When we come across the word "education", we generally think about the lessons obtained from our schools and universities. Without going into the philosophical explanations, this consideration is, in a sense, true. The importance of education has been much overlooked, and maybe now is the time to change the scenario – or rather, to redefine and respect the need to educate.
The first words revealed in the Holy Qur'an tell us: "Read. Read in the name of thy Lord Who created; [He] created the human being from blood clot. Read and your Lord is Most Honorable, Who taught by the pen: [He] taught the human being what he did not know." (96:1-5) We often do not realize the importance of reading and writing due to our obsessed busy lives.
Living in the West having all the basic necessities of life, we tend to ignore the importance of effectively educating every child worldwide. We focus mostly on giving charity to the poor, providing food to the hungry, and helping the orphans by sending money through online transfers. These are indeed noble acts, and may God accept our efforts. However, we should be aware that charities can benefit the needy only temporarily, giving our hearts some fleeting relief. A permanent effect can occur only if we understand the significance of the cause behind this penury.
It is truly incredible that Muslims all over the world care about the Somalia relief funds, boycotting Israeli goods, and helping the needy, poor, and orphans. But what about the next step? What about the next meal for the hungry? What about the next new clothes for the poor? What about when monetary assistance runs out among the orphans? These are some honest questions that we generally do not come across. Or perhaps we are so lost in the midst of our own lives that we accept this as the balance of nature.
In Western countries, many never experience adverse situations since the government set-ups provide the basic amenities of food, medicine, clothes, electricity and other civil needs to citizens. But the situation is very different in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Middle Eastern countries and many countries of Africa. Living comfortable in developed countries, we usually feel satisfied sending money to the concerned people, yet we do not even bother to know what happens to them after the limited amount of money finishes.
In reality, a poor family with 5 orphaned children and a single mother tends to believe and hope that they would receive some amount of money every now and then through various Islamic charities. This notion is fine in itself, and there is nothing wrong with their hopes. But when a son from that family grows up in a small town of India, he also tends to live upon the same hope of receiving money from charity. In order to support his elderly mother and 4 younger siblings, he opens a small fruit juice shop, earns a little money, and then changes his professions every season with no constant source of income. Time and again, the family can only solely depend on the money received through charity. This is a very common situation, and many believers born and brought up in Western countries do not grasp this harsh reality. People from the West pity such needy unfortunates and act by arranging money for them, often times never knowing what happens in the core of the lives of the poor. This pity and sympathy is good, but a permanent solution is needed far and wide.
The miserable conditions of children give rise to many ill faces in society such as child labor and begging. Seeing the snapshots of a hungry child, or an orphan girl, or a boy of eight years selling snacks in the streets really is truly heartbreaking, but one must act now to end all these evils permanently. Pitying and charity, of course, are not the permanent solutions.
Basic Education a Must
Education is by far the most important permanent solution for all the above-mentioned problems. Educating every boy and girl in these countries should be one of the primary aims of all Muslims living in the West. Schooling from the age of 5 will not only help the child to gain knowledge, but it will also develop other beautiful skills within the child to fight against a destitute lifestyle and to improve conditions exponentially. Some of the key points that need to be improved upon are:
- Universalization of quality basic education
- Reducing the disparity between male-female education system
- Reducing the drop-out rates from schools and universities
- Initiating the infrastructure-based system for schools, especially for Muslims
- Continuation of those schools and providing scholarships for poor children
Many communities view education as a luxury and even exhibit partiality for educating boys more than girls. We need to fight against the system of corruption in these countries to come up with a perfect solution to impart education.
Many organizations are already doing a lot when it comes to imparting education and we need to unite in supporting those organizations. This may be a good reason to launch one organization for opening schools through charity. If our ultra-conservative, partially-politicized and rich Muslims really care, then why not launch a program for imparting education? This lack of proper schools is present not only in the affected countries, but even in western countries as well. With the grace of God, followers of Ahlul Bayt have now built many Islamic centers in the major cities all over the world – be it Sydney, Melbourne, New Jersey, Tokyo, New York, and London to name a few – but unfortunately, we have not built as many schools for imparting education. Instead of questioning each other, we should start heavily funding education in underdeveloped countries and also launch programs with centers to provide scholarships. There should be a well-planned, central organization that controls the body of these schools at different locations ensuring basic education at the early levels. Later on, we can move to secondary education by opening universities and also by providing scholarships.
Some organizations that are helping to educate children in countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Middle Eastern countries and African ones include UNESCO, UNICEF, and Comfort Aid International. The status of education for each country – in terms of adverse conditions such as illiteracy, male-female disparity, primary and secondary education ratios, and other aspects – is easily accessible on this page. UNICEF has also teamed up with the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Ministry of Education to educate girls in poor regions of the country, and the situations are really improving, albeit slowly. The situations in South Asian countries such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh also need to be improved tremendously.
Apart from all these attempts by various organizations, things are improving very little and the data provided to us does not represent reality. There is always some hidden aspect that needs to be improved upon to affect each and every child with regard to education. Unless we initiate and act with some well-planned educational programs, the school of Ahlul Bayt would never be able to stand erect and be independent, and would always remain a school of empathy and disappointment.
Few hidden benefits of imparting education to children are:
- Develops the overall personality of an individual
- Changes the mindset of a child; focus shifts to financial independence from dependence
- Child gains social and cultural freedom
- A person never loses hope and always believes in planned action
- A student learns to respect his/her teachers and learn to be humble
- Professionals are produced in every challenging field of industry from among the followers of the Ahlul Bayt, who would later help in effectively spreading the message of Islam.
Our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has said, "I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate", and that gives an indication as to how important seeking knowledge is for us, from the point of view of our holy leaders. It is our own fault that we get lost in materialistic things other than seeking knowledge, and because of that we end up suffering. With these sufferings, we always have someone to blame; sometimes we blame other schools, sometimes other powerful countries, sometimes other religions – after all, it is such an easy way to survive when we play the blame game.We should ask ourselves: Is this the way our Prophets and holy Imams (peace be upon them all) want us to live? Should we completely forget about this world and focus on praying, fasting and charity all the time? The answer to these questions is "No". This world is also important, and if we want to be known amongst everyone in order to spread the true message of Ahlul Bayt, then first and foremost, we need to educate our children. This idea needs to be instilled in every Muslim that education is a basic necessity along with food, shelter and clothes – all of these are complementary to each other. We should treasure the importance of education and do whatever we can to support our brothers and sisters in order to make them socially and financially independent. The next time you read a book, consider a little orphan from a village who wants to read too but has no money to attend a school to learn how to read, let alone being able to buy the book that hangs in a shop in front of his crude, lamp-lit shelter.