Muhammad Mujtar Medinilla: About the Boys School of the Shaykh and the community of Granada

7th Seminar on Education

of the

Al Andalus Foundation for Education

Part of the working group whose subject was: The state of the education of the Muslim community of Granada, experiences and projects.

Morning session, Saturday, January 3rd 2015

About the Boys School of the Shaykh and the community of Granada

Muhámmad Mujtar Medinilla

Bismillahi ir-Rahmani ir-Rahim

Assalamu alaikum.

By the permission of our authority and of our teachers, who have come together today.

     (Connecting with the previous presentation of Sidi Muhammad Gutiérrez about his school activities.) This flame, which a male teacher, a female teacher and a group of parents are keeping alive isn’t something small. We could see it as a transition to the future school, but it is much more than that. It is in itself a complete experience, which leaves a mark, a deep imprint in adults and children. Every experience of this type, lasting long or short, which Allah let gave us during more than twenty years now, we have to see as a true gift… If you look back and remember it as a problem, you haven’t looked well. The children, who had the opportunity of having enough time in it, certainly took something very valuable into their further life.

     If I had to answer the question: What is most important for us, for The School of the Shaykh right now? I would certainly respond without hesitating: that our people understand this project better and get to make it their own! Of course we need many other things; firstly the necessary finance to be able to start the construction of our school. But this is nevertheless only of secondary importance. Moreover I dare to say that this depends on us as a community: it will occur if we do a step forward as a community. In the same way as it happened before with our mosque. That activity of ours back then, when we came together to clean the mosque terrain, helping with something apparently insignificant, that action was then swiftly rewarded by Allah’s help.

     Meaning of the project

      The project of The School of the Shaykh (this name is not the final one, Shaykh Abdaqadir is still reflecting about it) is a school based on the teachings of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi, aiming to act as a chain of transmission of his teaching to the new generations. It started its activity with his Idhn and acts according to his indications. Right now it is the most important project of the amirate of Granada, which manages it through the Al Andalus Foundation for Education.

     It is a project of education, which aims to be at the height of this moment in history, which we find ourselves in: the fall of a system and the twilight of a new nomos. It wants to live up to the level our Shaykh is calling us to. Its highest aim, which Shaykh Abdalqadir indicated himself, is: “make men!”. In his words: “It is the group of the cave which are later able to go to the city and change it. (…) People who are able to run a country.”

     It follows the model of a traditional school, which focuses on the cultivation of a young man. It consists in educating his character, developing his sense of honour, helping him to transform into an esteemed person with integrity, in short: transforming him into a gentleman.

     Perfecting good character

     strengthening of the individual

     and his sense of brotherhood

     are our aims.

     The reach of our school shall be international, especially in the senior / secondary level; it is however obvious that the basis of our work is local. It will firstly cater for our community as well as for all the other “local” communities; communities with amr, with commercial and intellectual relations to us, and communities with growing knowledge. As I already mentioned yesterday: without this we would be creating a giant with feet of clay. As Sidi Parvez Asad Shaykh said yesterday: the amirates and the dynamic they can develop are the “basic web of a renewed Islam in Europe”.

      This international project is also directed towards all Muslims. We aim for the conciliation between the European converts and the immigrated Muslims from other countries. This is the task our Shaykh has given us. We want to join our yearning and capacity of understanding of this system with the tremendous strength of the natural fitra of our brothers who have immigrated to Spain.

     We may just act on the authority of being Muslims – and it would enough to do so – with respect to the question of education and the formation of the new generations, given the disastrous present panorama of available education, but there is still much more at stake here.

      The issue is asabiyya. This is precisely what our community is getting at today. One of the most enthusiastic, most active men, who is most committed to our authority, told us here last summer, far from complaining and scolding, which makes his reflection particularly interesting: “We still need to have a little bit more of asabiyya among us. Maybe just a little more is missing.” The tests we have been submitted to this last year have confronted us with this. Because this is what the school is about. And what the school needs from us is exactly what we need as a community, for our proper existence as coherent society with its raison d’être and its destiny.

      The “problems” of our time have a lot to do with our future school. They have to do with the very future, which we are going towards. Therefore the understanding of the moment in which we live is so important.

      We look to avoid falling into the demoralization because a demoralized society is unable to be at the height of what the situation requires. Therefore our task as Muslims and as educators has a lot to do with the re-moralization – using Ortega y Gasset’s term – of our society and of our Muslim community. We need to put ourselves to the height of what our time demands of us.

     The change of our Imam, which took place a year ago, as well as everything that happened during 2014 are indications for this necessity of renovation, which can easily be detected among ourselves. We live in a time of regeneration, of going back to the origins, of remembrance, of closing ranks. The reaction of this community has been astonishing. It has – by Allah – been able to deal with the challenges it has been confronted with. We all, younger and older ones, the majority of the people present here have been witnessing this.

     This process during 2014 and our school project seem to look for each other. This means a very important step for all of us: this is a community leaving behind the role of being mere survivors, with all this entails: resistance against the dominant society, with our victories and failures. As much as we surpass this stage of mere survival, we will create a new stage of growth.

     The School of the Shaykh means beginning to create, to construct a basis in all fields of knowledge, in the establishment of a model relevant to all Muslims in Europe; taking on leadership among Muslims in this time. But growth means to expose oneself to new situations, which are favourable to this expansion.

     We cannot say “this school is not for me anymore because my kids are already too old” or “it is none of my business since I don’t have children”. Our understanding of this matter still has to reach a higher level. We should not think about this school, as we shouldn’t think about any of the projects of our community, in terms of “me, myself”, but rather should we adopt a perspective of where we are heading towards as a community, and what we should do “ourselves”.

     The social nexus

     “A school cannot transmit nobility. Only a clean society can do this. With clean roads, clean relations, clean transactions, on all levels.” These were the words of Shaykh Abdalqadir from 1990 when we were in the former zawiyya of San Gregorio, when we started La Maestranza of Granada. More than twenty years later Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir says in his book “The Interim is Mine”: “The recovery of the human species from its present devolution requires controlled union and guided upbringing. In the case of the humans personal education is, by definition, also social. Not just an educational group but a social nexus is required to fashion humans of quality.” (Interim, page 20)

      In our case the school has never been “the problem”. Here we observe what is true in any society: the school, the system of education only shows the tip of the iceberg. We can’t understand it unless we take into account the great mountain below the water level. This mountain consists of the totality of the multiple relations we have: the family, personal, commercial, economic and relationships of knowledge. This is the base. The school has only been the mirror where our small and at the same time grand society reflected itself. Independently from the school and the men and women involved such a long time we can say: we have made our mistakes.

     As much as we face the task of conciliation ahead of us, we also have the necessity of reconciliation among us. Not because we fight among ourselves, but because it is obvious that we need a better understanding, a mutual compromise, an agreement between ourselves.

     The question now is not whether the egg or the hen came first. Do we first need our leadership to act or do we first need the necessity and the understanding of our people, from the base of our society?

     Yesterday we also said that educare [lat. to guide, to lead] and educere [lat. to form, to instruct] conform the two aspects of education, and that the present dominant system of education reinterprets dialectically: traditional school – educare – opposed to the new or modern school – educere. But we can’t understand education without these two aspects, mutually reinforcing each other.

     We aim for a vitalising combination of both: the indication to get going (Shaykh Abdalqadir) – educare – and the taking on of our task as men and women of this community, using the energies which favour our cultivation: improving ourselves, using the gifts Allah has bestowed on us – educere. In the school with the children we face exactly the same task.

     When you receive education from a real master the result will be that it moves something in you, which has been dormant, still, or better said: what you already had quietly, waiting and wanting to emerge. Lao-Tse said: “Education does not consist in filling an empty vessel, but rather in lighting up a dormant flame.”

     We are talking about the quality which school and society have to share: fata [Arabic: a perfect young man. It corresponds with the Latin “vir”, the English “gentleman”, the German “Junker” and the Italian “Giovane”.] We are talking about an indispensable path of transformation, about how to live, or how to come to life again if necessary, about a re-vitalization. A teacher and a school do not just educate today’s society but for the best a society may strive to become. They cannot just remain a mere reflection of society.

     We are people who are influenced by the future. This is not idealism; it has nothing to do with it. I mean to say: in some way we are now already participating in what we aspire to be. We are already tasting it, because it is already inside us. We therefore have a project for a future school, but this school is already happening right now, as it has been happening, right from the beginning when we started. Therefore, when I talk about our school, I refer both to our future school as well as to our great school, which began a long time before anyone even thought about building a school for the youths.

     The futuwwa cannot just be an object for us, it cannot be a mental idea, but it has to be established as our working basis. It is the working basis of our society and the departure point of our school.

     And then there is Adab: Adab, Adab and still more Adab. We have to establish an impeccable and revitalizing Adab. The result of practicing Adab among us is nothing less than a revival of life itself. In these times we have to aspire to a higher degree of Adab, more than just greeting us, offering the other our space – these things are of course indispensable – but on top of that we should also be able to recognize each other. In the words of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir: “giving everyone their due and recognising who everybody is” (Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi: Commentaries, IV, February 25th 2006), every man and woman of this community may exercise a role and thus attain their utter fulfillment.

     We have very valuable people in our community and excellent conditions, a clear leadership and a solid amirate. We only need a reactivation of our energies and capacities. We need to overcome a certain idle state in order to imbue our action with dynamism and enjoy the participation of the many and diverse talents we have among us.

     When we speak about the social frame our school needs, we are really pointing towards the indispensable working transmission between the generations of a society and its youths, which needs to exist. It is safe to say that a real social nexus in a society only exists if this transmission is correctly taking place. It is a sound indicator.

     Addressing the younger men among us, I would like to quote again Ortega y Gasset who quoted Goethe’s Faust: “What you inherit from your parents, earn it daily in order to possess it!” This reminds us on the energy we had when our community came into existence. This is your time, you cannot permit that it passes without using that strength you parents generated, the enormous expectation, which existed, the hope, trust, generosity, preference and vitality. You have to connect with that energy of your parents, which they preferred instead of so many other things, because it was something very special, being of great purity. You have to connect with it to find out which is your way today, in order to pass it on to the generation, which follows us, to you and to us. Your role is crucial. Or rather: the role, which your young families play.

      Your role as men with respect to:

  • your own formation (formation never stops)

  • your own and the other children and youths of the community

  • fighting for the recovering of masculinity (model of Muhammad, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) and transmitting it to the youngest ones by your example, in the mountains, through sports, in the mosque, wherever you meet each other. Being capable to organize outdoor activities, young men competing. The children have to admire you, they have to desire to be with you, imitating you in all you do

  • your role to confront the times we live in; conscience of the historic moment we live in

  • participating and taking over the reigns of the central matters of our community

     The role of your wives and the other young women should entail:

  • not abandoning their own formation and education

  • striving for the recovering of a model of an authentic woman. This entails a great effort of discrimination in today’s world

  • taking on her fundamental role of being a transmitter to her children. In the words of Shaykh Abdalqadir, which he told to Emir Malik: “The education…the power of a woman is with her children.” I also would like to remind us on the Shaykh’s constant rejection of the kindergarden and the nursery school. (In Spain both are not obligatory anyway.) But the man is the head of the family, the ultimate responsible in this matter.

  • the mutual support among women and the beginning of activities of education of all sorts outside the system. “Programme, programme, programme” I heard our Shaykh say with fervour to a group of our women in the times of San Gregorio Alto.

     We have to recover the qualities of masculinity for us men, and those of femininity for the ladies. This is essential. This is because we won’t be able to achieve anything without surpassing the dialectics of patriarchy/matriarchy. In the words of Shaykh Abdalqadir: “Without the essential matters of both, the masculine and the feminine, Islam is not possible.”

      We also have to look at the continuing education of the adults, and I am not referring to a kind of formal education for adults (without negating the benefits it has), but I am talking about the acquiring of a raised awareness about what it means “to educate oneself”, what it means to be an “educated community” and its proportional relationship with the knowledge of the Deen. There is a direct connection between “culture” and the yearning for quest, between passion and enthusiasm, “living the moment”, fata and the youthfulness of spirit.

      We have to deepen our knowledge: obviously of our Islamic tradition; but also of our European tradition of culture and thinking. And we have to transmit this to our children and to our youths. We cannot fall into saying: “Well, at least my child has the Deen of Islam…” This is not sufficient! Without a profound understanding of the world they live in, without the necessary level of language, without the enthusiasm for learning, which a boy has when his talents are being stimulated and supported, worsened by a lack of attention and other “disorders” of the present disastrous system of education – what can we ask, what may we expect of them?

      The absence of culture, or rather “the death of culture”, is today’s fate. Of course, we all know this. But our school, our great school, this school which has all these teachers of life, all you here present, this school is bringing back balance to the whole affair; it is a kind of nemesis [in the primal sense of “re-establishing the lost equilibrium”], the establishing of harmony, correcting everything, which is not in its place. It is our responsibility to turn the present situation around. We’ve got to straighten it out – by Allah!

     Just a few days ago Shaykh Abdalqadir told Emir Malik: “We have to make an effort to educate our children in the best possible way, at the highest level.” This is true both for our school project as it is true for each and everyone of us, at all moments, with or without school, whether we find ourselves among the best of all possible communities, or else being on our own in a big city.

     How much do we need the care of adults! The male youths are in that epoch of their life when they are in great need of a guide, of a man, of tutors, workshops, vital experiences, knowledge. The key to social cohesion is avoiding an existential abyss between one generation and the next. The Islamic alternative to the present social paralysis lies in restoring the essential elements of a true socialisation. Esteem and Adab among all members of a society lead to deep and meaningful relationships.

     We support and help the Emir to maintain all those initiatives free of state and Church control. We support Sidi Muhammad Gutiérrez in his school activity. He is a man supported by Shaykh Abdalqadir.

     Support for the Qur’an classes in the mosque, firstly looking after the behaviour of the children, protecting the necessary Adab when studying the noble Qur’an. This includes of course encouraging them and rewarding them. Help the growth of a madrassa, of this madrassa. I would still go further: we should be working in order that this centre may be transformed into an institution respected for its Islamic studies.

     Among the many indications we have received from Shaykh Abdalqadir and from many of our people we have to highlight the importance of enjoying a shared lunch with the family, having a light, relaxed conversation during it. This moment offers an enormous transmission. Many children of this community have their lunch in school canteens. Apart from never having this highly valuable encounter within the family, they will never learn – or else they will unlearn – the Adab of the table. We know this experience well, we realize it when we go hiking to the mountains with some of our boys: we observe that often they are not waiting with their meal for the others to arrive, they forget to say “Bismillah”, they just don’t know how to behave, while we are all aware that at the table and in serving people we may find the basis of discernment.

     I would also mention the fundamental importance of the upbringing during the first phase of growth, the one starting with birth of a child, actually even from before it is being born, during pregnancy. The mother is the madrassa, the mother is the school of the child in his first childhood. But, as Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir reminds us in his book “Commentaries”: “it is not that she teaches them, but that her behaviour with the child is an attention, and that attention is what gives sanity to the child.” He continues: “It is the glance of the mother on the child that makes it know that it is a separate entity. Thus the look between the mother and the child is the beginning of the education of the nafs that is to make the child a whole human being.“ (Commentaries, page 146)

     Which type of school do we pretend to establish without this basis? Every serious school has to attempt correcting what has not been established at home in the first place!

     As men we cannot say: “This is not my business. This is the job of the mothers.”, as if the children would be their property. In reality the children are neither the mothers’ property nor are they the property of us men. That is a Roman concept of property, it’s not ours, since we know that in reality nothing belongs to us: neither does the earth, nor do our children belong to us. As men, as heads of our families we do however have to say a thing – actually a lot of things – about the raising of our children. Also with regards to the girls we also cannot say: “The girl belongs to the mother, I won’t interfere.” This is because without a close relation between father and daughter a daughter will never be able to develop trust in a man, in men.

     On the project of The School of the Shaykh

     It really would have been a lot easier for me today to talk about our future school, about the project as we want it to look like, mapping it out in great detail, developing its many aspects which will bring it about. All that we will do at a later stage, inshaAllah. I rather consider it necessary to start with the beginning, putting those questions onto the table, which I have mentioned so far: the support, the basis and bedrock on which our school needs to be built. This is because there cannot exist any contradiction between society and school, between a community and “its” school.

     And it may never occur here what does in fact occur so often: that the school means the interruption of education and of enthusiasm for life. So many authors have spoken about this. Here I quote the words of Gabriel García Márquez: “When I was still very young I had to interrupt my education in order to start going to school.” Our school has to be this place the young Ernst Jünger would have longed to attend.

     Making men is our task. And this implies – to a great extent – ourselves. Firstly, by belonging to a group, since the acquisition of futuwwa is a matter of our absolute responsibility. And secondly on an individual level, because the loss of manhood we are suffering today and the need to recover it is something that concerns every one of us as men.

     Our task is building men with the sufficient existential courage in order for them to be able to unfold in this life the gifts and qualities Allah has bestowed upon them, in order to transform the society in which they live.

     In the end the youths have to cover all aspects, which make up an authentic integral education. This means that the school, the family and the community have to be completely complementary in the development of the intellect, of health and of the physical vigour, of the Ibada, of Adab and of the courage (bravery); this implies the learning of the Qur’an and of those aspects of the Deen and the studies connected to it, whose realm – according to Shaykh Abdalqadir – is located around the mosque. (Islamic Center)

     This project is of immense value because it is enframed within an amirate, i.e. embedded within an organic organization and operation. We need to return to the natural patterns of life, to more vivid models.

     The ayat Shaykh Ahmed recited at the beginning of this session belongs to Sura of The Cave (18:10):

     When the young men took refuge in the cave

     and said: ‘Our Lord, give us mercy directly from you

     and open the way for us to right guidance in our situation.’

     And as Shaykh Abdalqadir also indicates in the Interim Is Mine: “The word used here is ‘fitya’, the plural of ‘fata’, meaning a perfect young man. The important thing to grasp is that to have such a ‘fata’ it is necessary to have him in the plural – ‘fitya’ is therefore the special group of excellence which is needed that mankind may be in turn ennobled.” (Interim, page 38) This was confirmed yesterday when his message to this seminar had been read when he called us to the highest, to Asabiyya, a close and sincere brotherhood, based on the Sunna of the Prophet Muhamad, sallalahu alaihi wa sallam.

     These are his words. You cannot make one man. You can only make men, in the plural. The manly qualities are being generated and strengthened in brotherhood with others. When I say brotherhood I mean: within the natural relationship of friendship and rivalry, by recognizing oneself in others, being in a relation with them, battling with them.

     Talking about education means talking about community, since this is the space where a man “is being made”. This is the arena where a man reaches his rank, his liberty and his place. This is what the children will encounter in all pre-christian Indo-European mythologies, be it from the Greeks, the Nibelungen, or from the Celts. Without the community the role of a hero is inconceivable. The individuality of a man is being constructed by interacting with other young men.

     The socialization of the boy is no different. It is being constructed by battling “with the others”. It needs competition, fighting. The formation of girls is different to that.

     The sociability of girls is different. It “adapts itself” much better to the ruling school system (once you look deeper into this matter you realize that this is unfortunately not the case), while very few understand, appreciate and know how to deal with the “pugnacious sociability of boys”, their battles and fights. At least in today’s school no one has a clue how to deal with it.

     Everybody who has boys has to be aware about this fact: today’s school stands for the negation of masculinity.

     A good system for boys needs to have challenge and personal competition. The children need to reach targets. This is an incentive for boys for their personal improvement. We only have to transform the masculine “combative spirit” into a healthy and effective competitiveness.

     I would love to be able to expand on this subject but I have to end, since I already took too much time.

     May it be enough to say that everything to do with the curriculum of the school, with its organization, the distribution and characteristics of its times and spaces are being studied in order to be adapted to the way boys and young man learn.

     In our school the boys will be separated from the girls. In Emir Mali’s recent visit to Cape Town Shaykh Abdalqadir told him: “There has to be a high wall between them, with armed guards above them. They know that the award is on the other side. If they grow up like that they will be men when they are twenty years old, and they will know how to treat women.” This is the result of an authentic masculinity, forged within the parameters of nobility; they are the source of understanding, of prowess, of respect and the protection a woman deserves.

     Another indication of Shaykh Abdalqadir is the complete separation between the younger and the older boys. The criterion for this division stems from the characteristics of the development of the three great stages of growing up.

     Junior School, the youngest boys, starting with 2nd stage of growing up

     (it has the capacity for boarding starting from the age of 9)

     From age 6 to 12

     Primary School and year 7 and 8 of Secondary School

     In the last year of Junior School, which coincides with the Spanish 1st ESO form, the boys of this form are not lost boys in a big school, but rather do they form that group, which reaches the culmination of childhood, the example for all their younger companions, the moment of testing, a process of initiation and the oncoming step towards the Senior School.

     International Senior School, the senior pupils, 3rd stage of growing up

     From age 13 to 18

     From year 9 of Secondary to International Baccalaureate / A-Levels (UK)

     Organized by department areas

     I will only list the essential elements of this future school: an excellent staff of teachers, the maximum attention for each youth and a great cultural richness.

  • Quality of teachers

     We need utmost care in selecting the teachers, who have to unite high human and academic qualities, a firm vocation and a clear conscience of their mission, apart from high expectations in themselves and in the future generations.

  • Dedication in the care for each boy

     By a consistent network of mechanisms of tutorial attention in the personal and academic sphere

  • Cultural richness

     The school has to vibrate with activities, which respond to the diverse interests of pupils and teachers, complementing the academic syllabus

     Moreover do we aspire to having

  • a high academic level

     A maximum number of 15 students per group, a competent and dedicated staff of teacher, a teaching based in establishing a solid and comprehensive intellectual base, permit a high quality education in order to be able to enter any department of any university or else any other form of knowledge the pupil desires.

  • Challenges

     Boys respond best to a pedagogy, which challenges them, which confronts them with challenges and aims they need to conquer and overcome; a regime of overprotection and laxity weakens and spoils them.

  • Education of all talents

     We aim for a balanced formation in all branches of knowledge: Humanities, Languages, Arts, Experimental Sciences and Technologies, but also allowing and helping each person to encounter and satisfy his natural inclination towards those subjects, which it finds easy and attractive.

  • Bilingualism

     We aspire to speak the highest possible level of Spanish, as we strive to learn good English (in Senior School), since we will have pupils from all over the world.

  • Contact with nature

     Knowledge of nature through a genuine connection with the cosmos, through connecting with the seasons of the year and life itself by an ever-increasing awareness of our responsibility in caring for our environment.

  • Sports

    We see the decisive importance of physical activity for the formation of character. This is the role of fencing, of team sports like Rugby and Cricket and of the company of those who recognize each other for their honour. Sports need to be linked to fair play and the fulfilment of contracts.

  • An atmosphere of authority and discipline

     Between teacher and pupil there needs to exist respect and affect. Authority is a quality which one acquires early in life and which is interiorized as self-discipline. Through the traditional prefect system the pupils learn to accept having responsibilities.

  • A system of houses

     We will provide a school environment, which fosters a relation of mutual help between the boys of different ages, allowing an improved attention for each one of them as well as the security of belonging to a group with an identity. Thus we channel the natural competitiveness of boys towards noble aims and facilitate the education at the table as well as their general sociability.

     We want to strengthen this community. Doing this is closely related to our ability to deploy our best qualities and capacities, for the benefit of each one of us and for each one of our pupils. This is the best possible help for our school.

     Therefore I am ready to answer your questions as good as I can; questions about our overall team and about our group of educators. Before that I would however like to ask for your permission to pose one question to you: Are you ready to make a step ahead?

     Thank you very much for your patience!