In this short extract from a longer article, Munawar Karim, Headmaster and founder of Deenway discusses the nature of the Liberal Arts and their connection with the Islamic tradition.
by Munawar Karim, Headmaster
“The utilitarian or servile arts enable one to be a servant-of another person, of the state, of a corpora- tion, or of a business-and to earn a living. The liberal arts, in contrast, teach one how to live; they train the faculties and bring them to perfection; they enable a person to rise above his material environment to live an intellectual, a rational, and therefore a free life in gaining truth. (-The Trivium, Miriam Joseph)
Look at the artistic and architectural legacy of Islamic Civilisation. The artistic expression of beauty inspired by the Qur’an and sunnah (prophetic example) is invariably expressed through language: whether it be words as art presented in calligraphy; words as emotion and spiritual transmission expressed through poetry and song; or words as manifestations of the Divine attributes as revealed in the Qur’an; ours is a tradition that gives importance to literary, not visual, imagery. And so teaching in Islam is through the medium of language and keeping company with scholars, not through visual images. Not for naught are pictorial representations frowned upon in Islam and images of living things seldom tolerated in Islamic culture.
Classical education, writes Bauer (2004, xx), is
“language-intensive—not image focused. It demands that students use and understand words not video images.”
Here Bauer is referring to the Western tradition of classical education, but her words are equally true, if not more so, of the Islamic pedagogy from which it was largely derived. Her words ring true of the Islamic classical tradition of education that inspired some of the greatest minds and hearts in human history. Why modern Muslims involved in schooling have on the whole failed to take into account classical educational models when setting up Islamic schools is unclear, but one reason may be because of their lack of expertise in education, despite their good intentions.
Language-intensive, rather than image-focused learning is the key to a spiritual education because it strengthens the imaginative faculties. Its oppo- site is a sure fire way to destroy the natural urge to find meaning which is part of the very essence of a human being; and is a particulary strong-felt desire in young people. No wonder classical education cur- riculums are popular with Christian homeschoolers. The benefits of a classical education are well expressed by Bauer:
“It is history-intensive, providing students with a comprehensive view of human endeavour from the beginning until now. It trains the mind to analyse and draw conclusions. It demands self-discipline. It produces literate, curious, intelligent students who have a wide range of interests and the ability to follow up on them.”
Unicity College is the only Islamic Liberal Arts school in the United Kingdom, and one of only a handful of liberal arts schools per se in the country. We pray it will be a shining beacon of light, hope and inspiration for the young students that come here; and that it be a means for their success, and ours, in this life, and in eternity. Unicity College is a not for profit organisation and we ask everyone who shares our vision to help us in whatever way they can: through prayers, donations, fundraising, and spreading the word.