Student-Teacher Values in Islam

During the first few years at my undergraduate university, the Muslim Student Association worked closely with other religiously-affiliated groups. Our student organization was unique in that we did not have an immediate superior to respond to and planned and executed activities by the grace of Allah and students’ efforts. When working alongside other ethnic and religious organizations for campus interfaith and multicultural activities, something that always stood out to me was the lack of respect our non-Muslim peers had for their superiors. The professors and chaplains that served as personal mentors for student groups were treated very poorly. Along with the rest of the Muslim board, I was simply shocked to hear some of the snide comments made to other religious elders or scholars. The blatant coarseness of language and impudence caused me to cringe in shame on behalf of those students. After such events, the Muslim students often discussed how fortunate we were that the great values of our faith prevented us from such shortcomings. We took pride in our courteous and honorable demeanor even when faced with controversial situations and points of disagreement during event planning.

Unfortunately, as the years went on, these honorable mannerisms seemed to disappear from Muslim students. It became very common to witness Muslim students making rude and catty comments to professors in class along with perpetuating ridicule behind their backs. This disrespect was also seen in less explicit ways through behaviors displayed by audience members of not just classrooms, but Islamic lectures as well.  It seemed as if assimilation with those of a non-Islamic background caused us to forget the foundations with which we were raised. These habits manifested not simply as poking fun at personal characteristics of professors and scholars, but also through indifferent attitudes towards gaining from educational opportunities.

Of course, it is incumbent upon us as Muslims to gain knowledge, as it is a form of worship. Yet in order to obtain it in the most proper form, we turn to Imam Ali (peace be upon him) who has said, “O young nation, keep your honor by being polite and your religion by knowledge.” It is clear therefore that both character and faith need supplemental virtues to thrive. In the case of dignity, kindness and respect to others is necessary, while in order to remain attached to religion, we are required to attain an education.

Islam beautifully demonstrates to us the significance and sanctity of a teacher-student relationship in this process. Imam Ja’fer as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) reminds us, “Your teacher has the right over you that you should honor him and pay him respect in different assemblies. You should be very attentive to his words. You should not raise your voice above his. You should not converse with others in his presence, and you should allow people to benefit from his knowledge.” This message can be applied in our middle school, high school, and college classrooms, and can also be translated to Islamic lectures, majalis, and other forms of Islamic learning. Respect for a teacher indicates not commenting on their words during a lecture or snickering about a scholar’s flaws or traits. Being attentive implies giving full effort to comprehend the information, withholding side conversations, refraining from passing notes and constantly texting, and preventing one’s self from showing complete disregard for his or her message and efforts.

Yes, there will be times both inside and outside of the classroom when we disagree with someone’s point of view or presentation of information. Islam encourages us then to stand for the truth and speak up. Yet, when abiding by the words of Imam Ali, “O believer, surely this knowledge and courtesy are your price; then try to learn them. If your knowledge and courtesy become much, your price will be high. Then you are led to your Lord by knowledge, and you can serve your Lord with courtesy very well,” it is apparent that serving Allah and seeking knowledge requires “courtesy” and dignified behavior. When refuting an idea, or providing evidence against a claim, as Muslims we should conduct ourselves with decorum and virtue. This will not only gain the respect of our compeers, but also likely elicit a positive response from the teacher as well.

As we transition into higher learning and take bolder steps towards our educational future, it is important to remember that as Muslims, we are representatives of the message of Islam. Our character, actions, and speech dictate how we are perceived in the public eye, and in turn how others perceive Islam itself. It is our duty to uphold the image of Islam in highest esteem through noble conduct as exemplified by the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them), whether in school or elsewhere.

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  • masooma

    I am a high school teacher and I can tell you from experience that among the majority of students respect of teachers and even education itself is very low, including among the few Muslim students I’ve had in the same proportion as non-Muslims. It makes my job infinitely harder in many ways and is one of the major contributing factors to turn over in the field of education. (The other major factor is politics that influence testing requirements, curriculum, discipline, etc.)

    Some students behave as if the teachers are their enemies rather than people trying to help them find opportunities in their future lives. They recoil and rebel at being asked to pay attention, write something down, practice, listen to others, or follow directions. Yes, there are bad teachers out there, but the vast majority have good intentions and are genuinely trying to help their students.

    The learning environment would be greatly improved, as would student and teacher morale, if the simple hadith of Imam Sadiq (as) were taken to heart and applied.

  • Brother

    Thanks for this piece sister, you make an outstanding point about something that isn’t discussed much in our communities. Reading your piece made me reflect on the utterly poor mannerisms that most non-Muslims have towards their teachers. Specifically what comes to mind is the useless backbiting that many of them engage in when they mock certain professors personal traits or characteristics. As Muslims we cannot stoop to this level and should always strive to achieve a higher level of morality and politeness, even if that means refraining from participating in “professor-bashing” conversations with our peers.

    Sister Masooma, the environment you describe seems to be more a reflection of those students’ poor upbringing rather than any fault of your own 🙂 Alhamdullilah you are trying your best, and insha’Allah one day all students will abide by that hadith.

    A piece like this really makes one realize just how much Islamic teachings have to offer and contribute to so many diverse fields (in this case education).

  • ABD101

    I’m desperate for info on respecting, honouring and obeying teachers for my Islamic Studies essay for the 4th of January. If anyone has info on it, please give me the info ASAP. Thanks.

  • rumesa

    i want to know that should muslim students stand up when the teacher enters the class room??what does ISLAM say about it?

    • kaniz55

      yes they must as it is a sign of respect

  • masooma

    I have not seen anything to indicate that it is either haram or wajib.b

  • Anon

    I was led to this article whilst researching the Islamic way Muslims should behave within class as I am aware that they should hold their teacher in high regard.
    Working initially in a secondary school with around 90% being Muslim and now at a college in which my class is again 90% Muslim, containing only 2 white British, I am surprised to read that the blame is placed on non Muslims for influencing Muslims in their behaviour through a process of osmosis.
    This clearly is not the case when working in educational institutions whereby Muslims are of the majority.

  • Anon

    I am disgusted at the way students use Islam to “get out of” lessons, contact parents, raise their voices, argue, disrespect, not listen, make personal comments, talk to each other whilst I demonstrate, play games, answer their phones, not follow instructions, deceitfulness, walk out. Clearly the list is endless and evidently everything opposite to what should have been established over the last 1300+ years. Yet the white British (who apparently do not have values) get on with the work and do not demonstrate the majority of the previous mentioned behavioural issues. I am not claiming the white British are perfect as it is human nature to rebel during adolescence in an attempt to establish personality and place within society.
    How then (within my described scenario) can the minority, 10% non Muslims, be the catalyst for overall poor behaviour and sheer lack of respect from the 90% remaining Muslim students when they themselves do not display this behaviour?

  • Anon

    It amazes me that when members of the Muslim community speak about non Muslims, it is with such superiority, when my experience has not brought forth any evidence of a truly respectful Muslim that portrays any of the qualities described by the Imams quoted, reflects the true teachings of Islam or the great values they have in their faith to prevent them from such shortcomings.
    Perhaps members of the Muslim community should not blame non Muslims for the poor, disrespectful behaviour demonstrated by the people in their community, but look at ways of reinforcing the wise words of the holy men quoted in this article and look more at their family values with a view of controlling the young nation and developing a future generation that will contribute more positively to society through the success of their education.

    • point

      I think the behavior problems you mention are real, but as a teacher myself I can tell you they are neither a “muslim” nor a “non-muslim” phenomenon – it crosses all such boundaries in much of western society and perhaps elsewhere that I don’t have personal knowledge about. As such, it seems to be a larger societal problem of how children are being raised by parents and influence of media, peers, etc., primarily, and secondarily, about teaching methods and design of the school system overall to address to the current population of students appropriately.

      This article shows the ideal that muslims that should be trying to meet, and some do meet it or approach it at least; it is xenophobic to create and us/them division over something that is more global.

      • Anon

        I agree with you that their is a larger societal problem that crosses all boundaries. I presume that when the holy men wrote these wise words that there was quite probably the same problems then but in a different context as why would they need to have been written? The main article states “It seemed as if assimilation with those of a non-Islamic background caused us to forget the foundations with which we were raised.” My point is that within educational institutions that are predominantly Muslim how can non Muslims be blamed when it would seem there has always been an issue. Just because somebody is a Muslim does not make them a good person.

        • najafi110

          You are reading way too much into things. The article is basically saying that it is sad that many Muslim youth raised in the West are taught respect as children, but because of the society they grow up in (which glorifies disrespect and rebelliousness, e.g. Bart Simpson), they unfortunately abandon this value. That’s all. 🙂

          • Anon

            The article discusses assimilation of behaviour from people of non-Islamic background which would suggest while Muslims socialise or study amongst non Muslims they adopt this behaviour. As communities are becoming increasingly more segregated both culturally and religiously they are integrating less with other cultures therefore the behaviour learned is only from their own community. I do not believe that shows like the Simpsons have more influence than Islamic teachings.

          • AB

            I was reading your comments, and I do understand where you are coming from, but as a student I know that we are not raised by only our parents. We are raised by those sorrounding us and by television and other outside influences.Most of the Muslims you see today were not merely raised by Muslim or practising Muslim parents. The characteristics, even, that they earned are not the characteristics of an ideal Muslim, but in fact includes those of a Non-Muslim in general. When something is not within the boundaries of Islam, we cannot say that it is. So, for us to say any rude behavior criticized by Islamic rulings is from other than Islam. Also, unless you’ve taught these same kids all their lives , you can’t tell who their patterns of behavior is coming from. Maybe before they came to your class, they were among a higher ratio of Non-Muslims than Muslims. Either way every individual has freedom of choice whether in the West,East, South or North. When quoting something from Islam, I find it best to quote our Prophet Muhammad (saw) as he was more knowledgeable and is more well known in Islam than the multitudes of Imams.

  • Anon

    After spending some time outlining my expectations regarding behaviour I added some slides quoting the Imams on this page. I also added a dua and the Muslim students had no knowledge of these words. They asked if I had made it up. It would appear that Muslims have not forgot but seemingly within my class not been taught.

    • point

      “It seemed as if assimilation with those of a non-Islamic background caused us to forget the foundations with which we were raised.”
      Well perhaps that is similar to way most Westerners look on their own past – we say the same thing about our own youth – we often look to the 50’s or even the 70’s now with similar nostalgia – and both are probably not really correct. Things are different yes, but not always in the ways we ‘remember’.
      Also, not all of your students may be Shia, which may be contribute to their lack of knowledge about the dua and Imams (sa), or it may also just be that they have not had religious eduation – many youth of many faiths do not.

  • Nauman khalid

    well, in every religion there is a great value of tEACHER, because teacher is the one who learn the one about the life, about the first thing in this world,, and about what you dont know,,, in schoools colleges,, and different institute people are reading, than after they become whatever,, all because of teacher,, Islam And Quran give a great values to teacher,, Islam give honour, respect to them,,,