5 Ways Education was better in the Muslim Golden Age

5 Ways Education was better in the Muslim Golden Age

It is no secret that I am a critic of the modern school system. An experiment that started just over one hundred years ago, the current system is already outdated and failing millions of children. However, education wasn’t always like this. During the Muslim Golden Age, education thrived through a system of Madrassas, universities and private tutorship that produced some of the greatest minds of that era.

NOTE: Madrassa (in this article) is used to refer to the ancient schooling system that covered all subjects ranging from Math to science to religious studies. It does NOT refer to the modern secularized version that separates and focuses only on religious studies.

Muslim Golden Age Madrassa

As we move forward and try to fix our current system, we can look back and draw important lessons from systems that worked in the past. Here are five lessons we can take from this ancient education system and apply to our times.

1. It focused on individual strengths

The Madrassa system of the Muslim Golden Age did not have a one-size-fits-all approach to education. As young as seven years old, a student would be categorized according to his strengths and assigned studies accordingly. As a result, time wasn’t wasted teaching students things they were not going to use in life.

Think about it? Why would a language expert need to study High School Math? Or a Math whiz need to study grammar in depth? Why should a history buff need to memorize science facts to pass a test? Or a budding scientist need to memorized the dates and names of various wars?

When a student recognizes his/her area of expertise early, they can choose their subjects accordingly. This led to the second benefit of this ancient system.

2. Students would graduate earlier.

By starting early, time wasn’t wasted with a 13 year common education program, before deciding what to specialize in. As a result, in the Muslim Golden Age many great scientists and doctors graduated and started practicing at incredibly young ages.

Ibn Batutta graduated as a judge (Qadhi) at the young age of 21. And Ibn Sina was already treating patients when he was 18 years old. In fact, Ibn Khaldun was already a graduate in Islamic Studies by the age of 17!

This shows the benefit of a system that focuses on strengths. Each of these individuals went on to become legends in their fields dedicating their lives to mastering and developing their areas of expertise.

Imagine today if we can have people discover their strengths at a younger age, graduate younger, and start working on their legacy at a younger age. A large part of people’s lives that is usually wasted\ could become the most productive time of their life with such a system.

3. There were many education systems

A single system of education does not benefit everybody. People learn in different ways, and so there should be various systems on offer. So each student can choose to study in a way that suits their study style best.

We see this in the earlier periods of the Muslim Golden Age. Some great scientists went through the madrassa system, while others studied books at home. Some experimented in their labs, while others sat at the feet of mentors and learned from them. And some even combined all of these at different stages of their lives.

So education to be relevant again. We need to stop thinking that one system suits all. We need more variety. If someone is a voracious reader, then let them stay home and consume as many books as possible. If someone learns better through experiments, take them out of school and give them a lab to experiment in. (Which is what Einstein’s parents did)

The world needs a more flexible system of education. So that readers are not stuck attending lectures, and physical learners are not stuck sitting quietly in class. We need to find ways to make this happen in the modern world, and the internet makes it more possible than ever before.

4. They did not separate subjects into Islamic and Secular

The separation of school and Madrassa in the modern world is a result of colonialism, and has had a terrible effect on the minds of Muslims. Entire generations of Muslims were raised thinking that math, science and language have nothing to do with Islam. And that Islam is just something you study in the afternoon, but the ‘secular subjects’ are your priority.

The reality is that Islam teaches us to actively pursue all beneficial knowledge. This includes knowledge of beliefs, Islamic law, history, math, science, business, personal development and everything else that benefits us.

During the Muslim Golden Age, this was the norm. Al-Khawaarizmi invented Algebra to solve complex Islamic inheritance law issues. Ibn Sina pursued medicine because the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us that every illness has a cure. Ibn Khaldun analysed history because the Quran teaches us to take lessons from history. It was all intertwined. we need to return to this system of education that does not separate between subjects into religious and secular. All that matters is beneficial knowledge.

5. It served a higher purpose

In the Muslim Golden Age, education was not primarily about the pursuit of wealth, fame and status. (Although such individuals did exist) The primary purpose of the Madrassa system was to raise citizens who would serve God and take care of God’s Creation.

Education was for the sake of community, not self. It was for God, not desire. And it was for making the world a better place, not just lining one’s pockets. This is why during the Muslim Golden Age, we find the existence of free healthcare (even for animals), free education, entire systems dedicated to charity work, and overall increase in happiness for the average person.

An education system that focuses on selfish materialistic success is doomed to fail. Such a system produces narcissists and selfish individuals. It makes us lose focus on what is most important: pleasing the Creator through caring for His creation.

To learn more about the Muslim Golden Age, join our online course by clicking here.

Sign up here:

Posted by Ismail Kamdar

Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help and Izzah Academy, author of over a dozen books, and the operations manager of Yaqeen Institute.




Fatima Dabir

Excellent study !

Syed Assraf Hosain

Ma sha Allah!!!very nice.

We wasted our valuable time. Let our descendants avail the benefit of the lslamic golden age type of education in shaa Allah.

i love beautiful changes

Disillusioned Parent

My thoughts may be off-track but they just clamour to be aired…
Placing one’s child in a secular school may not work for a child. So the parent decides to place the child in a Muslim school. The fees are outrageous compared to a secular school but with the promises of better education, smaller classes n special attention to be given … the parent makes a sacrifice. Glory n behold the private Muslim school is not what it was supposed to be. There are underprivileged learners also in the school. Obviously they are being funded and sponsored. What confounds me is who keeps tabs on these schools. Who monitors if the teachers are fully qualified. Do they possess the credentials required. Who monitors if these teachers are psychologically adept to deal with these kids. Cos todays kids are suffering with many challenges due to broken families n bullying n being addicted to drugs n smart phones. Every teacher needs to be aware of how to react n deal with situations that arise. Who monitors if the standard of education n teaching methods are on par with the curricular system. Who monitors the progress or failure of the learners. Is it normal is it abnormal. Frankly who really cares that the learners are receiving that which was promised. Obviously one would expect a learner to progress n not decline in their abilities. Why must a parent be compelled to home school if there are institutions out which promise better. But who is there to follow up on their promises. It is obvious we will want to see positive results in such an institution. Yes we applaud the fact that under privileged kids more especicially blacks from ulooms are accomodated at these schools. Who monitors if they have met the the standard of education required to be in a particular grade. Why must a parent fork out thousands of Rands yet still consider private tuition. Simply said do we have governing bodies monitoring what goes on in private muslim schools. I mean really going in there and seeing the reality and actual facts.
This is the 21st century. Sadly our kids are so so affected by so so much. And teachers must be equipped to deal with them. Help them. Not cause more damage to them.


your concerns are truly pertinent. like here in Uganda those schools offering Qur’anic studies as well as secular education (schools you would consider to be Muslim schools and Christians don’t take their children there) charge exorbitantly high fees; least not affordable to majority. I don’t know whether I would be right to say there is an element of selfishness.


it is a very great piece of work. Am sure even here in Uganda, as Muslims we have a lot to learn from this submission. may Allah grant you wisdom and happiness in this life and the Hereafter