Being an educator is one of the most invigorating and rewarding professions. Knowing that you can make a difference in the life of a person is one of the greatest acts of charity one can perform as a Muslim and as a human being. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was not only a Messenger and Prophet, but a teacher and cultivator of human character and intelligence. His Sunnah is full of lessons about the benefits of teaching such as the hadith narrated by Uthman ibn Affan, may Allah be pleased with him, in which the Prophet said,
“The best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”
Being an educator carries a unique honor both in this life and the next. Teachers are following in the footsteps of the best human being to ever live, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. There are plentiful rewards for teachers, but it is an exhausting and often poorly paid position. We can extract many lessons from the life of the Prophet for those of us who may be feeling some burnout as we prepare for a new year.
The Prophet, peace be and blessings be upon him, said:
“Convey from me, even if it is a single ayah (verse).”
He encouraged education and teaching. His lifestyle was focused on empowering his companions and imparting in them the greatest lesson of all which is to worship Allah alone. He cultivated the Islamic foundation to develop strong, positive individuals who lived with purpose, submitting themselves to Allah and proudly calling themselves Muslims. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad was the most influential educator in the history of mankind. Therefore we, as his followers, should take it upon ourselves to follow his example as teachers, whether it be at in an Islamic, academic, or athletic setting, or at home with our own children.
Aligning our Intentions
Here is some inspiration from his teachings to help us reestablish our intention as mentors for the new generations.
1. Remember your reason for teaching.
Umar ibn al-Khattab reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Verily, deeds are only with intentions and every person will have only what they intended.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
My experience as an educator in the field of dawah, emotional intelligence, and martial arts has led me to centralize this point to ensure continuous success, inshaAllah, God willing. Every action we perform within the boundaries of our faith can be regarded as an act of worship. Being an educator is a noble profession with far reach, beyond anything we could imagine. Let us be honest and say the driving force behind our work is not the paycheck – it is our passion for education. Renew your intention to do good at the beginning of the school year and before embarking on any task. Insha’Allah, you will find your reward with Allah.
2. All of us are educators by nature.
Has anyone ever told you, “You were born to teach!” Perhaps you are charismatic or you are great at explaining information. The reality is we are all educators in some capacity. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family, and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children, and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a guardian of the property of his master, and he is responsible for it. No doubt, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
A shepherd, like a teacher, is a guide and leader for his/her followers. Whether we are educators by profession or not, all of us take on the role of a teacher at some point in our lives. This is a lesson we can internalize and share with our students and family.
3. You are rewarded for every good you teach.
Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Whoever calls to guidance will have a reward similar to those who follow him, without detracting from their rewards at all...”
We associate this hadith with Islamic knowledge, but you do not necessarily have to be an Islamic studies teacher to incorporate Islamic lessons into teaching. My own experience as an educator has varied, but most of it lies in the field of physical education with a primary focus on martial arts. My teaching style reflects my identity as a Muslim – one who is obedient, disciplined, and respectful. For example, I have a lesson from a hadith of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, printed on the wall mat of my martial arts gym, which says:
“The strong man is not the good wrestler; but the strong man is he who controls himself when he is angry.”
Whatever skill we are teaching our students, we can always incorporate our faith into our teachings. Islamic knowledge is not limited to theological studies. Through martial arts, we may inspire students to do good by sharing examples of our pious predecessors and teachers and their faith, intelligence, bravery, and resilience. I teach my students that they are our real superheroes, and we should always strive to be just as courageous. In this manner, as educators, we continue a legacy of scholarship, both spiritual and secular.
For my martial arts classes, I apply various teaching techniques to help students achieve their goals through confidence-building and encouragement. Even teaching something like self-defense can have a long-lasting positive impact on an individual. Everything I teach now, I learned from my former and current instructors, some of whom are also Muslims. InshaAllah, they are rewarded for the knowledge I pass down to my students while I benefit from what they learn from me.
4. Teachers are respected contributors to society.
There are many kinds of teachers, most of whom are passing down beneficial knowledge to their students, whether spiritual or secular. When referring to those learned in religious knowledge, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
"The scholars are the heirs of the Prophets."
This is because they are sharing and preserving the teachings of the Prophets and Messengers of Allah.
When it comes to secular knowledge, Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali said,
“Praiseworthy branches of knowledge are those which are connected to worldly interests, such as medicine and mathematics. These may be further divided into those which are a communal obligation (fard kifaayah) and those which are good to learn but are not obligatory. As for those which are a communal obligation, this refers to knowledge that we cannot do without in putting our worldly affairs in order, such as medicine, which is essential to physical well-being, and mathematics, which is essential for business transactions, division of bequests and inheritances, and so on. If a community is lacking anyone who has this knowledge, that will cause problems to the members of that community.”
(Ihya Ulum Ad-Deen)
If you are a teacher and you are teaching things like life skills, science, math, history, or languages, you are fulfilling a communal obligation. You are preparing the youth to step into those crucial roles that will keep our community growing and thriving. For that, you deserve thanks and respect.
5. Teaching is a charity.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said,
“Every good deed is charity.”
He also said:
“Do not regard any good deed as insignificant, even meeting your brother with a cheerful face.” (Muslim)
If even smiling is charity and good deeds are charity, imagine the reward of giving the gift of knowledge. This should motivate us every day to do our best and keep a cheerful attitude. My teaching philosophy that I share with my students is that the benefits of martial arts lie in the journey and not the outcome. This way students do not focus too much on ranks and belts, but rather on the art itself. I have students who have been training for many years and have yet to be promoted to the next rank. They never complain because they truly understand and appreciate this philosophy. This also applies to my college students who take one or a few classes at a time as they work towards a degree. As with life, we should appreciate the day to day, rather than stress about the future. A quote attributed to the great scholar, Hasan Al-Basri, is:
“The life of this world is made up of three days: as for yesterday, it has gone with all that was done; as for tomorrow, you may never reach it; but today is for you so do what you can today.”
Every day we teach is a charity for our students and counts as charity for ourselves.
6. As teachers, we are lifelong learners.
Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Whoever travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise.”
Teachers are permanent students, constantly learning new techniques as they go. Think about professional development days – depending on where educators reside, one of their employment requirements is a certain number of hours of professional development annually. Speaking from my own experience, I am a lifetime student of engineering material for work; Islamic knowledge for my spiritual and individual growth and the college-level courses I teach; and of martial arts for my physical well-being, as well as for the lessons I pass on to my students; in a addition to being a parent. My goal is that my children and students will share these life lessons as educators because excellent students become excellent teachers. As Muslim teachers, we should make it a priority to seek continuous Islamic knowledge. Thus, we may rejoice in that if Allah wills, we will obtain Paradise by means of our constant search for knowledge.
7. Education is the gift that keeps on giving.
Education is a nonstop task and as such, its profit is unending. How many an educator do we praise even after they left this worldly life? The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“The best of what a man leaves behind are three: a righteous child who supplicates for him, ongoing charity the reward of which reaches him, and knowledge that is acted upon after him.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)
Some of the key aspects of success as a teacher from my experiences in martial arts are seeing students increase their confidence, better their coordination and motor skills, execute techniques flawlessly – these are all matrices for measuring success. In addition, seeing them achieve great things in other aspects of their lives such as being accepted to high level universities, being leaders of clubs and organizations, starting professional careers and having the confidence to do so is also a great reward for me as a teacher. A person who teaches leaves behind beneficial knowledge that may have a lasting impact. The best lessons you share may be remembered for a lifetime even if you do not perceive it at that moment.
Despite the blessings that come with it, teaching is not without its challenges. The problems I face as a martial arts teacher are no different from those that I encounter as an Islamic studies professor or from that of my friends who are English or science teachers. We must know how to deal with different personalities and various physical capabilities. I may encounter a natural athlete on one end who does everything right and on the other hand have a student who has learning challenges that require more time and effort. In addition, we have the challenge of maintaining students’ attention as well as the overall order on the mat or in the classroom. Despite those hassles, the satisfaction of making a difference and knowing the endless rewards for our teaching far outweighs any difficulty. Where there is a challenge there is an opportunity.
My advice for educators who are kicking off a new year of dedication and hard work is to keep your eyes on the prize but take it day by day. Be grateful for the opportunity Allah has granted you to be a contributor to the life of individuals. I am appreciative of all my students from the youngest to the oldest. It makes me very happy to see them reach great heights in martial arts and know that I played a role in that achievement. It may be that they had a positive learning experience that left a permanent impression in their heart. Think of the teachers who made serious commitments and contributions to your life such as your schoolteachers, parents, and mentors. Appreciate how your life and teaching style have been affected by their influences. Our goal, as teachers, is to do the same for others.
May Allah make this path easy and its rewards abundant for us all. Ameen.
Hernán Guadalupe embraced Islam in 2001 while earning a Bachelor of Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology. He holds a Masters degree from the University of Maryland and a Doctor of Business Administration from Walden University. Hernán has studied Islamic sciences at the American Open University, University of Mishkah, and is currently completing his Bachelors in Islamic Studies. He also completed the classical Arabic curriculum at the Fajr Center for the Arabic Language in Cairo, Egypt. He is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit outreach program dedicated to creating educational resources about Islam in Spanish. He lives in Maryland with his wife and six children.