Tarbiya: Education and Politics in Islamic Movements in Jordan and Malaysia

By Eickelman, Dale F. | The Middle East Journal, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

Tarbiya: Education and Politics in Islamic Movements in Jordan and Malaysia


Eickelman, Dale F., The Middle East Journal


Education (tarbiyya) plays an important role in all types of contemporary Islamic movements. The "free schools" of Moroccan religious nationalists in the 1920s and 1930s; private religious schools in Egypt, Indonesia, and the West Bank and Gaza; and the state-run educational systems over which Islamic groups have exercised significant influence or control all suggest the significance given to schooling. For Islamists, tarbiyya is not just formal schooling but also "a life-long process, encompassing all aspects of human life" (p. 14). Anne Roald seeks to "offer a systematic analysis of Islamic normative ideas and their functions" and to portray these ideas as they have been implemented in practice. She focuses particularly on Jordan and Malaysia, where she conducted field research in 1991-93. The Islamic movements in both these countries have been strongly influenced by developments elsewhere in the Muslim world and have been exposed to Western educational systems and educational research (pp. 15-16).

Roald describes the variety of Islamist attitudes toward education and the often intense internal debate within Islamic movements over the implementation of educational goals for both women and men. Her extensive use of contemporary Arabic sources and her numerous interviews in both countries (listed on pp. 375-7) adds a welcome new dimension to understanding these debates. She writes that her husband, "an independent Islamist" of Arab origin, attended many interviews with her. His presence with the interviewees, who "usually knew him," ensured her credibility and "guaranteed" the credibility of the answers given to her. His presence facilitated access to male Islamist leaders that otherwise would be "nearly impossible for a woman" and neutralized misgivings over the goals of her research (p. 27).

Roald outlines the key concepts and themes that appear in virtually all writings on Islamic education, including the prospects for "Islamizing" education, doctrines of free will and human nature, and the goals of Islamic education in producing the "righteous man" (al-insan al-salih). In general, she offers richly textured summaries of current doctrines and debates, clearly delineating the Arabic conceptual vocabulary in which they are grounded. However, some of the work which she regards as representing a "high intellectual level" may instead suggest a certain aridity of thought.

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