The conferment of degrees in convocations is an important academic event attended by the members of the university community. The rituals and prestige portrayed in the grand procession, the ceremonial university emblem (mace), the academic regalia or dress, and the court speeches are the details that mark the high recognition towards knowledge. It is a tradition that originates mostly from the Islamic civilisation, adopted by modern universities including Oxford University, one of the earliest university in the English speaking world. The language used in the convocation ceremony portrays high level literature as accustomed by the past Islamic scholars.
The spirit of the convocation ceremony resembles the conferment of ijaza by the Islamic intellectual scholars, that provides permission or recognition to authorise the recipients to transmit or to teach in their own right. The modern concept of PhD, more than other levels of education was inspired by the Muslim practice of ijaza. In French speaking countries, degrees are called as Licentiate, which similarly signify permission, licence or competence in the body of knowledge. Today, degrees are not conferred directly by the bearer of knowledge, but by the Chancellor, authorised by the Senate. The historical link is recorded by George Makdisi in his book ‘The Rise of Colleges: Institutions of Learning in Islam and West.’
Mere adoption of the physical details and glorification of the prosperous past of Islamic civilisation is meaningless without appreciation of the true meaning of a convocation. The holding of a degree is not a licence of pride. The convocation is supposed to be a moment of humbleness in the acquisition of a small fraction of knowledge as compared to the vast abundance which requires further determination and hard work. It should also bring one to the reflection of responsibility as a bearer of knowledge, how it would build the character of the personal being and how to contribute to the community. It should be the peak of the years spent of true learning of knowledge (‘ilm), cognisance (makrifah) and perfection of manner (adab). The Islamic philosophy of knowledge provides no segregation in substance and religion. The Islamic education that was an aspiration to the west was the one which embodied the abovementioned criteria which led to the nurturing of great Muslim scholars such as Ibnu Sina, Al-Khawarizmi, al-Kindi and Ibn-Rushd.
The quest of knowledge is noble in Islam. Those who seek for knowledge are considered as the wayfarers in the path of God (fi sabilillah). If one dies in the quest of knowledge, he is granted the level of martyrdom, a high rank in Islam.
Hence, the path of knowledge is not easy. Learning requires understanding, research and practice. Quality, originality and innovation, especially in higher levels of education are important pulling factors to raise the significance of universities in the contribution of knowledge. Academic writings must present critical and innovative ideas based on ‘evidence’, something that could only be achieved by way of rigorous and dedicative study and hard work.
Nowadays, the challenge in the quest of knowledge is greater with the advent of technology. Information can be acquired with a simple click of a button from various sources regardless the authenticity. More than ever before, the world needs people who are able to distinguish information responsibly, to think beyond facts, and to know how to apply information in their correct use and wisdom.
We may find information using technology without the need of a teacher (self-learn), but we cannot gain true knowledge without one. In Islam, in acquiring true, beneficial and authentic knowledge, a qualified teacher is required. A knowledgeable person is one who displays noble adab and akhlaq, whose role is highlighted in Surah Al-Anbiya’ verse 7: “…so ask the people of the message if you do not know.” It is also mentioned in a hadith reported by Imam Al-Tirmidzi that Prophet Muhammad SAW said: “The scholars (ulama) are the inheritors of the Prophets, for the Prophets do not leave behind dinar or dirham for inheritance, but rather, they leave behind knowledge. And he who acquires it, has in fact acquired an abundant portion.”
In whatever stream of education, the Islamic virtue should not lose its relevance. The application of Islamic understanding of knowledge can contribute to the betterment and quality of our graduates. Those who value the meaning of knowledge holistically, will potentially give back positively to the well being of the society. Thus, convocations should not be reduced to mere celebration of pride and joy, but must be elevated to something more noble that reflects the bearing of knowledge of the bearer and the responsibilities derived from the conferment of the scroll.
Congratulations to graduands from all universities, especially USIM in the upcoming 15th Convocation Ceremony on 21-23 November 2017. Make your character good for the people, and always be inspired to be amongst those who bring most benefit to the rest of mankind.