The Role And Status Of Teachers In IslamOctober 5, 2020 2023-08-29 2:12
The Role And Status Of Teachers In Islam
Today is World Teachers’ Day and this year’s edition is quite special. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the number of challenges that teachers across the world were already facing. From moving to online education overnight to making sure learning never stops for any student, while juggling their own situation at home, teachers have been showing once again their sense of leadership, innovation and creativity.
But what exactly is World Teachers’ Day and why should it matter, especially in our Muslim communities? In this article, we delve into the significance behind this commemoration and the meaning and implications of teaching in Islam.
What is World Teachers’ Day and Why Does It Matter?
“Held annually on 5 October since 1994, World Teachers’ Day commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers [which] sets benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, and teaching and learning conditions.” (source: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/worldteachersday)
In just one word, it is all about RECOGNITION: recognizing the status of teachers, their importance in our societies – now more than ever, their leadership despite the challenges, their needs which must be fulfilled so that they can continue the mission of education, and the necessity to encourage others to learn and become the teachers of tomorrow for the future generations.
This recognition is particularly crucial in Islamic education, where teachers have specialized in transmitting their knowledge of Arabic, Quran and Islam. Why? Because the stakes are much higher. Secular studies teachers are here to help us succeed in worldly matters, and that’s great. Teachers of sacred knowledge are here to help us understand and apply the keys that we need to not only get through this worldly life – the dunya, but most importantly prepare for the next – the Ākhirah, which we all hope to spend in Paradise. Learning the language of the Quran, understanding its meaning, applying its principles and guidance in our lives, following the example of our beloved Prophetﷺ: We turn towards those who have acquired knowledge so that we may improve, become the best version of ourselves, and teach others.
As we acknowledge the importance of instructors of Sacred Knowledge, let’s first remind ourselves that Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى is the Ultimate Source of Knowledge and He has sent down the Quran and our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to teach us.
Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى is the Ultimate Source of Knowledge
One of the 99 Names and Attributes of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى is indeed العليم [Al-ʽAlīm], the All-Knowing. We find 32 occurrences of this name in the Quran, but we also find many other verses in the Quran that speak to this attribute, such as this ayah (verse) from Surah Al-Baqarah:
وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ اللَّـهُ وَاللَّـهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ ﴿٢٨٢﴾
Be mindful of God, and He will teach you: He has full knowledge of everything. (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:282)
Each ayah (verse) of the Quran is in fact a teaching from Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى and a sign of His Infinite Knowledge:
هَـٰذَا بَيَانٌ لِّلنَّاسِ وَهُدًى وَمَوْعِظَةٌ لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ ﴿١٣٨﴾
This [Qur’an] is a clear statement to [all] the people and a guidance and instruction for those conscious of Allah. (Surah Āli ʿImrān, 3:138)
The fact that the Revelation started with the following ayāt clearly highlights how all knowledge comes from Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى:
قْرَأْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ ﴿١﴾ خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ مِنْ عَلَقٍ ﴿٢﴾ اقْرَأْ وَرَبُّكَ الْأَكْرَمُ ﴿٣﴾ الَّذِي عَلَّمَ بِالْقَلَمِ ﴿٤﴾ عَلَّمَ الْإِنسَانَ مَا لَمْ يَعْلَمْ ﴿٥﴾
Recite in the name of your Lord who created – (1) Created man from a clinging substance. (2) Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous – (3) Who taught by the pen – (4) Taught man that which he knew not. (5) (Surah Al-ʿAlaq, 96: 1-5)
Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى Sent the Prophet ﷺ to Teach Us
In the Quran, Allahسُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى says in many instances that all prophets and messengers (peace be upon them all) were sent to teach, explain and instruct their people.
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًا نُّوحِي إِلَيْهِمْ فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ ﴿٤٣﴾ بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَالزُّبُرِ وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ ﴿٤٤﴾
[Prophet], all the messengers We sent before you were simply men to whom We had given the Revelation: you [people] can ask those who have knowledge if you do not know. We sent them with clear signs and scriptures. We have sent down the message to you too [Prophet], so that you can explain to people what was sent for them, so that they may reflect. (Surah An-Nahl, 16:43-33)
As the last prophet, the Seal of the prophets, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was sent to teach, instruct, and explain the Quran, not only to his own nation at his own time, but to all of mankind for generations to come.
كَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا فِيكُمْ رَسُولًا مِّنكُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيكُمْ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُم مَّا لَمْ تَكُونُوا تَعْلَمُونَ ﴿١٥١﴾
Just as We have sent among you a Messenger of your own to recite Our revelations to you, purify you and teach you the Scripture, wisdom, and [other] things you did not know. (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:151)
The Quran emphasizes the legacy and importance of teaching, but we also find countless aḥadith – which are the narrations of the words, actions and character of the Prophet ﷺ, and are teachings in and of themselves – that tell us how the Prophet ﷺ used to teach others around him.
It was narrated that Ibn ‘Abbas said: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to teach us the tashahhud (testification of the Oneness of God and the Prophethood of Muhammad ﷺ just as he used to teach us a surah (chapter) from the Quran.” (Sahih (Darussalam), Sunan an-Nasa’i 1278)
We also find narrations where the Prophet ﷺ would make dua’ (supplication) for his Companions to receive knowledge from Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى, the Ultimate teacher:
Narrated Ibn `Abbas: The Prophet ﷺ embraced me and said, “O Allah! Teach him (the knowledge of) the Book (Qur’an).”. (Sahih al-Bukhari 7270)
The Special Status of Teachers in Islam
As Muslims, we strive to apply the Quran and the Sunnah in our lives and to follow the example of the Prophet ﷺ. Learning and transmitting knowledge, at whichever level that may be (a parent to their child, a child to their younger sibling, an imam to his congregation, a teacher to their students) is an integral part of our faith. This well-known ḥadith below emphasizes the importance of not only learning the Quran but also teaching it to others, and the relationship between the two. It also shows that, traditionally, knowledge of the Quran is something that is passed on from one person to the next:
Narrated `Uthman: The Prophet ﷺ said, “The best among you (Muslims) are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 5027)
Furthermore, we are being instructed by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى directly in the Quran to seek knowledge from those who have it, giving teachers a special role:
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًا نُّوحِي إِلَيْهِمْ فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ ﴿٤٣﴾
[Prophet], all the messengers We sent before you were simply men to whom We had given the Revelation: you [people] can ask those who have knowledge if you do not know. (Surah An-Nahl, 16:43-44)
There are great responsibilities and consequences for those who transmit knowledge, especially for teachers and scholars of Sacred Knowledge, but there is also a special status, importance and reward given to them:
يَرْفَعِ اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ وَاللَّـهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ ﴿١١﴾
Allah will raise those who have believed among you and those who were given knowledge, by degrees. And Allah is Acquainted with what you do. (Surah Al-Mujādilah, 58:11)
Narrated Abu Umamah Al-Bahili: “Two men were mentioned before the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. One of them a worshiper, and the other a scholar. So the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘The superiority of the scholar over the worshiper is like my superiority over the least of you.’ Then the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘Indeed Allah, His Angels, the inhabitants of the heavens and the earths – even the ant in his hole, even the fish – say Salat upon the one who teaches the people to do good.'” (Hasan (Darussalam), Jami` at-Tirmidhi 2685)
Other narrations, which are not limited to teaching specifically, talk about the reward of those who guide to goodness: “One who guides to something good has a reward similar to that of its doer.” (Sahih Muslim 1893 a).
THANK YOU Teachers!
World Teachers’ Day is just one day out of 365, which doesn’t do justice to the important and necessary role that teachers play in our societies, and especially in our Muslim communities when it comes down to Islamic education, but it is at least a good starting point to reflect on what our religion says about this special role.
We take this opportunity to thank ALL TEACHERS out there, and especially ours at Studio Arabiya, for your commitment to educate future generations one after the other, for your passion to share your knowledge and expertise with others, for your dedication to make it a fun learning experience for your students, and for the way you always embrace new challenges.
Make sure to thank YOUR teacher today, and everyday 🙂