General Organisation of Education and Teaching Methods in Islamic Civilisation
|Figure 1. The first page of the Qur'an written by Dervish Hasan b. Ilyas, year 1508. Suleymaniye Library, Ayasofya 1.|
Organised universal learning began early in Islam, from the days of the Prophet, and learning has always been highly valued. Indeed, after the battle of Badr (in which the Muslims repelled the attacking Meccan tribes), several captured Meccans were released to teach writing in Medina . The high place of learning in Islam is highlighted by the Prophet's role, he being the very first teacher within an organised institution. The Prophet would sit in a Mosque surrounded by a halaqa and instruct his hearers; the latter would repeat Quranic verses and hadiths three times until they had learned them . The Prophet sent teachers of the Qur'an to the tribes, and so did Caliph Umar in the year 17H/638CE . The necessity of ‘ilm was strongly emphasised. A special class of students, the ahl al-‘ilm, was formed who spread the knowledge of traditions throughout Muslim lands . They collected people around them to instruct them in the most necessary principles of Islam. In this simple form of instruction, which was a form of edifying admonition, lay the germ of Islamic studies .
The very first teachers were commissioned by the Prophet, and like him they taught for free . Next to him they were the architects of an educated society whose leaders were truly its teachers . Members of this society, the teachers and the taught, were collectively and individually responsible for upholding its moral standards and correcting lapses: `bidding to honour, forbidding dishonour.' The number of kuttabs (learned) and mu'allams (teachers) in the Muslim world increased rapidly and on a large scale until almost every village had its own kuttab if not more than one . In Palermo, for example, Ibn Hawqal on his visit to Sicily claimed to have counted about 300 elementary teachers . A contemporary of Caliph Umar's, Jubayr b. Hayya, who was later an official and governor, was a teacher in a school in Taif . Famous men like al-Hadjadd and the poet's al-Kumayt and al-Tirimmah are said to have been schoolmasters .
In the search for knowledge, al-Faruqi insists, `everybody felt himself to be a conscript.'  In early times it was thought wrong to take pay for teaching, especially the Qur'an and religion. This was carried to extremes; a man fell into a well and would not let a pupil pull him out, lest this should be considered payment for his teaching . A scholar bought some things at a shop, more than he could comfortably carry, so the shop-keeper offered to carry some for him. On the way the shop-keeper asked a question. Before he would answer it, the scholar took from him what he was carrying. The voluntary help would have become payment . A youth studied the traditions without paying any fee, but when he asked to read al-Mutanabbi with the commentary of Abu Zakariya, his teacher demanded a fee because it was poetry; the boy's father paid five dinars in advance . A man took a mithqal of silver a day for teaching some one the Qur'an; the instruction lasted for five or six months but at the end the money was returned to the student because the payment had been only a test of his zeal .
How were these scholars able to devote so much to the performance of such intellectual feats? According to Pedersen, it was largely because most of them lived a life of 'great contentment.' Learning, the life of the intellect, was 'intimately bound up with religion, and to devote oneself to both afforded an inner satisfaction and was [a] service to God [...] it not only made men of letters willing to accept deprivation; even more, it prompted others to lend them aid.'  The Mosques received a wide variety of aid and grants for scholars from a number of institutions. `No matter what their social origins, the subsistence of the scholars was assured, often in ‘liberal measures'.' 
Caliph Umar (Caliph 634-44H/1237-1246 CE) is famed for his saying: `Teach your boys swimming, archery, horsemanship, famous proverbs; and good of poetry.' Another public curriculum is also ascribed to Ibn al-Tawam who is recorded to have said: `To do their duty towards their sons, fathers must educate them with writing, arithmetic and swimming.'  When those who had learnt the Qur'an took up the task of educating children, the Qur'an became the centre of this elementary course. Learning the Qur'an then preceded everything, and next came religious instruction . With grammar and arithmetic, the primary course was closed .
Ibn al-Hajj (d. 736H/1336CE) has much to say about the school in general as here summed up by Tritton:
‘The schools should be the bazar or a busy street, not in a secluded place. The emphasis on publicity is strong; the master must not send an elder boy to his house with a message lest rumour should start about the relations of the boy with the women-folk. The Mosque is no place for a school for some people send little boys to school to get them out of the way and such children defile their clothes and the place where the Qur'an is taught. The school is a place for teaching, not an eating house, so the boys should not bring food or money to buy it, but should go home for meals. A check should be kept on the time taken for the trip to prevent idleness. One reason for this ruling is respect for the feelings of poor boys who might be jealous of the food brought by the well-to-do. If food had to be brought, the master might not share it with the boys nor send any of it to his house. He might take their leavings or, if a boy ate none of his food, he might have it all but, in either case, he must tell the parents.' 
From the early times, renowned scholars taught in schools. Thus Dahak ibn Muzahim, the exegist, traditionist and grammarian, who died in 105H/723CE) or 106H/724 CE, had a school in Kufa, said to have been attended by 3,000 children, where he used to ride up and down among his pupils on an ass . As language was of the utmost importance, we find a Bedouin being appointed and paid as a teacher of the youth in Basra . Writers of that period were not class based, but came from all walks of life. For example, al-Ahmar (d. 194H/810CE), who taught the children of Harun al-Rashid, gave his lectures drenched in musk and incense and supplied his audience with all necessary writing materials . His contemporary, al-Farra, however, was modestly dressed and sat on the floor, while his audience squatted in the dust in front of him . Normally the author would sit cross-legged with his listeners seated in a circle. Next to him would be his most trusted student who would faithfully transcribe all that his teacher said .
|Figure 2. The public Library of Hulwan in Baghdad, from a 13th century manuscript of ‘Maqamât by Harîrî. Picture copy right from: 1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World. Chief Ed. Salim T S Al-Hassani , Manchester: FSTC, 2006.|
In the organisation, a teacher must have a deputy to set the class in their places, as well as visitors according to their rank; to awa
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