You should be Rabbaanis (learned men in Islam, imparting knowledge in the way of the Lord), because you are teaching the Book, and are studying it. [Aal `Imran 3:79]
Imam Ibn ul-Qayyim, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “In the (Arabic) language, Rabbaani means one who has attained an exalted, high rank in knowledge; hence it was applied to the learned Jewish rabbis (Al-Ma’idah 5:63, Aal `Imran 3:79). Ibn `Abbas explained it as: Persons of wisdom and understanding.’ And Abu Ruzayn said: Persons of understanding and scholarship.'”
Ibn ul-A`raabi explained Rabbaani to mean “A person who has knowledge, acts according to it, and teaches it. If any of these qualities is missing, then that person is not Rabbaani.”
Thus, the Rabbaani is the one who cultivates the people according to the Way of Allah (T), gradually bringing them up to the lofty station which Allah (T) loves for them.
Al-Mubarrid said: “The Rabbaani is the one who cultivates knowledge and educates and reforms the people with it.” Thus he derived it from tarbiyah (education and cultivation).
Ibn `Abbas (R) said: “A Rabbaani Scholar is one who teaches.” He concluded this from the word ‘Tarbiyah’ which means education and cultivation. Thus, a Rabbaani Scholar rears the people in knowledge the way a father rears his child.
Sa`eed bin Jubayr said (about the Rabbaani Scholar): “He is the person of understanding, knowledge, and wisdom.”
Seebawayh said: “Rabbaani is formed from the word Rabb (Lord), with the addition of the letters alif and noon, to restrict (the knowledge) to that which is bestowed by the Lord.” Meaning that because this knowledge is related to Allah’s Knowledge with which He specifically sent His Messenger, the Rabbaani Scholar is related to Him over and above any other scholar.
Al-Wahidi explained it similarly: “The Rabbaani is related to the Rabb (Lord), thus specifying his knowledge to Allah’s, which means that he knows the Shari`ah (Islamic Law) and the attributes of Allah (T).”
Thus, the Rabbaani Scholar holds the most excellent position and the highest rank among scholars.
Some of the scholars have also explained the above noble ayah by saying that the Rabbaani Scholars are those who educate the people in the basic knowledge before the specialized matters. They cultivate the people in the pure, correct manner, emphasizing the basic and major matters, without tainting or clouding them by subtle, specialized or complicated issues.
This was the way of the Messenger of Allah with his companions at the dawn of his call. He came to them in an environment polluted by wickedness and temptation. With Allah’s revelation, he immediately began purifying and cleansing this environment until it became, in his words (S),
<… a white road, whose night is like its day, from which anyone who strayed would be destroyed.> [Ahmad; hasan]
In his book Miftah us-Sa`adah, Imam Ibn ul-Qayyim deduced the meaning of Rabbaani from the statement of the Messenger (S), <The scholars are inheritors of the Prophets.> He said:
“In this is a reminder for the people of knowledge to rear the people the way a father rears his child. So they must educate them gradually from the basic aspects of knowledge to the higher levels, burdening them at any stage with only what they can bear, just as a father nourishes his child. This is because the souls of the people in the hands of the prophets and messengers are like children with their fathers, in fact much more delicate than that! Thus any soul which has not been nourished by (knowledge from) the messengers will neither succeed nor be good for any good thing.”
In the Arabic language, tarbiyah refers generally to growth, increase, and elevation, as well as establishment and nourishment – whether physical or spiritual.
Initially then, tarbiyah refers to nourishment: fulfillment of man’s needs regarding food and drink to complete his body’s growth and to make it strong and healthy such that he can strive for and gain from the treasures of the earth. This word was later borrowed to refer to the nourishment of the intellect, feelings, spirit, and consciousness – facets which build the individual human being.
Thus, in the Islamic convention, tarbiyah refers to using the various ways and methods which do not conflict with Islam to watch over and attend to the human being, until he becomes prepared to take charge on earth, reigning it with complete submission and worship of Allah (T), the Lord of all the Worlds.
The Prophet’s Perfect Tarbiyah
Therefore, it is not possible for us to reestablish the way of Allah on this earth except by da`wah (calling) and tarbiyyah (cultivating). These two tools assist in preparing those who will bring victory and those who will watch over and safeguard this victory.
Achieving victory is difficult. But defending and safeguarding it is even more so. However, we have in the Messenger of Allah, who established Allah’s Deen on earth the first time, a model and example:
Indeed in the Messenger of Allah you have a good example to follow for the one who hopes (in meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah in abundance. [Al-Ahzab 33:21]
The Messenger (S) strived in calling and cultivation, exerting himself in it, until the souls became upright, and the hearts became pure. He did not need any other type of struggle. This is the reality of the prophetic manner of carrying out the mission and waiting for its fruits.
He remained for thirteen years calling people to worship Allah (T) alone, and to believe in his mission and in the Last Day. He did that clearly and openly, without relenting, softening, wilting, or compromising.
This caused his tribe Quraysh to stand unified against him, to threaten him from all sides, to attack him as one man, and to set the land alight with fire against him. By doing this, they hoped to drive their sons and brothers away from him. But a band of their young men supported him, not deceived by the recklessness of youth, nor the greed for earthly gains. Their only concern was the Hereafter, and their only goal was Paradise.
Quraysh became infuriated and attacked them fiercely. But this only increased their certainty and solidity:
And when the believers saw the Ahzab (confederation of enemies) they said: “This is what Allah and His Messenger had promised us, and Allah and His Messenger had spoken the truth.” And it only added to their faith and submissiveness (to Allah). [Al-Ahz b 33:22]
All the affliction and persecution for the sake of the Deen only strengthened their belief and resolve in it, and their contempt of disbelief and its adherents. It added fuel to the fire of their passion, and cleansed their souls, until they became like pure gold and silver coming out of a furnace, like sharpened swords.
All the while, the Messenger (S) was nourishing their spirits with the Qur’an, and cultivating their souls with faith. He was humbling them before the Lord of the worlds five times a day in a state of physical purity, attentiveness of heart, humility of body, and concentration of mind. Every day, they increased in spiritual sublimity, purity of heart, and beauty of manners. They became freer from the power of worldly attractions and temptations, and closer to the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth.
The Messenger of Allah continued to cultivate them with a deep and meticulous education. The Qur’an continued to elevate their souls and to purify the glow in their hearts. The sittings with the Messenger (S) continued to implant them firmly in the religion, away from desires, racing toward pleasing Allah (T), leaning toward Paradise, keen to gain knowledge and understanding of the Deen, and careful in judging their own selves.
Once the greatest knot of oppression – that of Shirk and Kufr – was untied, the remaining knots loosened in turn. The Messenger (S) strove with them hard in the beginning, so he did not need to continue to struggle with them afterward over every single command or prohibition. Islam conquered Jahiliyyah in the first major battle, and victory became easy in every later conflict.
Thus, when the influence of Shaytan departed from their selves; in fact when their own whims were forced out of their selves; when they judged their own selves as strictly as they would judge others; when they became men of the Hereafter living in this life – men of tomorrow living today, not devastated by calamities, nor puffed up by the favors of Allah (T), nor diverted by poverty, nor led astray by riches, nor distracted by trade, nor terrified by the might of opponents, nor seeking power or mischief in the land; when they became a just, consistent measure for humanity:
…Standing out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin… [An-Nis ‘ 4:135]
When they acquired all of these qualities, the world was subdued for them. They became models for mankind, saviors of the world, and invitors to the Path of Allah (T). The Messenger (S) left them as successors in his work, departing to the Highest Companionship well-pleased with his people and his mission.
Thus did the Messenger (S) spend years in Makkah, striving to sow and cultivate the Islamic creed in the hearts of the earliest companions, so that it would become a firm foundation for the Rabbaani Tarbiyah (the divinely inspired cultivation): profound in effect, far reaching in vision, broad in scope. Thus was the ground prepared for the later heroism and greatness which were natural results of this great preparation.
The contemporary western way of education is geared toward attaining prosperity and a comfortable life, handing down progress and culture from one generation to the next, in continual search of more luxuries and enjoyment of this life, and attachment to its pleasures. It is aimed at satisfying the base instincts of the people, with no direction toward noble goals. This has seeped into most of our educational institutions, becoming implemented, in its secularized form, in most of their curricula.
The philosophy of western education is of three levels
The individual level, which is based on a psychological study of the human being, with its entire spectrum (comprising both good and bad) of instincts, thoughts, functions and methods.
The social level, which is based on a study of the human condition and its wants from a purely material viewpoint.
The intellectual or philosophical level, which is based on a cause-effect basis built on rigid material logic, and confined to external perception.
All of this being accompanied by a rejection of anything outside this narrow material vision of life, such as divine or spiritual aims.
In contrast, Islamic education is based on purification of the human personality, by way of directing the intellect and its associated functions to reflect on this universe, and reflect within oneself – to arrive at the conclusion of the existence of the Creator, of His Uniqueness, greatness, power, and care and mercy to the human. It teaches that one should therefore live life based on love and submission to one’s Creator, to renew one’s spirit and strength through prayer and obedience, to gratefully utilize all that Allah (T) has made subject to him in this universe – all this with the goal of pleasing Allah alone, and fulfilling the trust with which one has been charged. Hence, teaching that the human khilafah (authority and successorship) over the earth should be with the purpose of showing gratitude to Allah (T), by implementing His law and worshipping Him alone, in Allahuman societies.
Obviously, it is inconceivable that the basis of the Islamic education, with its purpose of purifying the human and bringing him closer to his Creator, should be like the basis of modern western education, with its obsession of falling with the human to its base material instincts. The Islamic education should not mimic or resemble the western one, nor share fully in any of its aspects.
They are not alike: the blind and the seeing, nor are the darkness and the light, nor are the shade and the sun’s heat, nor are the living and the dead. Verily, Allah makes hear whom He will, but you cannot make hear those who are in graves. [Faatir 35:19-22]
In fact, Allah (T) has caused some western thinkers to speak out and admit this pure essence which the Muslims have, after the unparalleled current glitter of western civilization had distracted attention from it.
Dr. Valerie from Italy says:
“How on earth did these untrained warriors defeat nations more advanced in civilization and technology, including that of war? How did they manage to spread their inexperienced authority over lands far and wide? How did they safeguard their conquests by constructing a mighty fortress which withstood severe assaults over centuries, and was not destroyed or even weakened in its firm foundation?”
She then answers her own questions by saying: “Those who were amazed at this religion’s social and political upheaval asked about its primary cause, but many of them did not understand, or chose to close their eyes and hence remained in a confused daze of ignorant misinterpretations and lies, not appreciating that Divine Power was the first cause of this blessed, comprehensive movement …”
Thus Muslims must learn the methodology upon which their early predecessors were brought up – those who conquered the lands, conveyed the Lord’s Message, and were a mercy for the worlds. They must learn it and practice it if they indeed seek dignity and guidance.
“At-Tasfiyah wast-Tarbiyah” by Ali Al-Halabi
“What Did the World Lose by the Decline of Muslims” by Abul-Hasan an-Nadwi
“The Islamic Tarbiyah and Contemporary Problems” by Abdurrahman an-Nihlawi