By Eiman Bin Azzam
Academic dishonesty is a problem that educational institutions all over the world are facing, be it primary, secondary or tertiary education. Cheating methods such as copying work from peers and plagiarism are common to see. A plethora of methods have been implemented in the system to discourage the said behavior such as punishments and penalties that can be as severe as expelling the student from the institution. Yet, cheating remains rampant within educational institutions till this day. Why? To answer this, we must understand the reasons why we seek knowledge in our current era, especially in an academic context.
The dominating view towards knowledge presently is a utilitarian one, maximizing benefits and minimizing harm. In a Western context, knowledge simply means information about something. The purpose of knowledge in this view can be boiled down to main points such as human preservation of survival and seeking knowledge to live. Growth and improvement of life is also a main drive towards seeking knowledge. In an academic context, educational institutions concern themselves in producing effective members of society. These members are meant to contribute to their respective fields of study, further perpetuating the stability, growth and advancement of human lifestyle.
How does cheating harm the purpose of seeking knowledge?
Copying others’ work will impact the quality of education. There will be unfairness among students as the cheating students will be propped up, while honest ones that could not make it will pay the price. This is especially true in our current world with such a competitive job market. Cheating also reduces the reliability of assessment as their work is not their own, eventually leading to a drop in competency in the future generations’ workforce. Cheating also sows seeds of dishonesty within the students’ moral behaviors that will prove harmful if brought into the working world.
With so much harm, are there good justifications or reasons for cheating? For many, there are. In such a competitive market, students may adopt the thinking that the end justifies the means. Education is seen as a path to enter the workforce. In order to secure their future and survive, the risk of being caught cheating is miniscule compared to the chance of achieving success in landing their dream careers and securing financial stability.
Cheating may also prove to be an effective method to cope with the stress of heavy workload that some deem unnecessary or flawed. In a selfish perspective, one might think that if one does not get caught, cheating is a massive benefit. In such a cutthroat world where poverty is high, it is logical to take the opportunity to escape that fate by all means necessary.
The Islamic View towards Knowledge is vastly different at its core. Al-Ghazali defines it as “The realization of the meaning of things”. The highest purpose of knowledge is to enable one to get closer to Allah, and eventually faced with the ultimate bliss of coming face to face with Him (“Wajh Allāh”, Q. al-Baqarah: 115, 272; al-Rūm: 38-39; al-Insān: 9). This is so as to achieve happiness in both worlds, the world around us (Dunya) and the Hereafter (Akhirah). The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said “the pursuit of knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim.” Seeking knowledge in Islam is God-centric. With man being a vicegerent of Allah in the world, students should strive in contributing good to the world around them for the purpose in attaining Allah’s pleasure.
Cheating harms the purpose of seeking knowledge in an Islamic view due to it being a mere copy of other people’s input. It does not subject the seeker to deep personal thought, nor does it expand outside of it. Methods such as plagiarism are merely copying words, not contributing to it, not benefiting from it, and are directly against the above purpose where useless knowledge is to stay away from. Cheating also breaches the Amanah given to students in hopes of producing future leaders, while also undermining the efforts of the honest and hardworking. This directly opposes Islam’s teachings, and strays the person far from obtaining the highest purpose of being close to Allah S.W.T.
There are no logical or moral justifications to cheating as it defeats the purpose of knowledge. The act of going against said purpose is also heavily detrimental to the doer and concerns his entire existence as it opposes the command of Allah S.W.T. The end also cannot justify the means regarding worldly matters such as one’s career or reputation, as knowledge viewed in Islam is something man utilizes in the world and benefits from it in the Hereafter.
When it comes to cheating, modern solutions introduced to tackle the problem by giving out punishments and writing pledges only addresses the ‘how’ and not the ‘why’. It merely refrains students from doing it in the public eye but does not address its root.
Solutions introduced that do address the ‘why’ lack any kind of emphasis. Preaching to students about honest education and redefining the meaning of success, when only concerning worldly benefits is not effective. Cheating itself is a byproduct of the students’ struggle in achieving those benefits and in a world where a person’s competence is determined strictly from results, that can be perceived as an attractive alternative to some.
Modern education only interests itself in a man-centered reality, choosing career over morals, with Islamic vision not ingrained within it. The Islamic view of knowledge directly tackles the ‘why’ and learning it will make students aware of their purpose in seeking knowledge throughout their lives and the reality they live in that extends beyond just this world. Effectively curbing academic dishonesty demonstrates one of the importance in pushing for Islamization in Human Knowledge. ***
(This article is written as part of an individual assignment for Knowledge and Civilization in Islam class)