Early Islamic Education: The Maktab
The mosque was used as the locus of teaching from the earliest days of Islam. As early
as in the reign of the second caliph Umar "narrators," or qassin the singular
were appointed to the mosques in cities of Basra, Damascus, and Kufa. These narrators
were responsible for reciting the Quran and the prophecies known as the Had-ith. For
centuries after institutions of learning remained connected to the mosque. These
institutions were generally supported by religious endowments.
Gradually, instructions in Arabic grammar and literature were added. Eventually, the nascent forms of education grew into into more fully developed institutions of
learning. The early instructions in language and religion evolved into elementary schools (maktab,)
as well as into centers of higher learning. These centers would eventually become the
first universities of the Middle Ages, and serve as models for the European universities of the eleventh and
The maktab still survives today in many parts of the Islamic world. Its purpose
has been to teach reading and writing and, more specifically, the principles of Islam. Historically,
boys and girls are taught in mosque schools as well as in private homes.
Within the Islamic tradition, children are taught to revere both for the teacher and
the subject matter. Talented students are identified at an early age and encouraged
to further their studies. The maktab historically served not only as the
source of basic education for the general populace, but as a conduit for the academically talented
places to centers of advanced learning.
Although there are regional variations in the actual conduct of educating
children, the overall influence of the maktab historically has been the way it shapes the
attitudes of students toward their teachers, and the sanctity of learning. These attitudes inevitably
were carried on by students into the more advanced phases of instruction, and eventually permeated
the societal values of Islamic culture.
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