Teaching Should be Centered Around the Child, his Needs and Temperament
Interview : Dr. Abidullah Ghazi (Published in Islamic Voice in October 2000)
Dr. Abidullah Ghazi hails from Deoband in Uttar Pradesh. Holding a Doctorate in comparative religion from Harvard University, he and wife Dr. Tasneema Khatoon Ghazi, (a doctorate in child psychology), have been pursuing the goal of an ideal Islamic curriculum in English with a passionate zeal. During his visit to Bangalore in 2000 he spoke to Maqbool Ahmed Siraj. Excerpts
Q: Why a new Islamic curriculum?
A: I read the Quran at the Darul Uloom, Deoband in Uttar Pradesh. I perceived that students were beaten up thoroughly while learning the Quran. The very thought of classes made them tremble with fears. I studied at Universities at Aligarh, London and Harvard. When I was a student at the Harvard, I had 3 1/2 year old kid. She used to say that she could go to school on her own as she was grown up. I juxtaposed this with a scene from African madrassa on TV where the children were being beaten. We both discussed the contrast and concluded that education in the West was centered around the child while in the Islamic world, it was centered around the book. So the Western curriculum takes in its stride everything that makes the child learn, develop curiosity and expect more and more of knowledge. These may be in the form of illustrations, charts maps and music. I thought why Islam cannot be taught like that. On the initiation of our colleagues, I began preparing some books and a curriculum. Later we shifted to Gary in Indiana state, 40 kms from Chicago. In 1976, I met Rabita chief Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef and Dr. Zainul Abedin of Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs. They encouraged me to take up this venture. The first book to come out was Our Prophet, an assignment from King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah at Dr. Naseef’s behest. But books were not enough. What was required was a curriculum. We studied the religious curriculum of Christians and Jews. The Jews teach the Old Testament on four levels. We estimated that we would need nearly 150 books to teach the Quran, Hadith, Fiqh, Sociology, moral sciences etc.
Q: But you were working in the USA. What objective did you set before yourself?
A: We were clear that the children must be taught the universal values of Islam and that our primary target was children who were growing up in a secular and plural country. We developed systematic curriculum lesson by lesson for 40 minute period. Reason and rational informed its very foundation. Tasneema scrutinized the vocabulary which was to be graded as per the child’s comprehension level at a particular age.
Q: Project for the future?
A: We are now preparing the enrichment literature which is known as non-detailed literature in India. We are also preparing lessons for teachers and we will put them on the Internet. We will develop a whole system of examination, certification etc. and ultimately make it an Open University. Our emphasis is on quality production of books.
Q: Pictures in Islamic books are resented by the ulema. How do you cope with modern needs for pictures and opposition from the traditional class?
A: We have minimized the use of pictures. Often need for pictures in books narrating Prophet’s stories have been fulfilled with silhouettes.
Q: Maslak too poses problems particularly in cosmopolitan crowds of Muslims in India or the US?
A: We do not go into polemics. We have avoided sectarian differences at the lower level. Later all different mazahib (schools of opinion) have been put side by side.
Q: No general agreement is found on certain geographical maps. How an international syllabus should look at it?
A: This is a sensitive question. In a series of books on Muslim social studies there have been questions over Palestine and Israel maps. Jews get exercised and unleash charges of anti-Semitism. There cannot be any universal agreement on maps.