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A South African Muslim experience

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    A South African Muslim experience

    A very interesting article by Suleilah Omar.. Suleilah Omar is an educator in a Weekend Muslim School for young children in Cape Town, South Africa. She is also an active member of an Open forum which seeks to enhance the status and role of women in the mosque and society.[

    A South African Muslim experience

    Women have and continue to play a key role in transmitting values to the next generation in the South African Muslim experience. During the Apartheid era our country was closely associated with Calvinistic Christianity, and all students at public schools were taught only Bible Studies. Muslims and other religions were challenged to develop their own systems of educating their children within their own traditions. Two very important strategies through which Muslims sought to nurture their future generations were the "madrasa" and family solidarity.

    The Madrasa
    Parents accepted that it was an important part of their responsibility to send their children to the extra-mural Moslem schools. These schools or madrasas were usually afternoon classes where the kids are taught about the Islamic rituals and how to recite the Qur'an in Arabic. There was a madrasa in each suburb where Muslims were residing. The madrasa was usually at the house of the teacher and most of these teachers known as "khalipha's or aapha's" were women.

    Family Traditions
    The family also played a very important role in keeping the children involved in the traditions of Islam. Families would get together for special occasions such as engagement ceremonies, weddings, blessing and name giving of newborns, birthdays and special celebrations in the Muslim calendar such as the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) birthday commemoration known as "Maulud". All of these elaborate family traditions assisted in the teaching and rearing of the youth within the traditions and values of the Muslims.

    Community Life
    Notwithstanding the exclusive religious educational structures which had developed during the Apartheid era, Muslims would interact freely with Christians and people of other faiths at different levels e.g. at public schools and at the work place. These interactions were even extended socially (friendships), politically (i.e. anti-Apartheid activities) and even religiously (e.g. inviting Christians to their wedding ceremonies). But far more significantly we would live together in the same community often being next door neighbours.

    Religious Education - The Post-Apartheid Challenge
    Now that we have dismantled Apartheid and can live freely together in peace and harmony with people of all cultures, religions and backgrounds, we are faced with a new challenge. This challenge is spelt out in our new public religious education policy as the need for "developing a religious education programme, which will help learners to understand, appreciate and respect religious differences and to participate in inter-faith dialogue as a preparation for life in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society".

    Transcending an Apartheid Socialization: The Need For Attitudinal Change
    We South Africans live as many other nations do in a pluralistic society, rich with traditions, cultures and values. One of the important challenges facing our nascent nation is the need to change our attitudes towards people of other cultures and faiths.
    But the changing of attitudes is one of the most difficult things. Our attitudes to a large extent determine the way we see and understand the world, and more importantly the way in which we relate to people of other cultures and religions. In Apartheid South Africa our attitudes were moulded and shaped by a policy of exclusion and separate development. In this situation we had very little space and opportunity for inter-cultural interaction. We were thus left largely ignorant of other cultures and religions. This cultural and religious illiteracy inevitably led to stereotyping of people of other cultures and religions.

    Inter-Religious and Inter-Cultural Education
    There has been an attempt by our new democratic government to implement a multi-religious education program at primary and high school levels. Although there is a growing acceptance for this multi-religious program, there are still some people who do not agree with it and feel threatened by it. (My South African colleague will in her paper be elaborating further about this new religious education policy). The challenge for me as well as the hundreds of other Muslim women madrasa educators is to transform the madrasa education system so as to contribute towards this goal of gradually educating our children to recognize the differences and to respect and accept the cultures and traditions of 'the other'. We therefore need to inculcate into our children, from a very young age, these values of respect for 'the other' as well as identifying the common values which are an important resource for nation building and the restructuring of the racially divided civil society in a new South Africa.

    I believe we as women involved in religious education can play a major role in implementing a multi-religious education system. We can start by educating our own children at home and also the children we teach at our religious institutions i.e. Madrasas, Sunday Catechism and Jewish Schul. We can also contribute to the public Religion Education curriculum of our state schools by contributing religious resources from our own traditions in the form of textbooks and expertise. We would however need to equip and re-train ourselves to be able to impart the values and traditions of other faiths sensitively and objectively. This requires special people who are themselves truly convinced of the intrinsic need for understanding and respecting the integrity of other cultures and faiths.

    [This message has been edited by Dil he Pakistani (edited June 08, 2002).]