The ongoing matter of the Wesley Girls’ High School (WGHS), Methodist Church and the Muslim community over the refusal of the school to allow a Muslim student to fast in the Holy month of Ramadan calls for some reflection.
The school and the Church are on the same side seeking to enforce what they term is a time tested rule of the school.
The school was established in 1836 by the wife of a Methodist minister, Harriet Wrigley. It was named after the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The foregoing suggests a strong affiliation between the school and the church, indeed, until recently, the Methodist church ran the school.
The church continues to have some grip on the school despite the government taking over all mission schools some decades ago.
My concern is how intolerant the school and the church have appeared in the face of an innocent student’s quest to fast in fulfilment of her religious obligations. The school has however tried to explain that the no-fasting rule is a non-religious one.
The church is supposed to be the embodiment of Christ, it’s deemed to be the symbol of love, tolerance, and acceptance. The church is meant to be the one institution that teaches us, sinners, to live and speak in a manner that glorifies our God who sacrificed so much for us to enjoy the grace we take for granted today.
Unfortunately, when churches like The Methodist Church Ghana, seem to sacrifice love and acceptance to support a “non-religious” school rule that robs students of the ability to practice their religious duties, we need to equally put religion aside and call them out.
Wesley Girls’ and GES’s Wrong Assumptions on Fasting
Bushira Ishmael, a first-year student of the school, was stopped from fasting. The school stood by its decision even after Bushira expressed how important it was for her to practice her religious obligation.
This was Bushira’s reaction to the school’s stance, “I was very worried, I even cried a lot because it is my tradition, I’ve been doing it (fasting) since I was a kid. At almost 8 years, I started fasting, so I was very sad when they told me I will not be able to fast this year. I was really sad.”
In response to the display by Wesley Girls’ High School, the Ghana Education Service (GES) issued a communique that agreed with Wesley Girls’ position that some students can get sick from fasting.
While both institutions meant well in their quest to protect the student, they could have taken into consideration that scientifically, the body has the ability to protect us when we are fasting, a fact that the Islamic Medical Association has already come to clarify.
Interestingly, the body is so powerful that it is able to protect us when we are fasting. One of the many ways it does this is through Ketogenesis (a biochemical process that enables your body to produce sugar for your brain and other vital organs when glucose is not readily available during a fast). As with many things, the process of Ketogenesis may not apply to individuals who do not have normal insulin functions.
Unfortunately, Wesley Girls’ High School has not provided data to prove that the number of students suffering from Starvation Ketoacidosis as a result of fasting is statistically significant enough to warrant the need for its blanket ‘no fasting’ rule.
Starvation Ketoacidosis happens when the body has not received enough glucose as its primary energy source for a prolonged period, which can result in death (in extreme cases).
Methodist Church Ghana’s Lack of Concern
On May 4th, 2021, the Methodist Church Ghana in a Press Release responding to GES on the Wesley Girls’ High School Fasting Saga, instead of using the opportunity to preach love and acceptance, the church decided to defend the intolerance of the school, stating that, “the School rule in question is a long-standing one which is also non-religious…The policies of the School over the 186 years of its existence have resulted in Wesley Girls’ High School being the School of Choice…the Church remains in full support of these policies.”
I have already illustrated above that Wesley Girls’ has not yet published the scientific proof of the said rule that the church is defending, but the church was willing to sacrifice its ability to empathize with a teenage girl (pleading to practice her religious obligation), to support an institution that is discriminating against her.
Matthew chapter 22 verses 37 to 39 teaches us to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, with all of our soul, and with all of our minds. That, the bible said, is the first and greatest commandment. The second commandment is very similar to the first, it tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. In its response to GES, the Methodist Church Ghana never once mentioned Bushira Ishmael’s name, the church did not acknowledge her pains, the church did not recognize the Sacredness of the Holy Month of Ramadan and how crucial it is for Muslims to fast. The church only focused on itself, its needs, its school, and the desire to preserve the 186-year-old tradition. The church displayed its love for itself but failed to extend that same love to its neighbor (Bushira Ishmael and all other students who only wanted to abide by their religious duties).
The Importance of Fasting during Ramadan
Ramadan, the holy month, is arguably the most important month of every Muslim’s year. Fasting is an essential part of the holy month as it brings Muslims closer to God, reminds them of the importance of empathizing with the less fortunate, the power of prayer, and the beauty of doing and doing good. The fasting period is a spiritual process that challenges them to, as the writer, Jihad Dardar puts it, “adopt self-control over worldly desires; to surrender to God and develop self-discipline and spiritual awareness; to purify the body, heart, soul, and mind; and to improve patience and empathize with those who are living in hunger and poverty.” If a non-Islamic, non-Christian, non-religious young woman can understand the importance of fasting, not only for Muslims but for all groups from diverse religious backgrounds, then certainly, we cannot excuse Wesley Girls’ and Methodist Church Ghana’s disregard for it.
It’s Not too late to do the right thing
Religion is a big part of every religious person’s identity, denying a student of her religious practice is no different from forcing her to reject her sense of self and sense of identity.
The Wesley Girls’ rule that the Methodist Church boldly defends is not just discriminatory, it is also unjust. The Apostle Paul reminds us in 2nd Corinthians chapter 6 verses 1, 4, and 6 that, as God’s co-workers, should not receive God’s grace in vain, and as his servants, we must commit to purity, understanding, patience, and kindness. By boldly supporting the unfair acts of Wesley Girls, by failing to understand the perspective of Bushira Ishmael and thousands of young girls like her, the Methodist Church Ghana displayed exactly what the Apostle warned the church against.
Matthew 6:14 teaches us the power of forgiveness, I do not doubt that the thousands of young girls who have been discriminated against by Wesley Girls’ will forgive the institution. I’m also convinced that the Methodist Church Ghana will be forgiven for its blatant lack of empathy for Bushira Ishmael and thousands of young girls like her.
I hope that we all use this experience as a lesson to be a bit more curious about our neighbors’ religious identities, be humble to admit when we are wrong, and willing to innovate outdated 186-year-old policies that threaten the integrity of our academic institutions and morality of our religious organizations and more importantly the cohesion of our country.
The writer, Dziffa Ametam, is co-host of Breakfast Daily which airs on Citi TV every weekday from 7:30-10am.