Official Representative of his eminence, Ayatullah Sayed Al-Sistani
Delivered at AlBaqir Academy in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on April 28th, 2019
22 Shabban 1440
In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
(Holy Qur’an 96:1-5) “Read in the name of your Lord Who created. He created the human from a clinging mass. Read and your Lord is the most generous, Who taught by the pen, He taught the human what he did not know.”
Knowledge is considered the trait that nations take pride in, and strive to achieve the highest ranks in it, because of its great significance, and its effect that impacts the individual, as well as, the society. For this reason, Islam made it essential for the solid building of knowledge, as it was established on it, refuting all illusions and misguidances that would be opposite to the Islamic message of truth. It is important here to emphasize that God, the Exalted, the High, created the human, and He equipped him with all the tools of knowledge and recognition, that include: the intellect, hearing, and seeing. For this reason, the Qur’an considers knowledge as the basis for its eternal message, as most of its chapters talk about knowledge, either directly or indirectly. In fact, the number of times the word “knowledge” appears in the Qur’an in its various forms is 779 times, which is an average of 7 times per each chapter. There are other words meaning “knowledge” used in the Qur’an [that imply it] without using the word “knowledge” itself, such as: reflection, reason, certainty, guidance, intellect, wisdom, evidence, proof, sign, and clearly evident.
The evidence for the significance Islam gives to knowledge is that the very first verse revealed of the Holy Qur’an commands reading, and it is considered the key to all sciences, religious and academic, as God, the Exalted, the High, says, “Read in the name of your Lord He created the human from a clinging mass. Read and your Lord is the most generous, Who taught by the pen, He taught the human what he did not know,” (96:1-5) Moreover, God, the Exalted, mandated in Islam knowledge before action, as He stated, “Beware, that there is no god but God, and seek forgiveness for your shortcomings, and for the male and female believers, and God knows your itinerary and your [final] abode,” (47:19). In addition, God warned of speaking without knowledge, “Do not pursue anything that has not come to your knowledge. Indeed, hearing, eyesight, and the heart – all these are accountable,” (17:36).
Due to this high status of knowledge, which distinguishes a scholar from others, we attest to the consensus of the people of education on the significant role schools play in the life of the human from his/her start in the elementary years, to higher grades leading to universities.
It is mentioned that from the perspective of time, a student spends 5-7 hours daily [in school], and this is about a quarter of the day, and more than half of daytime, and hence, about half of the child’s and adolescent’s age [is spent in school]. Noticeably, the adolescent does not spend these long hours with either of his parents. That is why, if one were to say that school takes the bigger part of raising adolescents, then the statement is not far from the truth.
From another perspective, the school is an environment that is very influential on the personality of the student, through the different stages of education. That is because it witnesses the formation of friendships for the student, as well as, his/her interactions with the environment and the society, while he/she also finds a social environment through these school friends and colleagues, as he/she also learns through them about the paths and means of living, and thinking, and so on. The influence of school friends and colleagues on each other is apparent.
The role of the teacher here is beyond that of the colleagues, in either guiding the student, or, God forbid, misguiding him/her. That is because the student listens, as it should be, during these six or so hours to someone he/she sees as more knowledgeable than him/her about life. Rather, [the student] sees [the teacher] as a way to success in life, and hence, it is natural he/she will be influenced by him or her. Similarly, the curriculum he/she receives is about shaping his/her understanding, and determining his/her goal in life, and path. Due to these points, we’ve observed how schools that have a bad curriculum can negatively influence individuals, turning them sometimes into criminals, where as the ones with a good curriculum, enrich societies with wonderful personalities.
What was mentioned about the effects of the school on the personality of students who are studying in them is not disputed, nor contested by those in education, and they strongly emphasize it.
The importance of the school increases significantly during this time, when the environment is negatively impacting societies, as a good school becomes the only factor keeping the student away from such harm, and hence, it protects him/her in the first half of their early life from much of the wrong influences that can ruin their faith and character.
Moreover, it is supposed to look after teaching them the Arabic language, along with the Canadian language, as well as, the other lively languages.
By “language” here, it is not intended the recognition of the letters and phonics, but rather “language” as a cultural vehicle that carries traditions and thoughts, and the Word of God in the Qur’an and the guidance of the Impeccables (ma’sumeen), and we will discuss these points below.
Finally, it is incumbent upon AlBaqir Academy to be a school that carries an example of the faithful society, that looks after virtues and strives after knowledge and understanding. A community that demonstrates positive interactions socially and morally, emphasizing the humanitarian side before the Islamic, as stated by Imam ‘Ali [Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and successor], “People are of two kinds: either your brother and sister in faith, or your counterpart in humanity,” (Nahj al-Balāghah, letter No. 53).
After all that, we highlight certain points that need attention and should be emphasized as follows:
1) Investing in Arabic and Islamic schools: For as much as we ask the leadership of schools to lower the fees for students, so they can accommodate the whole Arabic and Muslim community, as it is understood that lowering the financial burden provides an opportunity for a greater number of people to enroll their children in such schools, and as much as we ask for lowering the financial burden, we also invite those with financial abilities to increase their investments in such schools: financially, morally, as well as, working on expanding them. While such investments may have some financial gains, however, they are the best moral and social investments, and there is no doubt it is the best kind of Islamic service, which if not exceeding the reward of doing charitable work and building [charitable] organizations, then it is not any less. Moreover, investing in schools is an investment in building the human character, and preparing the next generation to be academically competent and religiously and morally equipped. This is what the grand jurist of the Shi’a, his eminence, Ayatullah Sayed Al-Sistani, may God prolong his life, cares so much about, to the point that he lately allowed the use of religious taxes exclusively for schools, due to his care for the educational and cultural success he wants Muslims and their children to achieve, by gaining the highest academic ranks in diverse fields and specializations, so they can be enlightened by knowledge, and enlighten others with it, whether in the country of their residence or their own countries. Moreover, his eminence also emphasizes to all Muslim communities to take care of building the educational, religious, and theological character of their children, to protect their religious identity and not be negatively influenced by the environmental factors.
2) We also call and emphasize these schools transform into exceptional schools, that can compete against public and Islamic schools in its academic standards, and surpass them in all moral and religious criteria. This mandates the leadership of these schools to ensure the staff has the appropriate credentials to teach, and there should not be leniency in this regard, as well as, the emphasis on the moral and religious character of the educational staff. Otherwise, there is no difference between these schools and others, rather the whole essence of having them becomes nullified.
3) Added to the above, while we understand the differences of opinion among people, and teachers are among them, regarding different issues, whether political or religious, it is important to have what may be considered a “covenant of honour,” in keeping these disagreements away, and not mentioning personal opinions [in the classroom]. Moreover, concentration should be on two main points: deepening the faith and its reflection on our actions through worship and manners, as well as, emphasizing the theology (‘aqai’ed) that are in consensus [among the scholars] and known to the Shi’a. This is to save these schools from any conflicts [that may arise] due to differences of opinions.
4) We pointed earlier to the importance of concentrating on the Arabic language, and not to care about the statement that “we do not need it in this society,” because this language is the vehicle that carries our religious education and Islamic knowledge, and there is no doubt that not concentrating on it would result in the student losing this language, especially that the environment does not help in learning it. Many parents reported the difficulties they experience with their children communicating in languages other than Arabic [or their native languages] as they find it easier to communicate in these other languages among their Arabic-speaking [or other language-speaking] peers, and even in their homes. Let the school be a source of conserving this language in the minds of those who attend it.
5) It is mandatory to develop a method that combines between the new generation’s attachment to the countries of their residences, such that they feel they belong here, without feeling strangers in their own countries, and between them not adopting the immoral and unethical values that exist in such countries. It is impossible for a person not to have a belonging to a land, the he/she interacts with and relates to, as well as, wanting to rise in it and interacting with its politics and finances. It is obvious that these students do not feel a belonging to, for example, Iraq, Iran, the Gulf, or other countries that they were not born in, nor do they know much about. In fact, in most cases, they do not wish to live in such countries. However, they consider Canada, for example, as their country, and there is no harm in increasing their belonging to this country. However, an educational approach has to be developed such that they do not get influenced by standards that may be against their religious education, or a way of living that may negate their values.
We ask God Almighty to help those who are looking after this Academy to succeed, and to make this gathering, a gathering of virtue and blessing. I would also like to thank all those in attendance, especially the government officials who are in attendance of our event, requesting them for care and attention to this Academy and other educational institutions, where our children are being raised, and from them they spread education and knowledge, which separates the scholar from others.
The Holy Qur’an states, “Say! Are those who have knowledge and those who do not equal?” (39:9).
We are aware that the Canadian government is of those who like knowledge, and looks for having the best of it in all its aspects, educational and cultural. We also thank your generous care to Muslim organizations and looking after their general and specific needs.
This, and [God says in the Holy Qur’an 9:105], “Strive, for God will see your deeds, His messenger and the believers.”
Assalam Alaikum wa Rahamtullah wa Barakatuh