Education: Ijtihad to make it obligatory

Q188 :It is an undeniable fact that education is the most important thing in life. Perhaps the main reason for the failure of the Muslim world in recent history is the lack of knowledge and education. Why is it that this very important factor is not included among the pillars of Islam? Is there a mechanism to include it at this stage, by means of Ijtihad, since God does not prohibit good additions which can help the Muslim community to flourish.

A188 : The term "pillars of Islam" is derived from the Hadith which states that the structure of the Islamic religion is built on five (pillars): The declaration that one believes in the Oneness of Allah and the message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) the regular attendance to prayer, the payment of zakah, pilgrimage to the Sacred House in Makkah and fasting in Ramadan. What we understand from this Hadith is that the five are the essentials of the Islamic religion and that the deliberate neglect of anyone of them may take a person out of the fold of Islam altogether. If you consider these, you will find that each one of them is a very definite duty. We know, for example, that prayer involves five compulsory prayers everyday and night. Each one of these has its time range, number of rak'ahs, definite form, etc. Fasting in Ramadan is also very tangible: We fast the whole month, from dawn to dusk, everyday, abstaining from eating, drinking, and sex. There are other Islamic duties which are very important, but not so definite. They have not been included among the pillars of Islam. Education is very important to any community. There is no doubt about that. But can we consider it as one of the mainstays of the Islamic faith? Islam is a religion which appeals to all communities, no matter what degree of advancement they have reached. It can be practiced in a primitive community and in a most sophisticated and advanced one. The relationship between education and Islam is mutually supportive. The higher the standard of education in a Muslim community, the better that community knows and defends its faith. At the same time, the more strongly a community holds to its Islamic faith the greater its interest is in education. Nevertheless, we cannot consider education as a pillar of Islam, because it is so loosely defined. If we do, what standard of education do we impose on every individual? Would it be sufficient to say that every Muslim child must complete preparatory school, or secondary school or should go on to university? What if the community does not have the resources to provide that type of universal education for its children? Yet Islam has not neglected education. Indeed, there are numerous Hadiths which encourage education. The Prophet is authentically quoted to have said: "To seek knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim." This applies to men and women alike. Moreover, it is the right of each child that his or her parents should provide for his or her education. If they do not, then they are answerable to Allah for neglecting this important duty. Their son or daughter may question them on the Day of Judgment for that failure. You ask whether we can include education as a pillar of Islam by means of Ijtihad. Let me explain that Ijtihad means the use of scholarly discretion in determining the Islamic attitude to any particular problem. This applies mainly to matters that develop in every community. Ijtihad is done on the basis of evidence from the Qur'an and the Sunnah. It is applied only in matters that develop in different communities with the progress of human life. Moreover, if a Qur'anic statement or a Hadith defines a particular number of things to which a certain rule applies, then that number cannot be increased. For example, the Prophet says that "Three things are of common ownership: Water, pasture and fire." This means that no one can claim complete ownership of a spring of water or a river, etc. People may use that water source and have equal right to it. In recent history some Socialist governments in different parts of the Muslim world sought to have Islamic backing for their Socialist approach, citing this Hadith as a basis and trying to widen its application to other areas. The Prophet, as you notice, speaks of the common ownership of three matters. We cannot make them four. Similarly, when the Prophet states that the structure of Islam is built on five pillars, we cannot make them six. Ijtihad is a very important duty, according to Islam. Scholars throughout Islamic history have not included it among the pillars of Islam, not even in periods when the very existence of the Muslim community was threatened. It is not a matter of a good education. Our religion has been revealed by Allah. We cannot add to it something which is not there.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )