The Muslim Professionals, a non a profit making organisation, has challenged the Government to step into the ongoing impasse between Christians and Muslims in the country following the refusal of the Wesley Girls High School to allow Muslim students observe the Ramadan fast on campus
The Group says Ghana is treading a dangerous future if care is not taken to address the current tensed situation, of which the Chief Imam's office has expressed its disappointment.
The Christian Council and Catholic Bishops Conference have joined the Methodist Church Ghana in defending the school for taking a so called "non-religious" decision, which bares all students from fasting while on Campus.
The school explains it took the decision on health grounds whiles, refuting the Ghana Education Service (GES) directive to allow the students to fast, subject to prior notice from their parents.
But the Muslim Professionals believes it's unconstitutional and an infringement on religious right by the Cape Coast-based school, saying the call on Muslims to withdraw their children to Muslim-owned schools can come with serious ramifications.
In a statement, the group blasted the Christian leadership over their proxy act of religious intolerance through the the Wesley Girls Senior High School.
"It is our view however, that the issue goes beyond the ban on fasting at Wesley Girls High school and goes to the heart of a policy of Islamophobia and intolerance in Christian mission schools which needs to be addressed to preserve religious harmony in Ghana," the statement read.
"In any case, subsequent events have proven the real reason behind the ban on fasting at Wesley Girls High School; bigotry and unwillingness to accommodate any other religion.
"The latest press statement by the Methodist Church dated May 4, 2021, put the matter in stark perspective."
It bemoaned the call by Christians on Muslims to build their own school, saying it's "unfortunate"
"Among the unfortunate responses to Muslim protest against the repression in Christian schools is the retort “Go and build your own schools.” Of course, we do have our own schools, and can scale up our efforts at increasing the numbers and improving standards. But doing so in anger and protest at the current injustice will not be healthy for inter-faith understanding and social cohesion," it added.
According to the group, the country is now faced with a challenge of choosing a path that consolidates the peace and togetherness being enjoyed or a path that leads to bigotry and apartheid.
It has therefore urged the Government, Parliament, the Church, the National Peace Council, the Office of the National Chief Imam "to seize this opportunity to resolve this and related issues comprehensively to avoid religious tension and rancour".
Read full statement below
THE WESLEY GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL-MUSLIM STUDENTS ISSUE; GHANA MUST CHOOSE TOGETHERNESS OVER BIGOTRY AND APARTHEID
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Peace and Blessing of Allah be Upon you, dear reader.
The Muslim Professionals, a non-profit group of Ghanaian professionals of diverse backgrounds, having followed the Wesley Girls High School controversy over the issue of fasting by Muslim students and the ensuing brouhaha, wishes to make the following observations;
We commend the Ghana Education Service (GES), the Minister of Education, the Muslim Caucus in Parliament, the Office of the National Chief Imam and all well-meaning Ghanaians who have made efforts in trying to resolve the matter.
It is our view however, that the issue goes beyond the ban on fasting at Wesley Girls High school and goes to the heart of a policy of Islamophobia and intolerance in Christian mission schools which needs to be addressed to preserve religious harmony in Ghana.
This much has been evident in all the arguments and postures of the Wesley Girls High School authorities, the leadership of the Methodist Church and the Christian parents who backed the ban on fasting.
HEALTH RISK ARGUMENT
The school authorities cited possible health crises as the reason for disallowing fasting. If fasting by 14-19 year-olds poses a risk to their health, this should not be a concern only at Wesley College High School. Instances of health crisis arising out of students fasting should have been reported at various schools and the GES would have acknowledged and addressed it nation-wide. This has never happened despite the fact that Muslims observe the fast in hundreds of schools across the country.
It is worth pointing out that majority of practising Muslims encourage their children to begin half-day fasts around age nine and most Muslims are fully fasting by the time they enter Junior High School.
THE REAL MOTIVE
In any case, subsequent events have proven the real reason behind the ban on fasting at Wesley Girls High School; bigotry and unwillingness to accommodate any other religion The latest press statement by the Methodist Church dated May 4, 2021, put the matter in stark perspective.
“The school rule in question is a long standing one which is also non-religious and various renowned Muslim ladies in Ghana have passed through the school adhering to such a rule. The policies of the school over the 186 years of its existence have resulted in Wesley Girls High School being the School of Choice Excellence and Achievement and the Church remains in full support of these policies.”
For the avoidance of doubt, these policies include compulsory Christian worship by all students and denying Muslim students the right to fast and pray - never mind the disingenuous denial that the policy is targeted at Muslims.
It is intriguing that a Church could be boasting that its school’s tradition of excellence is built on a rigid regime of oppression, discrimination and spiritual asphyxiation of its students of minority faiths based on bigotry.
UNCONSTITUTIONAL ATTACK ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The ban on fasting aside, Muslim students in Wesley Girls High Schools face systematic repression to the extent that they are not even allowed to offer their five daily prayers even in private. In fact, they are punished when they are found praying. This is unacceptable, for a school that is run on tax payers’ money and provided with infrastructure and equipment from public funds.
We do not know of any research that has established that tolerance of minority faiths compromises discipline and academic achievement. And if the school really believes that the training and discipline it is giving to its students leaves a lasting imprint on their lives, then they must admit that they are grooming the non-Christians to be lax and negligent of their own faith, if not convert entirely to Christianity, as many often do.
The practice at the school also violates Article 21(1((c) of the 1992 Constitution which states that: “21. (1) All persons shall have the right to freedom to practise any religion and to manifest such practice.” This entrenched provision in the Constitution and has been part of the various Constitutions of Ghana since 1969.
Interestingly, it was one of the highlights of the proposals made to the Constitutional Review Commission set up in 2010. The Commission summarised submissions it received on Religious Freedom as follows:
a. “The Constitution must contain express provisions on the freedom of religion so that citizens will respect each other’s religion.”
b. “The part of the Constitution which states that there is the freedom of worship should be emphasised and elaborated.”
Needless to add that this proposal must have been inspired by the attacks on religious freedom in many institutions such as the oppression at Wesley Girls High School.
Sadder still is the letter signed by a group of fanatical Christian parents expressing support for this retrogressive and divisive policy and urging the school to disrespect the Ghana Education Service.
“In as much as we have been religiously tolerant, …,” began the apology of a letter which was anything but tolerant.
“There are Traditionalists, Buddhists, Confucians and Atheists in the school at the moment. Should they begin to assert their religious beliefs and practices in the school, there would be confusion and ultimately, it is our wards who would suffer,” continued the narrow-minded letter.
This is nothing more than desperate scaremongering and it is shocking to be coming from intellectuals who are also claiming, unwittingly, that discipline can only be maintained by suppressing minority rights.
The highly emotional and confrontational letter ended with a call on the Wesley Girls High School authorities to defy “the GES directives that can destroy the missionary outlook of the school.”
How does the highly personal act of fasting by a Muslim student destroy the missionary outlook of a school? Why will these parents decide to go on rampage when the Muslim Caucus in Parliament, the GES and the Ministry had adopted a sober approach, showing decorum and seeking to calm tensions?
The fact is that this intolerance persists even in non-academic Christian institutions, particularly health facilities. Indeed, there have been many instances where Muslim nurses and other staff of mission hospitals under the Ghana Health Service have been harassed and coerced to remove their veils. Hospitals owned by the Catholic Church whose nuns wear the veil even in formal settings, show hostility to the veil when worn by a Muslim worker.
We are baffled by this institutional intolerance from adherents of the Christian faith which teaches that “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Psalms 133:1
The Bible clearly preaches respect for diversity in these terms; “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” Romans 14:3-4.
THE MUSLIM EXAMPLE
Fasting, praying and wearing of veils in school is a norm in many senior high schools across the country, including non-Muslim schools, and the Ghana Education service (GES) has never suggested that it is unlawful or disruptive in any way. Muslim-established public high schools exempt non-Muslims from Islamic activities. Tawheed Senior High School in Kumasi, for example, is a Muslim-established public school, but the headmaster is a Christian. There are a number of other Muslim-established basic schools that have Christian headmasters, whereas even among the Christian missions, no Catholic can be the head of a Methodist school.
T.I. Ahmadiyya Senior High School in Kumasi, for example is a model of tolerance and inclusiveness. It allows its Christian students, with the consent of their parents, to worship at their various churches in town on Sundays. The Muslim prayer, Fatihah and the Lord’s Prayer are both said at assembly every day. And it is one of the school’s joyful boasts that it has produced two former Moderators of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Right Reverend Dr. Sam Prempeh and Right Reverend Dr. Yaw Frimpong-Manso.
Among the unfortunate responses to Muslim protest against the repression in Christian schools is the retort “Go and build your own schools.” Of course, we do have our own schools, and can scale up our efforts at increasing the numbers and improving standards. But doing so in anger and protest at the current injustice will not be healthy for inter-faith understanding and social cohesion.
Moreover, we cannot retaliate by forcing Christian students in our schools to practice Islam, because our religion forbids it; “There is no compulsion in religion, Right is clearly distinguished from Wrong." Quran 2:256. We can only demand reciprocity from our Christian compatriots on basis of our common humanity and the many religious values we share.
We do not have separate Muslim markets, offices and towns. We live together and insist on living together. We, therefore, call on the Government, Parliament, the Church, the National Peace Council, the Office of the National Chief Imam to seize this opportunity to resolve this and related issues comprehensively to avoid religious tension and rancour.
ABDUL-SAMED MUNTAKA (PhD)
CC: All media Houses
Office of National Chief Imam
Baraka Policy Institute
Committee on Muslim Rights
Muslim Caucus in Parliament