The age-old dream of the human caravan is not to send astronauts in their orbit in outer space.. it is to send its individuals - every single individual in his orbit of self-realization. It is high time that this dream be thus reinterpreted. It is also the sacred duty of every man and woman to help intelligently reorientate human endeavour towards the culmination of this pilgrimage.

Mahmoud Muhammad Taha - Answers to the questions of Mr. John Voll - 17.7.1963

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EDUCATION: A Letter Addressed to Mr. Osman Mahjoub
Dean Of The Institute Of Bakht AL-Ruda

Ustadh Mahmoud Muhammad Taha

This letter is written in December 24, 1958 and is translated into English by Dr. Mustafa Eljaili

(Translated from Arabic by Dr. Mustafa Eljaily Omer)

Late in 1958, the Sudan Ministry of Education called upon a committee to meet in Khartoum and raise recommendations regarding the educational ladder. That is how the Akrawi committee came to existence. The Dean of Bakht Al-Ruda Institute by then, Mr. Osman Mahjoub, was especially concerned with this committee. He asked me to make an attempt to present a research paper on education at the occasion of the committee meetings. The result was the following letter.

December 24, 1958: Khartoum,

Dear Osman,

Greetings! I hope that you have arrived well and intact.

As per our conversation, before your departure, I hereby send you some of my views on the education issue, hopping that it makes a good impact on you.

I believe that if we want for our education to be beneficial and fruitful, it is indispensable to refer to foundation assets in planning the educational curricula. A quick glance to these assets tells us that those educational curricula must aim first to teach a student how to educate himself and how to be obliged to continue that education throughout his lifetime “self-education or self-learning”. Filling the students’ minds with a selected set of diverse and numerous bits and pieces of information, on which they have to pass exams to be able to proceed for further stages, is a useless- and in fact, a harmful- method. Actually, life itself requires that a person pertain to be a learner throughout his age. We can not prepare a person for life as properly needed, unless we are able to sustain him within the regular schooling systems that the civilized governments provide with the scientific style by which he can continue to educate himself.

The benefit of education rests on the ability of the learner to adapt to his environment. In turn, the function of education is to provide the learner with a complete and correct image of the environment he occupies. As to the assets that we have to trace back, for a proper curricula planning, a primary fact to be set forward is that humans and animals are essentially not different in kind, but in magnitude. This means that both are alike in the ability to be educated, except that the ability of humans is several multiples that of the animals’. It also means that a human being without education has only little difference from an animal.

In addition to the heritage cause, that little difference, is due to the fact that, unlike animals, humans live in communities that are organized by social values, norms, and laws. A human being yields to the community system, through which he learns, refines his behavior, and practices self-discipline.

Before living in a community, man used to be a lonely animal. The harshness of life in the natural habitat compelled him to invent the system of the community. Thus, he had to give up a great deal of his individual freedom, controlling his primitive instincts in consideration for the others’ freedom. Of course, there is no such a particular person, at a specific point in time, which sat down and invented the system of the community. Neither can such an accumulated legacy come instantly at a dose. It rather evolved through sagging duration of times, governed by a very slow rhythm, in ancient ages; then later forcefully imposed over individuals, compelling them to a civilized-like behavior. Living in a community assigns an individual to certain rules and sets of conduct. The rules organize economic activity and consumption and general social manner, during peace as in wartime, regulating marriage, family protection and upbringing, and so forth. Such rules, which are sometimes held through norms and social values and at others enforced by laws, constitute the germ of human civilization. Also, to these rules goes the merit of educating and refining the individuals, before the establishment of the systemized education of today.

From this discussion, we may draw two premises:

(1) For a human being, the individual freedom is fundamental.

(2) The community freedom, which is in practice a means for the individual freedom, can only be institutionalized through limiting the individual freedom. Hence, in fact, there is no contradiction between the two, as may appear at a short sight.

In turn, the two principles lead us to one conclusion. That is: any education must enable the individuals to adapt, and fully configure, their personal freedom with that of the community, so that they won’t contradict with themselves and with their surroundings. Actually, the person who is able to lead a straight, free, fruitful, and useful life as an individual can have a very positive social role. As a matter of fact, he derives his happiness from making the others happy.

If the above is true, then it appears that education rests in two major divisions:

(1) Professional Education

(2) Moral Education

As to the first, the society can not be properly served towards civilization and righteousness, except by virtue of the professional skills. Besides, a skill is in itself essential to the practice of the individual freedom. Work perfection rectifies a person’s character, develops self-esteem, and establishes homogeneity and unity between his mind and his body. Such homogeneity and unity are credits attained through the concentration effort required by a perfected work, from each of the hand, the eye, and the mind, at the same and one time.

Moral education, on the other hand, is necessary. Nothing is more important, in dealing with people, than good manners. Law draws the other edge, putting limits for the accepted behavior. Morals make an individual spontaneous in doing the best, without the least consideration of fear from law or from consequent punishments at wrong deeds. As such, his social behavior is wholly derived from his own values and self-discipline. This process demonstrates the “high” individual freedom, and brings about the coordination between the individual freedom and the group freedom, falsifying by that the apparent conflict between the two.