On the ongoing topic of the moment regarding whether a Muslim student at the Wesley Girls High School (WeyGeyHey) should be allowed to fast in boarding school, and whether the school’s management should institute a special arrangement to facilitate that, I am inspired to share my experience, as a Christian pupil in an Islamic founded secondary school.
I was moved to share my experience after reading Kwaku Sakyi-Addo’s article titled, “Fasting in Katanga” published in the Saturday, May 9, 2021 issue of the Daily Graphic, where he talked about his secondary school days at Achimota, where there were arrangements to facilitate the Fasting of Muslim students during Ramadan.
T. I. Ahmadiyya
I attended T.I. Ahmadiyya Secondary School (AMASS) in Kumasi and completed Upper Six in 1996 (being among last batch of students of the old ‘O’ and ‘A’ level system).
The T.I. in the school’s name stood for “Talimul Islam”, which is an Arabic phrase meaning: The Teachings of Islam.
The name of the school and the norm in Christian mission schools, where it is compulsory for all students to attend church services, whether a Christian or not, erroneously created the impression that, at T.I. AMASS, all students were made to pray in the mosque, whether a Muslim or not.
I opted for T.I. AMASS because of the school’s academic and sporting records and my mum had no qualms about it.
The school founded by the Ahmadiyya Mission in Ghana in 1950 has a liberal arrangement for all students to practise their various religious beliefs on campus, without infringing on anyone’s beliefs.
During our days in school, we never witnessed any brouhaha over religious differences, as it’s the case now with the Wesley Girls High School authorities refusing to allow a Muslim student to fast and the subsequent reactions by The Methodist Church, Ghana and the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference (GCBC).
As a Christian and a staunch member of The Methodist Church, Ghana, where I was raised through the Sunday School system, the Junior Choir and the singing group, the Aldersgate Voices at the Wesley Methodist Cathedral in Kumasi, my schooling at AMASS opened my eyes better to religious tolerance. And just about three years ago, my visit to Jerusalem in Israel and to the Wailing Wall, where Christians, Muslims and Jews converge regularly to pray, also deepened my belief in religious tolerance.
There is a Mosque located on top of the Wailing Wall and beneath it, Christians converge to pray.
Interestingly, at the Wenchi Secondary School, now known as Wenchi Methodist Senior High School in the Bono Region, also founded by The Methodist Church, Ghana, just like WeyGeyHey, there is an arrangement for Muslim students to fast during Ramadan.
Unlike in Christian mission schools, where it is compulsory for all students to be present at all school gatherings, including Sunday church services, where non-Christians are obliged to attend, the situation is different in AMASS.
It is not compulsory for non-Muslims to attend Friday Islamic prayers or fast during the month of Ramadan.
What actually happened during our time was that, there was an arrangement for classes to close early on Friday’s at 10:40 a.m. to enable Muslim students to prepare to either go to pray at the Mosque on the school’s premises or go to town to any other Mosque of their choice to pray.
The four periods of 40 minutes each, which was missed on Fridays because of the early 10:40 a.m. closure time, was incorporated into the periods of Monday to Thursday.
Thus, instead of closing at 1:30 p.m., which was the norm in many secondary schools, we rather closed at 2:10 p.m., because of the additional 40 minutes that needed to be covered.
The rationale for allowing students to go to town to pray was because of the different sects of Muslims (Ahmadiyya, orthodox etc.), so the school’s administration made it possible for the students to move out to find a mosque of their choice in line with the sect they belonged to pray.
The Friday “free exeat” became interesting to the extent that even non-Muslims took advantage and went to town.
Some went as far as identifying themselves with Islamic names, such as, ‘Issah Frimpong’, when confronted by tutors who were not really their class teachers and, therefore, did not know their religious backgrounds.
That strategy worked, particularly, when the tutors did not demand any ID cards.
That was how we managed to slip into town on Fridays and even overstay our curfew hours to go jam at the then Cafe Masaratti, Podium and Kiravi.
Sundays were the turn of the Christians to either opt to go to town for church service or join the inter-denominational two-hour service on campus.
As exuberant students and since our school is just a stone’s throw from the Kumasi Sports Stadium (Baba Yara), it gave us the opportunity to sneak to the stadium to watch football league matches and other international matches of interest under the pretext of going for church services.
Even when we did not have enough money to pay for the gate fee, we waited till the second half, where there was the automatic opening of the gates, which we referred to as “free gate.” Our strategy as students was to wait at the then uncompleted new administration block located close to the main entrance of the stadium, which was commonly referred to as the ‘Slaughter House’, a name ‘AMASS Phobians’ can easily relate to and an issue to delve into later.
Our morning assemblies reflected religious tolerance, to the extent that we rotated our morning devotional messages, Biblical messages and Quranic.
We recited the Al Fatiha (Islamic prayer) and the Lord’s Prayer (Christian) in turns either before the messages and announcements at the assembly or immediately before we depart for our various classrooms.
When a Muslim preached on Monday, quoting from the Quran, a Christian preached on Tuesday, quoting from the Bible.
The preaching was devoid of attacks on any religion and the school’s management ensured that no student prepared a morning devotional message that attacked any religious belief.
During the month of Ramadan, we reshuffled dining hall table sitting arrangements to separate Muslims, who wanted to fast from Christians and other students who were not fasting, so that they could have their meals separately at dawn and in the evening after the break of fast.
All these arrangements did not affect academic and sporting activities in any way.
Frankly, AMASS was then and has continued to remain one of the best schools in the country excelling in both academics and sporting activities.
I think we can easily tolerate religious differences on our secondary school campuses using the AMASS example.
As a country, we have experienced a long-term social stability and have beautifully integrated ourselves in the midst of our multi-religious beliefs.
That is what we should aim at strengthening instead of acting to cause disintegration.
I strongly believe that my Methodist Church should have a second look at its stance on the WeyGeyHey issue.
We can work on this religious tolerance issue in a simple manner than allowing it to degenerate into conflict and divisions.
The writer was popularly known in school as Gasbidox
1996 Amass Phobian
E-mail: [email protected]