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Secular dilemma exposed

–  The dilemma faced by Muslim parents in deciding to send their children to Muslim private schools or so-called secular schools is far from unique to South Africa. But according to two Islamic education experts VOC’s Open Lines spoke to in an interview aired on Tuesday, the issue has laid bear just how deeply Muslims have themselves become secularised. This, they said, required Muslims to have deep introspection not only on how to raise their own children, but also on how far we have moved from a Tauhidi vision of Islam as a complete way of life.

Former educator, now turned expert in parenting dynamics and consultant in education and human development Edris Khamissa, has been very candid about the failure of Muslims schools in rearing solid Muslim graduates. “I have been involved with the Muslim schools movement (for years) and have been a strong proponent of it. But most, if not all of our Muslim schools have lost he plot. Whilst they speak of an Islamic ethos, they have no idea what it is. You will find, what they have done, at best, is some kind of ‘tinkering’.”

According to Khamissa, it had little to do with cosmetics changes, and everything todo with that which must undergird the whole school curriculum. “These are values we must embrace and I find that the leadership at many of these schools mean well – I am not here to chastise them – but the matric results – though we applaud them for it – is a very narrow perspective of the holistic human being. There is the psycholical, spiritual, physical and emotional being, but those areas are sadly neglected. Yet the mission statement and vision of the schools state that they provide a holistic education.”

However, he said, one an analysis is done, you realise it is far from the truth. “Yet some of them have become smug and complacent. In the early days there was a lot more dynamism. The challenge now is how do you translate all of that into a living reality? I believe it can be done, but what I am concerned about is a lack of commitment. Having a noble vision is not enough. Boards of Governers are not owners of schools. They are custodians,” he emphasised.

“If they do not provide some kind of support and give autonomy to their head teachers, telling them that they are concerned about developing young people who will leave a legacy, the kind of values needed in this day and age… And the challenge is to present Islam in a beautiful way. The difficulty for teachers is that they are so high bound by the departments that they have no time to do this. If you are not prepared to invest in education, then bear the cost of ignorance. So ultimately, many of our Muslim schools are really schools with Muslim children, rather than having rearing children with a true Islamic ethos,” Khamissa said.


Visiting Prof Anis Ahmed, a Pakistani social scientist and educationist affiliated to the International Islamic University in Islamabad amongst others confirmed that this dilemma was not unique to South Africa and unpacked the three deeper dimensions on the issue. “The first problem is conceptual. How do we conceive Islamic education? Is it a matter of following a curriculae, a scheme of topics, to make a businessman, a lawyer, a medical doctor? And add to it merits of belief and assume that when this person graduates he will be a committed Muslim?” he asked.

“Second, I believe that many Muslim schools have been created out of a desire to have a different space they are not that successful in administering or providing a system with efficient results. Thirdly, I believe it is also a matter of misunderstanding. In a school system you have kept some students and imposed on them for instance to wear a scarf and uniform. But when they go out and face a culture shock elsewhere they will behave in the same manner.”

The scholar said in that, both the school and parents are responsible. “Parents think they send their children to Muslim schools and they will come out with strong faith and expertise in so-called worldly matters. Therefore they withdraw from their responsibility. Schools think that their job is to give them some quantum of knowledge and some superficial knowledge of Islam. Consequently, both ends never meet. Therefore we need to revisit the concept of Muslim education.”

According to Ahmed, Education in contemporary world is a remnant of a colonial system which came up with a Eurocentric view of knowledge. “Therefore, whether you are studying in Egypt, Turkey, South Africa or Pakistan…you have the same framework of former colonialists who taught us that history is with enlightenment. Scientific development is with a white scientist. Language means old English, because it is the trade language. If you speak good English you are an enlightened person. So every single aspect in education, even the benchmarks, how you evaluate a student…everything we think of has an imprint that must be re-examined.”


Referring to the reference of Muslim versus secular schools, Ahmed said the problem once again lay in the terminology that was used. “Even if we say Muslim school, the mindset is secular. For me, secularity means when I divide my space and time in two separate regions, one is sacred, the other is profane. It means when I come to a Muslim school, I should wear hijab, small and talk politely. When I am in the market place, I should act differently. I should be like a chief gangster. If you have that divide, then you are essentially a secular person, because you are dividing your life in pigeon holes.”

He said: “Secularity does not mean denial of God or religion. It only means there are two separate worlds – a world of business. Now this divide exists in the mind, in the soul, in the flesh of every person who is claiming to be Muslim but living in two worlds. Therefore we need to address this divide that has been there for centuries. It has not been removed by Islamic studies courses – that means learning a certain portion of Quran, hadith and fiqh, but can still do otherwise at work because that is business. So when we say ‘Islamisation’, it is not adding Islam. It is a matter of transformation of the total personality.

“In your home you have a division. A certain time is sacred while other times are note, but Islam means the whole home has to be one single unit. That is the meaning of Tauhid – when you have that unified presence system…as deen it means it is not confined to your Friday prayer or weekend Islamic studies class. It is a matter of you are playing your soccer with Islamic understanding. For then I understand that the muscles I use to play is being done by Allah’s blessing. So tauhid is not a matter of theology which we have made it into for centuries. The more one talks of theology, the more they call you a scholar, but the more you apply it, it is only then when you become a real Muslim. Otherwise it is all a sermon.”

As for the transformation of students, Ahmed said it was easy to change the external attire of a student, but without changing the substance internally, no transformation can take place. “You can only truly transform a student when they have teachers as role models, not just as communicators of information, but as producers of knowledge. If parents want to see their child as a replica of a Broadway movie, and at the same time expect that child to be a docile student in school, then they themselves are living in two different worlds.”

Hence, he said, what was needed was an ongoing interaction with teachers like monthly seminars where parents and teachers are invited to listen to case studies. “In every community you have success stories and failures. You cannot explain things abstractly. You have to make it real so that people start understanding what is happening in their own society. Presently they think everything is okay when everything is not normal.”



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