order, adorned with bezels of wisdom, with your sight, and you are incapable of understanding it through inductive reasoning, look through the prying eyes of the sciences – which are the senses of your species and are formed through the meeting of minds and conjunction of ideas, and are like the ideas of the human race – for you will see an order that dazzles the mind. You will know too that each of the physical sciences discloses through the universality of its principles, the order and harmony, the more perfect than which cannot be conceived of. For there is a science to study every area of the universe, or there will be. Science consists of universal principles, and this universality demonstrates the beauty of the order. All the sciences demonstrate a total, all-embracing order; each is a shining proof pointing to the benefits, indicating too the instances of wisdom and advantages concealed in their changing states. The sciences raise the banner of divine unity and testify to the Maker’s purpose and wisdom.”

Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi is Former Director of Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir and can be mailed at




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