Perhaps the most profound and vital contribution of Muslims to educational theory is demonstrated by their advocacy of universal, free education. Islam encourages the education of capable boys and girls of all stations of life, and the acceptance of teachers of different races and persuasions. Long before western Europeans championed the concept of educational opportunities for everyone, the Muslims had implemented this philosophy in a variety of ways. In many respects, Muslims predated Western educational practices by over a millennium. Muslims were the first to structure higher education as we know it, and there is a clear influence on Western scholarship by Islamic institutions. Bait al-Hikma, the first recorded Muslim university, was established early in the 9th century. The Muslims passed on the concept of specialization of universities within a narrow range of subjects, endowed chairs, scholarships for the needy, public financial support, establishment of endowments, auditing of courses, organization of academic disciplines, and student selection of field and advisor. Many Western scholars were included among the students -- men who later became Catholic Popes and church scholars, university professors, authors, scientists, and physicians (Muessig & Allen, 1962).
Children of even the lowest socioeconomic status are entitled to know the romance of learning. There are many examples of desperately poor Islamic students who obtained an education and who subsequently became eminent scholars in their own right, to whom others would come seeking knowledge. Bilal Bin Rabah and Ata’ Bin Abi Rabah are clear examples of students taking advantage of these opportunities. Islam lifts its adherents above consciousness of race or color, establishing an effective brotherhood in the name of Allah.
Islam has established a legacy of outstanding moral guidelines, which there is a crying need for in contemporary society. The propagation of Islamic virtues would eliminate the dissension caused by racial discrimination among peoples (Toynbee, 1957, p. 205). God tells us in the Holy Qur’an, “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours. Verily in these are signs for those who know” (30:22).
The immense value of the influences of Islamic knowledge on western culture and education is underestimated by even knowledgeable scholars. Full disclosure and acknowledgment of these contributions is necessary to helping all educators understand the history of their field.
Muslim educational philosophers have a rich heritage full of spirituality. Their research needs to be publicized not only to expand the operating knowledge of educators worldwide, but also to disprove accusations of materialism and refute historical prejudice that currently exists in the West regarding Islam.
Today's, scholars attempt to build bridges that manifest a growing climate of openness and mutual respect in order to understand religions. Furthermore, there is a strong tendency among some Orientalists to study Islam to find a common ground where they can usefully agree with Muslims.