Saadi s Views on Moral Education



By: Hamid Reza Alavi

Educational Goals
According to Beheshti, Faqihi and Abujafari (2001), although Saadi had not explicitly stated the educational goals in his works, the following goals could be deduced from his sayings and poems:

1. Detachment
Saadi spoke in detail about self-cognition, faith, servitude to God, and praising God in his writings. He considered such traits necessary if one desired to reach the position of attachment to God i.e. to reach a place that included all values.
Saadi recognized serving God was a way to gain esteem, power and greatness. He regretted that people came and passed away without tasting the most pleasurable and enjoyable pleasure of sincere devotion and absolute sincerity, which would cause springs of wisdom to flow from the heart to the tongue.
Therefore, the ultimate goal of education, in Saadi’s viewpoint, was cognition of the exalted God and devotion to Him. He said that the way to reach this state was through the soul and being detached so that one acquired inner purity or good morality and was able to surrender to God.

2. Cultivation of spirit
Saadi considered the cultivation of spirit as the basis of education and man’s personality, development. He believed that it was impossible to cultivate the spirit without the purification of the soul and banishing carnal desires, arrogance, rancor, and oppression. He said that it was also impossible without acquiring moral virtues such as humility, modesty, benevolence, justice, and magnanimity.

3. Health of Body
Saadi considered man to consist of physical body and a spiritual soul. He stated that spirit’s cultivation was by itself desirable and was a major goal. However, he considered procurement of health, the power of body, and the satisfying its needs as desirable intermediate goals for the purpose of worship of God and rendering service to people.
Saadi warned humans against indolence. He mentioned four points regarding preserving the health of the body: avoiding gluttony, moderation, preservation of greatness and magnanimity, and finally, refraining from idleness.

4. Social Adjustment
From the viewpoint of Saadi, social adjustment that led to peaceful coexistence was desirable as we aspired to attain the perfection of an ideal society. He imagined a Utopia in which these two things were the firm foundation of each individual in such society.
It was for this reason that Saadi, in all parts of Gulistan and Bustan, spoke of characteristics of the individuals in a desired society and mentioned properties such as justice, humility, peace, benevolence, sympathy, and contentment as the characteristics of a desirable society. Saadi mentioned the following items as factors, which created social adjustment – justice, humility, self-esteem and uprightness, and finally, benevolence and goodness.

Teaching and Instructional Methods
Teaching and instruction methods should bring the students to the educational goals. Therefore, to reach the goals envisioned by Saadi, there was an emphasis on activities such as question and answer and improved lecture methods.
Saadi also suggested some points in teaching, instruction, and learning that could improve the students’ education. He not only emphasized paying attention to the techniques of speaking or talking but also placed much emphasis on the distinct role of silence as one of the greatest techniques or methods of increasing and improving educational policies.
The importance of questioning and asking according to Saadi’s viewpoint was revealed when he said, “They asked Imam Mohammad Bin Mohammad Ghazali, (on whom be the mercy of God) about the means by which he had attained such a degree of knowledge. He replied – ‘In this manner that whatever I did not know, I was not ashamed to enquire about’”
He told people to enquire about everything they did not know, ‘since for the small trouble of asking, you will be guided onto the respectable road of knowledge’ (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale LXXVII). However, he also noted that ‘whenever you were certain that anything will be known to you in time, be not hasty in inquiring after it’ (ibid, tale LXXVIII). However, one should think and then answer. He said, ‘whosoever doth not reflect before he giveth an answer, will generally speak improperly’ (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale XXXVI).
Saadi referred to three points in applying the question-and- answer method. Firstly, we should question for knowledge. He believed that one should not ask a question for pedantry, ostentation and dawdling, or for getting information about the others’ private and personal affairs. Therefore, if the questioner received his answer without asking and with patience and silence, it was not necessary that he asked a question.
Secondly, questions should be asked of the wise ones. Saadi was of the opinion that one should only ask educated, knowledgeable and well-intentioned scholars.
Thirdly, he believed in the necessity of a well-thought-out answer. When a wise person wanted to give the answer to a question, he would do so in a thought-provoking way, sound technique and with good intentions because the unexamined speech could mislead instead of increasing knowledge (Beheshti, Faqihi & Abujafari, 2001).
When speaking and questioning or answering, Saadi emphasized not interrupting the others. He has been quoted to say: “No one confesses his own ignorance, excepting he who begins to speak whilst another is talking, and before the discourse has ended” (Gulistan, chapter IV, tale VII). The reason Saadi said this was that “a discourse hath a commencement and a conclusion” (ibid). In another instance, he said, “Whosoever interrupts the conversation of others to make a display of his own wisdom, certainly betrays his ignorance” (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale LXXXII). He added, “A wise man speaketh not until they ask him a question” (ibid).
Saadi ordered all people, “Till you perceive a convenient time for conversing, lose not your own consequence by talking to no purpose” (Gulistan, chapter I, tale XIII). Saadi said that when a business could be managed without one’s interference, it was not proper for him to speak on the subject; but if he sees a blind man headed towards a well and he kept silence, it was a crime (Gulistan, chapter I, tale XXXVIII)”.
Therefore, Saadi concluded, “until you are persuaded that the discourse is strictly proper, speak not; and until you are convinced that whatever you know will obtain a favorable answer, ask not” (Gulistan, chapter VII, tale XIII). Another wisdom from Saadi stated, “He who listens not to advice, studies to hear reprehension. When advice gains not admission into the ear, if they reprehend you, be silent” (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale XLVIII).

Educational Contents
Since Saadi believed that the sources of knowledge were unlimited, he did not confine himself to formal and classic textbooks. He placed particular emphasis on informal learning, for which the students would try to take lessons from the great school of nature, the events of their lives and the lives of other people, in all places and times.
Thus, people should not confine themselves to the appearance of matters; rather, they should make great effort to get to the essence of matters and subjects and try to comprehend their truth. The educational method of storytelling utilized by Saadi in both poetry and prose, could be considered as an epitome of the teaching methods. Therefore, students should be committed to this approach in that they should not only study history books, for example, but also must pay great attention to all of history, nature and all human beings, if they wished to reach their highest educational goals. This was also a task for all scholars and authorities in the educational system.
Saadi believed in hidden learning and learning from all things. For example, he related, “They asked Loqman from whom he had learnt urbanity, and he replied, ‘From those of rude manners; for whatsoever I saw in them that was disagreeable, I avoided doing the same.’ Not a word can be said, even in the midst of sport, from which a wise man will not derive instruction” (Gulistan. Chapter II, tale XXI).
Saadi believed in ‘informal learning’ and said, “listen to the discourse of a learned man with the utmost attention” (Gullistan. Chapter II, tale XXXVIII). Saadi wanted all people to pay attention to the admonitions of the advisers and take lessons from them. He said, “know you not, that you will see your feet in fetters, when you listen not to the admonition of mankind” (Gulistan, chapter I, tale XVI).
Saadi believed that ‘admonition’ came before ‘confinement’ and said, “Great men first admonish, and then confine; when they give advice and you listen not, they put you in fetters” (Gulistan, chapter XIII, tale XC). Saadi said that it was up to people to admonish even though the other did not listen. “Admonish and exhort as your duty requires; if they mind not, it does not concern you. Although thou knowest that they will not listen, nevertheless speak whatever you know that is advisable. It will soon come to pass that you will see the silly fellow with his feet in the stocks, there smiting his hands and exclaiming, ‘Alas! that I did not listen to the wise man’s advice’” (Gulistan, chapter VII, tale V).
Saadi also believed that the fortunate took warning from the histories and precepts of the ancients, in order that they did not become an example to posterity (Gulistan, chapter XIII, tale XC). Therefore, Saadi ordered all people, “Take warning from the misfortunes of others so that others may not take example from you” (ibid).
Teaching methods and instructional content alone were not considered to be sufficient to bring students to their educational goals. It was also necessary to utilize particular techniques to improve and accelerate the gradual progress of students toward those goals. Encouragement and punishment of students were necessary techniques. The reasons for using these two were the same – leading students to educational goals. It was necessary for educators and teachers to be the epitome of both authority and affection, so students will both respect and love them.
A teacher should be the epitome of affection and authority. He explained, “Anger, when excessive, createth terror; and kindness out of season destroyed authority” (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale XVIII). Therefore, Saadi believed that teachers should be not so severe as to cause disgust, nor so lenient as to encourage audacity. Severity and leniency should be tempered together. A wise man did not carry severity to excess, nor suffered such relaxation as will lessen his dignity. Thus, one should be complacent, but not to that degree that they may insult him with sharp teeth of the wolf (ibid).
Saadi believed that one should use both encouragement and punishment adequately and thoughtfully, in a timely manner. This was so because undue, unnecessary and unexamined anger and punishment made students truant, and undue encouragement made him or her be arrogant, egoistic and exigent to the extent that he or she did not obey the teacher or the educator. According to Saadi, encouragement and motivating others was of particular importance and could influence them for better performance to accomplish their desired goals (Gulistan, chapter I, tale III).
Saadi put emphasis on praising the students and said in this regard, “If you wish to preserve peace with your enemy, whenever he slanders you in your absence, in return praise him to his face; at any rate as the words will issue from the lips of the pernicious man, if you wish that his speech should not be bitter, make his mouth sweet” (Gulistan, chapter I, tale XXIV). Saadi did not think it was advisable to overindulge in blame even when blame was necessary (Gulistan, chapter I, tale XVI).
It appears that Saadi affirmed punishment when necessary. Saadi said, “A king sent his son to school, and placed a silver tablet under his arm. On the face of the tablet was written in gold – ‘The severity of the master is better than the indulgence of the father’ (Gulistan, chapter VII, tale IV). However, punishment should be the last method in education and not the first one.
He professed, “When the hand has failed in every trick, it is lawful to draw the sword” (Gulistan, chapter XIII, tale XV). “Forgiveness was commendable, but apply not ointment to the wound of an oppressor. Knoweth he not that whosoever spareth the life of a serpent, committeth injury towards the sons of Adam” (ibid, tale XVI).
The reason Saadi confirmed punishment in some cases was that, “An enemy did not become a friend through indulgence; nay, it increases his avarice. Be humble unto him who shows you kindness” (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale LXXXI). In another tale, he added, “When you speak to a low fellow with kindness and benignity, it increases his arrogance and perverseness” (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale LXI).
He believed the men with base nature did not deserve affection because “when you connected yourself with base men, and showed them favor, they committed crimes with your power, whereby you participate in their guilt” (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale VIII). In another instance, he said, “When you support and favor the vicious, you commit wickedness with your power, by participation” (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale LIII).

Individual Differences
Saadi believed that in spite of some of similarities between different people, there were some differences in their aptitudes in comparison with one another (meaning there were differences between their physical, intellectual, social, emotional and moral aptitudes).
Saadi said that people should consider the extent of their abilities. He was of the opinion that “whosoever contendeth with the great sheds his own blood. He, who thinks himself great, had been compared to one who squinted and saw double. You would get a broken front by sporting your head against a ram” (Gulistan, chapter XIII, tale XLV).
In another example he said, “It is not the part of a wise man to box with a lion, or to strike his fist against a sword. Neither fight nor contend with one more powerful than you are; put your hands under your armpit” (ibid, tale XLVI). He also warned, “A weak man, who contended with one who was strong, befriended his adversary by his own death”. (ibid, tale XLVII). Saadi emphasized that the teachers should speak to students in conformity with the temperament of the listener (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale XXIX).

Real Knowledge
Saadi considered the forsaking of carnal desires as the cause of acquisition of real knowledge (1995, p.947). This was the reason why he emphasized that truth should be searched by those who had succeeded to forsake their carnal desires (ibid, p.796). Also, Saadi introduced a superficial scholar whose action did not prove his or her knowledge, as individuals who suffered in vain and made efforts in vain (Alavi 2002, p.186). Saadi believed that committing crimes and sins by scholars was much more objectionable than when carried out by others (ibid).
Even, Saadi introduced knowledge as the factor for nurturing religiosity (ibid, p.214).
Saadi believed that a man was lucky and prosperous if he obtained a provision from knowledge for himself (1996). Saadi introduced science and knowledge as the heritage of God’s prophets (Alavi 2002, P.180).
Saadi introduced wise persons as pure gold so that wherever they went everyone knew their value. While, the ignorant were like counterfeit jewelry who were isolated and an outsider in their own home (ibid, p.180).
Saadi strongly emphasized that ‘knowledge’ was the factor for nurturing ‘religiosity’ in humans (Alavi 2002, p.214). Thus, he put emphasis on the fact that people were not to waste their valuable time learning superficial sciences, and to appeal to those sciences which led them to perfection (Saadi, 1374, p.847).
Saadi considered humanity, magnanimity and courtesy as the knowledge, or the essence of knowledge. Thus, from his viewpoint, if a human being lacked such characteristics, he was only apparently human, and would inwardly be like an animal (ibid, p.974).
Saadi had a comprehensive view of education. He considered all kinds of education as complementary to each other. According to Beheshti, Faqihi and Abujafari (2001), kinds of education from the viewpoint of Saadi could be classified as follows:

1. Intellectual Education
Saadi considered intellect as the great gift of God. He believed that if intellect governed man’s existence and being, then the carnal soul will have no power to fight with intellect, and man will be able to reach perfection. It was in this way that a man spoke thoughtfully, avoided pretentse, took lessons from every happening, swallowed his anger, quelled his lust and was not avaricious.
Saadi believed that the soul’s purification and deliverance from the captivity of gluttony and lust was the first step in intellect’s education. He considered talkativeness, speaking unpretentiously when it was necessary, and speaking when an event did not deserve speech as the characteristics of ignorant people.

2. Religious Education
Saadi frequently spoke of God in Gulistan and Bustan, His greatness, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, manifestations in creation, the hereafter and the day of resurrection. He invited people to religion and religious education. He considered religion and faith as the basis of a man’s life. He even considered knowledge as the means of nurturing religiosity. He emphasized knowledge and good deeds in religious education and recognized religious knowledge as a means for bringing man to his spiritual purpose. He said that good deeds are the result of that religious knowledge. Saadi placed emphasis on three points in religious education – God’s remembrance, lamentation and supplication for morality, lastly, thinking of the hereafter.

3. Mystical Education
Saadi was aware of mystical thoughts, and he frequently spoke in his works about mystical education, deep emotion, exaltation, love, self-sacrifice, approaching God, welcoming hardships for the sake of God, and annihilation in divine essence. He had allocated the third part of Gulistan to love, deep emotion and exaltation and said that it was up to the mystic seeker to start a journey toward the infinite region of cognition and mysticism by self-refinement and overcoming the carnal soul, until he gradually reaches a place where there was no trace of his own name and remembrance.

4. Moral Education
Saadi frequently spoke of moral virtues and high human values such as forgiveness, chivalry, sympathy, compassion, justice, magnanimity, goodness, righteousness, and contentment. In Gulistan and Bustan, he allocated many chapters to moral education. He considered himself an educator of morality and as an admonisher.
Saadi’s art was in his ability to express skillfully and artistically the moral virtues and admonishments using beautiful, eloquent, fluent, and rhythmical statements so that the reader could accept them and did not become tired of them. Saadi had particularly emphasized moral education, and had introduced moral education and acquisition of good morality as the purpose of the mission of the Prophet of Islam and the aim of the Quran’s revelation.
He considered bad-temper and moral degeneration as factors that would cause man to fall into a burning Hell and eternal punishment. Saadi believed that moral education was very difficult and required much time. He emphasized two fundamental points in moral education.
Saadi was of the opinion that moral education should begin in childhood, because if a bad habit is positioned in a man’s nature or soul, it cannot be easily omitted. Secondly, Saadi believed that the success of moral education was dependent upon a good educator who had virtue and knowledge, did good deeds, had right speech, and had educated his own soul before educating others.
Saadi placed much emphasis on the determinative role of inheritance and heritage on man, to the extent that he said, “An evil root would not thrive in a goodly shade. To educate the worthless was like throwing a walnut upon a dome. Though the clouds should pour down the water of life, you would never gather fruit from the branch of the willow. Waste not your time on low people, for we can never obtain sugar from the reed. The wolf’s whelp would at length turn into a wolf, although it be brought up along with men. How could anyone form a good sword out of bad iron? O ye philosophers, it is impossible to convert a worthless wretch into a good man. The rain, in whose nature there is no partiality, produced tulips in the garden, but only weeds in a barren soil. A sterile soil will not yield spikenard, waste not then seed upon it” (Gulistan, chapter I, tale IV). In another tale, he says, “When nature has given capacity, instruction will make impression, but if iron is not of a proper temper, no polishing will make it good” (Gulistan, chapter VII, tale I).
Saadi believes that ‘a capacity without education was deplorable’ (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale LVI). He gave some examples of this, saying, “the education was the same, but the capacities were different; although silver and gold were produced from a stone, yet these metals were not to be found in every stone. The star Canopus shines all over the world, but the scented leather comes only from Yemen” (Gulistan, chapter VII, tale VI). Therefore, Saadi concluded that – “an education without capacity was thrown away” (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale LVI). “A student without inclination was a lover without money; a traveler without observation, was a bird without wings; a learned man without work was a tree without fruit; and a devotee without knowledge was a house without a door” (Gulistan, chapter VIII, tale LXXI).
In spite of this, Saadi emphasized the role of education during childhood and believed, “He who was not taught good manners in his childhood would have no good qualities when he arrived at manhood” (Gulistan, chapter XII, tale III). Saadi likened a child to a piece of green wood that could be bent as much as we pleased, but when it dried, it could not be made straight without fire (ibid).
Saadi believed that good children were so important for their parents and society that “it was better in the opinion of the wise that a woman in labor should bring forth a serpent than wicked children” (Gulistan, chapter VII, tale X). Therefore, it was up to educators to teach wisdom to their sons.
He counseled, “If you desire your name to be remembered, teach your son wisdom and judgment” (Bustan, pp. 382-383). Saadi placed so much emphasis on intellect that he believed that if such a son “lacked both these assets, you would die, and have no descendants” (p. 383). Saadi admonished that it was up to the parents and educators to take care of their sons and bring them with comfort “so that their eyes was not fixed at others’ hands, because he who showed no care of his offspring will see him cared for by others and roaming about” (Bustan, year, p. 384).


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