Teachers have been afforded a high status in Islam. They have the honour of being in a position to guide, mould and train their students while earning vast rewards in this life and the next.
Indeed, Allah, His angels, the inhabitants of the skies and the earths, even the ants in their holes and even fish invoke mercy on him who teaches people good deeds. (Tirmidhi)
Together with this high status comes a great responsibility. It is mandatory for the teacher to fulfil the rights of this important relationship.
Almighty Allah says:
“Invite to the way of Your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching.” (Quran 16:125)
A teacher-student relationship described in the Noble Quran is that of Khidr (alayhissalam) and Prophet Musa (alayhissalam). The following are some lessons that can be derived from this fascinating relationship that is described in Surah Kahf:
1. Inform the student of your method and temperament on arrival
In other words, make clear the conditions of study. The teacher must be sincere in his well-wishing and advising the student and must not let the student begin the course of study unprepared for his journey. Explain the details to the student, so the expectations are set beforehand just as Khidr (alayhissalam) said to Musa (alayhissalam) in a blunt manner: “Verily you will not be able to have patience with me!” (Quran 18:67)
The teacher must also explain the reason why he is encouraging or prohibiting the student from seeking a certain branch of knowledge or as to why he is guiding him in a certain direction. Khidr (alayhissalam) said, “And how can you have patience about a thing which you know not?” (Quran 18:68)
It is the duty of the teacher to inform the student of what he expects his conduct to be like in his presence. This will build the obedience and manners of the student as well as ensure for both the teacher and student a productive period of study just as Khidr (alayhissalam) said to Musa (alayhissalam), “If you follow me, ask me not about anything till I myself mention it to you.” (Quran 18:70)
2. Warn the student of any mistakes
Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: “Each one of you is a shepherd, and each one of you is accountable for his flock” (Bukhari). If the student slips up in any matter of study even more importantly, if there is some weakness in the student’s behaviour, it is necessary for the teacher to warn and admonish him in a wise way, to bring this fault to his attention and also to give him guidance on how to rectify his shortcoming.
When Musa (alayhissalam) witnessed Khidr (alayhissalam) damaging the boat, he said, “Verily you have committed a dreadful deed” (Quran 18:71). Upon his objection, Khidr (alayhissalam) in his position as the teacher immediately reminded Musa (alayhissalam) of his pledge and warned him saying, “Did I not tell you, that you will not be able to have patience with me?” (Quran 18:72)
A teacher must not punish students and rage at them needlessly, rather the best approach for a teacher is to display the quality of patience which will win over the hearts of students. It is a folly to make a hole in the container in which one wants to put something.
Almighty Allah informed the Prophet ﷺ in the Noble Quran: “And by the mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have dispersed from around you.” (Quran 3:159)
Prophet Musa (alayhissalam) was patient with his companion and servant, Yusha, for example. Yusha had forgotten to inform him of the matter of the fish which was a sign of where they would meet Khidr (alayhissalam). It was this mistake that caused them to endure further hardships on their journey.
The example of patience from the side of the teacher is also seen in Khidr (alayhissalam) when he gave Musa (alayhissalam) more than one chance when he questioned his actions. This teaches us that a successful teacher must have the qualities of patience and forbearance in order to have a good understanding and relationship with students.
4. Part peacefully if a misunderstanding happens
After being cautioned by Khidr (alayhissalam), Musa (alayhissalam) told him, “If I ask you anything after this, keep me not in your company, you have received an excuse from me.” (Quran 18:76) This led to him parting from Khidr (alayhissalam). In some situations, the teacher and student may not agree with each other’s temperaments or there might be a need for them to part ways. If this does arise, honesty of purpose dictates that the teacher should not hold a grudge, take the matter to heart, curse or wish bad for the student. The teacher must have a generous soul and wish the student well, pray for the student and part peacefully.
A Hadith states: “Deen is well-wishing” (Muslim). The teacher must not behave in a manner that will avert the student from seeking further knowledge of Deen or utter any words that will discourage him from sitting in the gatherings of the learned. If the teacher is of the opinion that it is in the interest of the student to study with him, he is allowed to advise the student accordingly, however, the final decision should be left to the student.
5. Explain your actions if you feel the student will object or have reservations
If the teacher feels that upon parting, the student may have some reservations or objections against a particular deed which has a valid explanation, it is incumbent upon the teacher to explain the reality in order to put the student’s heart at ease. Khidr (alayhissalam) explained the wisdom behind each of his actions (i.e. damaging the boat, killing the boy and fixing the collapsing wall of the people of the village who refused to entertain them) to Musa (alayhissalam) before he parted. Musa (alayhissalam) then understood Khidr (alayhissalam)’s divine gift and also held him in high esteem for his knowledge.
There is an incident in the life of The Messenger of Allah ﷺ that teaches us a similar lesson. It is recorded in Sahih Muslim that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ was in the company of one of his wives when a man passed by them. The Messenger of Allah called him [back] and clarified to him that the woman with him is his wife. This person then said, “O Messenger of Allah, I do not doubt you in the least.” Allah’s Messenger ﷺ replied, “Verily Satan flows through the human being like the flowing of blood.”
The teacher must keep in mind that his pupils being humans have a deeply curious nature. We love to know the answers to things and more so if we witness it from a person we trust, someone who has a position over us. If the teacher has reservations about his actions and leaves it unexplained, the student will stay bewildered and uncertain. If the teacher feels that his students will not be able to fully understand his actions even after explaining, he must then abstain from those actions in their presence. It is a great boon for the teacher if he is able to keep the hearts and thoughts of his students at ease through his lessons and deeds.