[This is an extract from a letter written in response to a request of a relative (who is also a madrasah student) for guidance on choosing A-Level subjects (a pre-university qualification studied at college in the UK). The landscape has changed somewhat since the letter was written but the principle is still relevant.]

University degrees are designated either as ‘Arts’ or ‘Science’. In order to have a more wider option you need to demonstrate you can do both. Although it is claimed that A-levels are the same, you should choose the ‘traditional’ subjects.

Traditional subjects (Science): Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics
Traditional subjects (Arts): English Lit. and Lang, Economics, History, Geography, Modern Foreign Languages (Any)

Traditional subjects are the best to do as they teach foundation skills which will prepare you to learn any subject. The sources of knowledge are two (1) Aqli [logical]; knowledge is gained through experimentation (2) Naqli [received]; knowledge is gained through discourse (language) analysis and traditions. Modernists place more value on the first and traditionalists emphasise on the second (In madrasah you primarily focus on the second). I will leave the details of Islamic epistemology to another day as it requires some length (cf. discussions on علوم آلية and علوم عالية).

I think undergraduate subject also should be chosen from a traditional subject or a professional course. This is mere a personal opinion and feel free to reject; it depends on your outlook (1) education for money (2) education for personal improvement. You do not need to study the subject on which you plan to do your undergraduate; sometimes it is even discouraged as you would study it anyway in the first year of university.

In any event, some suggest the following A-Levels, amongst others, that should be avoided as they are frowned upon and generally the skills can be better developed by a traditional subject (except for those that have brackets stating they are tradition; nothing wrong in doing them and respected but it is seen as narrower in scope):

Covered by English/History: Law, Communication Studies, Critical thinking, general studies, media studies.

Covered by Mathematics: Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

Covered by Economics: Business Studies, Accounting, Government, and Politics (traditional)

Not academic but vocational: Design and Technology, Arts and Design, Drama and Music, Physical Education, Home Economics,

Choose at least two/three traditional subjects and you can choose one lower subject. Although you can choose all tradition but be careful as it can be challenging. Don’t take more than you can handle.

These are of course merely a guide but in reality, it does not really matter as long as you can show competence. Choose subjects you enjoy and those that you can get the most benefit from. Leave the rest to Allah and pray. حسبنا الله و نعم الوكيل.

Muhammad Saifur Rahman [Nawhami]
28 August 2010

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