By Tauhierah Salie
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has signed a ground-breaking memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) which will assist Muslim students studying hafith to complete their academic schooling.
At a press briefing at the MJC head offices in Athlone on Tuesday, it was revealed that the MOU was at least four years in the making and followed persistent issues relating to Hafith students re-entering school. The WCED’s regulations will be achieved through the MJC’s Academic Support Programme (ASP).
It will be applied to schools dedicated to study and memorisation of the Quran and not private Islamic schools that are already registered with the Education Department. Students who are currently learning through registered home-schooling also don’t need to apply for the programme.
According to the WCED’s deputy director of institution and governance, Deon Louw, Hafith schools were essentially considered as “illegal” because they operated in contravention of the South African School Act (No. 84 of 1996), which states that all children between the ages of 7 and 15 must attend school. When studying Quran alone, an overall academic achievement is not obtained.
“In the process of learners applying to do home-education; we discovered there’s a group of learners that are studying at Hafith schools (and) don’t qualify for home-education per se. But they should be in school because most of them are in the age group of 7 and 15, which is the compulsory school-going age,” said Louw.
“So, we had a challenge, legally, where do they fit in? Because if they go to a hafith school (only) it was illegal. Hence discussions took place with the MJC to facilitate this process and we then concluded that we can accommodate them,” elaborated Louw.
With funding from Awqaf SA; the MJC and its Department of Quranic Affairs, WCED and representatives of hafith schools embarked on the journey to legalization. Louw explained that the Schools Act itself held the answer.
“In terms of the SA School Act, there’s a clause that states parents can apply to the head of education so that their child can be exempted from compulsory attendance. A parent applies and can, for a period of 2-5 years depending on the time the child takes to study the Quran, (receive exemption) for the child.
Parents no longer need to apply directly through the Head of Department at Western Cape Education Department’s, Brian Schreuder, but can instead work through hafith schools that are subject to the MJC’s programme.
The MOU solidifies the MJC’s role as a regulator of Hafith schools. The MJC will host classes for English, Maths and Natural Science on a weekly basis to provide children with the necessary academic background. Classes will take place at Al Azhar High School on Saturdays between 8.30am-12.30pm.
“These are the core subjects which will ascertain whether a learner has achieved a particular grade. It will test the learner’s ability at their age group- the results will determine whether the learner is ready for that particular grade,” said Louw.
Another stumbling block for students who have completed their Quranic endeavours, was their return to secular schooling. Students will now need to complete a diagnostic test drafted by the WCED’s curriculum department, which will ascertain an academic standard and requirement.
“On return of the learner to mainstream schooling, which is a public or registered independent school, the learner must be tested and the department will facilitate – at their cost – the diagnostic test of every learner to determine at what grade or level the learner will re-enter the system,” explained Louw.
MJC second deputy president and member of the education portfolio Shaykh Riyaad Fataar, explained that the above were the driving forces behind the pursuit of an official arrangement.
“It’s extremely important that when a child has learned hifths, that that the child be taken through the education system, comes out at the end of the day with a matric pass and from there can choose whatever direction they’re going in. It’s not everybody that goes into hifths to teach hifths.
“They (WCED) felt that we are not interested in closing the Islamic schools, but we need an authority. When there are issues happening at our Islamic schools, our parents run to the WCED to complain. Therefore, the WCED is looking for a regulator for all these things.”
Louw noted however that those over the age of 18 will not work through the ASP to return to school and will, instead, have to seek assistance through higher learning institutions.
When questioned whether the agreement would see Hafith schools receive funding, Louw explained that there is already a shortage of funds. According to Louw, 80% of their annual budget goes toward salaries and they’re left to juggle the rest.
He also explained that independent schools and their teachers must be registered or could be legally charged if the correct processes are not followed. Parents involved in this regard will also be implicated and could face separate charges.
There has also been concern about the professionalism of educators in terms of not possessing formal “academic qualifications”. The MJC has since drafted a policy that defines the norms and standards for teachers, which is expected to be distributed shortly. It was explained that scholars and teachers at unregistered hafith schools will need to obtain an education certificate. This is to ensure they are fully equipped to pass on their knowledge adequately.
“We know that there has been quite a number of issues that has been in the media about what happens at the hafith schools and so on. When these schools now register with the MJC they have to follow a code of conduct which becomes compulsory and they have to implement it,” said Fataar.
“Even if they are only teaching Quran and hifths… they are not in trouble. But, from the MJC, we say let’s upgrade. We will be looking at programmes, together with our educational institutions such as IPSA and surrounds, in order to upgrade our teachers.”
Parents will need to collect the forms from the respective schools.
“We must put the form through our processes but parents would have to get that at the hafith schools who would then forward it to the MJC so we can capture all the data. From there it will be sent to the WCED to get the approval,” said Fataar.
According to Fataar, the United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA) is also undergoing a process which hopes to provide academic credits for Islamic subjects.
“A panel has been established in order to get certain Islamic studies recognized. (This includes) a muathin, a Muallim and an alim that is going to be an imam. They are still in the process whereby those kinds of credits will be given by South African Qualifications Authority.
MJC first-deputy president Moulana Abdul Khaliq Allie noted that schools will be engaged within coming days.
“The mere fact that it started on 100 students and (now) there is already an application for futher students to enrol into this programme… It is all an indication that, while we might’ve only signed the MOU on (Tuesday), it is already well in progress,” said Allie.
“There will be continuous engagement with all the hafith institutions. A follow up meeting will be called and people must feel comfortable to pose those questions to the MJC because they are the ones who engage with the parents. At the same time, it will allow us an opportunity for further engagement,” said Allie.
“This is going to work, and we hope it will benefit all learners. he agreement we signed today (Tuesday) was legally vetted, acknowledged and both parties are happy with the way forward. We hope for a wonderful future in assisting our hafith learners in competing the hafith studies and successfully completing their education in the school system,” exclaimed Louw.
Shaykh Ebrahim Gabriels echoed the sentiment saying that this is a step toward bridging the gap between Qur’anic and academic education.
“We know the people of Cape Town love the Quran, it’s like a revolution that took place…the number of girls and boys memorizing the Quran. Of cause, they’re missing out on school but Alhamdulillah, we’ve signed this MOU that will take our children further. We don’t only want them to learn Quran, we want them to become great leaders in all fields- such as medicine, engineering etc.”