Teacher-Student Relations

Musa Kâzım GÜLÇÜR

Ali ibn Abu Talib said, “I would be the slave of anyone who teaches me one letter.” This saying expresses the great respect that is due to teachers. Throughout Islamic history, educational institutions have always remained free of association with governmental or political institutions, avoiding partiality in political debates, and thereby protecting the dignity of knowledge, even when scholars were threatened with the worst kind of persecution. Teachers did not discriminate between students according to race, class, or socioeconomic background, and tried their best to help all develop into good citizens. The Ottoman rulers did not deviate from this tradition and maintained respect for teachers. There is a famous story about Sultan SeIim I, the ninth Ottoman sultan, and his teacher Ibn Kemal. When they were returning from victory at the Battle of Mercidabik in 1516 the teacher was traveling in front of the Sultan, and his horse splashed mud on the Sultan’s robes. The Sultan smiled and, saying that the mud was an ornament to his robes, ordered that they be saved-unwashed-and used to cover his coffin.

Proper Attitude Towards Scholars

Traditionally, out of respect, we avoid calling our parents by their first names; this kind of respect is also due to scholars as well. Adab demands such respect to scholars, because it is they who are the heirs to the Prophets. Children should learn from our example to honor and esteem scholars, never to act in an improper or unseemly manner in their presence, and to speak softly when they are in the room. At all times, scholars should be treated with courtesy and politeness.

Yahya ibn Muadh spoke of the value of scholars thus: “Scholars are more merciful to the family of believers than mothers and fathers are to their children.” When he was asked why he said this, he answered, “Mothers and fathers save their children from the physical fire in this world, but scholars save them from the eternal fire in the Hereafter.”[1] This is one of the reasons why scholars deserye respect from us.

A Prophetic saying, related by Ubada ibn al-Samit, states, “One who does not respect their elders, one who does not show sympathy and compassion for children, and one who does not know the value of scholars is not of us.”[2] In another hadith the prophet said, “A person who acquires knowledge merely so that they will be praised in front of scholars, or to argue with the ignorant, or to win the admiration of people is bound for Hell.”[3]

As for the proper behavior for children toward schorars, Ibn Abbas related an experience he had as a child with one of the Companions: “When God’s Messenger passed away, I asked a man from the Ansar, ‘Come, I want to go and learn from the Companions of the Prophet because there are many here now.’ The man replied, ‘I am surprised at you, Ibn Abbas! Do you imagine that anyone will be in need of you (i.e. your knowledge) while the companions of God’s Messenger are still among us?’ Then he left. I went to the Companions alone and asked them some questions. When I learned that a particular hadith had been related by someone, I would go to that person’s house. If he were sleeping, I would use my cloak as a pillow and lie down in front of his door to wait; the wind would blow dust over me (while waiting there in patience). The man would come out and he would see me, usually addressing me, ‘O cousin of the Prophet! What is wrong, why are you lying here? If you had sent word to me, I would have come to you!’ (And in return) I would answer.’ ‘No, it is more appropriate that I come to you.’ I would then ask this Companion about the hadith. Later, one day when I was surrounded by people (and teaching them what I had learned), that same man from the Ansar came and saw that I was being asked questions. He said, ‘This youth is more intelligent than I.”[4]

The following example is another good example of the proper behaviour of the children of the companions towards the scholars: Said ibn al-Musayyab used to pray two rakats of prayer and then sit down. The children of the Companions would gather around him, but no one would say anything or ask any questions until after he had recited a hadith for them. Then they would ask him questions.[5]

Hasan al-Basri likewise warned his son to practice adab with scholars, reminding him, “My child! when you sit with scholars, listen more than you speak. Just as you have learned to speak well, now learn to listen well. Until the scholar stops speaking -no matter how long he may speak- do not interrupt him!”

Teacher Etiquette

Just as the adab of teaching and learning applies to students of all kinds of knowledge, not only religious knowledge, all teachers, no matter what their subject, should practice adab in their duties. The following are some guidelines for teachers:

1. A teacher should be up to date on the latest information and developments in their field and always come to class well prepared.

2. A teacher should explain the topic at a level the students will understand, thus not destroying their motivation by making them feel it is too difficult.

3. A teacher should live an exemplary life which inspires respect in terms of their behavior, words, lifestyle, and morals. “Respect cannot be forced, it can only be given.” Teachers who constantly scold their students, demand respect from them, and try to force it instead of inspiring it are not only the least beloved teachers, they are also the least effective.

4. A teacher should always strive to love teaching and to communicate their knowledge in the best way possible.

5. A teacher should approach students with the same compassion as a parent, not indulging hard workers, or belittling or putting down lazy students.

6. Students’ faults should not be pointed out and listed in front of their friends in order to humiliate them; teaching requires tolerance and a forgiving nature.

7. When necessary, a teacher should listen to students to share their problems, give them support, and assist them. At the same time, they should be careful not to become so familiar and casual with the students that they lower the dignity of the pursuit of knowledge.

8. Grades should not be held over student’s heads as a threat and a teacher must be impartial in assigning grades.

9. Teachers must avoid accepting expensive gifts, lavish dinner parties, or other such offers made by the families of students to safeguard the honour and integrity of their office.

Student Etiquette

Clear, concise rules are required for a child’s moral education, character and values to develop properly and to ensure academic success. If this foundation is laid both at home and in the student-teacher relationship, the classroom environment becomes more enjoyable and positive. For this reason, the most essential rules will be listed here:

1. Honesty: This is one of the most basic and critical cornerstones of communal life at any level. Lying, cheating, copying the work of others, stealing, or using things without permission must not be tolerated at school; indeed, they are unacceptable in every segment of society.

2. Courtesy: This is the outer expression of basic respect for oneself and others. Therefore, students must be held responsible for their choice of words or the tone of their voice. The same polite behaviour and courtesy that they owe to their elders they also owe to their peers; that is, students need to be courteous to one another.

3. Social relationships: Students need to be taught to avoid insulting or using vulgar terms of address or styles of communication with one another. They must not forget that it is bad behaviour to belittle, ridicule, or taunt other students, or to form cliques. Students should be admonished and warned about such behaviour on a regular basis so they will take it seriously, thus learning to be careful about how they joke or tease others.

4. Personal care: This is an important mark of a person with excellent character. Children must learn to pay attention to personal cleanliness and bathe daily. As they grow, physical cleanliness becomes more and more important, and they should be aware of this. Hygiene is the most effective way to stay healthy and avoid contagious illnesses (which are often rife in school environments). So, students should remember to wash their hands with soap before and after meals and before and after usinq the restroom.

Translated by Jessica ÖZALP


[1] Ghazali, Ihya al-Ulum al-Din, 1/11.

[2] Tirmidhi, Birr, 73; Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 5/323.

[3] Tirmidhi, Kutub al-Sitta (Abridged), 16/550.

[4] Abdul Fattah Abu Ghudda, Safahat Min Sabr al-Ulama, 37.

[5] Sam’ani, Adab al-Imla wa al-Istimla, 36.

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