Madrassa education in India – what needs to change

“In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller


The purpose of this article is to help the graduates of Madaaris (Ulama) to become relevant in modern society and to be able to provide positive leadership to their congregations. 

 I have tried to define the situation with Madrassa Education in India as I understand it and to propose a solution to the deficiencies and problems that it faces. That these deficiencies and problems are not necessarily recognized or likely to be accepted by those who run Madaaris is to be expected because the first reaction of the patient who is diagnosed with a terminal illness is denial. However, this ‘illness’ though terminal, if left unattended, is curable if addressed. The question is whether those who have the authority – Madrassa administrators and even more importantly, sponsors – are willing to address it and implement the cure. It is my job to share my thoughts. With that, I rest my case before Allah. For I will not be asked, ‘What did you know?’ I will be asked, ‘What did you do?’ That is what you, my dear reader, will also be asked.

About the issues with the quality of education in our Madrassas in  India, I believe we need to look at the syllabus which is based on the Dars-eNizami. Dars-e-Nizami or its derivatives are taught in thousands of Madaaris worldwide which draw inspiration, instruction or follow the principles and values of Darul Uloom Deoband, arguably the most respected Madrassa in the subcontinent.  I have quoted from Darul Uloom Deoband’s site because Deoband is the bastion of this syllabus and methodology. You can see what they themselves say about what the student gains after eight years of full-time residential ‘education’. (bold type below is mine).

Its founder was Mulla Nizamuddin Sahalvi (d. 1748), who was contemporary of Hazrat Shah Waliullah. The curriculum known as “Dars-e Nizami”, which is current today in all the Arabic schools, is a relic from him. Adding something more to the syllabi of the third period, Mulla Nizamuddin prepared a new syllabus. The great peculiarity of this syllabus is that more attention has been paid in it to the creation of depth of insight and power of reading in the student, and although immediately after the completion of this course proficiency is not acquired in any particular subject, this much ability is surely created that, through one’s own independent reading and labor, one may acquire proficiency in any subject of one’s liking. The standard of Hadith and Tafsir in this course too is not much high, and of literature there is included no book at all.

Mulla Nizamuddin created what came to be called Dars-e-Nizami in the 1730’s, more than a century before 1857 and the establishment of British rule in India. He created the syllabus to enable Madrassa graduates to get government jobs in the Moghul administration. Since he was from Lucknow where the influence of Iran was very strong, his course gave far more importance to Ilm Kalam, Greek philosophy, logic (Mantiq), Farsi and not to the Qur’an, Hadith and Seerah. What is amazing is the sincerity with which our Madrassa authorities still cling to this totally outdated syllabus ignoring all the changes in time, space, political situation and realities of the modern world that have happened since the 1730’s. The result is that they are still producing graduates ideally suited to enter the service of a government that ceased to exist a century and a half ago.

I don’t think there is any doubt in the minds of anyone including those who graduate from Madaaris with at least some residual ability to think still intact, that there is a crying need for change. Not merely cosmetic or incremental change but a total transformation of the curriculum, syllabus and teaching methodology to ensure that those who graduate from there can enter society with confidence.

The reason this is even more important is because according to the Justice Sachar Committee Report (2005) there are two million students in Madaaris in India. That is less than 2% of the population of Indian Muslims but it is significant because of the amount of money that is spent voluntarily on it by the community which the same Report defines as being economically speaking, the weakest in the nation. Yet the Indian Muslim community spends a colossal INR 24 billion (2400 crores) annually on sponsoring Madrassa education. I doubt if there is any other community of Indians who can match this contribution to national development.

I arrived at this figure by assuming a cost/student of INR 1000 per month per student. The actual cost is most likely to be double that or more as most Madaaris provide boarding, lodging and education, totally free. However, for our discussion the amount of INR 24 billion (2400 crores) is sufficient. It is my contention that anyone (person or group) that spends so much money must be concerned about the quality of the output for which the money is being spent. I believe that is where the problem starts because to the best of my knowledge there is no particular purpose or clear objective of Madrassa education.

No Madrassa teacher or director has ever been able to answer me clearly when I asked them to describe what their final product, the graduate of the Madrassa, was supposed to be. Educators teach what they have been mandated to teach according to the syllabus. Sponsors sponsor the education considering it to be a ‘good deed’ for which Allahﷻ will reward them. Students who come mostly from the poorest strata of Muslim society and their parents, have no voice at all in deciding what is taught, how it is taught or what the result is. The fact that the graduate is called A’alim is a bonus and he exists with a sense of position though without any skills to lead his life in society.

In brief this is what happens in Dars-e-Nizami. This is not a criticism of this work and may Allahﷻ grant the best reward to the its author. I am mentioning this to you so that you, who live in today’s world, can decide if it is enough as the fundamental education for young people and relevant in our 21st century world. I want you to see this also in the light of Islamic religious education and ask yourself if this is sufficient for someone who is going to emerge at the other end and be called A’alim.

Under Dars-e-Nizami curriculum:

  1. Students only touch the Qur’an as the method is a ‘Dawrah’ (reading, not teaching). Tafsir-i-Jalalayn (which has fewer words than the Qur’an!) is followed and that is done for Barakah only. Usool-ul-Tafsir are not taught. Arabic, the language of the Qur’an and Sunnah, is not taught which means that students never get to touch the original revelation but must be content with the translation. Instead Arabic books are taught in Urdu (translations) and this is not considered either strange or wrong. The teachers themselves don’t know Arabic, so if one wanted to bring about a change, it would not be so easy as to simply tell teachers to teach in the original language of the book, which is Arabic. They can’t because they don’t know it themselves. Yet they are recruited, paid and teach.
  2. Interestingly in every Western university where there is a Faulty of Islamic Studies, fluency in Arabic is a pre-requisite for being recruited as a teacher. Consequently, they have non-Muslim teachers who know Arabic and can quote the Qur’an and Hadith which our graduates from our Darul Ulooms and even their teachers, can’t. It is a matter of shame for us that Islam is the only religion which is taught by non-Muslims in many Western universities because all the Darul Ulooms of the Indian Subcontinent together, can’t produce enough graduates who are fit to be hired into a system that demands the knowledge of the language of the Qur’an to teach the Qur’an. The fact that they don’t know English either doesn’t help and non-Muslims teach Islam to Muslim students, understandably with their biases and prejudices.
  3. The six books on Hadith are also taught in a similar fashion – as a ‘dawrah’ during the last year. Students gain neither knowledge nor understanding. The teacher simply reads, gives a short explanation and goes on to the next Hadith. There is no discussion, no question and answer, no reflection on the Asbaab (circumstances) of the Hadith, no comparison with what Rasoolullahﷺ taught in a given situation and how it compares and contrasts with what we are taught or what we do in our own lives. There is no time to contemplate on any Hadith and think about how to apply the teachings in current times.
  4. History and Seerah are neither taught in detail nor to extract lessons. This is the strangest and most crippling deficiency because Allahﷻ ordered us to learn about the life of His Prophet, Muhammadﷺ and to emulate him and follow his way. If this is not even done in a religious school (Deeni Madrassa) then where will it be done?
  5. There is a total lack of critical thinking for fear of raising questions or disagreeing with the established position of the ‘school’. In our Madaris we teach Madhab, not Islam. For example, in Hanafi Madaris like Deoband and others, a whole course is taught about the ‘mistakes’ of Imam Shafi in his extraction of rulings but no course on the Principles of Fiqh (Usool-ul-Fiqh), Manners of Disagreement (Adaab-ul-Ikhtilaaf) or Principles of Extraction of Rulings (Istambaad-ul-Ahkaam). The result is that instead of appreciating the different approaches of the Fiqhi scholars and Imams, students come out with the impression that one of them was ‘right’ and the others were ‘wrong’. And since they follow the ‘right’ one, they are superior to the other classical scholars who were ‘wrong’. This arrogance creates rigidity and is the root cause behind the inter-denominational hatred, divisiveness and violence. Acceptance of a point of view different from one’s own; accepting that someone else can also be correct, is not something that our Madaaris believe in, teach or practice.
  6. Even this would have been acceptable if they had been open about it. They would still be wrong but at least honest. But instead, they publicly proclaim that all the four (Sunni) Imams of Fiqh are correct, but clandestinely and privately they condemn everyone other than Imam Abu Hanifa. They try to enforce Hanafiyat (‘Hanafeeism’ – my coinage) rather than Islam. This is hypocrisy at its worst.
  7. One of the reasons why critical thinking and questioning is discouraged is that people consider the human understanding and interpretation of the revelation by their predecessors as ‘divine’. The opinions of their own scholars (called Akabireen; The Great Ones) are considered sacrosanct, unquestionable, irrefutable and good for all time. The reality is that only Qur’an and authentic Sunnah is divine. Rest of the sciences of religion are human understanding of the revelation and as such are bound to have differences. An interesting corollary is that there is no evidence that anyone who has been raised to this ‘divine’ status today, ever wanted this to be done or told anyone that he was infallible and must be obeyed without question. Yet this is done in their name today.
  8. It’s noteworthy to mention that Imam Abu Hanifa’s main students (Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad) differ from him in one-third of his madhab. It shows that he trained his students to think rather than copy him and if they differed from his opinion he didn’t throw them out of his class. But his way has been lost today.
  9. Students in Madaris succeed because they focus on memory. Madrassas deliberately discourage, even punish, critical thinking. The most powerful way to do this is to make everything sacred and therefore unquestionable. There is no difference in approach to the Word of Allahﷻ, the teachings of His Messengerﷺ and the teachings of (especially and almost exclusively) the scholars of a particular Madhab. The word ‘Akabireen’ (Great Ones), is used exclusively for scholars of the Madhab only. No Deobandi – Hanafi means Iman Shafi, Imam Ahmad or Imam Malik when he says, ‘Akabireen’ with the appropriate intonation of respectful reference. He means not only Imam Abu Hanifa exclusively, but he means the Ustaadhs of Darul Uloom Deoband only. So, where is the question of questioning anything that was ruled by any of them when to do so would be to literally put your life and reputation on the line. “To question is not to deny” – is not something that our traditionalists believe in. Our way is to hear and obey, even though that is something that applies only to the Word and Orders of Allahﷻ Raising humans to a semi-divine status is always injurious to reason.
  10. Since students don’t learn Arabic, which is the language of both Qur’an and Sunnah, they are not able to reach the source books and study them directly. They rely on translations which are bound to have their limitations. But this situation is not remedied. Instead it is accepted as inevitable, unchangeable and correct.
  11. The teachings and rulings of Rasoolullahﷺ are treated as if coming from a ‘Mufti’ rather than from the Messenger of Allahﷺ. People don’t take guidance from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Instead they impose their own understanding from their culture, ideas, philosophy on the Qur’an and Sunnah. Instead of taking from the Qur’an & Sunnah, people start to give to Qur’an.
  12. Finally, in what is, in reality, a basic primary to secondary or at the most, high school level course, nothing is taught of math or science, history (mentioned earlier) or geography. How someone who never learnt math can even be called ‘educated’ is beyond me, but that is what happens in our Madaris. Yet the student graduates from high school with the title, ‘A’alim’ and its attendant attitude.
  13. Teaching methodology in Madaaris is totally defunct and completely free from all the latest developments in teaching technology and methods. Madrassa education in the Indian subcontinent is the only system in which teacher training is unheard of. So is understanding of child psychology, class plans, teacher assessment, standardized exams or any of the teaching aids that are commonplace in every other school. Just ask a normal Madrassa teacher about any of these things and you will see what I mean. Corporal punishment is normal and brutal.

Yet there seems to be no concern in our community and no anguish except in my heart. No effort to change anything because of our innate laziness and blind following of the ‘Ulama’. This elevation of status of ‘Ulama’ (Madrassa graduates) to a level of semi-divinity, is the masterstroke which the ‘Ulama’ have played which shuts down all legitimate criticism which could have resulted in improvement.  Instead, anyone who dares to criticize with sincerity and concern is deemed a rebel with his status liable to be promoted to ‘apostate’, if he doesn’t cease and desist and refuses to toe the line.

For those sponsors of Madaaris reading this I would like to respectfully ask, ‘How many of you have taken the trouble to go and see what is taught and how, in the institutions you support? If you haven’t, then ask yourself, ‘Why not?’ How and why are you so disinterested in what you are sponsoring that you don’t take any trouble to ask what is taught, why it is taught, how it is taught and what is sought to be achieved because of the teaching. Do you have any idea what you want to achieve apart from getting Thawaab?  I don’t think that anyone will differ about the need to have a clear focus on the purpose of Islamic education and to bring Islamic education on par with secular education in terms of teaching curricula and methods. Then why don’t you do it?

The present syllabus is totally inadequate both theologically and in a worldly sense. Add to that the fact that graduates come out with the title of A’alim and an inflated sense of their own importance combined with an inferiority complex. This happens when their Madrassa inflated egos meet the real world and realize their inadequacy. So, they go into a shell because they’re helpless and don’t know how to handle it. In short at the end of eight years of fulltime study the students of our Madaaris graduate with the title of A’alim but without proficiency in anything. You may ask how this is different in the case of a Matric student who also graduates without proficiency in anything. The answer is that he is not called an A’alim and passing Matric is not his final goal.  He passed Matric as a step to enter a pre-university course from where he will enter university and go on to post graduate studies and so on. His self-concept and attitude are completely different, and society treats him accordingly.

The vast majority of those who graduate with the degree of A’alim however, go nowhere. They become Imams and spend the rest of their lives leading Salah in a masjid and start their own Madrassa or teach in another Madrassa albeit without any qualification to teach. That this is the result of 8 – 12 years of so-called education on which a colossal amount is spent by the community which can least afford this luxury, shows how little we care about our own community and its most critical asset; the youth and education.

Quality is the outcome of measurement

How can you have quality in a system where there are neither standards nor metrics? In India, you don’t need any accreditation or certification to start a Madrassa. There are no minimum standards for anything at all; infrastructure, teacher quality, teaching material or any of the normal standards that you would have to satisfy to be certified and permitted to start a basic elementary school. There are no metrics to measure anything in the Madrassa system, so how can you have quality which is the outcome of measurement? Teachers need no qualification to teach nor do they or you feel the need for this. Students come from the poorest and therefore the least powerful or vocal section of society. Students and their parents have low or no aspirations and no voice at all to implement any change, even if they knew what they wanted to be changed. The curriculum has no benchmark to compare with any curriculum today, is not comparable to any other educational system and to top it all is given the patina and glow of the sacred and holy which is meant to throttle any change initiative in the cradle.

To close the loop from where I started, the biggest hurdle to change in the existing Madrassa education system is the fear that any mention of change inspires in those who own and run it. That is entirely understandable because for one thing; the Madaaris are the means of their own livelihood. For another, change in the way that is needed is not merely incremental, evolutionary or cosmetic but revolutionary, transformative and metamorphic. What is needed is a completely new system. Resistance arises from the real fear in the teachers and Madrassa owners of becoming redundant and thereby losing their livelihood. This is a real fear because expecting current teachers to learn a completely new body of knowledge and teaching methodology is unrealistic. Add to it the fact that included in the re-learning is to learn two new languages, Arabic and English, and the water gets even murkier. That is why I began with Buckminster Fuller’s quote. What is needed is to create a new model which will be proof of concept to inspire change and give people the reassurance that success always does. I remind myself of two things: people with limited resources must be very clear and selective about where to spend them to get the maximum benefit. And one day we will be questioned about what we did or failed to do by the One who knows and sees all.

All change must begin with clarifying the goal. Madrassa educators must arrive at a consensus on what they and their Madaris really are; basic primary and secondary schools or higher institutions of specialized theology? As it stands they are neither. Once that is settled, the rest can all be tailored, and standards defined accordingly. We must therefore begin with defining the goal; the end result that we would like to achieve. Once that is clear and agreed upon, one can work on the curriculum, syllabus, course material (books etc.), testing, teaching methodology, teaching tools and technology, infrastructure and teacher training.

Madrassa sponsors must articulate their vision for the training of Ulama. What do we expect them to achieve once they graduate? The goal of learning is something that is not even questioned in any other branch of education because it is clear from the beginning. You don’t need to ask someone running a medical college or a flying school or a Judo dojo or a dance academy, what they expect from the students who graduate. But with respect to our Madaaris and those who graduate from them and those who teach them, their purpose, their life goal, what they are aspiring to become and achieve are all enigmatic and mysterious. That is why there is low motivation which is sought to be countered by rote learning and brutal corporal punishment.

One final matter which all aspiring instigators of change need to keep in mind is that all this needs serious capital investment. Less than what we spend for ostentatious weddings but still significant. Without that we can’t hope to create the infrastructure, teacher training, curriculum development, courseware and myriad other things that are necessary to ensure that the new institutions can deliver the results we hope to achieve. This is also necessary to make Madaaris aspirational. To test if our Madaaris are aspirational (in case you have any doubts) ask one of your children if they would like to leave their school and join any Madrassa in India and you will have the answer. This must change. The image problem that Madaaris have reflects also on their graduates and explains the lack of respect that Madrassa graduates have in Muslim society.

The big question is, ‘How much longer do we want to continue with this?’ This question must be answered first and most importantly by those who fund Madrassas. It is they who must drive the change. It is they who will be questioned by Allahﷻ and recorded in history for what they did or failed to do. Change is the result of the actions of those who pay for it. It is time that we focused on what happens to our donations and seek to make that most beneficial for the community because it is only quality that pleases Allahﷻ.

What must be done?

I have tried to list some broad changes that need to be introduced urgently if we are interested in ensuring that our money is spent in a beneficial manner to achieve our aims of serving the needs of Islam and Muslims.

A Central Madrassa Board must be created to ensure the following:

  1. All Madrassa teachers must be qualified to teach and have a degree in education
  2. Infrastructure must conform to a standard and must be inspected periodically
  3. Corporal punishment must be banned and severely punishable if practiced
  4. Centralized curriculum, syllabus and examination system
  5. Centralized management of funds by the Madrassa Board
  6. Transparency in all matters and merit, the only consideration

I have not attempted to suggest a complete curriculum and syllabus for Madaaris because before anything can be suggested it is essential for the institutions to feel the need and to define their goal. Currently they don’t have any goal apart from getting donations. The fact that their graduates emerge in society, unfit and incapable of dealing with it, much less provide leadership, leaves them unmoved. Until that changes and until they feel the need to change, no change is possible.

Despite all of the above, if donors decide that it is time to question what happens to their donations and if they are getting value for them; and if they are willing to take the pain to bring about change, it can be done.

I believe it is essential to change ourselves before change is forced upon us from outside.

To train or to entertain

The dilemma of the modern corporate enter-trainer

One of my friends who is a corporate trainer/teacher/facilitator, wrote to me on Teacher’s Day and talked about how the nature of training/teaching has changed.

  1. Observation: attitudes of students have changed…
  2. Guru is not necessarily a brahmo or devo. As a service provider, there is no leeway or tolerance for a teacher,
  3. Teacher has to enable the student to reach their goals, without the student willing to learn.
  4. Entire paradigm or process of education is based assumption that the student wants to learn or shares some of the responsibility for their own learning. Looking at today’s folks, I get an attitude like similar to them in a theatre… “ I am here and now let us see how you entertain us, even if I don’t want to be entertained” like saying make something go into my head, inspite of me.
  5. Am finding schools that are doing everything like photocopying or emailing notes. So kids don’t write. They just have to listen/read/vomit. Where is the synthesis part, the part of education that makes students go through certain actions, rituals that have a certain impact on the mind somehow… or is there a need to rethink the ritual from the goal a bit like rethinking business because of the eBusiness paradigm?

Having been a trainer/teacher/facilitator/consultant for the past 35 years I have had the opportunity to observe the change in the environment, especially in the Indian corporate world. There was a time when the teacher was someone who was right by default. Teacher’s tolerance levels were low. Students had to accept what was told to them. Questioning the teacher was tantamount to being impertinent and disrespectful and was not acceptable. Arguing or disagreeing with the teacher was not even heard of. The archetypical model of the ‘rebellious’ student was that of Eklavya in the Mahabharat who had to pay the Gurudakshana of his right thumb to Dronacharya for daring to learn what his teacher did not intend to teach him.
Today we see a total change with the proverbial boot on the foot of the student. Trainers eat or starve depending on the fickle likes and dislikes of students. Teachers are judged not on the basis of what the students learned, realized or felt able to practice in their lives, but on the basis of whether or not they ‘liked’ the teacher. Giving critical feedback to the student (many of whom incidentally as my friend says do not even consider themselves in need of learning nor are they even called ‘student’) is an activity fraught with danger. The danger that the fragile ego of the student may get bruised in the process and his lovely self-image of being God’s gift to mankind may be shaken and he may be displeased. Being ‘liked’ by students seems to be the single most important consideration.

This means that the price of giving some well deserved adverse feedback or of challenging some pet position of a student can mean that on the Trainer Dashboard the trainer’s rating may go down by one or two sub-points from 9.8 to 9.3 which translates very simply to kissing that client goodbye. In some cases of course the HR professional who handles training is also a trainer and understands the complexity of the job. They sit in the training class and know the style of the trainer. They also know the profile of the students well enough to know what must have led to the feedback. They are focused on what is good for the organization which is why the training was being done in the first place. So they simply ignore the feedback and a trainer who has the commitment to say what the students need to hear and not what they like to hear, retains his job. 

On rare occasions s/he is even appreciated and thanked for saying to the student what everyone else was dying to say but dared not. On the other hand when the HR professional either has no training experience themselves or if their personal anxiety is so high that they are totally focused on the training being ‘liked’ and the students having ‘fun’, then you have the scenario that I presented above. In such situations ‘intelligent’ trainers become ‘entertainers’ to ensure that they continue to eat and leave the fate of the student to himself. One can hardly blame them for focusing on being liked, when being liked is more important and gets rewarded more than being useful.
Truly it has been said that we get what we pay for. When we focus on fun, we get ‘funny’ trainers. People have fun and may learn something in the same way that if you throw seeds on the ground some will germinate irrespective of all conditions. But if you had taken the trouble to prepare the ground first by ploughing, harrowing, irrigating and manuring and then you carefully planted the seeds, a far higher percentage would germinate and more importantly, grow and bear fruit. So also if an atmosphere of serious learning (which can still be great fun) is created, with students wanting to learn, believing that they can benefit, be willing to invest their time and thought in learning and be willing to listen to feedback, then the benefits of learning would be far higher. Naturally in such a case what the organization would need to measure is the size of the harvest – what did the students learn and what are they able to apply. Not whether or not they liked the trainer per se.
Now having said that, and being aware that what I have described above is not what happens in most organizations and probably is not likely to happen, what is it that the trainer can still do both to ensure that he continues to eat as well as not compromise his own integrity as a teacher by withholding knowledge, feedback or experience in order to ensure that he continues to have work? In my own life I have always held my own integrity as a teacher above all other considerations, including future business. I have said what students needed to hear even if it was what they did not want to hear. In two cases I lost business on that account, but I have no regrets about that. In every other case in 35 years, people have come back to me time and again and thanked me for putting them back on track when they had gone off and nobody else had the courage to ‘tell it like it is’. In this process of doing what is essentially a very challenging and complex job I developed some techniques which I will try to share with my fellow professionals in the hope that they will find them useful. I call them my 7-Point Formula.
1.  Today I will teach like I’ve never taught before
I have said this before and I will say it again: NEVER compromise your own integrity as a teacher. When you enter that room, the only responsibility that you have is to your students. Not to their company. Not to the HR or Business Manager who hired you. Not to your own family or yourself. Your first and only responsibility is to the students and that is to ensure that they get the best that you can possibly give them without any compromise. So as a trainer/teacher I tell myself: TODAY I WILL TEACH LIKE I’VE NEVER TAUGHT BEFORE. I am a religious person and so before I go to my class, I pray for the class. I ask Allah to enable me to do my best and to give them the very best of what I know and to enable them to benefit from it.

2.  Own your responsibility: Don’t blame the student if he does not like what you tell him. I ask myself, “How could I have put it differently so that he would have accepted it more easily, even if he still did not ‘like’ it?” After all, my effort in this direction can only do me good by helping me develop my own skill. Blaming the student will achieve no purpose at all, either for myself or for the student. Now how can you do that?

The first requirement is to ask yourself why you want to say what you plan to say. Is it to ‘get back at’ or to ‘retaliate’? Or is it because you are genuinely concerned for the student? Granted that it is very difficult to be ‘genuinely concerned’ about some obnoxious stranger but if you are not, it shows. Just as it does when you are. I am always amazed at how much I can get away with if I have ‘passed’ my own test of genuinely caring for the student, first.

One of the ways to help people swallow bitter pills is to ask good questions that lead the student to the only possible option. Let them conclude. Don’t tell. But in the end, even if you lose the contract, say what you need to say without fear. Because your integrity is worth more than the fee.

3.  The third thing that I remind myself is to be patient. Ideally I would like the student who has just received some ‘straight talk’ from me to become transformed and fall at my feet in gratitude for having changed his life. But that is as likely to happen as it is for the cow to jump over the moon. So we need to be patient. I remind myself that an egg needs 21 days to hatch into a chick. Jacking up the temperature will cook the egg and put paid to all hopes of the egg ever transforming into a chicken. “Hang on!! Old egg,” I tell myself.

4.  I ask myself, “How can I become more ‘liked’ without compromising my integrity as a teacher by withholding knowledge, feedback or insights? After all what is wrong with being liked?” It helps me to remember this especially when I have to give anyone critical feedback. What I do if it is feedback concerning one individual is to give it privately and not in the class. I do it with seriousness, concern for his/her feelings, but I do it directly without beating about the bush. I never give that critical feedback concerning one person as a general comment before the whole class. For example if there is someone who is vitiating the learning of other people by too much of misplaced humor, I don’t say, “I think it is a good idea to be serious,” or some such thing. I NEVER USE SARCASM. I wait for a break and then take the individual aside and say to her/him, “You know, I love your humor but I find it seems to be giving others an escape route not to look at uncomfortable things about themselves. I know that is not your intention in laughing, so do you think you could watch for that and ensure that people get to look at insights seriously?” I say this with a smile because it is my experience that if you say it with a smile you can say almost anything and get away with it.

5.  I remind myself that the student who can instigate people and distract them while I am teaching has just demonstrated amazing leadership qualities. My challenge is not to put them down but to ensure that those leadership qualities are channeled in the right direction. So I treat such people as potential allies and ‘co-trainers’. I have never had an instance of this confidence being misplaced.

6.  People pay attention to things that they think will benefit them. So how can I show ‘What’s in it for them’ to my students by giving them a glimpse of what I can do for them, if they allow me to? How can I give them a sampling of my knowledge and experience in the context of their needs? How can I show them that I know enough about them, their lives, their culture, organization, circumstances, challenges and aspirations to be able to give them implementable solutions that will help them to succeed? How can I demonstrate to them that they are the most important people for me and that there is nothing within reason that I will not do to ensure that they have a beneficial, enjoyable and memorable experience? Especially since that is the truth.

7.  When I start my class I ensure that I greet each individual personally and then I do my best to remember their names. This is easier than you may think and has a huge effect on people and shows respect for the individual and is the best way that I know to build a rapport very quickly. Show me someone who does not want to be respected.

I also try to speak to students in their language. Since I speak 5 languages, that’s fairly easy to do. It is not necessary to speak at great length in their language. A few words do very well to break the ice and to establish a connection and a level of comfort.

I then draw attention to the fact that the student needs to invest time, energy and effort in their own learning. And I do that humorously. 

For example I say to them:

“There are three kinds of people who come to a training class:
Prisoners:      Who have been sent (sentenced) to the training.
Tourists:        Who come because the location is reputed to be good.
Learners:       Who come because they genuinely believe that they need to learn.

My submission to you is that whatever be the reason you came, it is a good idea to become a learner as quickly as possible. Believe me that will not spoil the location or the taste of the food and it will release you from your ‘prison’.”

Listen is not equal to obey: It is very curious that in most languages (certainly true for the ones that I know) listen means ‘to obey’. For example parents are heard to lament about their children: ‘My children don’t listen to me.’ But the truth is that if you gave all the kids hearing aids, it would still not solve the parent’s problem because it has nothing to do with listening but everything to do with obeying. So I say to my class, “There is no compulsion on anyone to accept or obey anything that I say.

Or anything that any of your colleagues say. In this class, listen means to listen only. Do you think you can listen to whatever someone says, consider it, hold it in your mind, play with it, ask questions to clarify any doubts, before deciding if it is applicable, useful or interesting for you? God gave us two ears so that we can take in all inputs from one and let them out from the other. But he placed them on either side of the head so that the input goes through the brain before it is allowed to leave through the other ear. Do you think you can practice this for the duration of this program?”
The benefit of this approach is that it lowers barriers and breaks the ice. When you draw attention of people to the fact that many of us react defensively because we are conditioned to believe that listen = obey and so fear that unless we interrupt the speaker or react defensively it will be assumed that we have accepted what he/she has said. When you clarify this behavioral process and show people the alternative of making the communication a ‘batch’ process instead of being the default ‘real time on-line’ process that it usually is, then resistance to new ideas becomes significantly lower.

I give people the example of the motor mechanic (or any mechanic for that matter) and his toolbox. I ask them, “Who is a better equipped mechanic? One who has many tools or one who has only one?” Then I say to them, “If you asked a mechanic about the tools in his toolbox it is entirely likely that he would have one or more tools which he would not have used in a long time. Imagine that you said to him, ‘Since you haven’t used this wrench for such a long time, why don’t you just throw it away?’ What do you think the mechanic would say? In the same way, consider all learning as tools and keep it in your toolbox. You never know when you might need it. Variety gives you flexibility and options. On the other hand as the saying goes – If the only thing you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail.”

Finally I draw attention of my students to the issue of applying their learnings. For me that is the most important consideration and I do everything in my power to ensure that whatever I teach is applicable in real life. I do my best to help my students to find practical solutions to their problems and do all I can to encourage them to feel comfortable to apply whatever they learn from me. This is where my own 16 years hands-on experience as a line manager helps enormously. I am able to give work-life related examples of challenging situations that I have been in and how what they just learned can be applied.

I use this diagram to alert them to the fact that most learning means changing behavior and that is not easy or painless. Depending on how drastic the change is, the pain of trying the new method is proportionate. Most people don’t anticipate this difficulty and when they encounter suspicion, resistance or disbelief from those who have become used to the old behavior, they tend to give up the new way after a while. So the potential benefit of the change is never realized.
It is a very good idea therefore to be prepared for two things:

1.  Practicing the new behavior is not likely to be easy and may cramp your style for a while and make you slower and less efficient in the short term.

2.  Others are likely to see your new behavior as being ‘put on’ and to view it with a mixture of suspicion, distrust and amusement. Especially if the new way is a drastic departure from the old way.
However what is equally true is that if the new way is practiced consistently and sincerely, then people start to trust the new ‘You’ and to enjoy the change. Then you will start getting some positive strokes which will reinforce the new methods. Behavioral change is possible and enjoyable, but it takes a little time.
In conclusion I would like to wish all my colleagues the very best in their efforts to make this world a better place. Believe me; the results justify the effort and energy that it sometimes takes. I teach not because I have no choice but because I do and I would rather not be doing anything else including fishing or golfing. Because in the end, if you have worked sincerely, with professional integrity, sensitivity and awareness and have tried to do the best that you could have done; then you will be the biggest beneficiary. Now why would I want to do anything else?
Finally it is good for all concerned, teacher and pupils to remember these words of ancient wisdom from the Smruthies:
Achaaryaath paadam aadatthe; 
paadam sishya swamedhayaa; 
paadam sa brahmachaaribhya; 
sesham kaala kramena cha
A person can get only one quarter of knowledge from the Achaarya – the teacher, another quarter by analyzing himself, one quarter by discussing with others and the last quarter during the process of living by method: addition, deletion, correction, and modification of already known aachaaraas.  
Manjapettai – Yellow Ridge

Manjapettai – Yellow Ridge

In Lower Sheikalmudi Estate, on the other side of Sholayar Dam in the Anamallais, we had a coffee area which was adjacent to the reserve forest. The coffee presented open grazing area to the Sambar and Gaur that live in the reserve forest. They did not damage the coffee itself but would feed on the grass and shrubs that grew in the fields. I set up two or three salt licks in this area to attract these animals and to get them used to coming into our area so that we could watch and photograph them. For this I got some bricks of rock salt from the Forest Department and cleared small patches in the grass to arrange them. Once the animals discovered them we had a huge herd of Gaur, about thirty-five of them, who took up residence in the coffee area. They would come down from the hills every evening as the sun went down and would leave only the next morning once our workers started to arrive in the fields. They would be joined by several Sambar hinds and stags so that when I would drive into the coffee area at night, I would see this big herd lying down and chewing the cud. It was almost like seeing domestic cattle at rest; the Gaur had become so used to us. Grazing animals love salt, which they get from deposits in the soil. Carnivores get it from the blood of their prey. So if you put out some salt in the forest you were absolutely sure to get anything which was in the vicinity to come visit.

If you walked to the end of the coffee area and entered the forest, taking the small pathway leading up the hill, you would pass under the heavy shade of big leaved, tall trees. Lining the path were lovely light green big leaved shrubs, which if you didn’t know what they were and took one in your hand, it would prove to be a very painful and potentially dangerous experience. These were stinging nettles called locally Anaimarti (the chaser away of elephants). The leaves have poisonous hair on them, which produce anything from painful rashes, to blisters, to high fever, and delirium, depending on your level of tolerance. As you walk along this path it is a good idea to keep all your senses functioning. The thick undergrowth can and does hide anything. As you continue climbing steadily, getting sweatier by the minute due to a lack of breeze, you come to a small flat rock on your right a little way inside the forest. If you walk silently you will almost always see the resident cobra that likes to sun himself on that rock. Sometimes you will see his skin, which he has shed and then you must be very careful because he is almost blind for a while and extremely irritable.

As you continue onwards, you will come out of the forest into an open area which is a sheet of rock. This area stretches about three kilometers all the way up to the ridge beyond which the forest descends three-thousand feet down to the backwaters of Parambikulam Lake. This sheet of rock is covered with a patchy lichen growth almost all over which becomes yellow when it matures and so it is called Manjapettai (Yellow Ridge). This is also where you will get the first breath of cool breeze, most welcome on your hot and damp brow. There is a large clump of thorny bush right before you and almost surely you will hear the ‘Dhank’ of a Sambar doe as she bolts out of the bush and gallops down the thirty-degree rocky slope at a speed that would certainly topple a horse and break its neck.

If you continue to climb then you would eventually come to the top of Manjapettai, which was a small flat plateau through which flowed a small perennial stream. I’d had a machan (platform) built on a tree at the edge of the forest overlooking the stream, which emptied into a small pool and then went down the slope of Manjapettai. I had cleared a small pathway to get to it, but without disturbing the area or its animals. The machan was halfway up the tree at a height of about twenty feet. It was quite substantial and could comfortably seat four people. We would sit there late into the night watching animals come to drink at the pool. It was an amazing experience to suddenly see a shadow move and realise that what you had been looking at was not a shadow at all but a Gaur bull; the herd leader who was watching to see if the coast was clear to signal his herd to follow him to the water. This forest had tigers and so the Gaur and Sambar, which are its main prey were very cautious.

We once had a full-grown Gaur cow killed by a tiger in our coffee area. At first the Forest Guards came and tried to accuse us of having shot the animal in an attempt to extract some silence money. But I would have none of that and demanded that the DFO come to inspect. When he came, I took him to the carcass and showed him the telltale claw marks of the tiger. The tiger attacks from behind and rides the animal, and as it gallops in panic, the tiger reaches forward and hooks its claws into the animal’s nose and draws its head back, biting into the back of the neck to get at the spinal cord until the animal falls and breaks its neck. If you see the neck of a Gaur, how huge and muscular it is, you can imagine the strength of the tiger which can force that neck to bend back until it makes the animal fall. Tigers generally go for juveniles or cows, which are smaller. The big bulls are immune to everything except men and old age. The DFO (District Forest Officer) was more knowledgeable than the Forest Guard and so the matter was resolved. 

You sat in the machan very still, secure in the knowledge that you were invisible unless you moved. Though the game viewing was amazing, the stillness made you very stiff, a relatively small price to pay for the privilege of watching wild animals in their habitat. In the early hours of the morning, after all animal movement had ceased and it started getting bitterly cold, which it does in the forest at that elevation, we would come down onto the rock, light a nice big fire and warm ourselves and spend the rest of the night sleeping on the rock around the fire. Then in the morning we would re-kindle the fire and put on the tea pot and watch the sun come up over the horizon. I know many people lived in Lower Sheikalmudi, but I don’t know of anyone other than myself and Suresh Menon, who was my assistant at the time, who enjoyed the beauty of the forest like we did. It was a rare privilege and we appreciated every minute of it.

Is it a bird or is it a plane? Homeschooling concerns

Is it a bird or is it a plane? Homeschooling concerns

Of late I, have been reading many articles on ‘Homeschooling’ – which term when written like this seems to have acquired the status of legitimacy instead of being wrong spelling. The need for a hyphen is apparently no longer felt. ‘Home’ and ‘School’ are evidently no longer two different places, either geographically, physically or emotionally.
The latest of these articles is below. A very dear friend who homeschools (verb) sent me this article which got me motivated to write my own.
My own education was simultaneously in a Madrassa (Jamia Ilahiyat Nooria) and one of the finest secular schools in India (Hyderabad Public School) and the equivalent of homeschooling with Mohini Rajan and Venkat Rama Reddy (read about it in my book, ‘It’s my Life’, Kindle Later I graduated in History, Political Science and Urdu and post-graduated in Management (IIMA) and Applied Behavioural Science (ISABS). My father was a medical doctor with a love for literature and poetry which he shared (even imposed) on his children. And a mother who was a poet (among many other things). My childhood and upbringing was not ‘normal’ in any sense of the term. And there I believe lies the trick in making learning effective. It is less to do with the location (home or school) or the child and his or her ability to choose (more on this later) but much more on the quality and variety of input the child receives.
Take this quote from the article: “If Milva McDonald’s girls don’t like the subject, she told Boston Magazine, then they move on to something else. “I wanted them to be in charge of their own education and decide what they were interested in, and not have someone else telling them what to do and what they were good at,” she says.”
To be in charge of making choices one must first be informed about what they are and what they are likely to lead to. Choice can’t be left simply to subjective likes and dislikes. I don’t mean to imply that Milva does or did that. My point is that people can’t make intelligent and productive choices until they understand the consequences of their choice. I am making a point relating to the ‘qualification’ of parents to become homeschool teachers and saying that homeschool teacher education plays a huge role in the quality of homeschooling. For homeschooling to adequately prepare positive and productive citizens of the world, whether or not they go to Harvard, it is essential that the child is exposed to a variety of life experiences, challenges, joys and grief, success and failure, competition and collaboration. It is essential that the child is grounded in his culture, faith and religion and is then exposed to other cultures, faiths and religions which are very different from his own. It is essential that before being exposed to difference and diversity, he has the tools to deal with this experience so that he learns without confusion or anger and is responsive and not reactive.
My specialization as a leadership development expert with a global practice is in helping technical specialists transition into leadership and management roles. What I have noticed with great alarm is the effect of a totally skewed ‘education’ that prepares people with advanced technical knowledge but with an ignorance about the world that would have been alarming at best, were it not for the fact that it is into the hands of such technical experts that we have given over the most dangerous tools and toys that we own. We didn’t stop to ask while training them what the value was of learning about the world that they were going to apply their technology to. 
As a result of this skew in learning at its most benign level we have the inconvenience of bad design. But at its most malignant level we have weapons of mass destruction which as we speak are being used by the most powerful nation in the world in seven theatres of war, killing millions of people and rendering tens of millions homeless; destroying lives and economies and doing all this without any sanction from their own people and without any reference to democratic process. I bet not a single one of those making life and death decisions about others has read ‘War and Peace’. Ask, ‘What if they had?’
I also have an interest in politics which is the greatest soap opera in the world with consequences that should give us sleepless nights. Shows the value of ignorance, that most of us sleep happily having made choices – actively or passively – which can potentially result in the complete destruction of our world. Choices made by people who don’t understand their consequences are not free from consequences. Ignorant people are still capable of wreaking great havoc as we are perhaps liable to discover in the coming years, having handed over our world to people that most homeschooling parents would never have chosen to mentor their children.
All this is not the fault of homeschooling of course but underlines the importance of schooling the ‘teachers’. Hometeachers (my coinage) must be exposed to a holistic experience of life or at the very least an appreciation of the need for holistic experience. Sadly, with many technologists (who all seem to be clamoring for homeschooling) I have seen an arrogance about their own ignorance about the rest of the world apart from their technology which should have been embarrassing. I have been horrified to hear some of them brush aside facts about natural history, literature, poetry, art and biology as being of no consequence. I would love to become a bionic man but I am not. I live, breathe, love, hurt, laugh and cry. I grow strong and weak. I get sick, feel hungry, need clean water and air. My spirit soars when I hear a song written a hundred years ago, or listen to the recitation of a supernatural book that was sent to earth fifteen hundred years ago.
Yet my fate on this earth, opportunities in life, what happens to my money (taxes), what is given preference over what (medical research over military research) is to be decided by someone who doesn’t know the difference between a Constable that hangs on a wall and another who directs traffic. But the benefit of ignorance is that it saves you from embarrassment. Therefore, such a technologist is happily able to create ‘bug splats’ playing computer games and go home at the end of his or her work shift to sleep with a peaceful conscience. High technology with low humanity is a deadly combination. Ask the bug spalts.
If people with such attitudes about what is important and what is not, homeschool their children, then you can imagine the results. I have read Sir Ken Robinson’s book, ‘Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution’ and fully endorse his views. But this as well as all others who I have read, assume that homeschooling parents are somehow adequately prepared to fulfill the hugely complex task that they have chosen to undertake. The importance of education in values, ethics, morals, literature, poetry and humanities has decreased over time and we have learnt to value education on one parameter only. How much money can I make in it? That is why IT engineering is the most popular subject while pure science has no takers. Even though it is pure science that pushes the frontiers of our understanding of the world. But pure science graduates generally have career prospects (high paying jobs wise) going south while IT grads’ careers go north and so everyone and his mouse wants to become a geek and leave seeking knowledge, broaden the horizons of humanity, create uplifters of the spirit and moral alerts to, who?
Human life is too short for one to live it fully, learn from it enough and teach it to others. That is why we have language and books. Books transcend the boundary of death and allow the voice of the author to talk down to generations unborn when the book was written. Generations who have a choice. Read, or painfully learn lessons which had already been learned.
Most homeschooling parents that I have met (granted that may not be a statistically valid sample size) seem to have one overriding concern; to protect their children from the ‘big-bad-world-out-there’, which begins in the state (or private) school. The reality however, and I am sure they realize it even if they don’t want to face it, is that the big-bad-world is not out there but that we are immersed in it. We and our children. So, what must be done is not to simply protect our children from it, but teach them how to cope with it and give them the tools to change it. That is the only way to truly save them and to ensure that the badness ends with them and others don’t have to inherit it and its evil. I submit that to be able to do that, you Mr & Mrs Homeschooling Parent must upgrade your knowledge and skills. You can only give what you have and so the question to ask is, ‘What do I have?’
While you are about it, remember the village. It takes an entire village to bring up a child – as they say. So, what and where is your village? Who live in it? What resources can they bring to the table and why should they? The last part relates to your relationship with them. Why is more important than what because unless the why is answered, the what will remain out of scope. Above all else it comes from holding the absolute and unshakeable belief that everyone in the village is important; critically important. That it is their difference and not their similarity which makes them so valuable and so that diversity must be respected, protected and honored. It is when we learn to accept our own ignorance without blame, accept the diversity of others without judging them according to our own values, hold confidently to our own values (your difference is also equally important and so no need to be apologetic about it); that we will be able to re-create the world into a form that we will not be embarrassed to own as our bequest.

Of Mistakes and Crimes

A mistake is one that is made by mistake (sic) and a crime is one that is done deliberately.

A mistake must obviously be forgiven. A crime is culpable but can also be forgiven. This is the peculiarity of Islamic Law that even a crime as serious as murder can simply be forgiven by the family of the deceased. Mercy is the driving force behind all forgiveness and that is because we all need it. We all need mercy of our fellow humans and we all need the mercy of Allah because we all make mistakes. The best of us makes mistakes and the best of us are those who make mistakes and seek forgiveness.

Anas ibn Malikt reported: Rasoolullah  said, “All of the children of Adam are sinners, and the best of sinners are those who repent.”   [Sunan Ibn Majah 4251]

Abu Hurairaht reported: Rasoolullah said, “By the One in Whose Hand my soul is! If you do not commit sins, Allah would replace you with a people who would commit sins and seek forgiveness from Allah; and Allah will certainly forgive them.” [Muslim].

Allah applauded those who forgive and advised forgiveness and said:

الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ فِي السَّرَّاء وَالضَّرَّاء وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ وَاللّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

A’al Imraan 3: 134.   Those who spend [chairty] in prosperity and in adversity, who suppress anger, and who pardon people; verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (people who seek to please Allahby acting with excellence)

Allahmentioned the Bani Israeel and that they had reneged on the covenant with Him and disobeyed Him, yet He advised Rasoolullahto forgive them and overlook their faults. He said:
فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

Ma’aida 5: 13. ….. But forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds). Verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun.

I decided to write this because recently there have been three cases where a scholar made a mistake in a speech and people attacked him, pronounced Takfeer on him and tried their best to destroy his reputation. All this in my view is a sign of our own ignorance and arrogance and a great loss to all of us. Who gains if one of our scholars is defamed and all his work is destroyed because he made one mistake? So, let us see why this happens and what we should do.

I am very fond of horse riding. Many a time while out riding cross-country over rough terrain, I have had my horse stumble. Once so badly that I was thrown off. However, not once did I shoot the horse because he stumbled. On the contrary I remind myself that the most common causes for a horse to stumble are that it is too exhausted (my fault) or that I was holding the reins too loosely (my fault) or that I was pushing the horse too fast over rough ground (my fault). I therefore pick myself off the ground, thank Allahthat I didn’t break anything, check to see if the horse was alright, then mount up and off we go, now both of us wiser for the stumble.

Scholars, religious or not, are human. They are not infallible and I don’t know of a single one that claimed that he or she was. They make mistakes, like, believe it or not, we Jahiloon (I speak for myself) do. That merely proves the first point, that they are human. The difference is that since they dedicate their lives to studying, digesting, experiencing, understanding and then communicating knowledge to us, they and their mistakes are in the public space. Take the case of an Imam who makes a mistake in recitation or forgets the number of Raka’at. Which one of us has not done the same? 

When a scholar makes a mistake while he or she is teaching, it is in the public space. They are vulnerable. Not because they are evil Shayateen who got caught in a trap. But because they took the trouble to study and teach us, while we were busy chasing dollars. Nothing wrong with chasing Halaal dollars but what about those who consciously give up that opportunity to do our work for us and to help us to learn our religion, connect us to Allah and Rasoolullahand help us to be better human beings? I don’t know a single scholar who is so stupid that he doesn’t know that if he simply stopped teaching, he wouldn’t have to face what he is facing today.

Is that what we want? For all our scholars to retreat into a shell and leave us to learn whatever we can on our own? After all, to study the Deen is our personal responsibility and it is not the scholar’s responsibility to teach any particular group of people. As long as he is communicating his or her knowledge to the people; any people; he is fine before Allah.

What must we do when a scholar makes a mistake?

1.      Remind yourself that the scholar is the horse that is carrying you over rough ground in the wilderness and he stumbled. (All scholars, I beg your forgiveness for giving this example).

2.      Remind yourself that without the horse you will probably perish while the horse can run off and live happily ever after without having to carry you on his back.

3.      Thank Allahthat you are not standing in his place having to face the reactions of the likes of us for having made a mistake (for God’s sake!!)

4.      Remind yourself that one day you and I will have to stand before Allahwith a lot worse than whatever mistake the scholar made and will need, not Allah’s justice, but His Mercy and Forgiveness.

5.    Remind yourself that Rasoolullahtold us that Allahwill show mercy to those who show mercy to the inhabitants of the earth.

6.      Seek forgiveness for the scholar with Allah.

7.      And defend the scholar against those who seek to attack him because he made a mistake because we know that the good from that scholar far and away outweighs whatever mistake that he may have made.

8.    And because we recognize that we need that scholar and all other scholars like him or her.

9.  And finally, remind ourselves, that a mistake is made so that Allahmay test our forgiveness. Otherwise it was in the power of Allahto ensure that the scholar who was speaking about His religion, never made a mistake.

10.   Therefore, when we don’t forgive and instead attack the person, it is we who have failed the test. A test based on which perhaps, Allahwill decide to deal with us accordingly. I ask Allahfor His Mercy and Forgiveness and protection from His anger.

Rasoolullah told us: “Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allah will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter.”

The matter of concealing the faults of others is mentioned in numerous Ahadith of Rasoolullah, like this one: “O gathering who believe with their tongues but faith has yet to enter into their hearts, do not backbite the Muslims. And do not search into their private matters. Whoever searches for their private matters will have Allah  follow up his private matters. And whose private matters Allah  follows, He will expose him even [if his act were done] in his house.” [Musnad Ahmad and Abu Dawood]

What must a scholar do if he or she makes a mistake?

Sadly, I have seen a lack of maturity and patience on the other side as well. Some scholars forget that they are human and that if they made a mistake that was the natural thing to do. So, instead of simply asking forgiveness, admitting unconditionally that they were wrong and moving on, they insist on finding all kinds of ‘proof’ (Daleel) for their mistakes. They waste time and energy in trying to justify the mistake, claim that it was not a mistake at all and the entire fault of misunderstanding lies with the listeners. Egos come in. Shaytaan has a field day and the vicious cycle begins.

Why does this happen?

1.      Imam An-Nawawi advised us and said, ‘Not everything that is known, needs to be communicated. Not everything that is heard needs to be broadcast.’ One of the major reasons why scholars get into trouble is because they say in public what should be said in private to students who are capable of understanding it.

2.     In the discussion on the Names and Attributes of Allah in Kitab ut Tawheed, Chapter 38 in Sahih Bukhari, Ali bin Abi Talibt’s advice is mentioned where he is reported to have said: “Speak to the people in a way that they can understand. Would you like that Allah and His Messenger be denied?”

Ali Ibn Abi Talibt advised teachers and scholars to guide people by speaking to them in a manner suited to their intellects in order that they may understand, and not to say things to them which may be above their level of comprehension which may confuse them, causing them to deny something from the Qur’an or Sunnah resulting in their falling into spiritual conflict and perhaps even committing Kufr (denying Allah or Rasoolullah) without being aware of it.

3.     By implication, this is good advice to follow with respect to anything that we want to say in public. Speak at LCM; I call it. LCM = Lowest Common Denominator. Speak at a level where a secondary school student can understand you. That is the real mark of the scholar. To be able to simplify complex matters and make them understandable for everyone. Not to speak at such a high level of erudition that nobody understands what you say and many misunderstand it. In any case, trying to show off your knowledge is a serious lapse of Ikhlaas un Niyyah (sincerity of intention).

Remember Sayyidina Omar ibn Al-Khattabt when the woman corrected him in public. He accepted the correction and said openly and clearly, “Omar is wrong and the women is right.”

Okay, enough said. For a quick checklist:

1.      Scholar makes mistake. Say, “Wow! He is human, just like me. Boy! Am I glad, I am not in his place! May Allah forgive him and guide him.”

2.     Defend the scholar. Tell people, ‘Hey man! Lay off. It could be you or me in his place, if we’d had his knowledge and concern for us. Don’t punish the man for taking the trouble to work for all our welfare.”  

On the authority of Abu Hurairat who reported that Rasoolullah said, “Whoever relieves a believer’s distress of the distressful aspects of this world, Allah will rescue him from a difficulty of the difficulties of the Hereafter. Whoever alleviates [the situation of] one in dire straits who cannot repay his debt, Allah will alleviate his lot in both this world and in the Hereafter. Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allah will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter. Allah helps a slave as long as the slave helps his brother. Whoever follows a path in order to seek knowledge thereby, Allah will make easy for him, due to that, a path to Jannah. No people gather together in a house of the houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves, except that tranquility descends upon them, mercy covers them, the angels surround them and Allah mentions them to those in His presence. Whoever is slowed by his deeds will not be hastened forward by his lineage.” [Muslim]

I ask Allah for His mercy.