Building peace in the minds of men and women

In Arab lands learning means light

In the third century of the Hegira, around the year 840, a genial moralist with a taste for writing on every imaginable subject included in his Book of Exposition and Demonstration the portraits of various teachers in Baghdad, Kufa and Basra. He carefully differentiated between the eminent lecturers in law and theology whose discourses enthralled distinguished gatherings and the mass of enthusiastic and half-starved schoolteachers who grappled with hordes of children.

In the days of Abu Utman al-Djahiz there was indeed no lack of schoolteachers in Islam. Long before the conquests and conversions there were undoubtedly many more teachers in the Middle East than there were in Europe, teaching in Greek at one place, in Syriac at another, in Hebrew, Persian or Arabic. By propagating "the world's most read book", the new faith had stimulated the spirit of study and research. Every mosque had its school where the Koranic adage was inculcated: "He unto whom wisdom is given, he truly hath received abundant good" or that injunction of the Prophet's to "Seek knowledge even if it be in China, since the seeking of knowledge ls obligatory upon every Moslem, man or woman."

Until the fifteenth century, elementary education the teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic which was virtually general in the towns advanced side-by-side with the vast expansion of Arab science and culture. The latter, even when they had declined in the Iraqi and Syrian towns from which they emerged, continued to grow stronger and to proliferate in Central Asia, in Sicily and above all in Europe and North Africa.

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January 1961