Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Islamic Education and Educational Technology: In the Quest for Democratic Engagement

  • Zayd Waghid
  • Faiq Waghid
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_536


In this entry the authors examine, firstly, three understandings of Islamic education and show as to how democratic engagement can be enhanced. Islamic education can be explained as nurturing (tarbiyyah), critical action (ta’lím), and transformative or good action (ta’díb) which they show can be connected to the practice of democratic engagement (Waghid 2011, p. 1). Secondly, they show how technology is advocated in relation to the primary source of Islamic education, namely, the Holy Quran. They specifically refer to the use of “the pen” (al-Qalam) in the Quran as an instance of technology and show as how the concept, like Islamic education, is geared towards the attainment of socially just human relations. Thirdly, they argue that Islamic education is commensurable with an application of technology as both practices are oriented towards the cultivation of justice in society.

Islamic Education as Nurturing, Critical Action, and Transformative Action

Firstly, tarbiyyah denotes the action of socializing people into a situated body of knowledge (Waghid 2011, p. 2). This necessitates nurturing Muslims about the testimony of their faith (shahādah); understanding Almighty Allāh’s Angels (malāʾikah), Revealed Books, Prophets (al-Anbiyā), and the Day of Judgment (al-Qiyāmah); acting righteously and justly (‘adl); and performing practices associated with a Muslim’s life ranging from prayer (salāt) performed five times a day to pledging of charity (zakāt) to the destitute, fasting (siyām) during the holy month of Ramadan, performing pilgrimage (hajj) at least once in a Muslim’s lifetime (if he or she has the means to do so), the life history (síra) of the Prophet Muhammad – may the peace and blessings of Allah Almighty be upon him – and the law governed by Islamic jurists for Muslims to enact their lives in consonance with primary sources of Islamic education (Waghid 2011, p. 2).

Tarbiyyah also implies that students need to be exposed to both rational and theological elucidations of knowledge. What this means is that when students are socialized, they do so with the intent of producing more informed and reasonable interpretations of the Quran, with the hope that more contemplative learning would emanate. The Quran states the following: “Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those [(wo)men] of understanding” (al-Imran, 3: 190). This verse emphasizes the importance of contemplating about the universe in the life of humans. In this way, socialization (tarbiyyah) does not merely mean to accept things at face value but rather to reflect deeper about situations and events.

Secondly, ta’lím signifies a Muslim’s commitment to learning texts and putting some texts to memory from the Holy Quran (primary source of Islamic education), ahādíth (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and his life experiences), and learning through public deliberation (shúrā) (Waghid 2011, p. 3). Ta’lím assists one in articulating one’s reasons and in acting responsibly in communities. Such a form of learning would acquaint students with justifiable reasons to explore and explain economic and sociological occurrences in society. Through ta’lím, the attainment of knowledge is connected with the freedom of seeing others’ points of view, through argumentation and persuasion in accordance with one’s epistemological understanding of Quranic verses. And, being able to undertake such an activity of critical action would further require of students to be autonomous, democratic, and responsible citizens. This means that when students read the Quran (the primary source of Islamic education), they do so with the intent of reflecting on the text (and its verses) and by situating themselves within an imaginary realm that would provoke in them thoughts to enhance “socially just” human relations (al-Nisa, 4:135). This view of learning is corroborated by al-Attas (1991, p. 34), who posits that one’s understanding of knowledge determines one’s just relations with other human beings in communities and to come up with ways as to resolve unjust and inequitable situations.

Thirdly, ta’díb (good action) considers all humans as equals irrespective of cultural, linguistic, religious, socioeconomic, and ethnic differences (Waghid 2011, p. 4). Goodness is for all individuals in society on the basis of his or her just or virtuous actions. This is reaffirmed in the Quran: “[And] uphold justice and do good to others and give to the relatives” (al-Nahl, 16: 90). Three aspects of ta’díb are denoted here: First, “justice” signifies being fair and reasonable in one’s actions towards and in relation to others; second, “doing good to others” through strengthening relationships and establishing trust with others; and third, “giving to the relatives” which means doing good to others instinctively just as one would do to one’s close relatives. Ta’díb, therefore, promotes the efforts to expand social justice through shared values, common objectives, and opportunities of mutual benefit to all human beings on the basis of deliberative relationships among communities.

Now, being able to offer one’s reasons, act critically, and in accordance with the values of social justice, transformative (good) change agents would require a deep attraction to democratic contexts on the premise that such contexts would allow people to engage communicatively (deliberatively). According to Benhabib (1996, p. 69), a democratic context could most appropriately be understood as a “model for organizing the collective and public exercise of power in the major institutions [such as schools and universities] of a society on the basis of the principle that decisions affecting the well-being of a collectivity can be viewed as the outcome of a procedure of free reasoned deliberation among individuals considered as moral and political equals.” What Benhabib (1996, p. 69) argues for is a deliberative democratic environment premised on public deliberation in which citizens and their representatives move beyond self-seeking and restricted points of view and skewed power relations, through self-reflection for the common good or general interest. In this regard, Benhabib (1996, p. 70) argues for a deliberative model of democracy, governed by the norms of equality and symmetry; affording equal chances [to all citizens] in initiating acts of speech, questioning, interrogation, and open debate; having the right to question the assigned topics of conversation; and having the right to initiate reflexive arguments about the very rules of the discourse procedure and the way in which they are applied or carried out. In this way, democratic action is not out of congruence with conceptions of Islamic education as the latter encourages Muslims to act reasonably, deliberatively, and justly.

Central to Benhabib’s (1996) elucidation of deliberative democratic action is the notion that such an undertaking among educators and students, say, in Muslim institutions, is guided by autonomous questioning, debate, transparency, reflexivity, and critique – all democratic practices which may enhance communal (ummatic) engagements among citizens in a society. Following Benhabib’s (1996) notion of democratic deliberation, which resonates with the concepts of Islamic education (tarbiyyah, ta’lím, and ta’díb), institutions of Muslim learning ought to cultivate reflexive and open pedagogical spaces for educators and students to offer their contrasting points of view or interpretations of Quranic texts and ahādíth in a responsible, deliberative, and just manner.

Being able to critique others also involves “the endeavor to know how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, instead of legitimating what is already known” (Foucault 2002, p. 191). And, when students become critical, they would create more possibilities for themselves and others (their peers) to imagine things differently with which they might be confronted (Waghid 2014, p. 235). By affording capable students the opportunity to have their voices heard, the possibility exists in enhancing just relations among educators and students. Pedagogically speaking, this makes sense because democratic practices cannot take place if people are made to feel that they should merely memorize the verses of the Quran or ahādíth, without critically understanding its meanings in engendering just human relations. Learning is a life experience of knowledge acquisition and reflexive understanding, and in such democratic settings, the authors hold that it is through the (re)interpretations of knowledge that are democratically shared and experienced upon which humans could further uncover new meanings and work towards rebeginnings. This brings them to a discussion of Islamic education in relation to educational technology.

The “Pen” as an Educational Technology in the Quran

The concepts of tarbiyyah and ta’lím can be linked to the enhancement of creative autonomy among students (Kazmi 2015, p. 71). This means that by nurturing within students a sense of innovativeness, the possibility exists for them to be meaningfully engaged in creatively constructing their apprehension of Quranic verses. Now such a notion of creative autonomy is generally perceived as antithetical to a dogmatic view of knowledge construction. However, history seems to suggest the contrary (Kazmi 2015, p. 71) as Islamic education has also been linked to critical action (ta’lím) and transformative or good action (ta’díb).

As for any enduring civilization, the Islamic civilization could not stand on a narrow plinth of restricted freedom and creativity (Kazmi 2015, p. 72). Many verses in the Quran serve as a testament to the latter claim. For instance, verses in the Holy Quran stating “Read in the name of your Lord” and verses which converse about knowledge and teaching humans the use of a “pen” (al-Qalam) reinforce this notion of human creativity (al-‘Alaq, 96: 1). In the verses of Chapter 68 (al-Qalam) of the Quran, the notion of “the pen” (al-Qalam) is depicted metaphorically to individuals as a social and pedagogical tool in orientating their actions towards the exercise of creative autonomy (Kazmi 2015, p. 72). In the context of the verses of this Quranic chapter, al-Qalam is not referred to as an instrument in a literal sense but rather a condition encouraging an individual to construct deeper meanings or understandings and to share the derived knowledge. Consequently, one finds that the Quran in Chapter 68 encourages humans to have clarity of mind and even relates the concept of al-Qalam to being a “reminder” for humanity that nothing in the world can be resolved without clarity of understanding (al-Qalam, 68: 52). What is important to note in this apt depiction of al-Qalam is that creative freedom (autonomy) is considered a prerequisite for deeper thinking and analysis. Without such a liberty of creativity and contemplative action, al-Qalam would simply be considered as a tool used for reproducing old meanings – an idea that stands in stark contrast to the Quranic emphasis on reflexivity and renewal, whereby people can produce more defensible judgments (al-Qalam, 68: 36). In this sense, al-Qalam cannot be delinked from educational technology as the latter is inextricably connected to harnessing human reflexivity and renewal – a matter of acting autonomously and innovatively. So when the Quran announces al-Qalam (“the pen”) in relation to contemplation and sound reasoning, the authors infer that this can also imply a reference to the use of educational technology.

In our contemporary era, the role of al-Qalam has evolved, and many technologies are able to support this metaphorical account of “the pen” as an instrument to foster the sharing and development of deeper meanings and understandings. This claim is echoed in the work of Jeremy (2000), who suggests that educational technologies such as social media platforms can foster the creation of a sphere in which students can demonstrate critical thinking and student autonomy. Furthermore, educational technology studies have shown a tangible difference in how knowledge is transmitted and constructed (Gimbert and Cristol 2004, p. 207).

Hence, through the effective utilization of an educational technology, conditions can be created for active engagement encompassing the sharing of experiences and interpretations among students. Further, humans are commanded to “Read in the name of Allah” rather than reading the name of Allah (al-Alaq, 96: 1). By implication, individuals are encouraged to construct new meanings and understandings in relation to their faith (Kazmi 2015) rather than merely echoing what they encounter as if they are obliged to merely repeat the name of Allah Almighty – that is, to see things at face value without contemplation and deeper thinking. These Quranic verses do not set limits on the freedom to construct informed and reasonable interpretations of the Quran but rather encourage Muslims to explore and reexamine in relation to deep thinking and spiritual closeness to Allah Almighty. In other words, using al-Qalam (“the pen”) points towards pedagogical advancement through the creative autonomy of people to think and act transformatively – that is, their actions can engender change that will hopefully be beneficial to the advancement of knowledge.

In today’s contemporary era, educational technologies such as social media platforms often serve as deliberative spheres for human engagement – an idea that resonates with Benhabib (1996) explication of deliberative encounters. Through ta’lím, individuals are afforded the freedom to critique different points of view by being able to search the Internet for expositions to critically support their points of view. In this way students’ understandings or meanings are able to be shaped by their inclination to search for new knowledge from abundant online sources using the Internet. Students are therefore seen as critically active participants in their own knowledge construction and not mere passive recipients of information. Therefore, educational technology holds the promise for enhancing the concept of ta’lím by affording students unrestricted choices in the quest to construct new knowledge in a deliberative manner – that is, through engaging with multiple sources of knowledge, students can articulate more tenable and critical understandings of knowledge.

It can be argued that social networking sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter (instances of al-Qalam) offer participating individuals deliberative pedagogical spaces according to which they can harness their engagements. In such an instance, individuals may be free from cultural, linguistic, religious, socioeconomic, and ethnic prejudices that may exist in face-to-face interactions. However, the author’s potential critic might argue that such a form of anonymity could potentially be detrimental to the expansion of socially just relations among students. That is, with anonymity, a subsequent reduction of accountability on the part of individuals engaging on social networking platforms could ensue. For instance, an “anonymous” student potentially could verbally attack another student in altering their points of view in a belligerent manner, on say the latter’s argument for stricter government policies on the influx of African refugees into South Africa and its implications on food shortages, lack of shelter, and other securities. However, this does not undermine the enormous potential of social media to engender opportunities for students to engage deliberatively, thus allowing even more pedagogical spaces for reflexive and autonomous learning.

Perhaps an act of belligerence could be driven by temperamental emotions on the part of some students. It is here that the concept of ta’díb can be most apposite as it expects of students to be good towards others in what they say or do – that is, to act justly and, hence, respectfully towards others. Such a form of goodness would expect of students to engage with others in a responsible and dignified manner. This is not to say that one should always avoid confrontation. What the authors are arguing for, following the concept of ta’díb, is that one engages with others in a deliberative manner as Benhabib (1996) explains, listening to the reasons of others and offering one’s account so as to prevent hostility and aggression that can undermine more engaging democratic relations among students and educators.

Hence, al-Qalam, more specifically the application of a technological “pen,” can cultivate more engaging social communication among students, in terms of which ideas and understandings are able to be developed, critiqued, and shared for communal benefit in consonance with the application of concepts such as tarbiyyah, ta’lím, and ta’díb. Put differently, applying “the pen” (educational technology) in the realms of socialization, critical learning and virtuous action would invariably contribute to the (re)construction of more deliberatively enriched understandings of important social concepts on the basis that Islamic education in its various forms is geared towards the attainment of justice in and through human action. It is to such a discussion that the authors now turn to.

Islamic Education and Educational Technology as Practices Oriented Towards the Cultivation of Justice in Society

Institutions are shaped by their practices according to the latter’s physical, cultural, social, and economic manifestations in such institutions (Griffiths 1965, p. 188). Islamic education actions such as tarbiyyah, ta’lím, and ta’díb in relation to al-Qalam (educational technology or “the pen”) are practices that give institutions of learning their distinctive forms. And, if one considers that these action concepts are further connected to the attainment of ‘adl (justice) in society, then the authors shall next show as to how such just actions can be realized. First, through tarbiyyah, students are initiated into Islamic teachings in maintaining good relations with both Muslims and non-Muslims and in constructing new knowledge from both rational and theological perspectives in order to harness engaging and just human relationships; second, ta’lím requires students to be articulate and critically responsible in their actions geared towards the attainment of deep democratic encounters. In other words, Muslims are encouraged to deeply reflect about their lives in relation to all other human beings without prejudice; and third, through ta’díb the goodness of one’s actions is reflected within a socially just society often to the mutual benefit of all communities without marginalizing others or excluding them from societal matters.

The authors have argued that al-Qalam (educational technology) as a pedagogical activity or practice opens up creative possibilities for educators and students to engage in educational settings both deliberatively and autonomously. In other words, it has the potential to create a democratic environment by bringing educators and students into virtual spaces engendering equal and open deliberative encounters. The notion that the aforementioned understandings of Islamic education could be enhanced through educational technology can be further explained in relation to the work of a “community of thinking” (Derrida 2004, p. 148). Such a way of thinking, in the words of Derrida (2004, pp. 148–150) ,“must prepare students to take new analyses” and “to transform the modes of writing, the pedagogic scene, the procedures of academic exchange, the relation to languages, to other disciplines, to the institution in general, to its inside and its outside.” Now the pursuit of using such a pedagogical framework of thinking in relation to educational technology opens up the possibility of enhancing critical and innovative thinking among students. Derrida (2004, p. 153) posits that such thinking is “always risky; it always risks the worst.” A community of thinking with the intent of enhancing such forms of risk taking would become more perceptive to new and unimagined possibilities. Here the authors think specifically of how students could be exposed through the use of educational technology in devising risky Islamic educational contributions that can address issues of racism, inequality, poverty, starvation, abuse, human trafficking, war, and suffering.

Furthermore, a community of thinking demands that reasons be rendered which could appositely be couched as “critique” (Derrida 2004, p. 162). This implies that as individuals, one questions and challenges, opening up new possibilities for diverse interpretations through risk taking, which may lead to the establishment of structures or spaces necessary for others to contribute towards the shaping of imaginative ideas. Hence, educational technology as a pedagogical practice could enhance just relations among students and educators in Islamic educational contexts. Similarly, such a notion of educational technology with its connection to a critical and transformative framework of Islamic education can contribute towards resolving some of the most pressing concerns plaguing humanity. Here, the authors specifically think of using educational technology to encourage communities to address their differences on the basis of deliberation and recognition of the other – an understanding of Islamic education that can be situated within a concept of educational technology that resonates with al-Qalam (“the pen”). Such a discourse of educational technology invariably draws on notions of tarbiyyah, ta’lím, and ta’díb to cultivate autonomous, deliberative, and just pedagogical encounters.


In this entry the authors have argued that Islamic education as tarbiyyah (socialization), ta’lím (critical learning), and ta’díb (virtuous action) intertwined with al-Qalam (“the pen”) can enhance autonomous, just, and deliberative pedagogical relations among students and educators. In turn, such a notion of Islamic education that is not remiss of technology can initiate students into a discourse of social justice, whereby they can critically reflect on the most pressing concerns permeating their communities and educationally find ways to address such problems. Moreover, teaching and learning through the use of educational technology have the potential to enhance the notion of a “community of thinking,” and through deliberative democratic encounters, students and educators would be stimulated to act more judiciously in disrupting social injustices.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cape Peninsula University of TechnologyCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Stellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa