I attended government schools all my life, from Asutsuare Junction D/A Basic School to Tema Secondary School and later, the Ghana Institute of Journalism. Although these are state owned-schools financed with state money, there have been subtle attempts to “Christianize” me through the education system. That has always been the fear of my dad for which reason, he prevented all but one of his children; me, from going to school.
We are in a secular state, but as far as I remember, we recited ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, a Christian prayer at morning assembly and we were forced to attend ‘Worship’ on Wednesday mornings. It didn’t matter whether there were Muslims or Traditionalists at this gathering. “School gatherings are compulsory”, the teachers and prefects always pointed out. But these gatherings sometimes ended up being full blown church services with drumming, clapping and dancing.
We Muslims had to sit through it all, even though it’s really not our form of prayer. For instance, Muslims don’t close their eyes during prayers. Christians do. But we’re forced to do so at these school gatherings. We’re forced to sing praises and worship the Almighty, although there’s a difference in the route to the ‘Almighty’ we both subscribe to. And that’s quite a difference!
We listened to preaching from the Holy Bible and were obliged to shout Hallelujah!!! We even hold hands to ‘Share the Grace’. As a Christian reading this, it may sound normal to you. But imagine being asked to perform ablution and enter the mosque everyday chanting ‘Allahu-akbar’ (Allah is Great) when your belief tells you it is rather Jesus who is great. That would be uncomfortable, wouldn’t it? Yeah. That’s what we faced from Basic School till date.
Because I’ve spent my whole School life engaging in this routine, I know so many Bible quotations to the surprise of my Christian friends. At that tender age, I didn’t know enough to challenge the teachers who forced me to attend the morning Worship Services. I knew I was out of place to be singing songs of praise to Jesus and dancing when it isn’t really my mode of prayer but I didn’t have the ability to debate the teachers intellectually so I cowered.
Needless to say we never had the right to go and pray two of our 5 compulsory daily Muslim prayers which typically fall within class hours. But we no bore. Thankfully, I didn’t disappoint my father by shifting from his religion despite the many years of subtle attempts to Christianize me. Reflecting on it now, I think it has helped me to an extent because I can use a Bible quote to debate my Christian friends whereas they can’t even recite the opening chapter of the Holy Quran.
I know it is not fair to Muslims but I am glad we are seeing progress. Muslims have largely tolerated this and sacrificed a bit of their religion on the altar of formal education for the ultimate good. We have tolerated, albeit with so much pain, teachers asking school children to stop shouting in class “because this is not Makaranta” as though Makaranta is a marketplace when it is actually a Hausa word for School.
At national events, we have both Christian and Muslim prayers being said. I see that as good progress. Back at GIJ, I was made to do the opening or closing prayer at official events because as president of the Ghana Muslim Students Association chapter on campus and the Imam, I had lobbied the SRC to make that happen. All well and good.
Give us another decade, and we may well see Wednesday Worship and ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ in public schools either phased out completely or made optional for students of the Islamic faith and other religions. That’s my prayer. And honestly, I have had no qualms with it and I know millions of other Ghanaian Muslims don’t. We have lived at peace with each other forever.
In the part of Asutsuare Junction where I grew up, ours was the only Muslim home. But because of the mutual respect, during Christmas, our Christian neighbours would bring their chickens to my father to slaughter so they can prepare their meal with it. They did this because it was the only way to get my family to eat some of the food they cook. Muslims don’t eat animals slaughtered by non-Muslims so if you wanted us to eat, you let my dad slaughter it. And this was an annual affair. During Eid, it was our duty as children to move from house to house distributing ‘sallah food’ to all our Christian neighbours. Peace
What I have noticed now, is that someone is trying to throw sticks into the peaceful spokes of our beautiful national wheels with this WeyGeyHey debacle. It was shocking to hear Muslim Students being prevented from observing the Ramadan fast. Nothing could be more intolerant and absurd.
Fasting is one of the 5 Pillars of Islam. If you’re qualified and healthy but don’t fast in Ramadan, you have essentially crossed carpet. That’s how serious it is. It is as bad as a Christian not believing Jesus Christ is his Lord and Personal Saviour!
The saddest part of the Wesley Girls’ High School issue which now has endorsement from its founding church and the Christian Council of Ghana is that, it has no justifiable basis. Part of the justification is that students struggle academically when they fast. And this justification is coming from people who most probably fasted during examination when they were in school to seek the face of the Lord.
They have given no scientific backing to their claim and when I interviewed one of the most respected members of the Catholic Church recently on the matter, he told me the directive was simply common sense.
I have been fasting since I can remember. Indeed, it is even a competition among Muslim children from as young as 7 to see who can successfully take part in the fast. We did this all our lives to get to Senior High School only to be told our academics would suffer? Seriously? I was fasting in Junior High School, there was no effect on my academics. I actually passed with distinction for which reason the CSSPS posted me to your school and all of a sudden, my brain would be faulty because I fast?
There are thousands of Muslim students who are in all fields due to their academic excellence. They have been fasting since age 7 even though the compulsory age for observing the Ramadan is several years later. I don’t think I’m dumb. I’ve been fasting all my life and I don’t think my Junior sisters at WeyGeyHey are less smarter than me or any of my mates who went through same.
The absurd thing is that, when one is fasting, it is not even written on their faces. Fasting is not necessarily a physical exercise but rather, a spiritual one so I wonder how the school is affected by that. People who fast do everything as they normally do. Even Muslim footballers fast. So what’s the fuss about?
When I was in Tema Secondary School, all we needed to do during Ramadan, was to write to the school authorities alerting them of the period and the number of students who will fast. The pantry team would allocate the appropriate number of saucepans for us and we’re game. This was happening under the watch of our Christian Headmistress, the late Eunice Quansah. Funny enough, the patron of the Ghana Muslim Students’ Association (GMSA) at the time was the Assistant Headmaster, Paul K. Dzineku, a man whom many students described with disdain, as a Buddhist. He recently explained to me that he was a member of the Grail Foundation Ghana.
I remember how we engaged the school authorities both during my tenure as GMSA president and the tenure of executives before me so we are exempted from the compulsory Sunday morning and evening church services held in the Dining Hall. What we did instead, was to invite Muslim clerics to attend our meetings in one of the classrooms where we studied the Holy Quran together. I still remember how my executives and I spent only a few minutes with the Headmistress before she accepted our request to have a prayer place on campus.
A similar thing happened when I became president of the Ghana Muslim Students’ Association (GMSA) at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. Before I came to the school, we had to pray in a small corner in the office of one of the Muslims in the school who was a staff. But praying in that office was illegal. With the support of my executives, we had a meeting with the then rector of the Institute, David Newton. We explained to him that although GIJ was on a small land, we deserved a small place that we could converge to pray. We told him, that unlike our Christian colleagues, we could not use a classroom for our worship. After much deliberations, he got the point and gave us a small place on campus. Today, I am proud to say a small mosque sits on GIJ campus to the glory of God and in acknowledgement of what dialogue can do.
Our fasting back at Tema Secondary School never obstructed the work of the school in any way. And we definitely weren’t bottom of our class. There were Muslim Students in athletics, in quiz competitions, and others were prefects. We never proved ineffective in any field. And yes, we fasted like we always do. And because our school authorities were forward-looking, they even gave us one day exeats to go celebrate Eid with our families. That’s progress and the authorities from WeyGeyHey need to take a leaf from this progressive move by my school and many other schools that have shown that we can grow together in mutual tolerance.
The writer, Umaru Sanda Amadu, hosts Eyewitness News on Citi FM weeknights at 17:30GMT