In days gone by, not very long ago, the adhan, a letter, or human contact were the only interruptions we had to our day. Then came the telephone; but for most people this was not an intrusion. Then, mobile phones appeared, followed by the smartphone. In just a few years the number of notifications and interruptions increased astronomically. No longer is it just a phone call. It is text messages, group chats, Twitter and Facebook. Add to this emails, appointments via a calendar, breaking news and other unimportant information coming in all day long. There is never any silence. Never any solitude. Never any contemplation.
I came across Dorothy Sayers’ article on the Lost Tools of Learning around twenty years ago. Written in 1947, it still as pertinent today as it was then. In her own words:
“Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?”
And this was before the invasion of social media. The need for critical thinking skills in ever more important today. I have reproduced here speech her in full for all to read and ponder.
Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957) briefly entered on a teaching career after graduating from Oxford. She published a long and popular series of detective novels, translated the “Divine Comedy,” wrote a series of radio plays, and a defense of Christian belief. During World War II, she lived in Oxford, and was a member of the group that included C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield. By nature and preference, she was a scholar and an expert on the Middle Ages. In this essay, Miss Sayers suggests that we presently teach our children everything but how to learn. She proposes that we adopt a suitably modified version of the medieval scholastic curriculum for methodological reasons. “The Lost Tools of Learning” was first presented by Miss Sayers at Oxford in 1947.
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One of the greatest pleasures that providence has thrown my way is that I was given the opportunity to learn Arabic in the traditional manner studying at the feet of masters. This prodigious good fortune to have inherited from my forebears a language that has two really special features. One is that it is the language chosen by our Lord Most High to be the vehicle for His Divine Message. The other is that during the last fourteen centuries, it has been, one of the great vehicles of thought, communication and culture of all time.
I personally believe that there is no better way that you can spend your time – that is to say, that there is no way you can spend your time more valuably, more satisfyingly, or even, other than in the sense of instant and swiftly-come-and-gone gratification, more enjoyably.
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Literally, the Quran in Arabic means recitation. Fulfilling this purpose, it is perhaps the most recited – as well as the most read book in the world. Certainly, it is the most memorised book in the world, and possibly one that exerts the most influence on those who read it. So great was the Prophet Muhammad’s, Allah bless him and give him peace, regard for its contents that he considered it the major miracle that God worked through him. He himself, unschooled to the extent that he was unlettered, could not have produced a book that provides a ground plan of all knowledge and at the same time is without poetic peer.
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The onslaught of technology has left us with little energy or mental space to ponder over creation. In times gone by, nature spoke the language of God; it still does but we fail to comprehend it. William Wordsworth, the celebrated English poet, repeatedly lamented the loss of the connection with the divine. His ode, ‘Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ begins with these words:
‘There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light
The glory and freshness of a dream.’ Continue reading →
A relative of mine asked me about the hijab, and this is what I replied:
The concept of hijab is based on modesty, which as Muslims, is a praiseworthy trait and in this sense of the term it is not gender-specific. It is incumbent on both male and females to adopt and adorn themselves with modesty and decorum when they interact with each other. This should be obvious. This notion of hijab thus goes beyond the outward dictates of the law – it is an inner trait that one adopts. A non-hijabi in this sense can be adorned with the praiseworthy trait of modesty, and a hijabi can be completely divest of it.
The law possesses both an outward conformance and inward reality – the letter and spirit of the law respectively. The ideal is to create an inward and outward harmony. Even a superficial reading of Quranic verses and related hadiths will attest that the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, has always emphasized the balance that is reached by this. Continue reading →
The decisive difference between Ibn Taymiyya and opponents such as al-Ghazali and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi is not about whether reason is a foundation (asl) of revelation –
they all agree that it indeed is – but what claims follow from that. Ibn Taymiyya clarifies this only late in his work, namely at the beginning of the 34th viewpoint (wajh) of his Dar’ T’aarud al-‘aql Wa al-Naql:
“Those who oppose revelation and prioritize their opinion over what the Messenger conveys, they [also] say: “Reason is the foundation (asl ) of revelation. If we prioritized revelation over reason, this would mean the dismissal of the foundation of revelation.” This statement is indeed correct on their part (sahih) if they acknowledge the truth (sihhat) of revelation without objecting [to it].” Continue reading →
John Holmwood states that “Fundamental ‘British’ values are understood to involve a commitment to democracy, the rule of law and religious tolerance. A strong implication is that some ethnic minorities lack a commitment to such values where conservative orientations to gender roles and sexual orientation have come to indicate this weak commitment. The failure to embrace British values on the part of some minorities is also put forward as an explanation of poor pupil achievement, which, in turn puts integration at risk. Yet British values tolerate the exercise of conservative orientations on the part of the wealthy, who are also allowed to purchase educational advantage for their children. While all schools are expected to have a religious ethos – expressed in the legal requirement for religious education and daily acts of collective worship – when that ethos is Islamic it is subject to profound suspicion, such that the authorities are willing to castigate educationally successful and unsuccessful schools alike.
Sir Michael Wilshaw was asked by the House of Commons Select Committee on Education in 2015 if he thought that children, communities and schools in Birmingham had benefited from Ofsted’s intervention over the Trojan Horse affair. He replied, “they have benefited in some sense, because they are not the subject of the sort of policies that would be pursued by these governors with a very particular view of how schools should be run. They are free of that. But those schools have been through an enormous amount of turmoil” (paragraph 76). Four years after the Trojan Horse affair, the successor school to Park View has yet to reach the educational success it achieved for its pupils. In other words, its pupils have been ‘freed’ from the supposed constraints of their own cultural expression, while not being provided with the academic achievements that would ensure social mobility. In the meantime, Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon launched the first of his new army cadet corps at the school, offering them access to the British Army as an alternative route.”