A preschool on the island of Maafushi in Kaafu Atoll has alleged a number of parents have stopped students from attending school, claiming “differences in religious views.”
Parents have so far pulled six students from the preschool, while two more have been officially expelled on parental request. Parents of two older students attending the Maafushi School have also submitted letters informing the school management that their children will no longer be attending classes.
Maafushi Preschool’s Head Teacher Aminath Shiuna has expressed concern that the new trend is depriving children of their right to education.
“Two children, both from the same family, have been officially taken out of school. There are six more who have stopped coming. Although their parents have not informed us directly, we have heard through other mediums that they will not be sending them to school again,” Shiuna said.
“This is the only preschool on the island. We have 125 students aged between two and six years, some of whom are from other islands while some are non-Maldivians. If the students are taken out from this school, there are no other alternatives available on this island where these children can be sent,” she said.
“Therefore, we as the school management, are very concerned that decisions like this are depriving innocent children from the right to an education. We are doing all we can to hold discussions with these parents and find some sort of a solution where the children can be allowed to study again,” Shiuna stated.
A teacher from the preschool has told local media that although no official explanations had been given to the school, some of the parents had expressed disapproval after the school had held Children’s Day celebrations.
According to the teacher, a number of parents complained that the school had involved their children in Children’s Day activities in which music, in the form of nursery rhymes, had been played.
Parents have also further complained that the preschoolers were not taught in gender-segregated classes.
President of the Maafushi Women’s Development Committee (MWDC), which runs the island’s preschool, Badhurunisa Ibrahim has also expressed concern about the matter.
“They stopped sending their children to school without having discussed it with us at all. Depriving them from an education is an abuse of these children’s rights. This immensely worries us,” she said.
Badhurunisa suggested that parents try to find solutions through discourse rather than preventing children from attending classes. She said that arrangements could be made where parents so inclined can request teachers to not involve their children in activities they find inappropriate, such as the singing of nursery rhymes.
“Even in the other school, which is attended by students age 7 to 16 years, parents have recently prevented two from attending classes. The parents of one of these girls has even submitted a letter informing the school of their decision,” Ibrahim said.
An official from Maafushi School confirmed that the letter requesting dismissal had been submitted by the parent of the current school captain, a girl studying in the tenth grade.
The other student is currently in the second grade, and eight years of age.
“They are no longer being sent to school, and we are very worried that their own parents are taking away a constitutional right from them. There are no other schools in this island, so it’s not like they are just changing them from one place to another. We have heard, unofficially, that the parents intend to educate them at a private Quran class run by a Sheikh instead,” the official said.
Following the Sheikh
Multiple sources from the island of Maafushi have expressed concerns about a “Sheikh” from another atoll who has been preaching in the island for just over an year, which they allege is leading to events such as the increase in children being deprived of standard education.
“Keeping children away from school and blaming it on religious differences is certainly worrying. We are seeing that there is a separate faction that is being formed within the population of Maafushi, a faction that is growing at alarming speed. This factor, or group, adheres to a much more conservative form of Islam that contradicts with our traditional ways. More women are donning the niqab now, and more men are growing their beards longer,” said Ali Shaheen from the Kaafu Atoll Council.
MDWC President Badurunisa Ibrahim alleged the Sheikh was creating a rift among the island’s citizens, alleging he was converting more and more people to join his “more extreme version of religion” and abide by rules he defined.
“He calls himself Sheikh Ibrahim Rasheed, and originally comes from the island of Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll. He stayed in Thulusdhoo before but was sent off for creating problems similar to what we are seeing here on this island now,” Badurunisa explained.
“He has been preaching to those who listen to him that playing nursery rhymes in preschool is the same as playing music, which he claims is haram. He has been advising parents to not let girls and boys mix together in school, saying it is anti-islamic. This is leading to parents taking their kids out of school, which is so very worrying,” Badurunisa said.
“He initially came to teach Quran at the Children’s Centre here, and then when he got fired, he started teaching private Quran and Tawheed classes,” she said.
“It seems ridiculous that he convinces parents to take children out of school as they are not gender segregated, and then himself proceeds to hold mixed classes for all ages,” she alleged.
Another source from the island, on condition of anonymity, said the Sheikh’s preachings were leading to a lot of dissent among the previously unified people of the island.
He said that Sheikh Rasheed “acts as though he owns the island’s mosque”, and that he has been verbally harassing mosque-goers with taunts like ‘laadheenee’ (irreligious) and ‘kafir’.
He said that a group of islanders had approached the Islamic Ministry asking for action against the Sheikh.
A Maafushi school official said that it was known that both the students who were being kept away from school were now attending the Quran and Tawhid classes run by Sheikh Rasheed.
Abdulla Ibrahim from the Minister of Education’s Bureau said the ministry is “highly concerned as this will negatively effect the education of these children.”
He however said that the ministry has not yet decided on a way to address the specific incidents.
“Preschools are run by women’s development committees or councils. However, we will soon be discussing how to address this matter,” he said.
Minivan News was unable to contact Sheikh Ibrahim Rasheed at the time of press.
Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed, was also not available for comment.