The Methodology of Learning in the Islamic Institution


A review of George Makdisi, The Rise of Colleges (Institution of Learning in Islam and the West), pp. 99-152.

written by Muhammad Latif Fauzi

As described in Humphreys’, George Makdisi studies the ulama’ in the perspective of institutional side rather than the socio-political context. Makdisi, especially on pages 99-152 in his book The Rise of Colleges (Institution of Learning in Islam and the West), deals with many elements of the Methodology of Learning in Islam in the Medieval Period. The content of his writing is very adequate enough with data and sources which existed in the early Islam. The discussion of this work is quietly helpful to those who concern with the history of Islamic educational institution or who focus on the development of either Islam education or non-Islamic education, mainly to get to know how the process of learning and teaching of Islamic subjects was held in the past time.

Similar to his work, The Rise of Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West, Makdisi describes on how memory has a crucial role in the process of learning because it involves great quantities of materials, their understanding, and their retention through frequent repetition at close intervals of time. Memorization, not meant to be unreasoning rote learning, was reinforced with intelligence and understanding. Besides that, mudhakara was also used as a tool to learn and memorize materials and to keep them fresh in the memory. Mudhakara can function as a test of knowledge and disputation. Moreover, the notebook is in the same position of its function in the learning process. These tools, both written record and memory as well, are very important and integral parts needed in the teaching-learning process, which the ulama’ transformed their knowledge to their disciples in many disciplines, such as fiqh, hadith, adab studies, etc.

Furthermore, Makdisi elaborates more detail on the Scholastic method and its development. He explains the reality of dialectic of thought in the history of Islam, including the consensus versus enactment of Caliph and the antithesis of ijma’-khilaf. Mainly in legal dialectic, disputation at the core of legal studies is so important before the jurisconsults work on legal theory and methodology. Therefore, the terminology of the scholastic method was, for the most part, associated with the law and legal studies. Then, the starting point in the terminology of scholasticism was the fatwa process. The mustafti requested a fatwa from the mufti. For the disputation, the sa’il, who proposed problems to be solved, became the questioner, opponent of thesis, and the mujib, who answered the problem, became answerer, proponent the thesis. When the determination, which was taqrir, settling the question, achieved consensus, it became the madhab.

The ta’liqa report is a form of the Scholastic method. Many technical terms are used in this case, like darasa, qara’a, sami’a, akhadha, haddatha, ‘allaqa, and kataba. Despite of all these terms mostly were meant to study law under the direction, the ta’liqa was also used in the fields other than law; grammar, kalam, and medicine, for instance. In addition to the ta’liqa report, the munazara-disputation had a big role in the scholastic method, regard to its function. The point of this disputation is not only to prepare the law student to become a mufti but also to examine the authority of the ulama on the certain discipline. Consequently, abundance of metaphors were used to illustrate a leader, rais, as the first man who was one of movement upward, reaching for the heights, or outstripping all others, for instance kana imaman la yushaqqu ghubaruh.

In the appendix of Makdisi’s work, it is very interesting to see how many non-Islamic scholars respond the institution of education in Medieval Islam, madrasa. The most fascinating one, in my opinion, is the comment of Max van Berchem, whose his theory divided madrasa into two kinds; private and political. He also criticized the nature of the madrasa as a social institution, which can lead to misconception. Because a madrasa, as a waqf, consists of private properties placed in trust for a public purpose. 


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