A MUSLIM PERSPECTIVE ON EDUCATION:

NEGOTIATING DIFFERENCES

1.Starting Principles
All self-nurturing cultures can be seen to evolve from bio-agricultural practices. A self-nurturing culture is one in which humans nurture each other (from infancy upwards) to grow, evolve and live together as a community. The need for the sustenance of future life, even before giving birth to it, casts its dappled sunlight across human consciousness. It provokes thinking, intending and planning in order to maintain a continuity between the beginning and the now, between the now and Tomorrow.

The birth of life begins with the planting of a seed. The eco-system in which this happens, requires a receptive, fertile environment in which fertilisation can occur. Long before planning for the seed in the womb, humans had to plan for its future sustenance in a world beyond the womb. And so the seed intended for the soil, mattered equally. So did fertilising the soil in preparation for the seed.

And so we see that the act of fertilzing, seeding and harvesting that is so intrinsic to Mother Earth, extends organically, quite naturally to the human body’s intrinsic quest for survival and sustenance.

It is the same extension that resonates like musical chords, inside our mind and our spirits. The Unity residing inside this singular connection between the outward and the inward, body and soul, form and content…or call it what you will….can be perceived, understood and interpreted as a Divine Gift wrapped in sensory ribbons. Every single living creature, from humans, to plants and insects and reptiles, ALL experience this connection differently. The study of their varying experiences through our own unique prisms, determine the way we categorize the plant and the animal kingdom,as species. The uniqueness of our own prisms also “colors” the way we categorize ourselves as races, tribes and nations.

2. Education: The Process of Bringing Out
The word “educate” is derived from the Latin word: “educe”: which means, bring out or develop (something latent or potential). It also means “to infer” (something) from data as in: “more information can be educed from these statistics”. In late Middle English it borrowed from the Latin derivative: “educere” meaning “lead out’.

By definition, therefore, education is never an event, a beginning or an end in itself. It is a process that attempts to mediate the state of continuous transitioning from one state into another, from birth through infancy, childhood, all the way up to the day we die. The goal of education is to enable the leading out of a latency (the hidden potential) which is uniquely one of a kind. But it has the potential to achieve, in stages, varying states of fulfillment.

Why stages?

Because all things evolve from a state of simplicity to increasing levels of complexity (e.g. the human brain, or in systemic procedures e.g. from feeding a baby to running a household). It is easier if this process is broken down into stages so that the act(s) of “leading out”…or educating…. can be simplified and limited to goals achievable at each stage. By definition these goals appear in three strands of our consciousness (a) spiritual (b) cognitive and ( c )emotional.

Most behaviors and attitudes express some combination of these three strands. The combinations, each unique and different, as the leaves on a tree, provide finer, more nuanced differences and variabilities. Different states of latency (of the unrevealed, or the hidden) incubate in different environments. These in turn mould different identities (or manifestations of fulfillment) via a process of negotiating differences.

For instance, the environment inside a womb is very different from the rest of the Mother’s “insides” which is external to the womb. The environment outside the mother’s body radiates outwards into the light of a new world. It is startlingly unlike anything a new-born could be familiar with. Even when nestled in a mother’s love, there are revealing differences to negotiate between the lap, the crib, the floor, and their functions.This applies equally to people and personalities. It doesn’t take long for a baby to discern the differences between a mother and father, between siblings and strangers. The differences strike all five senses (again, differently for each baby) to evoke subsequent memories. These memories contribute more than anything else, to individual identity-formation.

3. Differences: The Basis of Identity
Differences, not similarities, play the most critical role in the formation and perception of identity: personal and social. Negotiating differences is a form of “leading oneself out” of the familiar to the unfamiliar, from the unrevealed to the revealed. Such a form of education falls primarily upon the parent’s shoulders. “No, not this…but that!” is repetitive refrain in the vocabulary of parents guiding, mentoring and mediating the process of negotiating differences from the crawling to walking and running stages of childhood.

It would appear, therefore, that we humans struggle on the one hand, to remain within the defined parameters of our own comfort zone, while also struggling to discover another zone which feels accessible, attractive and highly desirable. Observe an infant trying to walk, or a pre-teen aspiring to be a teen, or a teen-ager behaving like a full-grown adult. We straddle the zone of conflict from the moment we cradle the zone of comfort. It is like walking across a sharp ridge on either side of which lies a slippery slope. The task of education therefore is also to lead ourselves…and each other…. out of such a predicament. To educate is to help one traverse sharp, cutting differences in ways that reduce the labour and hurt associated with it.

Our mind accepts such education with little resistance when the differences we negotiate are inquired into, debated, explained, understood, accepted, respected ………….and never violated.

This, too, is part of the Gift of Divinity. Tribes, races and nations have been scripted into all three Abrahamic books of Revelation. In terms of metaphors, therefore, the Animal Kingdom have different species: tigers, dogs, cows and chickens. None of the species fight over their differences. Or impose them upon each other. No self-respecting dog would want to waste his life barking endlessly at a cat for not behaving like a “true animal”. A dog can only possess a singular definition of a “true animal”. These advanced laws are the Laws of Nature, and humans are as much part of Nature as the big-leafed fig-tree or the fluttering butterfly.

And Nature’s Law , in the end, is the Law of Divinity.

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