The Instruction of Children and the Different Methods Employed in the Muslim Cities


Ibn Khaldun1

It should be known that instruction of children in the Qur'an is a symbol of Islam. Muslims have, and practice, such instruction in all their cities, because it imbues hearts with a firm belief (in Islam) and its articles of faith, which arc (derived) from the verses of the Qur'an and certain Prophetic traditions. The Qur'an has become the basis of instruction, the foundation for all habthat be acquired later on. The reason for this is that the things one is taught in one's youth take root more deeply (than anything else). They are the basis of all later (knowledge.) The first impression the heart receives is, in a way, the foundation of (all scholarly) habits. The character of the foundation determines the conditions of the building. The methods of instructing children in the Qur'an differ according to differences of opinion as to the habits that are to result from that instruction. The Spanish method is instruction in reading and writing as such. That is what they pay attention to in the instruction (of children). However, since the Qur'an is the basis and foundation of (all) that and the source of Islam and (all) the sciences, they make it the basis of instruction, but they do not restrict their instruction of children exclusively to (the Qur'an). They also bring in (other subjects), mainly poetry and composition, and they give the children an expert knowledge of Arabic and teach them a good handwriting.

They do not stress teaching of the Qur'an more than the other subjects. In fact, they are more concerned with teaching handwriting than any other subject, until the child reaches manhood. He then has some experience and knowledge of the Arabic language and poetry. He has an excellent knowledge of handwriting, and he would have a thorough acquaintance with scholarship in general, if the tradition of scholarly instruction (still) existed in (Spain), but he does not, because the tradition no longer exists there. Thus (present-day Spanish children) obtain no further (knowledge) than what their primary instruction provides. It is enough for those whom God guides. It prepares (them for further studies), in the event that a teacher (of them) can be found.

The people of Ifriqiyah [North Africa] combine the instruction of children in the Qur'an, usually, with the teaching of traditions. They also teach basic scientific norms and certain scientific problems. However, they stress giving their children a good knowledge of the Qur'an and acquainting them with its various recensions and readings more than anything else. Next they stress handwriting. In general, their method of instruction in the Qur'an is closer to the Spanish method (than to Maghribi or Eastern methods), because their (educational tradition) derives from the Spanish shaykhs who crossed over when the Christians conquered Spain, and asked for hospitality in Tunis. From that time on, they were the teachers of (Tunisian) children.

The people of the East, as far as we know, likewise have a mixed curriculum. I do not know what (subjects) they stress (primarily). We have been told that they are concerned with teaching the Qur'an and the works and basic norms of (religious) scholarship once (the children) are grown up. They do not combine (instruction in the Qur'an with instruction in handwriting. They have (special) rule(s) for teaching it, and there are special teachers for it, just like any other craft which is taught (separately) and not included in the school curriculum for children. The children's slates (on which they practice) exhibit an inferior form of handwriting. Those who want to learn a (good) handwriting may do so later (on in their lives) from professional (calligraphers), to the extent of their interest in it and desire.

The fact that the people of Ifriqiyah and the Maghrib restrict themselves to the Qur'an makes them altogether incapable of mastering the linguistic habit. For as a rule, no (scholarly) habit can originate from the (study of the) Qur'an because no human being can produce anything like it. Thus, human beings are unable to employ or imitate its ways (uslub,) and they also can form no habit in any other respect. Consequently, a person who knows (the Qur'an) does not acquire the habit of the Arabic language. It will be his lot to be awkward in expression and to have little fluency in speaking. This situation is not quite so pronounced among the people of Ifr-iqiyah as among the Maghrib-is, because, as we have stated, the former combine instruction in the Quran with instruction in the terminology of scientific norms. Thus, they get some practice and have some examples to imitate. However, their habit in this respect does not amount to a good style (eloquence), because their knowledge mostly consists of scholarly terminology which falls short of good style, as will be mentioned in the proper section.

As for the Spaniards, their varied curriculum with its great amount of instruction in poetry, composition, and the Arabic philology gave them, from their early years on, a habit providing for a better acquaintance with the Arabic language. They were less proficient in all the other (religious) sciences, because they were little familiar with study of the Qur'an and the traditions that are the basis and foundation of the (religious) sciences. Thus, they were people who knew how to write and who had a literary education that was either excellent or deficient, depending on the secondary education they received after their childhood educations.

1Ibn Khaldun, The Mugaddimah:An Introduction to History,trans. by Franz Rosenthal (Princeton University Press, 1958) pp. 300- 303.

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