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Friday, February 28, 2014

GRACE GARDEN



The sudden death of Sheikh Albaniy made me to break the chain of my responses on Sheikh Turi’s articles. I would have resumed my rebuttals today but for the fact that the above topic is important, short, and I deem it better to dispense with it now when the schools are still in session.


When I returned from the USA, I wrote a piece, around March 2011, on this page that I entitled THE AMERICA I SAW. Among so many things that I mentioned in that write-up was this:


“The Mormons have a university, the Brigham Young University (BYU), Salt Lake City, Utah, a quasi-Christian state in which the doctrines of the Bible are strictly enforced: no illicit relations between male and female students; a dress code is observed on campus (everybody is decently attired – no nakedness in any form); no drugs….; smoking is strictly prohibited in the open, and in private; and even tea and coffee are not allowed. This university is not a seminary; Christian subjects are not taught here. BYU is a world class institution by all standards, equipped with state of the art education facilities, offering almost all courses except medicine about which, Sandra Rogers, International Vice President (of the university), told me that they ‘are working on it’. There is religious freedom as the Muslims are served special meals in Ramadan, and a prayer room (musallah) designated for them to offer salaah. Nigerian religion-based universities have a lot to learn from this. Honestly, if my children must study outside Nigeria, rather than take them to Dubai, Malaysia etc. where they are certain to imbibe the evil habits of drug addiction, debauchery and other vices, I would take them to this Christian university!”


I appreciated the concern expressed by some brethren about taking my children to a Christian school, but I meant whatever I said in that piece. I attended Methodist Primary School, Kaduna which was later renamed L.E.A Constitution Road after government takeover of mission schools. I grew up receiving and showing love from, and to the people around me, Muslims and Christians alike. I think it has to do with the type of environment in which we interacted and received education with all kinds of people, from the primary through university levels. Some people would only take their kids to Christian or Muslim schools, and they have their reasons. I prefer that my children go a school where Nigeria, with all its diversity in creed and language, is replicated.


Therefore, I registered my two daughters at Grace Garden International School, Maitama. I was deaf to the advice given to me by many that, given my calling, I should be seen to be encouraging Muslims to take their children to Islamic Nursery-Primary schools that abound. These brethren saw Grace Garden as a Christian school, thus my children should not be there! I did not see in that light. My survey showed Grace Garden as a school with high standard of learning. I thought my children could get Boko in the school, and I will take care of the Islamic aspect.


I did not care, even when later I discovered that in Grace Garden Islamic and Christian religious knowledge were taught to students in two groups of all Muslims (in the school, regardless of their levels) in one class and all Christians (in like manner) in another. Why should that worry me since I took my children to learn Boko and not Islam? Nevertheless, that sent some signals as to the mind-set of people running the school.


I sought for appointment with the Proprietress of Grace Garden, Mrs Ruth Aimuan, which she graciously granted. I started by congratulating her on the progress the school has made over the years. ‘I have not regretted bringing my daughters to your school’, I said. ‘and now that they are approaching puberty, I would like to seek for your permission on the issue of head cover for them. It is not mandatory on them to cover at this age but Islam teaches that they start and become used to it before they attain majority. I did not bother to come for this all these years because they were little kids, but now Sumayyah, the elder one, is about 11 years old. This is the time for her to start using her head cover.’


Imam’, said the Proprietress, ‘I thank you for coming. This issue would have to be referred to the Chairman, Board Trustees, Barrister Collins A. Aimuan.’ Who is her husband, and according to sources among parents, a pastor.
Our school’, she continued, ‘is a secular institution. I am not pre-empting what the Chairman will say.’


Mrs Aimuan’, I said, ‘secular does not mean Godless or irreligious. It means multi-religious, just as Nigeria is.’


The Proprietress asked about the length of the head cover and its colour. I showed it to her, and explained that I understood her concern. The head cover will be very short, just within the neck, not down to their shoulders, and will rhyme with the school uniform. She said, ‘This is fine by me, subject to what the Chairman of the Board will say when I consult with him. But let the children wear it to school tomorrow so we can see how it will look.’


The outcome of this consultation with her husband, the Chairman, Board of Trustees, took about a month to be communicated to me. The answer was NO! The best the school can do in this circumstance is to allow ‘your daughters to wear their head cover from the house and remove it at the school gate.’


Another family met the proprietress on the same issue. Their daughter, Fatimah, is a friend of Sumayyah’s. They, (and many like them), brought her to Grace Garden because my children were there. Fatimah’s parents did not get the same courtesy the proprietress accorded my request. ‘Look, Hajiya,’ she said, ‘I’ve got better things to do with my time than to hear your preaching on hijab. I attended to you in the first place because you are a parent with children in the school. We can draw the curtain on this meeting if you don’t have any other thing to say.’


Madam,’ said Fatimah’s mother, ‘write this down, more Muslim parents will confront you on the same issue of hijab when their daughters approach puberty.  It is a religious duty on Muslims who are serious about their faith! Muslims, everywhere in the world, including Europe and America, are allowed to have their daughters use hijab. Fatimah will be moved to another school where she will be free to cover herself according to the dictates of her religion


The Math teacher of Fatimah saw her with the head cover, ‘Come here!’ he commanded, ‘If you people want to use this why don’t you go to Islamic schools where you can even cover your faces and be ojuju?’ This happened a day after the proprietress permitted us tolet the children wear it to school tomorrow so we can see how it will look.


What the Math teacher said to Fatimah was repeated to Sumayyah by another member of staff in charge of uniforms at Grace Garden. Her mother insisted on longer skirts for religious reasons. The woman distributing the uniforms said, ‘Longer skirts are not allowed here. If you want to cover yourself from head to toe go to Islamic schools not here!


All these happened when I was in Saudi Arabia for Hajj 2013. I called Mrs Ruth Aimuan, the proprietress, and informed her about what I heard. I said it is not healthy that children are exposed to this kind of tirade on a simple issue that is better handled between their parents and the school authority. She asked me of the names of those involved among her staff, which I gave her. She did nothing.


Can I blame anybody now, when I failed to heed to people’s advice? How will those brethren now look at me after I flouted their proposition? Was there anything I did not understand then, that now it dawned on me? What have I done to deserve this outcome? Is it wrong to aspire for better mutual harmony between Christians and Muslims starting with our children? Do I have any right to change the policy of a school that chooses to be Godless because I want my daughters to don the hijab? Why did I take them to the school in the first place?


I looked for another school with Muslim and Christian students, and where hijab is allowed for those who want to use it. My daughters are now at Nigerian Turkish International College (NTIC). Both the school fees and the standard of education are higher here than what obtains at Grace Garden. NTIC is worth paying more for one will get what they want. My only concern is having your kids mingle with some of the children that are nourished unlawfully by parents who betrayed our trust and plundered our commonwealth.


The irony is that due to the history of Turkey during the time of Atatürk, NTIC has more reason to outlaw hijab and to be ‘secular’ in the sense understood by Mrs Ruth Aimuan, than Grace Garden, a school in a country rightly described by my good friend, Cardinal John Onaikan as the ‘largest Islamo-Christian nation in the world.




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