LILONGWE – Helping blind Muslims to pursue their education, an Islamic school has been opened in Malawi to cater for the needs of visually-impaired students in the southern African country.
"We founded this school as a direct response to rising levels of neglect and discrimination Muslims with visual impairments especially children are being subjected to," Ibrahim Amin, a founder of An-Noor Madrassah for the Blind, told OnIslam.net.
Located in the commercial city of Blantyre, the school enrols children between 9-21 years of age.
"Because of the stigma attached, most parents are shy to identify themselves with visually impaired children as a result," Amin said.
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"The children are being abandoned by their own parents, with no care at all. The children are being deprived of opportunities to access both secular and Islamic education."
Amin, a teacher for children with special needs, said the school caters for both Islamic and secular educational needs of blind Muslim students.
"We teach them Arabic Braille so that at the end of the day, they should know how to read the Qur'an," he said.
"This is an opportunity which was not available in the past for them."
For adults, Amin said the school conducts workshops where they learn Arabic Braille to enable them read the Noble Qur'an.
"Therefore, all visually impaired adults who were denied an opportunity to read the Qur'an are now able to recite it through our initiative," he said.
"We feel there is no basis for them to be denied knowledge in Islam just on the basis of their disability.”
Amin said that blind Muslims were enrolled in schools run by Christian organizations since 1904, ending up with being converted to Christianity.
"Due to fear of being converted to Christianity, most parents were not willing to send their children to those schools, therefore many of the children were being abandoned," he said.
"The birth of this institution has therefore rescued the children and given them another hope by providing their needs in far as care and education is concerned."
Islam is the second largest religion in the country after Christianity.
Official statistics suggest Muslims constitute 12 percent of Malawi’s 14 million people, but the umbrella Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) puts the rate at 36.
The Islamic school for blind Muslims is seen boosting the education process in Malawi.
"Through this school, we are also contributing to the success of the education policy of the Malawi government towards inclusive education, where children with various disabilities and those with no disabilities are able to access basic education on equal footing," Amin said.
He described the situation among visually impaired children in the Muslim communities as very pathetic.
"These children are going through untold miseries," he told OnIslam.net.
"Most of them are not cared at all. Most of the communities think that having a visually impaired child is a curse. This has attitude has destroyed the future of most of the children with visual impairments.
"Most of these children are kept in secluded places away from the public.
"Our message to Muslim communities is that they shouldn’t deny children with visual impairments access to education, both secular and Islamic because of their disabilities. They need to understand that disability is not inability."
Amin said the school was also equipping local sheikhs with skills on how to teach visually impaired children Arabic Braille in their madrassahs.
"Parents cannot even send their children to madrassahs in their respective communities, because the sheikhs there don’t know Arabic Braille," he said.
"Through the school, we are doing everything possible to train the local sheikhs."
Besides education, the school was also supporting visually impaired children from poor families who are in primary schools with their basic needs of clothing and uniform.
The Islamic school has won praise from Malawi’s Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Eunice Kazembe, who described it as a move towards meeting the “Education for All” goal, which the government was currently implementing.
"I know what parents with visual impairments are going through. And I’m quite aware of the problems the children are experiencing. It is a sad situation," he said.
"As a government, we really commend this development, because it is within our goal towards education for all," Kazembe told OnIslam.net.
"Whether one has a disability or not, education should be provided equally for them all."
According to Malawi's National Statistical Office, the country has about 152,000 people with visual impairments.
Since the school opened its doors last year, the response among Malawians has been quite overwhelming.
"Our initiative has been greeted with wild enthusiasm among the Muslim communities," Amin said.
"This school has changed people's mindset towards children with visual impairments."Most parents are now able to recognize their roles towards these children, through sensitization meetings we have been having with them."
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