“What passes for a curriculum in today’s schools is little else than a strategy of distraction… It is largely defined to keep students from knowing themselves and their environment in any realistic sense.” – Prof. Neil Postman
“Suppose all of the syllabi and curricula and textbooks in the schools disappeared. Suppose all of the standardized tests — city-wide, state-wide, and national — were lost. In other words, suppose that the most common material impeding innovation in the schools simply did not exist. Then suppose that you decided to turn this “catastrophe” into an opportunity to increase the relevance of schools. What would you do? We have a possibility for you to consider: suppose that you decide to have the entire “curriculum” consist of questions. These questions would have to be worth seeking answers to, not only from your point of view but, more importantly, from the point of view of the students. In order to get still closer to reality, add the requirement that the questions must help the students to develop and internalize concepts that will help them to survive in the rapidly changing world of the present and future. …What questions would you have on your list?”
What passes for “knowledge” today?
For well-over 100 years, social scientists and educators have warned that
- Our education system and what is being taught is obsolete before it’s even taught
- The educational methods do not lead to, or even allow, critical thinking
- Knowledge, ideas, and technology have all been co-opted by corporations
- While we suffer information overload and apathy, we actually have little functional knowledge or intelligence
Even in the Muslim community, 90% of our information is irrelevant. Passive learners in the community live an entire lifetime with no functional knowledge. The institutions of Islamic learning are 300 years outdated. Graduates of “Islamic universities” and madressas perpetuate traditional studies, but fail to incorporate relevant social sciences. Because they spend 8-10 years learning irrelevant subjects, they then know nothing else but to spend a lifetime teaching irrelevant subjects.
It is a global problem that our institutions produce only “qualified job applicants”(often referred-to as useful idiots). They have a slight education in 1 field which will be used entirely for maintaining the failing apparatus all around us. Few people in today’s society possess a broad, cross-discipline knowledge that would enable good decision-making or leadership in the social and political arenas. (what is referred to as political IQ)
There aren’t enough hours in a human life to digest 999 bits of useless information just to arrive at one relevant piece of real knowledge. It is precisely such a cycle that is causing the stagnation of civil society.
The Deadly Toll of Muslim Irrelevance
It is at the very roots of our Belief that Allah has created everything with purpose, and Islam defines and clarifies this. An example of how fundamental purpose is to Islam is Imam Lalka-i’s ‘Itiqaad Ahlus-Sunnah wa al-Jama’a, in which he begins his volumes with describing the facts and purpose of human creation.
It would take a large volume to merely list the ways in which Muslims have become irrelevant in the world, and another volume to explain how Muslims maintain irrelevance by habit and institution. A few points may suffice to drive this home:
- No fewer than 26 Muslim countries are currently in a state of war, despotism, or rampant civil strife and poverty.
- 95% of the Muslim community members do not find the Masajid, or their talks and activities, as relevant
- The Muslim community has a history of losing the interest of Islam’s Converts
- The community fails to provide youth with useful, practicable intellectual tools
- Global powers know that Muslims are so irrelevant, they dictate the deaths of Muslims with the mere push of a button. Typically, they don’t even do the dirty-work directly. Their despots do it for them.
- While Islam provides tools for establishing priorities. These are inherent throughout the study of Fiqh.
In world affairs, Muslims aren’t even sitting at the decision-making table. Dozens of policy think-tanks sit and discuss “what will we do to the Muslim World?”, while no Muslims are representing our interests.
Muslims living in Western societies are in a critical position. If we are not overwhelmed by the rising tide of neo-fascism, we actually have a historic opportunity: to make Muslims relevant again. But this requires a new pedagogy. Both the content and methods of our learning must be properly prioritized. If this is done successfully, a generation of Muslims may soon arise in the West who are capable of assisting broad social/political reform.
Examples of Critical, Prioritized Learning
The current praxis of all of our common institutions are leading us to global destruction much sooner than late. It must be acknowledged that our current habits must die. To replace the habits of failure with those of civilizational recovery and sustainability requires both a change in culture, and a change in the content and methods of learning. The new pedagogy must be critical of the status-quo, hold a view to political rectification, and prioritize content based on reality.
A statement from the late Paulo Freire, father of critical pedagogy:
“The educational process is never neutral. People can be passive recipients of knowledge — whatever the content — or they can engage in a ‘problem-posing’ approach in which they become active participants. As part of this approach, it is essential that people link knowledge to action so that they actively work to change their societies at a local level and beyond.”
Key concepts associated with Freire include the contrast between “banking” education (in which facts are deposited into the minds of passive students) and problem-posing education; the notion of conscientization (which is much more than simply awareness-raising); and the idea of the “culture of silence”, in which people are unable to reflect critically upon their world – they become fatalistic and dominated.
It’s interesting that Professor Freire established the critical links between situation-assessment-knowedge-action. This is actually the methodology of Ijtihad in Islam. Yet, so few Muslims are employing this logical methodology, even while ‘amal(action) is one of the very foundations of our Deen. A single lecture in a single masjid is often a waste of hundreds of manhours, as so many Muslims sit listening to a talk that is irrelevant, and in the end leads to no meaningful action. Imagine how many manhours are wasted during the evening talks of Ramadan, throughout the 50+ masajid in DFW !
Tools of Prioritizing in Islam
Imam Hasan al-Basri once said, “You are nothing but a series of breaths.” Every time you exhale, a piece of your life, a part of you, is lost. How many of our interactions are worthwhile and how many are useless?
Imam Al-Ghazali said, “Disregarding the prioritization of good deeds in itself is a bad deed.” It is not simply a matter of identifying what concerns us and what not, but also the degrees of relevance and priority.
Muslims should not be distracted with the prevalent and obsolete concern over minor practices and rituals, much less spend countless hours either reading or listening to low-priority matters. When your house is burning down, you don’t sit for a reading of the History of the World.
Islam was never a system based on non-reality. Non-reality habits are the current state of Muslim culture and institutions. Historically, Islam was maintained as relevant by scholars who understand Islam as a living system. Their qualifications were neither shallow nor narrow like today’s “scholars”. They addressed real situations by applying living Shari’a, not dead rulings.
Our Prophet began the community with simple, basic teachings. There was no long list of dead rules. Islamic praxis was built within the framework of real life. The solidification of Law was an evolutionary process that occurred simultaneous with the shaping and preparation of Muslim society. Law was implemented once the conditions making Law possible were met. Today, Muslims either abandon Islam entirely, seek a reversal of time to restore the Golden Age, or seclude themselves in bubbles where they can imagine the real world does not exist. Social, economic, and political conditions do now allow a praxis or relevance of established rulings. Intelligent thought about Islam is better developed through the Foundations, Objectives, and Principles of Fiqh.
Rulings practiced during Islam’s Golden Age must be considered in the context of history. Such rulings were applicable only because the conditions were right: Muslims could practice Islamic Law because they lived in the Islamic system. In the absence of such conditions, Law is replaced by practicable Objectives and Principles. Such objectives and principles are capable of life and practicability independent of social-structural context. This has been explained by Shaykh Abdullahi bin Bayyah and others.
One example of basic principles: the prioritization that follows –
- Daruriyyah – those highest priority needs which are indispensable to avoid collapse and destruction
- Hajiyyah – essential needs which lend to the establishment of propriety and well-being
- Tahsiniyyah – embellishment and perfection
Another method –
- Qat’iyyah – that which is obvious and certain in terms of the evidence of threat or need
- Dhaniyyah – that which is anticipated or deducible
- Wahmiyyah – uncertain or illusory
The Velocity of Useful Knowledge and Transfer
It is an amazement to compare the rapidity with which understanding of Islam was transferred, in just 23 years, to our Prophet’s companions, to the slow death and irrelevance of the entire Ummah today. For 300 years now, Muslims have been unable to address the realities of their time.
A human being has 60-70 years of life, if they’re fortunate. But the peak of intellectual strength typically occurs after the age of 30, meaning that most of us have barely 30 years to develop and convey the wisdom of our experience to the younger generation, or to apply our knowledge and experience to our environment. Under current paradigms, people reach the age of 25 barely knowing anything useful, and may or may not learn anything useful by the age of 40. This guarantees the intellectual death and dismemberment of civilization.
If we seek to reinstate humanity to a proper state and salvage any future at all, we must, with all urgency, establish reality-based institutions. Useless “education” must be immediately thrown in the trash-pile where it belongs. We have already suffered decades and centuries of misleading “education”. We have allowed the culture of irrelevance to perpetuate so long, the entirety of civilization is on the brink of the abyss. It is only through expedient construction of reality-based education that humanity has any hope.
A few examples of the comprehensive thinking and re-education that’s available
- The Next System Project
- The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)
- Yes! Magazine by Professor David Korten
- The Commons Transition Project : This group of policy-makers devised the plans currently being implemented by the government of Ecuador.
- A useful read on the ‘Amaal of the People of Medina