This answer is a transcript of an answer given by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani during a live Q&A session at the end of the Critical Issues Seminar “What Your Child Needs: A Parent’s Guide to Islamic Education” held in the SeekersGuidance HQ in Mississauga, Canada on 2022/02/22.
What is more important, teaching our children what to think or teaching them how to think?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
Understanding Knowledge and Practice
I believe teaching our children what to think and teaching them how to think are equally important and required. There is a certain body of religious knowledge that someone needs to know and other things that we know through the Quran and prophetic teachings. For example, on one hand, we try to know Allah Most High but on the other, we just don’t say figure out how to pray because there is an existing form to our religious practice. Therefore both aspects are important. There is a body of knowledge you need to know because the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) encouraged the companions to reflect and think deeply. Interestingly this insight comes right at the opening of the Quran. Allah informs the angels, I am placing on earth a representative in response to which angels ask a question. Would you place on it someone who would spread corruption and spill blood? Allah Most High responds to this query in detail to teach and invoke reflection.
The right Way of Thinking
Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to train the companions through questions. For example, do you know who is the strong person who is weak? Who is successful and who is bankrupt. He asked Muadh Ibn Jabal (Allah be pleased with him) when he was going to Yemen about his methodology of judging people. He asked the question to let Muadh think and reflect and therefore empowered the companion in that way.
Crisis of Modern Education
To reiterate, we need to know both—what to think and how to think—because in some aspects of modern education there is an insistence on the acquisition of critical thinking skills in order to rebut and deny the existence of any ultimate truth. We also understand and believe in acquiring such skills but for recognizing the true purpose of existence. This is the reason in all traditional Islamic studies curricula, by the time the student finished their high school education, they would study three or four books in logic, research, grammar and rhetoric and equip themselves with many other tools related to critical thinking and analytical thinking.
Transferring Knowledge through Questions
We should not be afraid of children asking questions about religion because asking questions and seeking answers was one important aspect of teaching and transferring knowledge to companions by the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) For example, Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) taught us if you go to sleep lying down your wudu is broken. Once the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) fell asleep while surrounded by people and suddenly go up to pray. Seeing the apparent contradiction, the companions asked him, O prophet of Allah Most High, you were sleeping and suddenly woke up for prayer without ablution. To which, he replied, I am not like you, my eyes may sleep but my heart does not and that is one of the things unique to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
The above example is a medium of training through questions inculcated by the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) among the companions. Interventions and questions are good healthy things as well. Sometimes, we feel you don’t want to ask but asking becomes inevitably significant.
Being Defensive in Ignorance
To conclude, One should not turn defensive because of incapability of responding to the query of their children. We must appreciate the question because the only one who cares would ask. This is the moment to understand that people actually trust the person who says no and accepts his lack of knowledge more than the one who answers every question. The most significant thing is to appreciate the question and seek an answer. This is the path of learning and encourages one to teach others including their children.
[Shaykh] Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Faraz Rabbani spent ten years studying with some of the leading scholars of recent times, first in Damascus, and then in Amman, Jordan. His teachers include the foremost theologian of recent times in Damascus, the late Shaykh Adib al-Kallas (may Allah have mercy on him), as well as his student Shaykh Hassan al-Hindi, one of the leading Hanafi fuqaha of the present age. He returned to Canada in 2007, where he founded SeekersGuidance in order to meet the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge–both online and on the ground–in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He is the author of: Absolute Essentials of Islam: Faith, Prayer, and the Path of Salvation According to the Hanafi School (White Thread Press, 2004.) Since 2011, Shaykh Faraz has been named one of the 500 most influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.