“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” — Malcolm X
No one would disagree with the late, great Malcolm X with this immortal quote. We all want a brighter tomorrow and as such, the right investment must go into preparing accordingly today.
So let’s examine this a little further.
“Across the globe, a staggering 250 million children are lacking in basic literacy skills. Every child deserves a quality education.”
The above sentence appears, in some shape, way or form on many of the charity websites in the Muslim space, when it comes to their educational efforts. I took it word for word from one of the biggest charities, but they all have a similar focus with regard to their educational objectives.
And of course, with good reason. I completely agree that every child deserves a quality education and it’s a fantastic cause to continue to strive for. Millions and millions are distributed every year to build schools, to provide resources and to give those less fortunate in the third world a better education. May Allah accept every donation and every noble intention.
Illiteracy even in 2022 remains a critical problem in the Muslim world. And absolutely, something should continue to be done about it, at some level.
But here’s the problem.
When pretty much ALL charity efforts surrounding education go towards the same goals, does that mean we actually progress, as an Ummah?
Don’t get me wrong. Of course, thousands if not millions of lives are being improved with every single donation made of this type.
But strategically, in terms of solving the problem and having a brighter future for Muslims, does it move the needle?
For example, if every Muslim country’s rates became 100% overnight hypothetically, would that solve our problems as an Ummah?
The answer is no, as the issue is deeper, and lies in the infrastructure and the sources from which we take our knowledge.
Allama Iqbal once said if you take the spirit out of education, it stops being education. It just becomes information. This is profound.
We in the West may technically be ‘literate’ — as far as the definition goes, but I would strongly argue we are also illiterate in terms of true understanding. A more accurate definition would describe us as functionally literate, essentially — i.e. to serve a function.
True substance, true intellect and depth — do we really see that around us anymore?
‘Ancients wrote a sentence and summarised it in volumes. Now we write volumes that can be summarised in a sentence.” — Hamza Yusuf
For me, the key issues are that we do not have the RIGHT knowledge with which to understand what is going on today. And we lack purpose and a sense of direction of why we are educating ourselves in the first place.
Knowledge has been secularised to the point we only now accept logic and science and tangible, material reality as our reality — which was never the case in our history. Our priorities have become muddled.
The cookie-cutter education system in place gives us just enough so that we can get jobs and serve the established systems.
But the Muslims of yesteryear who truly made waves in the world did it through applying spiritual and Quranic thought to the sciences, the arts and did it for a higher purpose, and as such, they thrived.
Only the right type of knowledge will bring about the paradigm shift that is needed.
Personally, I don’t think illiteracy is the longstanding problem to focus on if we hope to make real change for the Ummah. It is being able to decipher truth from falsehood, to revive the spirit and reawaken our increasingly subverted soul — which can only be done with a powerful, purposeful, holistic, interdisciplinary education that truly transforms and creates people of impact.
And this is what I would love to see innovative charities and organisations begin to tackle, going forward.
We started with Malcolm X’s famous quote. To end, we will echo it, and ask: what type of education can we prepare today, to create that passport to a tomorrow that belongs to the Ummah?