Imam al-Ghazali is one of the greatest reformers Islam has produced. His multifaceted service for Din has been acclaimed by the academia through centuries. One of his masterpieces is the Ihya Ulum al-Din (the regeneration of sciences). ‘Ulama say that, should all the books on different disciplines be burnt out, this book is sufficient to recreate them. One of the most appealing topics of this book is the chapter on Knowledge, where the great Imam shed light as to what is knowledge.
He has divided knowledge into two parts:
Religious knowledge (Ilm al-‘Áliyah’ ), and secular (or instrumental) knowledge (Ilm al-Áliyah). The former is acquired from the Qur’an and Sunnah. It is the most dignified knowledge and it is without doubt. The second type of knowledge is needed to enhance the understanding of the former since it was a revelation. Imam al-Ghazali subdivided the secular subjects into three subcategories:
Beneficial knowledge: This encapsulates those sciences that will benefit society and helps it to progress, e.g. medical knowledge and mathematics. Accordingly, the acquisition of these sciences and disciplines is Fard al-Kifayyah, i.e. if nobody acquires it, then the entire Muslim community of a particular locality will be sinful.
Neutral Knowledge: This category encapsulates those disciplines that will not really enhance one’s beneficial knowledge but there is nothing wrong if they are studied, e.g. the history of England.
Harmful Knowledge: This category comprises of those disciplines which are harmful, such as black magic and gambling. It is therefore, haram to acquire such knowledge.
Imam Al-Ghazali’s views on children's education
The child, Al-Ghazali also wrote, "is a trust (placed by God) in the hands of his parents, and his innocent heart is a precious element capable of taking impressions".
If the parents, and later the teachers, brought him up in righteousness he would live happily in this world and the next and they would be rewarded by God for their good deed. If they neglected the child’s upbringing and education he would lead a life of unhappiness in both worlds and they would bear the burden of the sin of neglect.
One of the elements Al-Ghazali insists upon is that a child should be taught the words of the Creed in his earliest days and be taught the meaning gradually as he grew older; corresponding to the three stages of memorising, understanding and conviction. The way the child relates to the world at large occupies a large concern in Al-Ghazali’s mind. In concert with Ibn Al-Hajj, he stresses amongst others that a child must not boast about his father’s wealth, and must be polite and attentive to all. He should be taught not to love money for love of it is a deadly poison. He must not spit nor clean his nose in public. He must learn to respect and obey his parents, teachers and elders. As he grows older, he must observe the rules of cleanliness, fast a few days in Ramadhan, avoid the wearing of silk, gold and silver, learn the prescriptions of the scared law, fear thieving, wealth from unclean sources, lying, treachery, vice and violent language. The pupil must not be excessively proud, or jealous. He should not tell off others. He must avoid the company of the great of this world, or to receive gifts from them. He must act towards God as he would wish his servant acted towards him. He should treat every human as he would like to be treated himself. The perspective of Al-Ghazali is centered upon personal effort in the search for truth; and this presupposes, he insists, a received education and the direction of a master. Education (tarbiya), Al-Ghazali states in Ayyuha l-walad is like "the labour of the farmer, who uproots the weeds, trims wheat so as it grows better and gives a better harvest." Every man needs a teacher to guide him in the right direction. To try and do without leads to worst illusions. In Ayyuha l-walad the pupil’s...