Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Articles, Comments

What Muslims Learn

No sir, please, I promise sir, I won't do it again. P-l-e-a-s-e sir."

His pleas made no difference. Our English teacher had a vise-like grip on the left wrist of that student. A few days before we had a brief English test. That student got 5 out of 10. Like everybody else, he had to get the signature of one of his parents. Which he did, after he had changed that "5" to an "8". Now, the student was fruitlessly attempting to avoid the customary thrashing.

The teacher held the wrist of the student with his left hand and with his right hit the student multiple times; on the head, the face, the neck, a few punches on the ribs. I sat in front of the class, a few feet away from the entire revolting episode.

The student was half-way between standing upright and on his knees. His voice muffled because of sobs, he again futilely begged, "P-p-please s-s-sir, I w-w-won't do it..."

Then, a man from the school administration entered the room to hand the teacher some kind of note. That man looked at the whole situation and airily inquired about the weeping student. The teacher told the story as he hit him again. The man responded in Punjabi, "Tsk, kids nowadays" and then left.

The above scene was from my Pakistani school in Saudi Arabia. It was just another normal day at our Muslim school. Everyone knew about the default mode of "teaching". Most of the teachers barked out whatever was in the books and the students heard the whole thing without often comprehending the subject. Practically all the students had study guides, or photocopies of them, to answer the questions for the various assignments.

Most students, myself included, simply memorized whatever was in the books and the study guides and regurgitated the material on tests and exams. This activity of cramming alien material into our heads was known as ratta (pronounced rut-ta). It was sad that most students did the same with mathematics; they could solve any problem from the book but give 'em something even slightly different, and they would be stumped.

Arabic was our third language; Urdu and English were the first and second respectively. This made Arabic and Islamiyat (the study/world of Islam) our worst courses. To top it off, we had the most grotesque teacher for these two subjects. He wore shalwar kameez and had a big black beard. His style of teaching was quite simple: If the kid doesn't learn, then you haven't beaten him enough.

On the day of our test, this teacher would start off by calling out a student and then telling him to write such-and-such sura from the Quran. Understand that the meaning of the Quran is immaterial, what matters is that a student could vomit it all back. If the student made even a single mistake, then the teacher would send him off to the faculty lounge. You see, all the exquisite dunday (long and strong wooden sticks) were there. The teacher would tell the student to bring back the one with the black tape--the heaviest one. I can't imagine that long walk. Afterwards the teacher would hit the open palms of the student with the stick, one hit for every mistake. A few students later, the teacher would get bored, so he would start hitting students on the back of their knees and thighs as they wrote out the verses on the board and made errors.

Imagine the effects of this Muslim way of teaching on the psyche of young kids. Formal education becomes synonymous with pain and suffering. These kids repeatedly learn that violence is an acceptable method of instruction. When they do graduate from high school, they have little to zero understanding of what they've "learned". Whatever they've memorized evaporates within a few years and all they're left with is horror stories of vile teachers.

If it wasn't for my introduction to the Western way of teaching less than a decade ago, then I would have forever thought of teaching as an odious profession. Though, most Muslims aren't so lucky. Everyday, thousands, perhaps millions, of Muslims are brutalized by their teachers as we're repeatedly told that Islam is a Religion of Peace.

Some of you might be asking, "How could the parents allow this barbarity to continue in schools?" You naively assume that such violence is limited to schools in Muslim lands.

Article first appeared in on January 10, 2006

Comments Here