Merging Nuzul with business lessons

THE night of 17th Ramadan – Nuzul al-Quran – bears profound significance to Muslims and the Islamic historical timeline. It was from this momentous instant that Islam, as a way of life, marked its beginning.

As stated in the Quran, God’s words were revealed by the Archangel Jibril into the heart of the Prophet in the Arabic language.

A question that keeps nudging me is how I could bring lessons from the meaning of Nuzul into the realm of business education in this post-modern world. But first, I must declare that the interpretation of Nuzul is solely mine, as a teacher who is ever-searching for more effective pedagogy to facilitate her students’ learning journey.

I am deeply awed by the Nuzul event: God’s language could be interpreted and understood by humans of yesteryears, when in the so-claimed civilised world today, humans have difficulty understanding each other.

Knowledge did arrive in the Prophet’s heart directly, without the inter-mediation of alphabetic letters, which we are currently “spell-bound” by as the only way to build “intelligence”.

It was from his receiving of God’s message that the unlettered Prophet next narrated to his companions in study circles and, later, scribed by the sahabah onto parchments as their personal aide memoire documents, lest they forget what they had heard. The process of auditing among the scribers was of an auditory kind.

But, more importantly, the Prophet and his companions lived the message through their daily activities as evidence for others to follow. Modern-day auditing however, removes entirely the trust for oral narration, while evidence can only be in written, documented form.

Yet, despite the supposedly more “concrete” structure of audit evidencing, incidents of corporate misdeeds that unfolded in the last decade were mostly committed by MBA holders from Ivy League business schools. So, how is literacy measured in business and management education?

Compared with the path of the learning of Nuzul, where the heart, as a faculty of knowing, was emphasised on, education today seems lacking on this learning pedagogical descriptive.

If God’s message through the Quran could be practised even after 1,400 years since the first revelation, isn’t Nuzul a treasure trove of educational tips for us to learn from, apart from the message it brings?

Nowadays, the supremacy of cognition takes centre stage, with Bloom’s Taxonomy of thinking order made a reference point. The accreditation process involves ascertaining the level of cognitive achievement by students, following standard documentary templates of the six classic “learning outcome” levels.

This Cognitive Domain, along with the Affective and Psychomotor Domains, make up the learning outcome rubric, providing an additional structured approach in assessing students’ soft and physical skills for employability purposes.

While offering the rubric as a self-checking and assessment mechanism to gauge the outcome of students’ learning appears noble, the effort, nonetheless, bounds the domain of learning to only measurable tasks.

“Understanding” as a keyword to describe the aim of learning is now avoided because of its subjective connotation. The onslaught of global standards for teaching and learning is a manifestation of the obsession with objective measurement, disregarding students’ inability to evidence the acquired knowledge in their workplace practices.

This externalising of learning, which impacts away from the human students to a checklist of standard behavioural patterns, contrasts modern-day teaching and learning from the revelation through Nuzul al-Quran.

While the Quran states that humans are born to be different, for each to learn from another, and each with their own measures, post-modern education treats students as homogenous machines awaiting instructions to perform a task in a standard manner.

While Nuzul demonstrates the impelling of the internal faculty into the actualisation of values (inside out), the Affective Domain, at the highest end, pushes for “internalising values” from the outside, as if humans were empty vessels awaiting to be filled up. No wonder there is a burgeoning of the imposition of codes of ethics and conduct for workers to comply with.

So, how did we Muslims end up being so remote from the lessons of Nuzul? The sequence of events leading to this lies in modern Muslims’ daily living. As prophesied by the Prophet, we have abandoned the Quran, so that we no longer have God’s role in our professional lives. Yet, we are already reminded in the Quran that if we forget God, God will make us forget our own souls and, for those of us who turn away from the remembrance of the Most Beneficent, God will send us a devil to be our companion.

Could it be because we view the Quran just as any other collection of letters/alphabets on the shelf, so that we are no longer awed by the Divine message? But, the Quran did not descend in the form of alphabets, instead, coming down as formless meaning to the Prophet.

On viewing the Quran as a string of alphabets to which we add meaning, I am reminded of the writings of Modern/Colonial World System scholars tracing the purpose of the introduction of alphabets and language as a means of colonising the minds of colonised nations.

Since the 16th century, the Western colonialising culture has imposed its values and ways on other cultures, so that eventually, Western literacy based on alphabets becomes synonymous with modernity. Although the people who based their language on pictographs and characters have had prior centuries of intellectual and spiritual wisdom, Rousseau, in the 18th century, labelled them as savage and barbaric people who needed taming.

Herein lies another reason why the pedagogical value of Nuzul has never managed to permeate business education. Despite business decisions and judgments being highly intuition-based, because business and management educators are deprived of the language of the heart, which is non-alphabetical, non-observable or measurable in a value-free manner, we fail to assimilate it into the modern curriculum. Amazingly, new sciences have found that the human heart has neurons that emanate stronger electromagnetic energy, compared with the brain.

So, let us hope that with this knowledge, the 21st century — the Asian Century — will witness courageous educators finding ways to transcend the domain of alphabetical symbols to the true meaning of knowledge literacy, through bringing back the language of the heart as shown by Nuzul.

And as a start, we are walking our human governance talk, declare our commitment to offer the global business education community an impactful method of learning... risking being labelled savage or barbaric.

This article written by Prof. Dr. Arfah Salleh was published in the New Straits Times, Malaysia on 21 July 2014. Click here.