Muslims Call to Worship: A Believers’ Perspective On wearing of hijab and morning devotion in schools.
One tends to come from a measured approach on such matters for obvious reasons. By way of disclosure, I am not neutral on this subject. There are matters on which we tend to hold views in a particular way. Some of those views we share publicly, others we share them privately and yet some we keep to ourselves. Then there are matters in which we tend to be ambivalent. I am not ambivalent on the current matter. However, I would like to look at it from a measured approach.
The requirement for Muslim students to attend church service or morning devotion is not limited to mission schools. There are schools that were set up by Kwame Nkrumah to absorb students from other secondary schools who were sacked (from mission schools?) for associating themselves with some national issues. Then there are schools that were established by communities through community mobilisations and the instrumentality of chiefs and philanthropists. Some of the schools are also set up by groups and associations. An example is Asanteman Secondary School in Kumasi which was formed by the Asanteman Youth Association partly to demonstrate their love for Asante culture. And of course mention can also be made of the University Practice schools. But Asanteman Secondary School does not, for instance, require students to pour libation, invoke Nananom or to go to the shrine. That would have been much closer to the Asante traditional form of worship as we have come to know it.
Therefore the discussion is not all about the missions. Granted that the missions may be in charge of most of the schools, the discussion is not all about them. They are only using the current discussion to re-introduce an old subject – the return of the “mission” schools to the missions. That is another matter altogether.
Islam, requires parents to train their children in a way that by the time they attain the age of puberty, they know the rudiments of the faith. At the age of puberty, the Muslim is accountable for his actions. Both parents and young Muslims who attain the age of puberty are aware of the fact that they are accountable to Allah for their actions. They therefore find the restrictions to the practice of their faith unconscionable. The age for puberty, if I may add, is somewhere around 13 years or earlier if some other factors are accounted for.
One shares the view of maintaining discipline in schools. It is however difficult to decipher how imposing a religious practice on Muslims, which is foreign to their faith, can guarantee such discipline.
There is the view that other Muslims have endured it in the past. Why then are some refusing to endure it now? Rather than question that, see it as a significant demonstration of the fact that Muslims have been very receptive and accommodative of such impositions and curtailment of their duty to worship Allah without associating partners to Him, unfortunate as it may be. This is particularly important when some people hold to the stereotype that Muslims are intolerant and violent.
In the early decades, most Muslim parents shy away from English-based education because their kids might end up being Christians. And rightly so, there are many examples of people, who as a result of such education are no longer Muslims. Some had to change their names to include a Christian name before they could get admitted into schools. Over the decades some parents still feel they were justified in not allowing their wards to attend the English-based schools.
Talk of English-based schools brings to mind the notion that Muslims are illiterate. That is far from the truth. Most Muslims are educated in Islamic schools (Madrasas, if you like, Makaranta) and can actually read Arabic. And can write too. Some of the Imams we see around actually have bachelors and masters degrees and some have doctorates. However because the medium of instruction was in Arabic our present society does not have much space for them except to be instructors in the Madrasas or Imams in the masjids within the communities.
In the past, Muslim students were made to attend “worship” on Wednesdays and in some schools, they are also compelled to learn the hymn book on Fridays. Today however, they are required to attend morning devotion on a daily basis. Just within the past week, a nephew of mine reported that he has been asked to buy a hymn book for GHS4. That amount is not much, but for a Muslim parent, it is too much to ask that I buy a Christian hymn book for my ward.
So the discussion should rather be seen as one of tolerance, diversity and inclusion and the recognition of the need not to impose our religious views on others simply because they seek education from institutions we founded. I am rather surprised that human rights activists and the Ministry for Social Protection is loudly silent of the matter. We tend to find their voice only when the subject regarding Muslims is about their pet topic of “supressing the right of women in Islam”.
For those of our compatriots who say if Muslims are so minded about the restrictions to their religious practice then Muslims should construct their own schools, there is a simple way to help them assess their suggestion. They are in fact suggesting we segregate our society based on religious affiliations. It is sincerely hoped that is not what they mean because that will portend a much complicated trouble for us all. Segregation is what has brought several countries to their knees and some of them have still not fully recovered from its effect. The way forward is for diversity, inclusion, tolerance and accommodation.
Our workplaces too must begin to create the ambience for Muslims to observe the basic requirements of their faith especially in relation to times for worship and clothing. In the countries we so quickly want to cite as examples, employers are being sued for discrimination based on religion and that has made them to begin to make the necessary adjustments. And currently Abercrombie & Fitch, a well-known clothing company in the US, is battling a similar issue in the US Supreme court in a case involving Samantha Elauf. In 2013, Abercrombie had to settle two cases of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a matter involving two Muslims.
And please, it actually hurts when you use events happening elsewhere to tag Muslims. What you are saying is that if pro-democracy forces are fighting in Ukraine or Egypt or Greece for reasons known to them, then pro-democracy people in Ghana are going to fight too, for whatever reason.
So before you begin to make generalisations about Muslims, take a moment and reflect on your thought. Maybe, just maybe, you would see your way clear through the issues.
It is in this regard that one expects leadership at all levels and from all persuasions to maintain calm and demonstrate a commitment to helping address the concerns articulated by Muslims in these matters so we can continue to live as a safe, peaceful and cohesive Ghana. And as adherents, Christians or Muslims and other orientations, we should be able to detect it when leadership, by their utterances, statements and publications are sowing the seeds of discord and be able to influence a change from within.
Saeed Musah-Khaleepha is an Employment Relations and Dispute Resolution Executive at the Gamey and Gamey Group. The views expressed in this piece are his and not not reflect the views of his employers or tsikesossah.com