School principal Mr Muhammad Reza Ebrahim graduated with a masters in education. Ebrahim’s dissertation explored the potential contribution of Jalaludin Rumi’s (1207-1273) work to Freirean emancipatory adult education.
Adopting a post-colonial lens, his study evaluated the misrepresentation of Islam, Sufism and Rumi by some scholars and writers in the West. ‘Apart from claims by a small group of post-colonial scholars that Rumi was a radical philosopher and social activist, the majority portray him as a poet-saint,’ said Ebrahim.
By exploring Rumi’s Fihi ma fihi (Discourses), a largely neglected and under-researched work, he argued that there were numerous similarities – ontological, epistemological, and methodological – in Rumi and Paulo Freire’s (1921-1997) thinking.
Ebrahim discovered that Freirean concepts like conscientisation, humanisation, dehumanisation, praxis, love and hope have been developed comparably in Rumi’s Discourses. ‘By expounding these concepts in his own unique way, Rumi offers an emancipatory scholarship similar to that of Freire. Since Rumi emphasised the intuitive, spiritual, and affective domain in his work, his ideas address some issues raised by the growing body of work on holistic education and thus contribute immensely to the field of adult education in general.’
Recent work also points to the significant influence that Freire’s spirituality, largely neglected until now, had on his work. Ebrahim concluded that Rumi’s work, Discourses, can make a contribution to Freirean emancipatory adult education.
‘I think it provides a new dimension of looking at Rumi’s dynamic role in society. My research showed that Rumi was: misread and misrepresented in the West; not only a poet, but a social activist; an advocate of holistic adult education, highlighting the neglected, affective domain; an adult educator who contributed to Freirean emancipatory adult education,’ claimed Ebrahim.
During his studies, his close-knit family helped him with technical and spiritual support, motivation and encouragement. ‘My wife and daughter edited and checked the dissertation. My wife supported me with continuous critical analysis and challenged my findings, thereby enhancing the lucidity of my ideas.’
His daughters, Sidrah and Muntaha, have been motivated and inspired by their father’s work ethic and academic achievement. While his son-in-law, Zaheer, said he has been conscientised by the findings of this unique and innovative research.
His wife Basheera said, ‘My husbands’ love for and dedication to the path of Rumi’s teachings have been realised and fulfilled by the result of his diligent labour throughout his coursework and dissertation.’
Ebrahim’s son, Sibthayn Rajab, said: ‘Academic excellence is typically achieved either by individuals driven towards personal success or by those who have a deep love and affinity for the subject matter. In the case of my father, it is hard to imagine that any notion of personal success provided motivation towards his achievement.
‘Such was the near obsessive love he displayed for Rumi’s work during the course of his study that I fully expect his achievement to be bitter-sweet … sweet because of the result, but bitter because it marks the end of what was a joyous journey.’
Ebrahim plans to educate others through a community group. He is toying with the idea of pursuing a PhD but will continue to write articles and conduct research.
His advice to other researchers, ‘Believe in what you are doing. Pursuit of knowledge is sacred. Treat it as more than a certificate. Dedicate quality time to your research. Choose an area of research that would contribute meaningfully to the already existing body of knowledge. Break new ground. Be bold and brave. Challenge the existing structures of knowledge.’