Today, the majority of high school students hope to finish college one day. This is a realistic dream for many, as there is an established education system that gives students a choice of career paths and training. The modern world if full of universities and training centers. However, the world was not always like this. Many centuries ago, education was limited to the privileged and even the privileged did not have many opportunities in learning. Today's existing modern educational system has been influenced by traditions of the past, particularly by the great advances that occurred during the Abbasid Dynasty in the Muslim world.
One of the achievements of Muslim culture during the Abbasid Dynasty was the widespread spread of literacy. Elementary education was almost universal, especially in the cities. Emphasis on the value of reading and writing stems from the very first revelations of the Qur'an, which mention how God revealed to humankind knowledge and the use of the pen.
The Muslims believed that every man and woman has a duty to educate themselves and their children. Therefore, the entire Muslim community had a collective responsibility to ensure that some members of society achieve the highest levels of learning, so that everyone could be taught. Muslim rulers and other wealthy individuals have traditionally undertaken this responsibility over time, and across a wide spectrum of Muslim cultures.
From the sixth to eleventh centuries, when Western leaders were struggling to sign their own names, Muslims preserved and maintained existing knowledge in educational centers throughout the Middle East. At its peak in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Islamic educational system was a vast combination of Eastern and Western classical knowledge, combined with innovative discoveries in physics, social sciences and mathematics.
Before the Prophet Mohammed was born in 570 A.D., many Persian children were already going to elementary schools similar to those in Greece. In these schools, the children learned basic grammar and mathematics, as well as poetry, horsemanship and swimming. Many of these classes were taught in private homes and grounds.
The educational standards were greatly affected by the advancement of the Abbasid Dynasty, and a new form of elementary school system was introduced in the seventh century. The Koran became the central subject of education in this new school system. For a while, these two forms of elementary education existed side by side, funded by private parties
Though it enjoyed monarchical powers and used these powers frequently in many areas of life, the medieval Islamic state initially played little role in education. The caliphs and lesser officials often generously patronized artists and scholars, yet there was no systematic government funding or operation of schools. As in Greek and Italy, education flourished regardless of government support and a solid educational system evolved.
During its golden age in the eighth through the tenth centuries, during the Abbasid Dynasty, the Islamic world enjoyed a level of literacy greater than any seen before. The Muslims led the world in science, and in poetry and philosophy, it was greatly prolific.
History of Abbassid Dynasty
The Abbasid Arab family descended from Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad. The Abbasids held the caliphate from 749 to 1258 A.D. However, they were not recognized in Spain or west of Egypt. Under the Umayyad caliphs, the Abbasids lived peacefully until they became involved in numerous disputes, beginning in the eight-century. At this point, the family joined with the Shiite faction in opposing the Umayyads. In 747 A.D.,
Abu Muslim united the majority of the empire in revolt against the Umayyads.
The leader of the Abbasid family became caliph as Abu al-Abbas as-Saffah late in 749 A.D. The last Umayyad caliph was defeated and the Umayyad family was nearly gone, except for one surviving member. The family fled to Spain, where the Umayyads came to rule. Under the second Abbasid caliph, called al-Mansur, the capital was moved from Damascus to Baghdad. Therefore, Persian influence grew strong in the empire.
The early years of Abbasid rule were brilliant, rising to true splendor under Harun al-Rashid, the fifth caliph, and to educational brilliance under his son al-Mamun, the seventh caliph. However, less than a hundred years of rule led to the slow decline of the Abbasids. Long periods of disorder were marked by assassinations, depositions, control by Turks, and other disturbances. From the beginning of Abbasid reign, there were rival caliphs.
In 836 A.D., the capital was transferred to Samarra, remaining there until 892 A.D. Under the Abbasids, the power of the caliphate became chiefly spiritual. Many independent kingdoms rose, and the empire split into autonomous units. The Seljuk Turks came to hold the real power at Baghdad. The conquests of Jenghiz Khan further lowered the prestige of the Abbasids, and in 1258 A.D., Kahn's grandson Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad and overthrew the Abbasid caliphate.
The 37th caliph died in the disaster, but a member of the family escaped to Cairo, where he was recognized as caliph. The Cairo line of the Abbasid caliphate, completely subordinated to the Mamluks, survived until after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt.
One of the greatest contributions of the Abbasid Empire was the nation-wide increase of the pursuit of knowledge. The educational standards during the Abbasid era were high. Elementary education, both for men and women, flourished. During this time, schools and colleges were created and maintained, and extension courses from mosques as centers grew outward to areas beyond.
During the Abbasid times, private and public libraries were very common. A single street in contained a thousand bookstores. Paper, which introduced from China, was manufactured in the provinces from vegetable fiber.
During this time, most Europeans were illiterate and even European leaders could barely read and write. However, the Arabs were undergoing a massive intellectual awakening, with nothing but an intellect stimulated by extreme mental curiosity and language was a huge part of this.
Educational Standards of the Abbasid Empire
The Prophet Muhammad believed that "it is the duty of every Muslim man and woman to seek education," and because of this belief, the Arabs were encouraged to make the pursuit of knowledge a top priority in their lives.
The Muslims, in ancient civilzation, felt that it was their duty to pursue knowledge and this gave them an educational advantage over other civilizations.
The earliest elementary educational institutions were the mosque schools, which were founded by the Prophet himself. In early times, the Prophet sat in the mosque, surrounded by a group of listeners, and taught his people. The Prophet also trained teachers and sent them to different tribes to educate tribe members in the Qur'an.
Since the time of the Greeks, formal education existed in some form. The early Arabs translated and preserved not only these early Greek teachings, but also those of the Indians and Persians. In addition, they used these early teachings as a basis for the launch of a massive educational revolution beginning during the Abbasid dynasty.
During the Abbasid dynasty, literally thousands of mosque schools were created throughout the Arab empire. These mosque schools taught students a wide variety of subjects, ranging from hadith (the science of tradition), fiqh (ju-risprudence), philology, poetry, rhetoric and many others.
During the tenth century, in Baghdad alone, there were approximately 3,000 mosques. During the fourteenth century, Alexandria had about 12,000 mosques, all of which played a crucial role in education.
The mosque schools were simple. A teacher would sit on a cushion, leaning against a column wall. The students would sit around him, listening and taking notes. Only Muslirns were permitted to attend the Qur'an or hadiih (religious) sessions.
However, education was not limited to Muslims. Non-Muslims were permitted to attend all other subjects. The mosques were open to both rich and poor people, who were permitted to attend classes as often as they wished. Classes were conducted at specific times and announced in advance by the teacher.
Often, students would attend several classes per day and many would travel from one mosque to another. The teachers of these classes enjoyed enormous respect from their students, who followed a formal, yet unwritten, code of behavior. In the mosques, talking, laughing, joking and just about any type of disrespectable behavior were strictly condemned.
The mosques did not specify an age limit, nor were there any restrictions on women pursuing education. Many historians say that women taught classes, as well, and men often attended these classes. Many modern historians downplay the effect that early Arab women had on the social, economic and political life of the Abbassid Empire.
The Muslims practiced a tradition of recording the teacher's discussions, a method which quickly developed into more systematic teaching and note taking. Teachers methodically dealt with subjects, allowed their students to ask questions and tested their knowledge. Success was rewarded with a letter, or certificate of study.
Muslim rulers have, since the Umayyad times, held, held instruction for their children and the children of courtiers. This was especially true in Abbasid times. The curriculum of the rulers…