Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
The main task of the prophets of Allah the Exalted is to teach people His religion. Thus they are well equipped with the best teaching methods which can be used by human beings, along with the best teaching text books, the revelations of Allah. Allah says (translation of the meaning):
We sent not a messenger except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them. [14:4]
The Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam was the best of teachers sent to all mankind.
Certainly did Allah confer [great] favor upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error. [3:164]
Therefore we can take a lot of lessons on teaching methodology from the way in which he used to teach his companions and through them to us. Allah says (translation of the meaning):
The following are some of the methods used by the Prophet in teaching, and an explanation of how these are supported by modern scientific research.
He used positive reinforcement.
Why did the Prophet inform the ten promised Paradise of their fate? This is positive reinforcement. ‘The pleasant outcome should increase the likelihood that you engage in the behavior in the future.’ [Schwartz, 134] The Prophet used this principle a lot. He once made the dua ‘O Allah! Increase his understanding in religion,’ for Abdullah ibn Abbas (radiyallahu anh) for nothing but preparing the Prophet’s pot for doing wudu. [Bukhari].
He used examples and parables to explain a difficult concept.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “Do you think that if there was a river by the gate of one of you, and he bathed in it five times each day that there would remain any filth on him?” They said: “No filth would stay on him.” He said: “That is the parable of the five prayers, Allah wipes out the sins with them.” [Tirmidhi]
By using parables and analogies, a complex problem can be transferred to form a picture that is much easier to visualize and understand by the process of mapping.
He used graphic representations to teach a difficult concept.
‘Pictures aptly capture concrete and spatial information in a manner analogous to whatever they represent,’ [Sternberg, 204] in a way impossible by just using words. Thus it is a powerful learning tool.
The Prophet (ﷺ) drew up a square and in the middle of it he drew a line, the end of which jutted out beyond the square. Further across the middle line, he drew a number of smaller lines. Then he (ﷺ) said, “The figure represents man and the encircling square is the death which is encompassing him. The middle line represents his desires and the smaller lines are vicissitudes of life. If one of those misses him, another distresses him, and if that one misses him, he falls victim to another. [Bukhari]
He used repetition.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) would repeat a statement three times so that it could be understood. [Tirmidhi]
In fact, he would not just repeat statements three times and be done with it. He would repeat important advices over and over again in different ways. That is why there exist many hadiths on any one topic, for example, charity.
He also encouraged the repeated recitation of the Quran mentioning its rewards.
This is called overt rehearsal in psychology. Interesting to note is the fact that ‘just repeating words over and over again to oneself is not enough to achieve effective rehearsal. One needs also to think about the words and, possibly, their inter-relationships.’ [Sternberg, 176]
He taught by modelling.
When Aishah radiyallahu anh was asked about the character of the Prophet, she said, ‘The character of Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was the Qur’an.’ [Abu Dawud]
The Prophet would practice everything that he taught in order to provide for us a perfect model which to follow.
Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad SAW) you have a good example to follow for him who hopes in (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much. [33:21]
This is called observational learning, and ‘it occurs when individuals acquire new forms of behavior or thought simply by observing the actions of others.’ [Baron, 123]
It may be noted that the methods explained above (except graphical representation) that were used by the Prophet are also used in the Quran. This again beautifully illustrates the fact that his character was the Quran.
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