‘House of torture’ puts focus on Nigeria Islamic schools

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Students rescued from the Islamic boarding school queue for food and profiling at Ahmadu Bello stadium in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, on September 27, 2019. (AFP)
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A policeman watches over students of the Islamic boarding school who were rescued the day before in Rigasa area of Kaduna, in northern Nigeria, on September 27, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 04 October 2019

‘House of torture’ puts focus on Nigeria Islamic schools

  • Private Islamic schools — known locally as Almajiri schools — are widespread across mainly Muslim northern Nigeria
  • Activists have long pushed the government to reform or end the Almajiri system, arguing that it fails to provide children with the basics of an education

KANO, Nigeria: Horrific revelations of torture and abuse at a compound billing itself as a Qur'anic reform school in northern Nigeria have shone a spotlight on Islamic institutes unregulated by the authorities.
Last week police in the city of Kaduna raided a building to find hundreds of men and boys — some reportedly aged as young as five — held in atrocious conditions at a facility proprietors described as a religious school and rehabilitation center.
Inmates were discovered chained to metal railings and with their hands and feet shackled together. Some bore scars from alleged beatings while other recounted being sexually abused.
“If they caught you if you want to run away from this place, they would hang you, they would chain you,” one of the victims Abdallah Hamza said.
The shocking revelations made headlines but activists insisted they were symptomatic of abuses that have long-riddled a system beyond official control.
Private Islamic schools — known locally as Almajiri schools — are widespread across mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, where poverty levels are high and government services often lacking.
The authorities have estimated that there are more than nine million students enrolled at the institutions.
“The latest example from Kaduna represented the worst of the system and very inhumane conditions,” Mohammed Sabo Keana, team lead at the Abuja-based Almajiri Child Rights Initiative NGO, told AFP.
“But they are a clear manifestation of what a lot of children go through — including being made to beg on the streets, subjected to violence, sleeping in the worst conditions imaginable and living with terrible sanitation levels.”

Failed education system
Activists have long pushed the government to reform or end the Almajiri system, arguing that it fails to provide children with the basics of an education.
In June Nigeria’s presidency said that it wanted ultimately to ban the schools — but insisted it would not be doing so anytime soon for fear of creating “panic or a backlash.”
Now calls for change look likely to grow in the wake of the latest scandal.
In a statement on the case the office of President Muhammadu Buhari — himself a Muslim from northern Nigeria — denounced the facility “as a house of torture and a place of human slavery.”
“We are glad that Muslim authorities have dismissed the notion of the embarrassing and horrifying spectacle as (an) Islamic School,” the statement said.
But it steered clear of mentioning any move to prohibit the schools and insisted that enforcing free compulsory education was a “panacea.”
“To stop unwanted cultural practices that amount to the abuse of children, our religious and traditional authorities must work with the federal, state and local governments to expose and stop all types of abuse that are widely known but ignored for many years by our communities,” it said.

Like rehab centers
Defenders of the Almajiri system argue that it can offer poor families services the Nigerian state woefully fails to provide.
Millions of children in the country go without any education despite primary school nominally being free.
Retired civil servant Yusuf Hassan runs the Almajiri Foundation in the northern city of Kano that has looked to improve the system.
He insisted that most schools are not like the one uncovered in Kaduna and instead blamed so-called “rehabilitation centers” where families send relatives considered delinquent or drug addicts.
“Some parents who have children that are difficult to manage at home take them to such rehabilitation centers,” he said.
“Some of the centers end up chaining the kids because they know they will run away.”
Hassan blamed a lack of any government medical or psychiatric care to help tackle widespread drug addiction in northern Nigeria and said a first step should be to separate rehab centers from schools.
But even some of those who have lived through the brutal treatment meted out in such institutions have argued they can be a force for good.
Mohammed Usman was chained up in one when his family took him there to get over a drug addiction in his twenties.
“Of course students were flogged when they misbehave which made us to mind our manners and stay in line,” Usman, now 45 and a high school teacher, told AFP.
He said he was taught about religion, morality and “respect” and eventually managed to get clean.
“I was there for nine months and when the teachers were satisfied with my rehabilitation I was released and returned home. Ever since, I have never used drugs.”

For Iman Jodeh, being Muslim and a progressive Democrat go hand in hand

Updated 32 min 16 sec ago

For Iman Jodeh, being Muslim and a progressive Democrat go hand in hand

  • Iman Jodeh, the Democratic nominee for Colorado’s House of Representatives District 41, speaks to Arab News

NEW YORK CITY: In the 1980s and 1990s, Colorado’s Muslim community was made up of fewer than 30,000 people, and there were only five mosques in the entire state.

“It was really small, but we were happy,” said Iman Jodeh, the Democratic nominee for Colorado’s House of Representatives District 41.

Ever since she was a child, on the first day of Ramadan, Jodeh has sent teachers a letter, written on the mosque letterhead, saying: “For the next 30 days, Muslims will be fasting. So if your Muslim students seem lethargic by the end of the day, please understand why.”

Today, there are over 100,000 Muslims in Colorado.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“Those Muslims are starting to make up a big voting bloc, a big portion of our legislators’ constituency. And it is incumbent upon those legislators to make sure they are listening and taking into account the views of the constituents, regardless of their race, creed or religion. And I constantly remind them of that,” Jodeh told Arab News by phone.

The Democrat hopeful grew up in the shadow of two Gulf wars, and shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the Afghan and the Iraqi wars. She remembers the anonymous phone calls at dinnertime threatening to kill her father Mohammed, and recalls her mother, who wears a hijab, being frightened to leave the house.

“It changed my life. In the wake of 9/11, I was a sophomore in college and had not declared my major yet. Two days later, I was a political science major and, again, speaking to crowds having to defend my religion.”

Being a first-born, first-generation American, with perfect English, understanding the cultural nuances of America, I had to walk that line of also understanding the Arab heritage and Islamic culture and nuances, and marrying those two to be able to communicate the need of being an Arab Muslim American woman.

Iman Jodeh

Jodeh, a trained political scientist, spent the years following those events advocating for the Muslim community and the Middle East, “the most misunderstood region of the world, and the people who call it home.” She taught about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the University of Denver, held cultural events about the region and discussed Islam.

The most effective results, according to Jodeh, came via her non-profit “Meet the Middle East,” which invited Americans to take an “educational immersion journey” to the region to meet various stakeholders there, from Arab Bedouin to Palestinians living in Nablus, and both right-wing and left-leaning Israelis.

The travelers were invited to spend time in Jordan, Egypt, and sometimes Iraq and Morocco.

“From the Berbers of Morocco to the Kurds of Iraq, all these cultural and regional nuances must be understood before you can even attempt to understand the complexities of the conflict, and the kaleidoscope that make up the Middle East,” Jodeh said.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“There are things we can highlight to prove to the world that the Muslim world is one of the most fascinating places to be: There are nine women heads of state in the Muslim world, and the US has yet to see our first. It was Arabs and Muslims who discovered contagion; Arabs and Muslims who discovered latitude and longitude.

“Some of the first and oldest libraries were in Alexandria and Baghdad. And one of the oldest universities was in Morocco, founded by a woman.

“The more we can show that to Americans, the more we’re going to see further understanding and commitment to ending violence in the Middle East, as well as asymmetrical policies from the US and how we look at the region.”

Jodeh said her love for Palestine is ingrained. She was never introduced to it. She did not have a first language: It was Arabic and English her entire life. She was never just American. She was Palestinian American.

I am running to make the American dream a reality for everyone. The American dream has become harder and harder to realize. It is not a trite or cliched phrase for me. I am someone who is the product of a family who came here to realize that dream and with the cost of living, the lack of health care, our climate being threatened, our lack of criminal justice reform, civil rights being accosted... These are all things that are hurting the American dream. This is un-American, this is not the Colorado that I want to see.

Iman Jodeh

“This is my identity, I will never abandon this narrative, because I feel I have an obligation to all Palestinians everywhere to advocate when I can.

“The age of learning, that renaissance period is coming. But we have to get through our dark ages before we can get there. And, unfortunately, that is what we are witnessing today in the Middle East. And it’s heartbreaking.

“But the majority of people in the Middle East are under the age of 35, people like myself. We are just learning how to step outside dictatorship and implement something that we have known our entire lives to be true, which is democracy.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“Democracy is not a concept that is new to the Arab world. Shariah law has paved the way for democratic processes like social welfare,” she said.

To Jodeh, being a Muslim and a progressive Democrat complement each other. She gained her knowledge of Islam from her father, a Palestinian immigrant who co-founded the largest mosque in the Rocky Mountain region, and took his daughter with him when he taught or gave speeches on Islam. That put her in contact with scholars whom she still consults today.

In Aurora, a city she calls home and “one of the best and most diverse cities in the nation, a true reflection of America,” Jodeh has been working at the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, where she speaks, often as a Muslim voice, on contentious bills, such as Equal Pay for Equal Work.

(Photo: Supplied, Iman Jodeh)

“I testified that, 1,400 years ago, God came down with a verse in the Qur’an: ‘I never fail to reward any worker among you, for any work you do, be you male or female — you are equal to one another.’

“It was ironic to me as a woman following a religion that is often deemed as primitive, that this was prescribed to the people 1,400 years ago.

“In Islam, there’s a chapter in the Qur’an called ‘Al-Nisa’ or ‘The Woman.’ There is not a chapter called ‘The Man.’

“What’s beautiful about the Qur’an is that it grants women rights not granted to women in the West until the 1920s,” Jodeh said.

“The fact that those rights were laid out for women so early on is proof of the sanctity of a woman in Islam: Her right to divorce, to own land, to take part in government, to own her own business. These were all things that have been practiced and continue to be practiced.”

The Democratic Party primaries in Colorado will take place on June 30.