By Kabuye Uthman Sulaiman
Character education is an integral part of the education process. In simple terms, it is about the integration of moral values into education. Generally, it can be defined as a teaching and learning process that involves the incorporation of social and moral values in lessons and assessments and acting upon them. One of the major challenges we face today is putting knowledge into action (Hikmah – Wisdom). A scholar is one who is not only knowledgeable, but also able to turn knowledge into action.
Islam regards character education as the shared responsibility of parents, teachers, and members of the community. Each is required to reinforce the core values upon which character is formed and nations are constructed. Moral values, such as humility, honesty, cooperation, compassion, empathy, hard work, responsibility for oneself and others, and respect for each other regardless of their differences in religion, race, gender, ideas, and lifestyle are critical for the success of individuals and nations. Ahmad Shawqi, the Egyptian poet, regarded moral values as the backbone, spirit, and propeller of a stable and functional society and nation. He wrote: Innama al-Umam al-Akhlaqu ma baqiyat wa inhumu dzahabat akhlaquhum dzahabu (The life and development of a nation depend on its morals, if they no longer uphold the norms of morality, then the nation will be destroyed along with the collapse of its morals).
In his Tarikh madinat Dimashq wa dhikr fadliha wa tasmiyat man hallaha mina al-Amathil wa ijtaza bi nawahiha min waridiha wa ahliha, Ibn ‘Asakir quoted the following advice of ‘Abdullah ibn Al-Mubarak (may Allah have mercy on him) to the people of Hadith, “You are in greater need of little manners than a great deal of knowledge” (Ibn ‘Asakir, 2010, 32918). By this, he meant that they needed practical knowledge more than theoretical knowledge. True then, true now. The acquisition of knowledge and skills in school is only one goal of education. Another goal of education is to enable students to gain moral values and acquire skills, mainly conflict resolution skills, innovative skills, creative thinking skills, and stress management skills. Stress has become common among university students due to the workload that includes both scheduled activities and study time outside class (preparation for lessons, writing assignments and projects, and preparation for quizzes and exams, among others).
Along with parents, teachers play a major role in developing students’ character. Their responsibilities entail not just developing students’ talents, but more importantly developing their skills, and promoting and demonstrating moral values by:
First, modelling exemplary character traits and social behaviours. In Islam, scholars are regarded as heirs of the Prophets (peace and blessings be upon them). Firstly, because they are the bearers of revealed knowledge, and secondly, because the practices of the Prophets (peace and blessings be upon them) are spread through them; they are the embodiment of the Qur’an. The Prophets (peace and blessings be upon them) were leaders in Taqwa God-fearing), Al-Amanah (trustworthiness), Al-‘Adl (justice or fulfilment of duties and respect of others’ rights), and humbleness, models of generosity, compassion, patience, honesty, etc. These characteristics should be the same characteristics of their heirs meaning, the scholars. Hence, they should keep their moral values in check. Like Prophets (peace and blessings be upon them), scholars are required to be the models of excellent conduct for all human beings to follow to attain nobility and perfection on earth and a great reward in the Hereafter.
Second, inculcating moral and social values among students. The following values are crucial to be taught to students to prepare them to be good parents and citizens in society: showing respect for others, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, honesty, hard work, cooperation and collaboration, healthy competition, empathy, and punctuality. Students should also be taught how to manage their time for effective learning and to complete their studies within the prescribed duration. They should be made to realize that the time for learning is limited and therefore, requires proper management.
Third, spreading awareness among students about the things that destroy one’s personality and impair one’s vision of reality (the bad influences in society). One of the things that impairs one’s vision of reality is seeing hard work (assignments and projects) as a burden rather than an opportunity to learn new things. Last but not least, sharing personal moral experiences and narrating the beautiful life lessons from the Qur’an for inspiration, motivation, and character building. The story of Prophet Yusuf (peace and blessings be upon him) has many lessons for youths and in particular, his resistance to seduction (management of Nafsu al-Shahwat). As Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah bless him) reports, at the time of temptation, “not only was he young and full of powerful natural desire, he also was unmarried (thus lacking an appropriate way of satisfying those native urges). He was furthermore a stranger in the land with no relatives or friends to be ashamed of before (had he sinned). Moreover, he was a slave, and in servitude one’s moral restraint (wazi’) is not as it is in freedom. Further, the woman (seeking to seduce him) was beautiful, of high status, and his owner and she tempted him when her husband was out. On top of all this, she threatened him with imprisonment and humiliation if he were not to oblige her. Yet despite all these factors, he was patient out of his own choice, preferring what is with Allah.” Winning against one’s Nafs (Jihad al-Nafs – the personal struggle against one’s Nafs (the lower self or ego) is one of the major challenges faced by every human being. Without Al-Sabr (patience) one cannot gain victory over the Nafs.***
(Assoc Prof Dr Kabuye is an academic in the Department of Fundamental and Inter-Disciplinary Studies, AbdulHamid AbuSulayman Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences. The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of IIUMToday).