The Courage of the Teacher
many readers might find this title strange. some of them might ask: “what does courage have to do with education or teachers?” the kind of courage we mean here is the moral courage as some might call it. yet, the issue here is not to argue about the expression. when we hear the word “courage,” we will have in mind the state of being brave, such as in battles. as for this kind of courage, prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) was the bravest in battles. he was so brave that some of his companions used to seek protection by taking cover behind him in the midst of fierce confrontations. as mentioned above, we mean the moral courage which is to be brave to say the truth despite the risk of adverse consequences. the courage to admit making mistakes and clarifying the intentions. no one is free from making mistakes; the issue here is to avoid deception, tergiversation and cowardliness which are dispraised traits. the teacher should not be characterized with any of them. it will be clearer after giving the next examples:
1 – narrated by rafi' ibn khadij that the prophet (pbuh) came to al-madinah when the people were grafting the male bud of a date tree into the female in order to produce greater abundance of fruit, and he said, 'why do you do this?' they replied, 'it is an ancient custom.' the prophet said, 'perhaps it would be better if you did not do it.' and then they left off the custom, and the trees yielded but little fruit. the people complained to the prophet, and he said, ' i am no more than a man. when i order anything respecting religion, receive it; but when i order you about the affairs of the world, then i speak only as a man.' (sahih ibn habban: 23 – good isnad [chain of transmission]) in some narrations of this hadith the prophet (pbuh) said: “you know best about the affairs of your world”. (sahih muslim: 4358). the context of the hadith shows the humanity of prophet muhammad (pbuh), as he gave muslims the space to decide what to do in terms of worldly issues like agricultures, commerce and in battles like when he used to consult and listen to the companions to reach the best strategy. but, he is faultless in terms of clarifying sharia (islamic law) and delivering the teachings of islam to believers as almighty allah says: “your companion [muhammad] has not strayed, nor has he erred, nor does he speak from [his own] inclination. it is not but a revelation revealed, taught to him by one intense in strength.” (an-najm: 2-5). it happened that he forgot in minor situations, but it was only to teach his ummah (islamic nation) what to do if they forget while worshipping almighty allah like if one adds to or subtracts from what is required during the salat (prayer), out of forgetfulness or lack of attention, then one must perform two extra prostrations at the end of the salat which is called sujud asahu. so, even when the prophet (pbuh) forgot it was by the will of allah to teach muslims what to do in such situations.
so, the prophet (pbuh) is a human and he encourages his ummah (muslim nation) to decide and see what is best for them in terms of worldly matters. in imam nawawi’s narration “you know best about the affairs of your world,” scholars explain the prophet’s saying as it relates to affairs of daily life not commands and sharia of islam. as the teachings of islam that the prophet (pbuh) educates and teaches to muslims, should be followed. grafting palm trees is a worldly issue related to agriculture, so farmers and workers in agriculture would know more about this matter. so, in the previously mentioned hadith we can notice that the prophet (pbuh) did not seek an excuse; he said: 'i am no more than a man. when i order anything respecting religion, receive it; but when i order you about the affairs of the world, then i speak only as a man.' so, he explained to them that he is human and they might know better about their profession as farmers and date trees growers.
let’s look at the companions of the prophet (pbuh) to see how they followed the footsteps of the teacher of humanity, prophet muhammad (pbuh):
umar ibn al-khattaab-may allah be pleased with him-, the second caliph, ascended the minbar (pulpit) of the messenger of allah and said, “o people! do not go to excess in the matter of women’s dowry… and we never knew of a man who gave more than 400 dirhams as dowry.” then he stepped down. a lady of the quraysh from the congregation objected to umar saying, “o ameer al-mu’mineen(emir of the believers)! have you told the believers not to exceed 400 dirhams in giving the dowry?” to which umar replied “yes.” she said, “did you not hear that allah says, ‘if you have given one of them a heap of gold, then take not from it anything; would you take it by slandering (her) and (doing her) manifest wrong?’” (al nisaa: 20) to this umar said, “o allah forgive me, all the people have more understanding of religion than umar.” then he went back and ascended the minbar, and said: “o people, i forbade you to increase women’s dowries to more than four hundred dirhams. but whoever wishes may give as much as he wants of his wealth.”
3- narrated mohamed ibn kaab al qurazy “a man asked ali ibn-abu-taleb about a matter. ali answered him. the man said to ali (ra): ‘that is not correct ameer al-mu’mineen, it should be so and so.’ ali (ra) said to the man: ‘you are right and i am wrong, over all those endowed with knowledge is the all-knowing.’”
allahu akbar (god is the greatest)! the students of muhammad (pbuh) are setting the best examples of moral courage and righteousness even if it means admitting their own mistakes. such brave attitude ennobles the person and dignifies him, it never lessens his position. people with true insight know this fact. given the nature of teaching, the teacher might face such situations when he makes a mistake. so what would the teacher say or do if he makes a mistake, then one of his students disagrees with him and the teacher realizes his error. would he thank the student and admit his mistake or he would act in an elusive way and turn words upside-down to avoid the truth, fabricating it to claim his words are right? this is for you to answer. ibn abdel barr says: “the blessing of knowledge requires justices in using and teaching this knowledge. those who are not just did not understand it and will not understand it.”
- the quality of moral courage is required in every teacher.
- admitting making a mistake, does not diminish the erring person, on the contrary it makes him stronger and braver.
- admitting making a mistake means fixing the situation, while insisting on the blunder would make it worse.