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Religious tolerance and leadership in education

BY: Bala Sa-ad
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File photo
File photo

“And they ill-treated them for no other reason than that they believed in Allah, Exalted in Power, Worthy of All Praise. Him to Whom belongs the dominion of heavens and the earth! And Allah is Witness to all things.” (Al Buruj 85:8-9).

Religious tolerance refers to the ability to appreciate spiritual values, beliefs and practices which are different from your own. This goal is a complex one due to the great diversity of religions and spiritual beliefs existing in the world today. Hence, there is no denying the fact that religion is also a very emotional topic. And so, it is sometimes extremely difficult for some individuals to put their personal biases aside and consider ideas/opinions/policies fairly, justly, and objectively.

Ghana, our beloved country, is one of many other countries around the globe that have been applauded for their sense of religious tolerance with its people. However, in recent times, some 2nd cycle educational institutions are threatening to scuttle and decimate that enviable record. In fact, the spotlight here is on Wesley Girls High School in Cape Coast.

Undoubtedly, Wesley Girls is one of the finest and best schools in Ghana and all of us (including Muslims) are proud of it. It has also produced high-profile personalities in the country who, to a very large extent, have contributed and continued to contribute to the development of this country. The school used to be religious tolerant until recently when it came in the news and on the social media that the current headmistress, Mrs Betty Dzokoto, is drawing her dagger on innocent Muslim students in her school. What we hear and read is that Mrs Dzokoto has initially banned these students from praying, wearing Hijab, and reading Qur’an in the school. And now, she is on “Stop Ramadan fast or be withdrawn from the school” project.

Honestly, after reading this news, I asked myself whether Mrs Dzokoto is aware of the existence and the power that the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana wields, and more so, of the entrenched Article 21 (b) and (c). Also, I wonder whether she keeps abreast of Article 2(1) of the same constitution, which states that, “This constitution shall be the supreme law of the Ghana and any other law found to be inconsistent with any provision of this constitution, shall be to the extent of the inconsistency be void.”

I humbly request Mrs Dzokoto to update herself with a paper that was delivered by Justice S.K. Date-Bah, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana, on the topic, “Religion, Human Rights, and Democracy in the Ghanaian Context.”

On this issue of religious intolerance in Wesley Girls, I struggle to look for Mrs Dzokoto’s source of strength and power. Though I am a Muslim, I will like to refer her to a book titled, “The Leadership Wisdom of Jesus (Practical Lessons for Today), authored by Charles C. Manz. As a school administrator and Christian, she will find it very useful.

In the book, it is stated that the powerful leadership lesson that Jesus teaches us is that we don’t take the important step of looking in the mirror and examining and leading ourselves first, we can be blinded by this shortcoming. It is as though we have a big wood sliver—indeed, a log—in our eye so that we cannot see others clearly. Somewhere in the same book on the topic “Gather the Lost Sheep”, there is this Biblical quotation, “What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? (Matt. 18:12-13). That is, even if you presume that the Muslim students have gone astray.

In another book titled, “The Bible on Leadership: From Moses to Matthew—Management Lessons for Contemporary Leaders”, it discusses the spirit of kindness and compassion. It states that Daniel courageously prophesied to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia that, “Oh King, renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” (Dan. 4:27). And so as a school leader, you must have that spirit of kindness and compassion in you.

It is, therefore, relevant that the headmistress of Wesley Girls tries to be just and fair to all manner of students in her care. The Bible clearly states that, “Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.” (Ps. 106:3). Again, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:24).

In medicine, it will also be useful for the headmistress to enlighten herself on the “Concept of Autophagy” and fasting. She should particularly read on the discoveries made by Yoshinori Ohsumi-- the Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology or Medicine in 2016 when the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awarded him the Nobel Prize for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy. Ohsumi’s discoveries led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content. His discoveries opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection.

The Muslim community in Ghana expects Mrs Betty Dzokoto to be fair and just to our children in her care. We do not want to hear or read such acts of religious bigotry in her school again. Wesley Girls, I strongly believe, is not a private school. It is a public school, assisted by Government of Ghana.

She should also understand that Muslims and Christians in Ghana have co-existed for centuries. She should not do anything that has the propensity to mar and decimate that relationship. She should not be the cause of that, no matter how the level of her faith in Methodism is. A lot of Muslims in this country attended mission schools and we left the schools on a good note. Personally, I did my second and third Master’s degrees in Central University College and Valley View University, and I really enjoyed the school climate and the camaraderie of the school administration.

It is important for the headmistress to appreciate the fact that parents of these innocent students are Ghanaians as well as taxpayers, who, in diverse ways, also contribute to nation building. Why the discrimination and the bigotry? We expect madam to know better.

As an educational administrator of high repute, she is advised to update herself with such books titled as, “Blundering Leadership: Missteps by School Administrators” and “The Principles of Leadership,” authored by Tamara Arnott & Gayla Holmgren-Hoeller and Dr Yusef bin ‘Othman al-Huzaim respectively.
The Muslim community in Ghana, therefore, calls on the Ministry of Education/Ghana Education Service and the leadership of Parliament to call Mrs Betty Dzokoto to order.

We also urge the leadership of the Methodist Church, led by the Presiding Bishop Most Rev. Dr Paul Boafo, to also call her to order. I saw a correspondence from GES, signed by its Head of Public Relations, Cassandra Twum Ampofo, but the content and the import of the correspondence, with the greatest respect, is very soft on Mrs Dzokoto. She must be told the truth in her face that she is subtly embarking on an Anti-Islam crusade. And that all Ghanaians are equal in the eyes of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana. Initially, she banned the students from praying, wearing Hijab, and bringing Qur’an to the school. Can we ask whether that ban has also got something to do with ulcer or any other health condition?

In fact, nothing has been said about that illegality to her. The fact is that we Muslims already advise our children right at home not to fast during Ramadan when we know they have ulcer or any other health condition (s). This is not a new phenomenon to our children in school. The woman should be made to understand that she has put a lot of emotional stress on the students, their parents, and the whole Muslim community in Ghana. Also, she should know that Muslims are not second citizens in Ghana; that should also be made loud and clear to all and sundry. Mrs Dzokoto’s militaristic and antagonistic behavior must stop here and now. Ghana is a secular state and not a “Mission House.” Her attitude cannot be justified anywhere, and the GES’ circular must not be perceived as doing a favour to the Muslim Ummah in Ghana.

Muslims in Ghana are peace-loving people, and so we don’t want any untoward behavior that will mar our long-existing relationship with the Christian fraternity. All of us can see this peace-loving spirit in our leader, His Eminence the Chief Imam, Sheikh Nuhu Sharubutu. Everybody sees his relationship and interactions with the Christian leaders in Ghana. We must all learn from his sterling qualities and live together in peace and tranquility.

The writer is the Director of Ghana-Lebanon Islamic School (GLIS), Accra.
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