Lagging Behind Others?: An Exploration of Muslims’ Educational Outlook in Modern Times

Fatima Waqi Sajjad

Abstract

In this paper I explore how modern Muslims’ educational outlook has been affected by colonial disruptions of the past and coloniality of the present. Focusing on the case of colonial India and modern-day Pakistan, I explore how the colonial intrusion in India dichotomized local Muslim education into two separate, divergent domains: religious and secular, a division that remains intact to date. When a contemporary Pakistani Muslim contemplates the purpose of education, he/she confronts two dominant discourses: 1) secular education discourses that advocate economic growth and catching up with the West as the ultimate purpose of education, and 2) dominant religious discourses that advocate salvation in the hereafter as the ultimate goal of education. Through semi-structured interviews of university students in Pakistan, I explored how students make sense of these divergent discourses. I found that students (with a mainstream secular educational background) tend to make a distinction between the purpose of life (which they associate with religion) and the purpose of education (which they associate with worldly pursuits). I argue that this outlook of a difference between the purpose of life and that of education undermines the cultivation of the self that can make a meaningful contribution to knowledge and society. Furthermore, I explore contemporary ideas and practices of knowledge contribution and question the rampant epistemic hegemony of the West in the academic publication enterprise. I point out that the prevailing coloniality of knowledge amplifies the disorientation of Muslims’ educational outlook and hence injury to the modern Muslim self.

Keywords

coloniality of knowledge; decolonizing higher education; epistemic hegemony; Muslim education; religious/secular divide

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