Notes on the Isocratic Legacy and Islamic Political Thought: The Example of Education


An unfortunate feature of human history is the tendency for religious differences and con icts to nourish themselves with the poisonous brew of ignorance and prejudice. While much can sometimes be done to reduce prejudice, it seems to me that scholars and educators ought to be primarily concerned with the more fundamental and enduring goal of reducing ignorance. One’s success in reducing ignorance—including one’s own—will depend upon one’s motives.
The study of Islamic educational philosophy may be motivated by current practical concerns: the desire of British Muslims to have Islamic schools, whether funded privately or by the state, is one topical example. From the perspective of educational philosophy, however, such a motive is exceedingly narrow, circumscribed by the concepts and categories of the local political disputes of the moment. For those motivated by a desire for knowledge and understanding of a tradition outside their own, it is most doubtful that any study of Islamic philosophy restricted by current practical concerns can be at all productive. There is no simple correspondence between knowledge and “relevance.”
There must, however, be some connection between two traditions of thought and practice if there is to be a point of departure, and a point of entry, which allows the scholar to step from one tradition to another. The legacy of Isocrates may constitute one such point of departure, which will help us to understand the relation between two traditions, the classical Greek and the Islamic. The dominance of the Isocratic legacy in Western education is well established and widely known among historians, classicists
and political philosophers, although awareness of it has only just begun to surface among educationists.2 Similarly, the Isocratic legacy to education (and the rich tradition of Arabic Platonism in philosophy) has in uenced Islamic thought, though in ways that are
still not yet well understood. The intention of this paper is to suggest that a modiŽ ed form of the Isocratic educational tradition is a fundamental component of Islamic political thought, namely, Islamic educational thought. This general wording of the intention of this paper in terms of Islamic political thought may give rise to a misunderstanding. Islam, of course, is regarded by its adherents as a uniŽ ed and universal system of belief and behaviour.

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