Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Islamic Perspective of Vocational Education

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_533



In “vocational education,” some have put emphasis on the first part, namely, “vocation,” while others subordinated it to the second part, namely, “education.” The first trend has led to vocationalism that undermines theoretical subject matters, and the second trend has been supported by liberalists, among others, who take training as secondary to education having rational as well as social dimensions.

The failure of traditional education associated with old vocationalism to overcome the dichotomy of theoretical/practical some urged some to introduce a new trend in education that blurs the borders between theoretical and practical education. This new trend is differently embraced, for instance, in pragmatism (Dewey 1916/1985) and new vocationalism (Grubb 1996). It is argued in this trend that high-level skills, such as problem-solving and learning capability, require that theory and practice be combined. This combination is called “all aspects of an industry” in Perkins Act of 1990 in the USA (Rosenstock 1991). New vocationalism and its slogan of “competence standards” was supported in Britain in 1986, in the USA in 1994, and in Australia in 1992 (Forster 1996).

The controversy of education versus training is still continuing. Conservatives in Britain, for instance, hold that liberalists who prefer academic over vocational qualifications had education in their hands for too long and this had damaging effects on the economy of the country. On the other hand, even though new vocationalism has attempted to combine theoretical and practical education, it is claimed (Connell et al. 1994) that working-class students are “trained,” but middle-class students get “educated,” and parity of esteem is continuing to be a problem.

Having these problems of education versus training in mind, this entry is going to address vocational education in the view of Islamic education. In what follows, first human agency is introduced in Islamic view as the basis for dealing with vocational education. Then, relying on it, some principles of vocational education is suggested from an Islamic perspective.

Human Agency in Islam

Human is introduced in the Qur’an as agent who has actions (Bagheri Noaparast 2016). An action is different from a pure behavior in terms of some underlying layers. While a behavior is what it is seen from the outside, an action is a behavior that presupposes some underlying layers and thereby finds certain characteristics. These layers can be different depending on particular action approaches.

As far as the Qur’an is concerned, at least three types of underlying layers are at issue for a behavior to be taken as action. The first foundation of action is cognitive in nature. The following verse, for instance, refers to such a foundation in relation to human action: “As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage in the desert which the thirsty takes for water…” (Qur’an, 24: 39). Here an illusion which is cognitive in nature is at the root of an action.

The second foundation of action in the Islamic view is inclination. This verse refers to this type of foundation: “We have made attractive to every person their deeds” (Qur’an, 6: 108).

The third foundation of action is will. Cognition and inclination are necessary but not sufficient for a behavior to be an action. The will as a foundation of action indicates that humans have a choice in their deeds. Inclination, even a strong one, by itself does not lead to an action, but it could be the subject of a choice or rejection. The following verse refers to this point: “Have you considered him who takes his own lust for his god?” (Qur’an, 25: 43)

Human actions with the mentioned foundations have some characteristics. First of all, when done, human actions find an objective feature with internal as well as external consequences that cannot be helped. These consequences are effects of actions, and in this respect, they are real occurrences that cannot be helped. Referring to this point, the Qur’an states: “As a consequence of breaking their promise made to God and telling lies, He filled their hearts with hypocrisy…” (Qur’an, 9: 77).

Secondly, actions constitute the core of human identity. The real identity of every person is not but the sum of his or her actions. “That no one who carries a burden bears another’s load; that a man [sic] receives but only that for which he strives” (Qur’an, 53: 39–40). This is not to say that human identity has no other dimensions, but the point is that some dimensions of identity are accidental as is the case in, for instance, national identity. If I am an Iranian, this is no doubt a dimension of my identity, but it is accidental to my identity. By naming it accidental, it is not meant that it is not important but that it provides me with some opportunities as well as limitations or, one might say that, with a field for action. Then, the core of my identity is shaped by my actions in this field and similar fields.

Thirdly, humans are responsible for their actions: “Every soul is pledged to what it does” (Qur’an, 74: 38). Being based on choice, an action involves responsibility. People are responsible for the intended consequences of their actions as well as the unintended consequences that the person being informed of because they are also part of action.

Principles of Vocational Education

Viewed from the standpoint of Islamic account of action, vocational activities should be taken into account in terms of action and its three cognitive, emotional, and volitional layers. This indicates that Islamic view of vocational education is not skill oriented. Vocational activity in terms of action is something more than a bundle of behaviors. This is because cognition, inclination, and will are involved in vocational activity. In addition, having the characteristics of action, vocational activity has important roles to play. For instance, in terms of identity-formation characteristic of action, vocational activity has a role in the formation of identity of the person. Depending on of the kind of contents of the layers, an action, including vocational action, can be a desired or undesired action each having its own role in constituting a human identity. Thus, given the foundations and characteristics of action, vocational education needs to go beyond skills.

In order to provide a desired vocational action, Islamic education puts forward some principles in terms of the three internal layers as well as consequences of actions on oneself, people, and the environment. The four resultant principles are explored below.

Principle 1: Giving a Higher Meaning to Vocational Activity

In order to go beyond the behavioral approach and its skill-oriented view, vocational activity needs to find a meaning. Giving a meaning to vocational activity requires that pupils are provided with a rationale for the activity at the level of cognitive foundation of their actions. The rationale that Islamic view puts forward for vocational activity is threefold as follows.

Firstly, vocational activity is taken to remove the obstacles of human development. Human instinctive needs are so strong that if they are not satisfied, they would prevent humans from going ahead on the development ladder and the satisfaction of the needs is dependent on work and vocation. Referring to this role of vocational activity, the prophet of Islam has stated: “A person who finds water and soil and at the same time remains poor, God prevents him from His grace” (Ameli 1993, Vol. 2, part al-Tejarat). God’s grace here has a reference to positive developments that people would and should have access to, and this is taken to be dependent on overcoming deprivations. Accordingly, vocational activity has the value of removing the obstacles of human development. Seeing vocational activity at the light of this rationale is the first dimension of giving meaning to this activity.

Secondly, vocational activity is introduced in Islam as a spiritual endeavor. Spirituality in Islam is associated with getting close to God by worshipping. However, worship is not confined to particular forms of activity such as doing prayer. The criterion of worship is getting close to God, and whatever provides the person with it, it would be a worship. Thus, the prophet of Islam states: “Worship has seventy parts and its highest part is decent (halal) business” (Ameli 1993, Vol. 2, part Al-Tejarat). It is interesting to note that a decent business is the highest part of worship.

But how is it that a vocational activity can be taken as a worship that plays a spiritual role? Given the two aforementioned features of vocation, namely, removing the obstacles of a person’s development and providing a source of self-esteem, the spiritual roles of vocational activity are made clear. This is because getting close to God is associated with personal development and self-esteem. God is introduced in Islam as the main source of perfection and pride; then, whoever is closer to this source would be a person with more perfection and self-esteem.

On the whole, in the Islamic education, a meaning is given to vocational activity according to which human development, self-esteem, and spirituality are involved in this activity. Thus, vocational education requires that pupils take such a grasp of this activity.

Principle 2: Transcending Lower Motives in Vocational Activity

The second principle in vocational education is related to the emotive layer of action. According to this principle, the person’s lower inclinations should be transcended. In Islamic education, this transcendence involves three realms of inclinations: toward oneself, toward others, and toward God.

As for the inclination toward oneself, greed should be replaced with contentment. Greed is a disease in which the instrument takes the position of the end. Income is an instrument, and no doubt an important one, for satisfying the needs. However, when providing income turns into an end and is valued for its own self, the vice of greed is going to be established. Thus, in Islamic education contentment in business is valued and greed is undermined. Thus, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib states: “Deficiency of wisdom is due to wanting the surplus” (Tamimi Amedi 1987, p. 476). This indicates that vocational education involves the management of one’s desires in relation to greed.

When it comes to inclinations toward others, Islamic vocational education involves being trustee about others’ belongings and sensitive to their deprivations. Concerning the trustiness, the Qur’an mentions approvingly the statement of Ischia’s daughter to his father about the employment of Moses because he is trustee and powerful (Qur’an, 28: 26). As for sensitivity to others’ deprivations, any urgent social needs is introduced in Islam as a necessity that calls every person of the society to address it. The prophet of Islam, for instance, during the establishment of the first Muslim society in Medina, stated: “Anyone who starts a day while he or she does not attempt to address the affairs of Muslims, he or she is not a Muslim” (Kolaini 1984, Vol. 2, p. 164).

There is an intriguing point in the relation between the two types of abovementioned inclinations. While contentment is desirable in personal inclinations, sensitivity to others’ deprivations might require excess work to address social deprivations. This seemingly contradictory relation between the two types of inclinations is in fact one of the most difficult tasks of vocational education. The ideal state is that people be contempt as far as their personal needs are concerned, whereas in their relation to others, it is desirable that they be greedy in addressing social needs. No doubt, the first state of human’s inclinations is at odds with this, but the goal of transcending the inclinations is to change the direction.

Finally, in terms of inclination toward God, vocational education in Islam requires that people do not get overwhelmed by desires of sale and purchase so that they forget the remembrance of God. As mentioned above, business itself is taken in Islam as a way of worshipping God. Thus, business should always be compatible and even identified with worship. However, when it becomes incompatible or worse an obstacle for the remembrance of God, then the business is not the desired one. Referring to this, it is stated: “By men not distracted from the remembrance of God either by trade and commerce or buying and selling…” (Qur’an, 24: 37). That is why in some Muslim countries when the time of prayer comes up, people leave their business and do their prayers. This is to show that their business is compatible and in congruence with worshipping of God.

The upshot of the second principle in vocational education is to transcend pupils’ inclinations at the three personal, social, and divine levels.

Principle 3: Supporting the Will to Work

The third principle of vocational education relates to the volitional layer of action. An educated person in the realm of vocational activity in the Islamic view is who has got a will to work. A will to work is different from avoiding laziness and undergoing work. The two latter cases are negative, whereas the former is positive, that is, to say, in those two cases work itself is not desirable, but it is tolerated; however, in the desired state, work itself is valuable. According to this principle, the desirable is to reach the point of will to work, but we usually deal with journey from bottom to top, from avoiding the negative states to embracing the positive state. In vocational education, laziness should be abandoned, and works should be undergone with the hope that the person reach the point where a positive will to work is achieved.

Wooziness and weakness are strongly undermined in Islam. For instance, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib states: “People whose weaknesses continue their aspirations decline” (Tamimi Amedi 1987, Vol. 5, p. 187). When the will to work is achieved, its important advantage is that it safes the person from alienation. When there is a distance between people and their works, they are alienated from their works, they do not enjoy what they do, and they live in two different and contrasted worlds. However, having the will to work, people are unified with their works. Even though every person prefers one job to the other, when it is not possible to have the preferred job, he or she having the will to work would do the work with full engagement.

Principle 4: Comprehensive Appraisal of Vocational Activity

So far the internal layers of vocational activity are addressed. However, the consequences of vocational activity are also relevant in achieving the desirable state in vocational education. Without taking these consequences into account, vocational education cannot save the person from being overwhelmed by subjectivity. There are four types of consequences for a vocational activity: an immediate one on the doer, one on other people, one on the environment, and a mediated one on the person through appraising the last three types of consequences.

In Islamic vocational education, the fourth principle concerns a comprehensive appraisal of vocational activity. The comprehensive appraisal concerns the first three types of consequences, and the result of each appraisal or all of the appraisals would affect the action and would lead to the fourth type of consequence. The appraisal in the first type of consequence can show how an action by itself strengthens its foundations. This type of appraisal can show how an activity is constructive or destructive of the person depending on the characteristics of the activity. For instance, a vocation that needs precision, such as pilotage, makes you accurate in the long run as a vocation that involves violence, such as butchery, can make you violent in the long run. It is interesting to note that, when there is a choice, some of the vocations are not recommended in Islam such as butchery and working in a mortuary. The appraisal in the second and third type of consequence makes it possible to see the positive or negative effects of a vocational activity on people and the environment. Having considered the results of appraisals, people can have an opportunity for changing their activities if needed.


An important problem in vocational education has been a skill-oriented view which stems from a reductive account of education. This trend can also be observed in the so-called new vocationalism in which there is an intention to blur the borders of theoretical and practical education. The remedy of this problem has been sought in the literature by appealing to a distinction between training and education and emphasizing the general education.

This entry addresses the problem of vocational education from the standpoint of Islamic education. There is a potentiality in the Islamic view to deal with the problem of vocational education. This potentiality resides in the agency Islam holds for human being. What distinguishes action from a mere behavior in Islamic view can be sought at least in three sorts of underlying layers of behavior. These layers contain cognitive, emotional, and volitional contents. Relying on this account, four principles are suggested for vocational education. The first principle dealing with the cognitive foundation is concerned with giving meaning to vocational activity. The second principle addressing the emotional foundation holds that motivations of vocational activity need to be transcended from a low personal to high personal and social and divine level. The third principle suggests supporting a will to work in pupils. Finally, the fourth principle deals with a comprehensive appraisal of consequences of vocational activity and enriching it thereby.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Psychology and EducationUniversity of TehranTehranIslamic Republic of Iran