Religious education in our country from a jurisprudence aspect has been unchanged for the last 1,000 years.
It consists of sectarian jurisprudence texts devoid of evidence, written centuries ago that our student have too memorizes verbatim, like the "Zad al-Mustanqi" in Hanbali jurisprudence, "Mukhtasar Khalil" in Maliki jurisprudence, "Al-Taqrib" by Abu-Shuja in Shafi'I jurisprudence, and "Al-Quduri" in Hanafi jurisprudence.
These texts are written with extreme brevity in words, puzzling sentences, and a reduction of meaning. The faults in theses texts can be divided into two parts:
First: They lack all Koran and Sunnah texts. This is because they are supposed to be used for deduction using Shariaa evidence, and not the other way around.
Second: Many people understand these jurisprudence opinions to be categorical, and anything else is false, and this has led to sectarian fanaticism, and the move away from evidence. For instance, when you read the beginning of Zad al-Mustanqi you will find the phrase "The water is of three categories," which is wrong as there are only two. Then the book says: "If clean clothes are suspected of being mixed with dirty ones, then you perform a number of prayers equal to the number of the clothes plus one;" this means if you have 20 items of clothing, then when there is suspicion you perform 21 prayers, which is wrong, because you ought to investigate and ascertain.
The problem is that these texts take the student away from the Koran and the Hadith, and he or she works their minds over ambiguous phrases to no avail. Why should we concern ourselves with ambiguous puzzling sentences of the faqihs, explain them, and exert our minds in understanding them while we have the great Book [the Koran] that includes guidance, enlightenment, comprehensive explanations, and sufficient answers, and while we have pure, easy, and facilitating Sunnah? Moreover, we know of some faqihs who undertake issuing fatwas while they cannot distinguish between a correct and a weak Hadith, and do not give evidence, but they only memorize these sectarian jurisprudent texts.
Is there among us a judicious man who will reform this jurisprudence education so that the students can study the jurisprudence of the Koran and Sunnah, the same as the imams of Hadith, Ibn-Taymiyah, Ibn Abdul-Barr, Ibn Abdul-Wahhab, Al-Sanaani, Al-Shawkani, and others did?
In the intermediate and secondary stages we studied 17 subjects such as religion, mathematics, algebra, geometry, physics, chemistry, biology, English language, literature, grammar, culture, history, geography, and others. In these stages we had with us Dr Salman al-Awdah, Dr Abdul-Rahmanal-Sudays, Dr Abdul-Wahhab al-Turayri, Dr Muhammad al-Turki, and others from this saved [from hell] and victorious group. We graduated without knowing English language, without mastering physics, without understanding chemistry, without a sound knowledge of biology, without excelling in algebra, without becoming successful in geometry, and without mastering arithmetic; in geography we drowned between the exports of Ivory Coast, the imports of Burkina Faso, the products of Cameroon, the timber of Zaire, and the cocoa of Guinea Bissau. Thus, the curricula became a "quagmire," and the study of these subjects was at the expense of the Shariaa subjects and Arabic language.
By God, I implore you to answer me: Is this a way to learn?
The students in the Arab world have their excuse for not producing a great faqih, a skillful interpreter, a prominent writer, or a brilliant grammarian, because education in the intermediary and secondary stages is a "cocktail," or we can say it is performed in the same way as the greeting "good morning."
*Published in the London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on February 2, 2008.
Dr. al-Qarni is a Saudi-born Islamic preacher and scholar.