Madrassa schools recognition a boost to Muslim education

Madrassa schools recognition a boost to Muslim education

In 2013 the government recognised Madrasa schools as formal institutions of learning and allowed them to operate like all other schools in Kenya.  While this recognition promises to transform how Islamic system of education is run in Kenya, there is still lack of information on how this recognition will work for the Muslim community. In the first of a four part series, Iddi Musyemi looks into what the basic education Act means and what Muslims must do to have regular Madrassa schools.

Would you take your child to Madrassa school instead of the regular schools?

This is an option that all Muslim parents have been allowed to exercise after the Islamic system of education, which is taught in Madrassa schools, was recognized by the Government of Kenya.

In 2013 the National Parliament included “Madrassa” and “Duksi” in The Basic Education Act, 2013 thereby formalizing the oldest system of education in Kenya which precedes Kenya’s contemporary history and borders.

“Madrassa” the law states, “means the structural Muslim educational institutions or schools that offer Islamic and other subjects and are laddered from primary to secondary.”

Duksi schools have also been included in the law and they are defined as “Islamic elementary institutions that offer Quranic education.”

“Both Madrassa and Duksi schools have been included in the law because they mean different things to different people,” says sheikh Ibrahim Lethome. “Duksi schools are popularly used by our brothers from the Somali community.”

The introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE) in 2003 was a step towards a positive direction which gave all children in the country a right to education and made it an offense punishable by law if a parent did not take their children to school.


Collision course

However, the FPE directive did not take into consideration the beliefs and customs of different groups of people in the country and had put the government and a section of its citizens in a collision course.

For Muslim parents who have always preferred to send their children to Madrassa schools before taking them for regular education, FPE meant that they were denying their children an education by taking them to madrassa instead of regular school simply because the government did not recognise Madrassa schools as institutions of learning.

Sheikh Lethome opines that the Basic Education Act has set things right and averted a conflict by allowing parents - Muslim parents in particular - a choice of the education that they want to give their children in exercise of their beliefs.

“Before this law, Madrassa and Duksi schools were not recognized by government as institutions of learning and Muslim parents were under constant threat of facing the law for taking their children to madrassa when they should have been in regular school.”

This law may prove to be a major boost to the Islamic system of education if it is embraced by the Muslim community and put to work.

Madrassa schools have been losing their purpose, influence and usefulness to the Muslim community as parents tight and tighter embrace regular system of education which not only has clearly identified structures and objectives but its results can be measured through national examinations and the careers that its graduates end up taking.

Students who graduate from Madrassa schools are either forced to work in the religious organisations as either Madrassa teachers or mosque’ Imams or “else”.

What else can the holder of a Madrassa secondary school certificate do in our society? The else part is yet to be figured out and defined.


Narrow prism

The Muslim community has generally viewed Madrassa education through the narrow prism of religious instructions therefore confining its purpose to an individual’s interest or the interests of a few groups of people. No one goes to Madrassa to study to become a teacher, a doctor or pilot.

“Muslims need doctors and teachers and all other career people,” says Dr. Hassan Kinyua Omari, a religious studies lecturer at the University of Nairobi. He is of the opinion that the recognition of Madrassa schools will help create and educate Muslims who will in turn fill this jobs and believes that Madrassa schools are best placed to achieve this goal.

“Our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) created a lot of millionaires and billionaires who studied under him at his mosque,” Dr Kinyua relates. “If they achieved their success through our Prophet’s Madrassa, it means we can also do the same but we have to be organised.”

Organisation is the key ingredient for the Muslim community to have a robust education system that will satisfy the needs of its populace.

“We have to change the way we do our things if we are going to succeed in having good Madrassa schools,” says Lethome. “The first thing we need to have is a single curriculum that will be used by all Madrassa schools in the country.”

Lethome adds that a Madrassa curriculum is a major requirement by the government in order to activate formal Madrassa learning in the country.

The list of other requirements is disappointingly long and includes the funding, the infrastructures, competent teachers, regular students, proper administration and cooperation between different groups and so on.

By having Madrassa schools run on their own orbit, will they be able to churn out competent students who can hold their ground against students from regular schools who are also working hard to benefit from the same opportunities in the society?

Will parents exude total confidence in the Muslim system of education by sending their children to Madrassa schools instead of regular ones?

While formalising of Madrassa education may seem to have raised more questions than answers, it is a first step towards identifying and addressing the challenges that have long dogged these institutions and also opening up new opportunities that may primarily benefit Muslim youth who already hold certificates, diplomas and degrees in Islamic education.

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step,” Lethome sums up our interview with this Chinese adage which refers to new beginnings and movement towards a bigger purpose.

It remains to be seen whether Muslims will foot the bill.

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