I was sitting in the masjid reviewing my Arabic homework when I heard the now all too familiar, heart-wrenching wails in the background: the agonizing screams of a young child accompanied by the painfully rhythmic whizzing of a whip thrashing his still-developing limbs.
The Bitter Truth about Beatings…
As many of us are painfully aware, the above incident is not an isolated one but very common in most madaaris (Islamic schools) in Kenya. I had had similar experiences on a couple of occasions since I began taking weekend Arabic classes at this masjid. Upon taking up the issue with members of the masjid’s committee, I was often met with shrugs almost as if they were saying, “hey, this is just how things are. It’s how things have always been done. Get used to it.”
Many madrassah teachers today consider corporal punishment to be a very effective, in fact indispensable, tool for teaching the Qur’an. Some skilled reciters of the Qur’an will even go to the extent of showing off their scars, like badges of honor, earned during their Islamic education.
My question …
Before continuing, I would like to make my purpose for writing this article absolutely clear. My purpose is in no way to bash the learning of the Qur’an or the madrassah system. Rasool Allah (SAW) said in a very famous hadith:
“The best of you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it” (Al Bukhari)
The madrassah system of Kenya is playing a critical role in disseminating the knowledge of the Qur’an and shari’a in order to produce much needed Islamic scholarship in this country. Furthermore, my purpose for writing this is not to discuss whether or not beating is a permitted method of instruction in Islam (I am not qualified to do that). My purpose is simply to pose the following question: though this method of instruction (beating) may be helping us to produce some highly skilled Qur’an reciters, is it really achieving its desired objective? Is it helping us produce a generation of proud, knowledgeable, critically thinking Muslims who will make a positive contribution to our society?
The Sheikh is Shaken…
Some time ago, I was sitting in on a lecture by a very famous scholar who was visiting Nairobi from Canada. He related an incident that made him reflect deeply on this same issue. He said that in Canada, he always makes sure to wear his kufi and thobe (Arab dress) wherever he goes. The reason being that once in a while some curious passerby will ask him why he dresses in this manner and this allows him to strike up a conversation on Islam: a very effective da’wah technique, if I do say so myself.
On one occasion, something very similar happened but the end result was not at all what he expected. A stranger asked him why he was dressed in this manner and the sheikh’s response was the same as always, “I dress like this because I am an imam.” Strangely, the man simply responded with a simple “I see.”
Now the sheikh was curious and he asked the man, “Do you know what an imam is?” The man responded, “Yes, I know very well what an imam is because both my parents are Muslim.” However, when the sheikh asked him if he was Muslim, the man responded he wasn’t.
The sheikh was obviously very saddened and taken aback. He asked the man why this was so and the man told him his story. He said that in his youth, in the morning, his parents would send him to a Christian school for his secular education and then in the evenings he would be sent to a madrassah for his Islamic education. He said that in the Christian school the teachers were very kind and would always tell him that Jesus (AS) loved him. However, in the madrassah he would constantly be beaten and yelled at whenever he made the slightest mistake. This experience left him emotionally scarred and led him to conclude that Islam is a blood-thirsty religion. Thus, he chose to become a Christian.
It makes one wonder how many of our innocent Muslim youth today, who undergo the same harsh experience on a daily basis, are presently entertaining the same thoughts as that man, but are afraid to voice them because of what society, their families, and community might say.
Did the Mercy to All Mankind Beat Children?
I am left even more confounded when I am reminded of the fact that the first teacher of the Qur’an was described by Allah himself as Rahmatul-lil-‘Aalameen (the mercy to all mankind). I cannot imagine that the same man, who when he would see children on the street could not keep himself from patting them on their heads or kissing them, would in another instant be willing to whip them if they mispronounced a letter in the Qur’an.
I cannot picture the mercy to all mankind slapping Fatimah (RAA), or whipping Hasan (RAA), or Hussain (RAA), or scolding Usamah (RAA) because they had failed to memorize their assigned ayaat (verses). In fact, Anas ibn Malik (RAA), the young boy-servant of Rasool-Allah (SAW) who served him for ten years, had the following to say about his manners: “When I did something, he never questioned my manner of doing it; and when I did not do something, he never questioned my failure to do it. He was the most good-natured of all men” (Al-Bukhari).
When describing the manners of Rasool-Allah (SAW) with his companions, Allah (SWT) says:
“So by mercy from Allah , [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you” (English Translation of the Qur’an, 3.159).
So how do we reconcile the methods employed by our madrassah’s today with the mannerisms of our beloved Prophet (SAW)? The truth is there is no reconciliation between the two!
Another Bitter Truth – It’s not the Children who have failed…
Employing such harsh tactics is evidence of the failure of our teachers, not our children!
Believe it or not, children are hard-wired to learn. The evidence for this is the insatiable curiosity of the child. A little child is full of questions, “Why is this?,” “What is that?,” “Where does that happen?,” “Who did that?,” “How does that happen?”
Allah has placed the love of learning in each child. However, each child learns differently. Not every child is going to sit down quietly and obey every command, but that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t want to learn. And when you force a child to learn in a specific manner, or reprimand or beat them for asking too many questions, you kill the child’s curiosity and rob them of their yearning to learn, i.e. you have failed as a teacher!
The truth is, when a teacher beats a young child, it reflects laziness on the part of the teacher and not the child. It shows that the teacher never bothered to take the time to get to know that child, to understand the child’s psychology and his/her likes or dislikes, in order to properly facilitate their learning.
Back to my question…
Now I would like to go back to the question I posed earlier as to whether or not this method of instruction is really achieving its desired objectives. Several questions come to mind with regards to the students — or products — of such a system of ‘education’:
What kind of self-esteem does such an individual have when for every little mistake he or she is reprimanded?
Yes, such individuals can recite the Qur’an extremely well, but how many of them really understand the message of the Qur’an and can explain the same? Is their true potential really being tapped?
When their opinions on a certain Islamic issue are challenged, are they able to maintain their composure and meet that challenge confidently and intellectually?
Can such individuals really make a positive contribution to society at large?
Leave society as a whole aside, can such individuals even address some of the basic problems the average Muslim youth of Kenya is facing? Do they even have the patience to listen to the questions posed by the youth?
I would beg our esteemed Muslim leaders and scholars of Kenya to give serious thought to the above questions. Please take some time out to reflect on the points raised in this article, if not for the sake of the Muslim community of Kenya, then for the sake of that little innocent child who will face being whipped tomorrow simply for being what he or she is — a child.photo credit: İHH İnsani Yardım via photopin cc