Islamic Schools in Ghana – Educating a minority

Students in the pre-school class at Madrasatulil Muhammad sit on plastic woven mats on the floor while reciting verses from the Quran.

There is no clear consensus on the exact number of Muslims in Ghana; according to official government census, Muslims make up approximately 15.9 percent of the population. The Coalition of Muslim Organizations and the CIA World Factbook, however, say the more accurate figure is 30 percent.

Whatever the exact number may be, Muslims are undoubtedly a minority in Ghana. The building that doubles as a mosque and an Islamic school where my friend Fuad Muhammad teaches plainly illustrates that fact.

Madrasatulil Muhammad is one of the many madrasahs or Islamic schools in the Muslim-dominated Akrom Zongo in Kumasi. They are commonly known as makaranta which means ‘school’ in Hausa, the native language of Muslims in Ghana.

When I visited the school, there was some renovation construction going on. Thanks to the school’s generous benefactor – a Muslim Ghanaian businessman who lives in the US – the ground floor of the building which acts as the community mosque is now being installed with glass windows.

The classrooms above the mosque, however, remain windowless. Lessons begin right after dawn at the makaranta and it took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Whatever light that came through the doors at either end of the room was swallowed up by the bare cement walls and floor.

Seated on rows of wooden benches, students craned their necks and waved impatiently at those blocking their view of the blackboard. There are no desks; students simply put their books on their laps or the vacant spaces on the bench next to them. Students in the pre-school class are gathered at the ground level of the building. They sat on rows of woven plastic mats on the floor reciting verses from the Quran.

Students writing their exam at the Madrasatulil Muhammad in Akrom Zongo, Kumasi.

Despite the bare amenities, students at Madrasatulil Muhammad show up every weekend for their lessons in the Arabic language, Islamic history and Quranic studies. They are also given sex education since it is a taboo subject that is rarely discussed between parents and their children the conservative Muslim society.

Muhammad said that the school collects 70 peswas (roughly equivalent to 45 cents Canadian) from each student per day. The money is used to pay for some of the teachers’ transportation costs. The rest, like Muhammad, work on a volunteer basis. According to Muhammad, he doesn’t mind not being paid for his work because it is an extension of his duties as a Muslim towards his community.

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