Educators have been entrusted with the prophetic legacy of teaching, as stated by the Prophet (p): "I have been sent as a teacher." [Ibn Majah]. We are on the cutting edge of facing tremendous challenges in guiding young Muslims into an uncertain future. We live in a secular-pluralistic country with rapid technological changes. Economic and ecological disasters loom on the horizon, which compel the world to act together. To meet these challenges in our schools, we have an obligation to know certain basic principles.
"Living Islam with Purpose," by Dr. Umar F. Abd'Allah , Scholar in Residence at the Nawawi Foundation, offers an "operational framework" for meeting such challenges. Important to this discussion are the following:
5 Operational Principles: "...age old Islamic guidelines...firmly based on the Quran and Sunnah and supported by the general consensus of traditional Islamic scholarship." 5 Core Legal Maxims: "In the eyes of traditional Muslim scholars... [these] constitute a concise summation of everything Islam represents. To understand the five core maxims is to understand the essence of Islam in five short sentences."
1. Trusting Reason 1. Matters will be judged by their purposes.
2. Respecting Dissent 2. Certainty will not be overturned by doubt.
3. Stressing Societal Obligations 3. Harm must be removed.
4. Setting Priorities 4. Hardship must be alleviated.
5. Embracing Maxims 5. Custom has the weight of law.
These core principles go far to help us teach students to sort out the many issues they will face as circumstances in our world continue to evolve and new challenges present themselves. It is difficult to know the correct understanding or differing opinions on every single ayah or hadith, and it is not plausible to defer every matter of "ijtihad" to some mythical council of super-scholars. Likewise, these are not matters left to the individual.
This is why Islamic schools are especially important for addressing issues collectively at age-appropriate levels. Rather than indoctrinating our students with our own narrow views, we must give them the tools for thinking Islamically to address issues in fresh ways. Traditionally, Islamic knowledge had been regarded as a science, rather than stagnant dogma. This allowed each field of Islamic studies to develop among the "pious predecessors" after the time of the Prophet (p) beyond Madinah, and it must continue to develop today.