Experiential learning is the process of deriving meaning from direct experience. It can also be described as learning through reflection on doing, which is often contrasted with rote learning.
IN a recent conference that brought together scholars, professionals and academicians of various religions to speak on interfaith harmony, a young man undergoing training as a religions trainer asked: “What is the function of religion today?”.
It took everyone by surprise but what was of significance was not only the question but also the person who posed the question.
To begin to answer the young man’s question, many religious people would perhaps agree that fundamentally the objective of religion is to groom and develop a human being that is at peace with himself and others, which means he is healthy inwardly and outwardly or holistically. The word whole comes from the old English word “hale” which means healthy.
Besides health experts, psychologists, and philosophers, if we ask poets and musicians on the other hand, they too would agree that peace, and happiness is the goal of human life.
While agreeing with this, religion adds another dimension to the statement by saying that it provides the method for not only achieving but also sustaining this peace and happiness.
In Islam these questions are covered by what is termed as aqidah which covers core beliefs of the religion pertaining to the Creator and other basic tenets of the religion.
Even without the religious framework, conventional non-religious studies, such as by the renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) have shown that the happiest, most well-adjusted, positive thinking, productive and successful individuals are those who have achieved what he has termed as the highest level of human development which is the level of self – transcendence which brings us into the realm of God/The Transcendent.
In this state the individual possesses the qualities/characteristics that include morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice and acceptance of reality (ridha) among others.
We could perhaps tell the young man this is the outcome of the proper understanding and maximum living out, of true religion.
In a more elaborated manner the maqasid or objective/purpose of theshariah (the way) of the “Islamic” life as explained by the revelations (given throughout the history of human beings, ending with the Prophet Muhammad), seeks to ensure the protection of faith (transcendence), life, reason, lineage/progeny and the wealth of human beings, which are all the fundamental components of life.
The shariah gives guidelines which are particularised by the jurists/fuqaha based on their interpretation and contextualization of the Quranic verses and hadith (sayings) and sunnah (behaviour) of the Prophet.
Therefore the quarrel between those who believe and those who do not, despite Richard Dawkin’s book The God Delusion does not seem to be the issue for many people, after all, according to the statistics 95% of all earth’s inhabitants claim that they are religious.
What is problematic is how we make people ‘learn and practice’ religiosity?
One way is, as Maslow’s research has shown, by allowing, and enabling the individual to have what it takes to reach to the level of self-transcendence.
An ordinary glance would tell us that what Maslow has presented in terms of what needs, need fulfilling to begin with, are ideals besought with challenges of all kinds for most people/communities to be achieved.
This is what the shariah is trying to get at i.e. the shariah aims precisely for the fulfillment of these needs.
There is “religious” assistance via knowledge and practical methodologies provable via experience that enables the ideal to be achieved.
The goal of religious education then is to “drive in” the above point into the human psyche regarding the “truths” of why the akhlak or ethics called for by religious precepts need to be followed in the context of the individually requisite knowledge (fardhu ain) and societally requisite knowledge (fardhu kifayah), encompassing all the dimensions of life which are summed as comprising of man’s interactions with his Creator, his fellow humans, and the environment (hablu minallah, hablu minannas, and hablu minalalamin).
Experiential learning is the process of deriving meaning from direct experience.
Aristotle once said “for the things we have to learn, before we can do them, we learn by doing them”. Experiential learning can also be described as learning through reflection on doing, which is often contrasted with rote learning.
Within the structure of Islamic tarbiyyah/learning fasting is a clear example of how experiential learning can take place.
Similarly, in reality, the other pillars of Islamic belief could and should also be related to or be made reltable to real life via the process of experiential learning.
Perhaps the lack of effectiveness of religious teaching could be addressed by the adoption of experiential learning in addition to other person methods.
Perhaps too, the irony about religious understanding, practice and applicability in the solving of everyday’s problems is the weakness of the process of learning due to the misunderstood notion that being religious means simply having to declare one’s belief at one particular moment in time and place and assuming that understanding and practice will automatically fall into place, with such a declaration.
As signalled by the young aspirant, observed by Maslow, elaborated by the experiential learning process and described by revelation itself, religion is the whole of life and requires the commitment and realisation that it has to be, as far as possible, “related to” every breath, every consciousness, every desire, every emotion that we feel/go through and we need God’s help to do this.
This is reflected in the prayer contained in the “opening” of the Quran known as the ummul (mother), of the Quran which is surah Al-Fatihah by which the believer asks God who safeguards and governs the entire universe “it is You we worship and You we look to for help, guide us to the right path”.