One of the main drawbacks in the socio-economic development of many Muslim communities over the years has been the refusal, or sometimes the inability, of many Muslim parents to send their children to school.
As far back as about a century ago, many Muslims saw western education as an anathema. They believed that sending their children to school in those times meant mortgaging the lives of their children to Christianity.
Muslims of that era preferred sending their children to Koranic schools where they learnt Islamic scriptures which would make them good Muslims. They did not think about the economic implications. All that they wanted to see was for their children to be trained the Islamic way even if it did not bring any economic gain. Western education was, therefore, to many Muslims a taboo.
Even as colonial rule was coming to an end and many schools had been opened by Christian groups, like the Roman Catholic, the Methodist, the Presbyterian and others for children of colonial Gold Coast to train for jobs in the colonial civil service, and for other areas, the Muslims remained in their shells, not ready to climb the socio-economic ladder.
This was what led to poverty in the Muslim communities especially, the Zongos, where literacy levels were very low. A few enlightened ones, who saw the importance of western education, were mocked and slandered by fellow Muslims for sending their children to school.
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Gradual change to formal education
However, as independence approached, many Muslims saw the wisdom in sending their children to school. Those who saw the light early enough realised the benefits of western education. These were the ones who were lucky to see their children getting good jobs and taking their parents and families out of poverty.
Those who wanted their children to receive only Islamic education lived to regret their actions as their children remained at the bottom of the social ladder, engaging in menial jobs and also in anti-social activities like prostitution, drug addiction and even armed robbery.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since those days when leaders in the Muslim communities saw western education as an abomination. That is no more. Many Muslims today send their children to school and one can say without any fear of contradiction that the efforts of many Muslim parents have been rewarding, never in vain.
Highly educated Muslims are found in all spheres of our national lives. There are today Muslim professors, doctors, bankers, and top civil servants who are rubbing shoulders with their colleagues from the other side of the religious divide.
Inspite of all the strides made by Muslims to climb the socio-economic ladder, the gap is still too wide to be bridged. There is still the existence of poverty in the Muslim communities throughout the country. Many Muslims continue to live at the Zongos where they face a struggle for survival, barely able to make ends meet.
It is in the light of finding solutions to problems facing many Muslims, bringing hope and finding succour for them that one must commend Sheikh Mustapha Ibrahim for his efforts over the years to improve conditions in the Muslim communities and the lot of Muslims in general.
Sheikh Mustapha is a well-known figure in the Muslim communities because he has spent a greater part of his life in the service of Islam, principally to alleviate poverty in these communities throughout Ghana. He has positively impacted on the lives of thousands of Muslims because his has been a jihad to make life a little more comfortable for Muslims who face want and deprivation.
When I encountered Sheikh Mustapha recently at his Nii Boye Town residence in Accra, he cut a figure of somebody in a race against time to translate his dreams into reality. I found him to be somebody who wants to push education down the throat of Muslims everywhere and to equip them with skills that will liberate them from the clutches of poverty.
Having himself received both western and Islamic education to a very appreciable level, Sheikh Mustapha found himself early in life better placed to fight the canker of poverty by providing the means for fellow Muslims to also improve their lot.
Again, having travelled far and wide to receive his education he had had a good orientation and was able to broaden his horizons which became an asset to him later in life. It was this training that enabled him to push forward to help others.
Not that Sheikh Mustapha was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But certainly he did not have a rough start in life. At least he was born into a home of Islamic scholars that ensured that he had some education, both Islamic and secular that has always put him in a good stead.
Sheikh Mustapha was born at Cowlane in Accra in the late 1940s. His father was Mallam Ibrahim Mustapha Bako and his mother was Hajia Sa’adatu, the daughter of the then Greater Accra Chief Imam.
He however grew up at Nima where he started his formal education at the Ahmad Basha Scool and continued at the Nima Presbyterian Primary School.
Sheikh Mustapha was sent to Kaolack in Senegal, a centre of Islam in West Africa, to continue with his Islamic education. There he under studied many Islamic scholars.
He returned to Ghana in 1965 and relocated to Kumasi to continue with his secular and Islamic education He enrolled at the Kumasi Workers College where he studied for his GCE “O” and “A” Levels, coming out with flying colours. At the same time he studied under one of the renowned scholars in Kumasi, a writer and educationist and a founder of the Wataniya Islamic School, Sheikh Ahmed Baba Al-Waiz of Kumasi.
After sojourning in Kumasi for some time, during which he believed he had received the best in secular and Islamic education, Sheikh Mustapha returned to Accra in 1970. He immediately gained admission to study Religions at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ghana, Legon.
Upon graduation in 1973, he was posted to Damango for his national service. There he taught Economics and Islamic studies. He was later transferred to Kumasi by the Ministry of Education to teach at T.I Ahmadiyya Secondary School, where he remained for two years.
‘’At this stage I thought I was well equipped enough to move to the next stage of my life. I had always dreamt of putting all the experiences I had acquired in my odyssey at the service of humanity and to help the less privileged in the society,’’ he told me.
In 1980 Sheikh Mustapha resigned from the Ghana Education Service (GES) and by 1981 he had established the Islamic Book for Development and Translation Council. He wrote a number of books on various aspects of Islam while he also translated many religious books from Arabic to English.
Because of the additional activities of the Council, Sheikh Mustapha changed the name to the Islamic Council for Development and Humanitarian Services (ICODEHS) which he registered in 1991 as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) with the Social Welfare Development.
It must be noted that under the old dispensation Sheikh Mustapha was able to educate and sensitise people to Islamic norms. He also used the Marhaba radio to educate the people on various aspects of Islam, while he got sponsors from Kuwait who assisted in the printing of his books. He was also able to open a library which enabled people to read all types of books.
However, it was the establishment of ICODEHS that opened the leeway for him to put all his ideas into practice especially, to help many Muslims to get the correct education to move them out of poverty.
According to Sheikh Mustapha the man aim of ICODEHS is to work with donor partners to alleviate poverty and improve the living conditions of individuals in the society through relief and humanitarian services for sustainable development.
“Through ICODEHS we have been able to build about 400 schools throughout the country, constructed over 1000 mosques in various communities in addition to the construction of 3,200 wells, all to help improve the living conditions of the vulnerable” he indicated.
In addition, ICODEHS has built seven clinics, seven orphanages, four vocational centres and seven houses for the needy.
The greatest satisfaction of Sheikh Mustapha is the establishment of three senior high schools in the country, namely the Suhum Senior Girls School and the two at Lameshegu in Tamale and Adenta in Accra.
For all his efforts to improve the living conditions of others Sheikh Ibrahim has received many national and international awards including the companion of the Order of the Volta and the Grand National Award.