Real Statistics (2/4) Teaching Statistics as an Act of Worship

[] This is the second part of my talk at University of Baluchistan on Mon, 22 July 2019 (Link to Part 2 of Original Urdu Talk at UoB). The talk is about my online course, scheduled to start on Sat 27th July 2109, on Real Statistics: An Islamic Approach (RSIA). To register for the free online course, follow link in the first paragraph of “Connecting Statistics to Reality“.  The first part of the talk laid out The Fundamentals for An Islamic Approach []. This second part deals with the question of “How to teach statistics as an act of worship?”. The 15m video (re-recorded in English) is followed by a brief summary of main points in 1700 words.

Teaching Statistics as Worship: (1700 Word Summary)

In order to convert our study of Statistics into an act of worship, the first step must be to purify our intentions. The worth of all actions depends on intentions! Living in a market society teaches us all to make pursuit of wealth the goal of our lives. Students study statistics with the intention to pass the course, get good grades, get degree, get job, make money. We must ask them to make higher intentions, to create an act of worship! When we change the goals of life from making money to higher goals, this leads to  changes in our ways of living, thinking, and acting. This places a tremendous responsibility on the teacher of an Islamic course. He or she must work against the dominant philosophies, which teach students materialism, hedonism, and that they are human resources, commodities for sale in the labor market. If we can persuade them to learn “how to become human beings, instead of human resources”, that will change their lives, and the lives of those whom they touch.

An Islamic approach asks the teacher to reach the hearts of students, and to transform their lives, by encouraging them to set high goals, and reach beyond the stars. For this purpose, the teacher must recognize the hidden potentials of all students. He must look through their current stage of ignorance, to the tremendous potentials within them, which makes them the most valuable of the creations of God. The teacher must make the intention to provide them with ONLY useful knowledge, which enters their hearts and transforms their lives. He must protect them from useless and harmful knowledge. But how can the teacher do this, when he/she has been trained in Western fashion, and does not know the difference between useful and useless knowledge? When he/she has been trained in an intellectual tradition which reaches only heads, and is never addressed to the hearts?

For this purpose, the teacher must become a student, a seeker of knowledge. All knowledge belongs to Allah T’aala alone, and He grants portions of it to whomsoever He desires. As teachers, we mujst make the intention to become lifelong LEARNERS, to seek knowledge from cradle to grave. We must pursue useful knowledge with struggle and sacrifice. As we struggle to ensure that we are providing beneficial knowledge, Allah T’aala will clarify the pathways that we need to follow to achieve this high goal.

An Islamic approach to education must start with a discussion of the PURPOSE OF LIFE! Why are we here? What should we do with our unique and precious few moment on this Earth? This is the MOST important question we all face. I have addressed this at length in several posts on this blog. Most importantly, eee my essay on “Learn Who You Are!”. Very briefly, we must debunk the myth that we are commodities for sale in the labor market. This task is easy because our hearts have been created with this knowledge. We must teach our students that “You can be whatever you want to be! So aim high”. The role of the TEACHER is crucial in recognizing the potential of the student. People are like mines, and the valuable treasures are hidden inside, and can only be accessed by effort and struggle. See “The Ways of the Eagles” to see how we have been deceived into aiming low, whereas we have been born with the capabilities of soaring high in the skies. It is only after we set our goals for life that it is possible to see how learning statistics would fit into our life plans.

To convert our study of statistics into an act of worship, we should change the Purpose for our studies. Let us all (teacher and students) make the intention that we will use the knowledge we acquire to serve the creation of God, for the LOVE of God. This puts a HEAVY Responsibility on the teacher. We must provide our students with USEFUL knowledge, which helps change our lives, and brings benefit to other. This is not easy to do, because Western textbooks do not contain such knowledge, because they differentiate between theory and application. The textbooks teach statistical theory and leave application for the field experts. One of the several meanings of “Real” Statistics is that we must reject the theoretical/applied split, and consider theory together with real world applications. When we teach theories, teachers must learn how these theories are applied, and teach students theories in context of applications.

For this purpose, it will be essential to use the Fellow Traveler model of education. This differs from the expert teacher, which is also the Peer-Murshid model, where someone who knows teaches those who are ignorant. Instead, the teacher and the students engage is a cooperative effort to learn together. The teacher is more experienced and hence acts as a guide and a leader of the group effort. The type of knowledge we seek will be created in the process of the struggle to create applications to the real world of the theories we study.

It is in the context of the fellow traveler model that we can include Non-Muslims. The teacher is not IMPOSING any particular values on the students. Instead, we make the intention use knowledge to to serve humanity, and we work together to find out the ways in which this can be done.

When we ask students to change their intentions and aim high, there is a natural fear of the unknown. If we abandon the goal of earning money, we might starve! The Quran says that the Shaitan scares you with poverty (and prevents you from setting high goals for yourself). To counteract this fear, we should explain the value & effect of Islamic Knowledge. We note that teachings of Islam led ignorant and backwards Arabs to world leadership. These teachings launched a civilization which enlightened the world for a thousand years. Today, the world is once again enveloped in ignorance and darkness, and these teachings have the same power.

The primary impact of Islamic teachings is on our own selves. These teachings allow us to purify our hearts, which are the most important of the cognitive instruments we have been given. Our hearts have the ability to recognize Truth, and to know God. By utilizing the teachings of Islam, we can achieve spiritual transformation, and bring to fruition the capabilities for excellence which we are all born with. The struggle to achieve inner transformation is aided by the process of the external struggle to change the world for the better, by inviting to the Good. It is the internal revolution within ourselves that leads to the external revolution in the world around us.

Just as what Islam calls knowledge is radically different from the Western concept, so the rules for acquisition of knowledge are radically different. In particular, we must teach our students to seek knowledge with humility. Knowledge belongs only to Allah, and He gives fragments of this knowledge to whomsoever he wishes. Allah T’aala has asked us to seek knowledge, as this is the greatest of treasures. In seeking knowledge, our goal should not be status, or pride, or to make arguments. Because knowledge is a gift of Allah, we do not earn it by our merit or our struggle, but only by the pleasure of Allah. This means that we cannot take pride in it. We must seek knowledge with effort and sacrifice, understanding that it is a great treasure of Allah. Allah T’aala promises that He will give guidance to those who struggle in His path.

To create an act of worship, and to compete for doing the best of deeds, we must purify our intentions. We must follow the orders of Allah, and we must follow the patterns of our Prophet SAW. Allah T’aala informs our Prophet SAW that (4:113)  God has bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ and [given thee] wisdom, and has imparted unto thee the knowledge of what thou didst not know. And God’s favour upon thee is tremendous indeed. We must be grateful to Allah T’aala for granting us the treasures of knowledge that we possess, knowing this to be far greater than is justified by our merits and efforts. When we give thanks for what we have, Allah T’aala will increase our gifts.

One of the most important acts of gratitude is to ACT on Knowledge which we have received. It is narrated by Jabir R.A. that the Prophet S.A.W. stated that Knowledge is of two kinds. One which enters the hearts, and that is the useful knowledge. The other is only on the tongue (without action or sincerety) and that is argument of Allah against the son of Adam A.S. We must seek to translate our knowledge into action. This requires joint efforts on part of the teacher and student, and is outside the scope to traditional Western methodologies of education. For example, if we study poverty, then we should take action on what we see around us, using whatever knowledge we have been given in this regard. Similarly, we should look for statistics in areas where actions are required, and which can guide us towards informed actions. This will always require going beyond traditional Western textbooks, which separate theory from practice.

Whereas theoretical knowledge generates boredom and lack of interest, real knowledge is exciting because it creates changes within us, and in the world around us. This leads to eagerness & enthusiasm to Learn. It is narrated by Abu-Saeed Khudri R.A. the the Prophet S.A.W. stated that: the Believer is never sated (with learning of knowledge). He keeps listening and learning (until death) until he enters Paradise.

This is the end of part 2 of the lecture, which deals with specific details of Islamic approach to teaching and learning.

Links to Relevant Materials

How to Inspire and Motivate Students: Shortlink:

Reaching Beyond the Stars Shortlink:

The Ways of the Eagles Shortlink:

Principles of An Islamic Education – This provides a detailed discussion of the issues discussed very briefly in the post. The post links to a full length essay on this topic in English, and also a translation in Urdu. Shortlink:

This entry was posted in Islamic Knowledge, methodology, Real Statistics by Asad Zaman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Asad Zaman

BS Math MIT (1974), Ph.D. Econ Stanford (1978)] has taught at leading universities like Columbia, U. Penn., Johns Hopkins and Cal. Tech. Currently he is Vice Chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. His textbook Statistical Foundations of Econometric Techniques (Academic Press, NY, 1996) is widely used in advanced graduate courses. His research on Islamic economics is widely cited, and has been highly influential in shaping the field. His publications in top ranked journals like Annals of Statistics, Journal of Econometrics, Econometric Theory, Journal of Labor Economics, etc. have more than a thousand citations as per Google Scholar.

9 thoughts on “Real Statistics (2/4) Teaching Statistics as an Act of Worship

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  4. Comments from Bairuni Group:
    As, Sir Dr. Asad Zaman mentioned that Western education is just teaching us that how to make money and injecting this poison in our mind that Money is more important than Human beings.
    I am trying to highlight one important difference between Western and Islamic Educationist. The way of thinking of Western Educationist is just covering the Micro level (Individual benefit, earning the money, pensions, etc). On the other hand, the way of thinking of Islamic Educationist should be at Macro Level (thinking and delivering for the whole society and Whole Ummah without any religious, race, Language,etc.). Most important thing is that we should know about the Sunnah of Allah swt about these above said approaches. Allah swt will deal differently to both groups, the people who are just thinking at individual level, Allah swt will cloase the doors of Knowledge on these type of thinkers. On the other hand, the thinkers who are thinking for the betterment of Whole Ummah, Allah swt will open the doors of Knowledge and also Allah swt will put Love and affection in the hearts of beneficiaries. I am giving here an example. The Honey Bees are sucking the juices from Flower and producing Honey ( Which is pure Shiffah) and If we see many Bees are dead near the Beehive, Why? Because they are just thinking about their own individual benefit (They are using Honey and acting LAZINESS). So, due their this act, they are killed by the (Spy and Killer Honey Bee Force). We can say the individual base Honey Bees are following the way of Useless Knowledge instead of Useful Knowledge.
    So, it is very clear lesson for us, We should change our thinking and trying to spread our Knowledge and skills with whole society and Ummah.

  5. Tahir Rafique’s Response: The concept mainly focuses on endeavoring to obtain useful knowledge and abstain from wasting our very limited precious time of this world in securing useless knowledge which is of no use for the humanity.
    As pointed out in the said writings, we must not run to earn money and material comforts just to please our Nafs rather we need to be faithful to our Creator & Sustainor by following His each & every instruction which would enable us to lead a life caring for one another and ultimately meeting the real success of hereafter.

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