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Opinions of Friday, 14 May 2021

Columnist: Ismail M. Kailani

Religious inclusiveness & tolerance case study: Wesley Girls SHS’s denial of fasting

So far, leadership of the two religious groups are working behind the scenes to address the impasse So far, leadership of the two religious groups are working behind the scenes to address the impasse

Religion divides, humanity unites: clandestine religious obligated doctrines of a faith on other than its religious adherents divides greatly with regrettable consequences; whilst compassionate caring tolerant and considerate attributes towards humanity unites people of different races, traces, background, beliefs, customs and ideals inclusively.

Religion should be seen as a fostering springboard to narrowing our divergent set of views, differences, perspectives, exposures, beliefs, faiths, values, principles and divinely set missions.

Religion is to salvage humanity to safer place of building consensus, fostering understanding and maturity, engendering social and national stability, advancing collective progress in prosperity, instilling selfless disciplines and countenances of certainty in solidarity, and engaging in uplifting the souls of public good of society in fighting social vices and evils.

It is on the back of this and more that, I found the inspiration and motivation to contribute on the National discourse on the “Denial of Muslim students to fast in the blessed month of Ramadan, April 2021”.

It is a personal principle of mine that, I do not presume of knowledge for others. Thus, I will put forth an insight and foresight on: Islam, pillars of Islam and categorization of Islamic religion/faith.

Islam is from the root word “SALAMA”, implying “peace, tranquility, stability and security”. ‘Peace’ is the simplest and nearest of translating “salama”. Islam is the total submission of oneself to the will and command of God Almighty in worshiping, obeying, submitting and following the dictates of God Almighty.

Meaning, a Muslim is someone or anyone who submits to the will of God Almighty seeking His countenance and pleasure by testifying that there is no god to be worshipped except God Almighty only and Prophet Muhammad is Messenger of God Almighty, praying five times daily, paying zakaat (poor alms/charity), fasting in the month of Ramadan, and performing pilgrimage (Hajj) once in the lifetime.

To this effect, Islam as a monotheistic religion can broadly be categorized under: 1. Tawheed, 2. Ibaadah, 3. Akhlaaq, and 4. Mu’aamalaat.

Tawheed (monotheistic belief of oneness and uniqueness of God Almighty) and Ibaadah (worship, submission and obedience to God Almighty in humility and superiority) signifies obedience, communication and relationship with God Almighty only.

Whilst the Akhlaaq (Good behavior, character, values and Attributes to fellow humans) and Mu’aamalaat (the excellent interpersonal social relationship, rapport and coexistence with fellow humans) is for the peaceful and just coexistence with the whole of creation (mankind).

To summarize, Islam is to live in harmony with your Lord and Creator by being a subservient and obedient servant (slave) striving to please God Almighty only, and to live in harmony with your fellow humans with the best of excellent behaviors and characters and to have a good interpersonal relationship with the rest of humanity that will engender (ensure & assure) peaceful coexistence and wellbeing of everyone.

It is with this sincere submission and bases I ask of everyone to have an open mind, clean and clear heart, unblemished intentions, unbiased and sound judgements, and with a sense of duty and good reasoning for truth. Let’s delve into the bites of my submissions.

This article will attempt to elucidate, explain and expatiate on the following as the parameters and analytics to be dissected: Bases and Background on Denial, Perspective on Decision & Aftermath the Denial, Exposure on Facts & Realities, Mission School & inherent Abuse of Enshrined Rights to Freedom of religion, Blessing in Disguise to Muslims, The Ministry of Education & GES Influence, National Conversation, Dialogue & Engagement on Supremacy of Constitution of Ghana to guarantee rights of citizens, and Disheartening Experiences & Ordeals of Old Students.

In our attempt to dissect these parameters and give an analysis of this article, we hope to largely be intellectually upright and not be dishonest, God Willing.

Bases and Background on Denial:

To better appreciate the genesis to this whole issue on the denial of Muslim student’s to observe their obligatory fast as per their Islamic religious dictates, let’s refer to the news reports on the school in the center of the whole brouhaha.

According to the communique from the school, students are not permitted to fast for any reason because of ill-health fasting has on the students. The school claim is part of their policy not to allow fasting of students in the school.

Their stand was further buttressed by the Methodist Church, the founding church under which the school is. The Ghana Catholic Bishops conference and the Christian Council of Ghana both endorsed the school’s position to deny fasting of Muslim students though it’s their religious obligation amidst passionate and personal appeal from the National Chief of Ghana, His Spiritual Eminence Sheikh Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu.

It must be made clearer that, the school and its mother church were firm and determined in their decision and resolve not to permit nor allow Muslim students to fast.

A leadership of Muslim caucus of parliamentarians and the eminent persons from office of the National chief Imam of Ghana met with the Methodist church leadership for an amicable resolve of the issue when it first broke fresh and in infant stage.

The Muslim delegation were given the highest assurances of a response after meeting with the board of governors of the school by the church leadership.

To my best of knowledge, no feedback is given yet or yet to be communicated from the church leadership to the Muslim led delegation to assist resolve the fasting impasse and deadlock.

These issues are the bases and background on denial of Muslim students to fast and the aftermath such a stand. The event of a Muslim parent requesting the school to let him leave with his daughter broke the news of Muslim students not allowed to fast in the blessed month of Ramadan. Interestingly the daughter preferred to stay and continue with her education than going with the father.

That showed understanding and maturity from the father not to forcefully leave with his daughter, and further exhibited the respectful zeal and wisdom of the daughter to appeal to her father to allow her continue her education for a better course.

Perspective on Decision & Aftermath the Denial:

It must be acknowledged that throughout this stalemate, the school and church have made a definitive strict stand on their perspective and decision not to allow any student fast no matter the consequences or occasion.

However, aftermath their denial not allow the Muslim students to fast, there were counter actions and reactions. A basic rule is that “to every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction”. So, this counter actions and reactions were expected.

Immediate reaction from the quarters of the Muslim fraternity and well-meaning Ghanaians was one of disappointment, sadness, hurt, worry, intolerance and pain.

The school and the church though a missionary outfit could have done better by allowing the Muslim students to observe their fast as it is a pillar of their Islamic faith.

Moreover, it is believed that most of the students have reached per the Islamic teachings ‘the age of maturity where fasting as a pillar of their religion is incumbent on them’.

Also, the students should all have been in a good state of health and not in their monthly flow of menses, which makes them meet the clear cut conditions to fast (for the sole purpose of attaining piety, dutifulness and God consciousness).

Most especially the passionate and selfless appeal from the National Chief Imam of Ghana was declined and least considered nor acknowledged.

On the first broke of the news of Muslim students not allowed to fast, indeed the National chief Imam considered the act as “worrying and being worried personal”.

The singular act of the school was worrying, troublesome, taunting and highly inflammable. Perspectives are not to be considered absolute and final. However should be factored in ensuring the collective and general public good of a society.

In this case, the school’s and church’s perspective and decision not to allow the students to fast, even in the heat of the aftermath the denial has bruised the collective and general public good of Ghana and Ghanaians, especially Muslims.

Exposure on Facts & Realities :

From the 29th of March as it became evident Muslim students were denied to fast base on flimsy and preposterous grounds of ill-health and health complications, diverse exposes and exposures were granted on the news waves, print media, press releases, social media and panel discussions.

Key amongst such engagements or rebuttal I found very educative, insightful and professional was the letter dated on the 5th of May 2021 by the Islamic Medical Association of Ghana (IMAGH) titled “Re: Wesley Girls High School Prevents a Student from Fasting”.

The association (IMAGH) opened their letter with reason for the school refusing fasting “the association has noted with utter disdain the distorted assertions made by the Wesley Girls SHS, the Methodist Church of Ghana and the PTA of the school in their communique to that effect that fasting is deleterious to the health of students. They further stated that “this inaccurate assertion was made in an attempt to justify the clear violations of the religious rights of Muslim students in Wesley Girls SHS”.

They further stated that “those claims are unfounded, lack any firm based in science and medicine, and the claims were made without any scientific proof”. They as well stated categorically that fasting is obligatory in Islam, however exemptions is made for anyone with underlying health and some physiological conditions not to fast, they include those who are ill or on a journey.

According to IMAGH “Muslims with active peptic ulcer, pregnant and lactating women, renal disease, and liver disease are encouraged by Islamic scholars to avoid fasting. This is because fasting is not intended to cause hardship nor injury”.

They added that “it must also be noted that peptic ulcer disease is not caused by hunger or fasting, the causes of peptic ulcer disease are well known. Science and medicine has an envious position in Islam”.

They quoted authoritative reputable medicine journals such as “the new journal of England medicine, and John Hopkins Journal of medicine, have affirmed that intermittent fasting promotes blood sugar control via the reduction of insulin resistance and impacts positively on type 2 diabetes mellitus, and minimizes the risk of coronary heart disease and hyperlipidemia.

In addition, it has also been shown to reduce markers of systematic inflammation and oxidative stress that are associated with atherosclerosis. The association of IMAGH concluded by appealing that “Ghana is a secular state which must promote inclusiveness”.

Mission School & inherent Abuse of Enshrined Rights to Freedom of religion:

The right to freedom of religion is an enshrined inalienable right and power bestowed on each citizen of the country Ghana that cannot be seen to be abused either capriciously, callously or arbitrary.

The reactions as expected from the Muslim community which has been on the receiving end for more than two decades was displayed in maturity and sheer patience by approaching the issue with extreme decorum, mutual respect, extensive engagements, collective bargaining, solemn appeal to their conscience and good neighborliness.

It must be noted that, Muslims (students) have been on the receiving end of unjust and unfair treatment—- forced to worship other than their religion, not allowed to veil their hair, discriminated and emotionally abused based on their religion, not allowed to fast for a flimsy (unsubstantiated excuse) and largely not allowed to observe their prayers either in congregation or individually.

These acts are unfair, unjust, inhuman, a form of religious dictatorship and tyranny unleashed on marginalized (helpless) Muslim students. In all this realities, the Muslim’s leadership have shown enough and substantial discipline to keep all Muslims in check and have a leadership front to help address the issue amicably though tempting and distasteful.

They have ensured no foul or aggressive statements first came from their end. They ensured all Muslims act in good behavior and not to presume any bad faith yet from the school and the church in the center of this issue.

We commend their role in handling of this sensitive issue with having the national interest at heart and continuing to engendering peace, stability and safety of all Ghanaians.

The essence of seeking education should not be used nor seen to be used as a harbinger to Christianizing nor engaging in missionary activities.

Let’s ensure a level playing field is given to all, for we are all Ghanaians and no one is superior to the other.

No student should be forced into engaging into worship other than such student’s accepted religion. Allow students to manifestly observe their creed of belief and not by cowardly hiding behind education where such students are feeble victims at the mercy of their schools and such missionary schools.

Let’s all hand be on deck to ensure religious tolerance, interfaith peaceful coexistence, diversity in worshipping one’s chosen religion and the ability to practice your religion manifestly with no prejudice to anyone or anything inclusively.

Missionary schools can undertake their missionary activities by not barring other faiths or beliefs in practicing theirs. By barring and compulsory making other faiths to engage in such missionary faiths worships is a betrayal, unethical and abuse of their fundamental human right and an artificial disposition to religious dictatorship, intolerance, tyranny and extremism.

Blessing in Disguise to Muslims:

Only if the Muslim community in Ghana will tap in this blessing in disguise presented on a silver platter to them. The decision and aftermath endorsement of the school and its church is an absolute blunder. It simple defies logic, ethics, common sense and reasoning.

To any circumstance or challenge, it depends on how we view and receive it. No matter the scale or effect, it can be turned into a blessing wrapped in disguise to be fully exploited and benefited from.

The Muslim leadership, groups and concerned persons have shown spectacular maturity, classless understanding, and fountain of wisdom, sheer patience and tolerance. The leadership showed we can overcome any hurdle or obstacles once we put our calm and reflecting minds to it.

The leadership did not allow emotions, sentiments and instinctive urges to veer them to act intolerant, revengeful and dishonorable. Indeed, the leadership have gained the enviable respect and love from all Muslims across the country.

Muslims opted for their power of reasoning, submission, judgment, resolutions and ultimate decisions for the good of the country and peaceful coexistence in our beloved country, Ghana.

Indeed they were guarded and guided to ensure Ghana came out victorious and to still remain the envy of west sub Saharan region of Africa.

Indeed the Muslim leadership and Muslims as whole notwithstanding their age, gender, location, status, background, sect and differences have acted with a sense of purpose and sincere sense of unity. It has strengthened the need to act collectively and be prepared for the positive reward of a collective action and sense of purpose.

The Ministry of Education & GES Influence:

However, in as much as the school and the church felt instructed by GES to allow the Muslim students to be allowed to fast in a letter addressed to the school.

The content of the letter was largely distasteful to the Muslim students (Muslim community) and extensively skew towards accommodating and granting convenience to the school and church. Most Muslims were not happy with the content, tone, communication and views expressed by GES in their letter.

Muslims in Ghana largely expected GES to have been more fair, balance and impartial in their letter. The school’s and church’s outburst with the letter from GES was from a scapegoat syndrome approach on GES’s authority to direct them.

It is our firm believe that, some degree of calmness, reflective composure, precocious understanding, cool thoughtful head, ethical common sense, contemporary maturity, sound reasoning and proactive thoughts should have guided the school’s and church’s egoistic stands.

I fear their handling of this issue would one day come to bite them hard and history might repeat itself probably not on their side. They might be the victims and a taste of their stands will be served on a plate of silver for their attention.

Ministry of Education and GES ought to ensure peace prevail, no side is short changed, issues are tackled dispassionately, discussions and dialogue made extensively and justifiable, resolution are made timely and satisfactorily to foster togetherness, inclusion, and unity in strength and unity purpose to advance the progress of mother Ghana to prosperity upon prosperity.

National Conversation, Dialogue & Engagement on Supremacy of Constitution of Ghana to guarantee rights of citizens:

A National conversation, dialogue and engagements on supremacy of the constitution of Ghana to guarantee rights of citizens should be organized and held extensively through the 16 regions of the country.

All stakeholders and concerned persons (groups) should be part of the discussion and it should purposefully be targeted to be result oriented, problem solving, in-depth consultation on interested persons and organizations should be factored.

The law and constitution of Ghana should reign supreme and above any other inclinations or considerations.

In the introduction of the book titled "Religion, Human Rights and Democracy in the Ghanaian Context" by the learned justice S. K. Date-Baah, retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana narrates inter alia "after a turbulent history, the republic of Ghana is now settling down as a striving representative democracy.

It has a Bill of Rights entrenched in its current 1992 Republican constitution. The provisions in it are entrenched in the sense that they cannot be amended except through a special procedure including a national referendum.

The Bill of Rights contains a provision on freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is thus a fundamental human right in the Ghanaian legal regime".

The specific provision on freedom of religion is Article 21(1((c) of the 1992 constitution which states that:

(1) All persons shall have the right to-
(c) Freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice;"

This entrenched provision in the Constitution has been part of the various Constitutions of Ghana since 1969. It is thus a settled fundamental human right which has in the main been respected by successive governments".

The right to freedom of religion is an enshrined inalienable right and power bestowed on each citizen of the country Ghana which cannot be seen to be abused either capriciously, callously or arbitrary.

Disheartening Experiences & Ordeals of Old Students:

Countless and varied Accounts of old Muslim students of Wesley Girls SHS sharing their disheartening experience and ordeals was awash the news (social) media. Each singular account was appalling, callous, capricious and very frightening.

Not the fault of any Muslim student, you are made to feel inferior and bad of yourself just because of your religion. The disdain, contempt, prejudice, misconceptions, misrepresentation, inhuman and horrifying ordeals they suffered just because of their Islamic faith is worrying.

Such experiences of old and current Muslim students is not befitting of a missionary school which is supposed to act with mercy, compassion, and love for all and hatred for none.

To mention few of such experiences and ordeals: no worship of their religion other than Christianity, no reading of Noble Qur’an, no handling of Noble Qur’an, no congregation of Muslims students, no fasting allowed, no veiling, and not to be seen sharing Islamic knowledge amongst themselves.

On the contrary, it is compulsory to attend all church services and other masses, to be given a bible and hymns book, worship and pray as the Christians do, and be involved in all Christian’s activities which are not part of the educational curriculum.

Meanwhile, it is taught from the basic to junior educational ladder that, Muslims pray 5 time a day and fast in the month of Ramadan, they pray their congregation prayers every Friday in the mosque, and they read their Noble Qur’an as a source of guidance.

Isn’t this ironical, double standards, insincerity, façade and preposterous?

The fear is the double standards that is being exhibited and is vehemently guarded with all the strength and power they can gunner.

The pick and choose is not helping anyone. Let’s call a spade a spade not a fork. No religion will be happy to know its adherents especially young innocent one’s sent to learn and acquire knowledge is being victimized and abused in such manner.

It is unhealthy, unethical, dishonorable, callous and capricious. This practice should be nip in the bud now and now. Enough is enough.

To conclude the upheaval, commotion and tension with which the Muslim students were permitted to fast and the equal expression of disappointment and worry by the Muslim community should be addressed in all seriousness.

It is our hope that an amicable permanent solution will be found by the powers be. It needs to be tackle head on and dispassionately. It should be considered as a national security issue and given all the necessary courtesies it deserves.

At least if we cannot be brothers in faith, let’s be caring brothers in humanity, and most especially let’s be reliable friends and credible partners for national development and the advancement of public good, peaceful coexistence and inclusive interfaith tolerance with selflessness.

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