Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Old Harbour was recently honoured to host a group of approximately 60 students from Homestead Primary School at its Mahdi Mosque recently.

The visit provided well needed opportunity and insights for students and teachers to ask questions and remove misunderstandings many people have about the world’s second largest religion.

Organized by school teacher Kaydian Thomas-Gentles, the trip forms part of an initiative for students to visit religious organizations to learn firsthand about different religions.

Audrey Maragh, who is president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim women’s organization, says her group was very pleased to host the students and teachers. “There are so many misconceptions about our Mosque and religion of Islam. It is extremely important in this day and age for people to get correct knowledge about Islam and the best way to do that is to go and meet a Muslim yourself!” said Maragh, who credited the school She says she was pleased by Homestead Primary School for taking the lead in educating the young minds of students through the visit.

Gentles also got very positive feedback of the trip through her students, most of whom were visiting a Muslim Mosque for the first time.

She said: “We believe all students should receive the best education possible and so when we have to educate our students on world religions we believe that we should not just stick to the textbooks but rather have the students visit themselves and ask questions.”

Students of Homestead Primary were not shy to ask difficult and controversial questions related to Islam. After an introductory presentation by the Muslim women’s group, the students had an opportunity to ask questions. Some of those questions included gender equality, role of women in Islam, why a Muslim woman wears a headscarf (hijab), marriage in Islam, acts of worship and Muslim beliefs, and many more. Members of the Muslim community also demonstrated how Muslims worship five times a day.

Jamaican born and raised Maragh who is a recent convert to Islam, wishes that more schools will take the initiative to bring their students to visit the Mosque which would help bridge gaps and improve understandings about Islam.

“We as Jamaicans believe ‘Out of many one people.’ But how can we put that into practice unless we make the effort to understand each other and the best way to do that is to follow such examples of students and teachers of Homestead Primary making efforts to bring their students to visit the Mosque, asking us questions, and removing any misunderstandings one may have,” she posited.

The Mahdi Mosque in Old Harbour regularly hosts school visits and is recently taking more steps to invite and welcome the public to visit and ask questions. Teachers or organizations interested for free Mosque tours can contact the Mosque at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 283-9533 directly to schedule trips.

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The government, through the Ministry of Education, has been making significant efforts to improve the country’s literacy and numeracy level to global standards.

But for one community-based organization, improving those targets isn’t just the responsibility of the education ministry alone.

For the last four weeks the Bushy Park Community Development Committee (CDC) has embarked on a literacy programme for citizens within its districts that will ultimately empower them and make them employable.

Close to 30 adults and children were present when Old Harbour News visited one of the CDC’s evening classes held free of cost at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, Jamaica headquarters, situated five minutes east of Old Harbour.

Not surprisingly the mosque was pristine and the setting tranquil, an environment conducive for learning. Chief programme co-ordinator Audrey Maragh-Fuller is amongst four tutors, including Nadia Chambers, Clare Parchment and Maurice Walters, volunteering their time twice per week towards helping these persons become functionally literate and numerate. The students seem all enthused as they are placed in groups, with each tutor assigned to a group.

The programme is an approved course in partnership with the Jamaican Foundation for Life-long Learning (formerly JAMAL), but Maragh-Fuller said they have added a healthy lifestyle component as their focus take into consideration the development of the total human being.

The course is made up of four levels and upon successful completion a student can further educate themselves through HEART – the state’s skill-training institute.

“We have a tailor-made curriculum to suit the needs of our people because we look at an individual, see what is required and deal with them on a one-to-one,” said Maragh-Fuller, who is a Justice of the Peace and vice-president of the Vineyard Citizen’s Association.

“I see a real need to create a more literate society,” she continued. “I look around and see a whole lot of social ills which I think stem a lot from illiteracy. I think illiteracy also make our people less productive.

“Take for example some of the people in the agriculture sector, they learn everything by just watching what other persons do but they cannot take up the manual and read and follow an instruction that says ‘this is the way to plant tomatoes differently, this is the way these chemicals should be used and this is the proportion in which I should mix my chemicals’. But unless they see somebody do it they cannot do it because they cannot read.

“I don’t think some of these parents understand the real value of a good education, so therefore we have to teach them so that they can teach their children.”

Getting adults to come forward was the most difficult task for the CDC, as many were unenthusiastic about the idea of attending a literacy class. It took quite some convincing Maragh-Fuller admitted.

“Illiteracy is nothing to be ashamed of. It is staying in it that is what you should be ashamed of,” she reasoned. “So think about it. You’re not going to remain illiterate; you are going to get out of it. I see people quarrel and fight because they don’t have the vocabulary to express their feelings.”

By now some of the parents were bringing their children to the classes, and the student population continues to increase as the word keeps spreading.

Classes are held Mondays and Wednesdays between the hours of 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm but at times the activities shift from merely reading and writing.

“At first we had a major problem with discipline. But the more you teach these children what the demand is the more they conform. So it’s like they are learning a new culture. It is now less challenging because they have adapted to each other,” said Maragh-Fuller, who told us she home-schooled her children.

“They come with their own challenges and personal problems,” she added. “So you become a counselor as well; and you have to be a good listener and you have to deal with those issues too before you deal with the formal lesson. But you have to make people believe that they are important and that they matter.”

While we sat there speaking, a young farmer, who is a student, brought sweet potatoes and cucumbers for the chief co-ordinator. He said it was his gift to her, reminding the tutor that it was Teacher’s Day too.

It was a moment that warmed the heart. It also speaks volumes of the kind of relationship and respect already establish between teachers and students.

On the other hand the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at is making its own contribution to the community. Still a very small group in Jamaica with less than 500 adherents on the island they were very happy to assist the CDC at the first time of asking.

Maulana Idrees Ahmed is the missionary in charge of the facility and he told Old Harbour News that assisting the CDC’s educational initiative is not viewed in any way as a burden by the religious organisation.

The Maulana or Reverend as we would say in Christianity said: “We consider education as part of our duty and our facility here is not for us but for the community, so anybody who wants to come here is always welcome. This facility is for Jamaicans and particularly those who live around the community.

“The first revelation that was given to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, was about education that God said you should read. Because when you are born into this world without knowledge you remain like a muscle of flesh but once you begin to learn and gain knowledge then you uplift from that status and you become a new creature. So we always encourage people to learn and that is why when they (the Bushy Park CDC) came we were ready to help,” added Ahmed, who is from Ghana.

Despite the laudable efforts of the Bushy Park CDC and the support from the Ahmadiyya Muslims, there are some concerns, out of ignorance some people may argue. According to Maragh-Fuller out of sheer ignorance some persons have refused to attend the CDC’s literacy classes due to the constant demonizing of Muslims in some international spheres as terrorists.

It is a view that Maragh-Fuller, who is not a Muslim, is passionate about.

“I have spoken to persons who I have told to come but they told me ‘mi pastor seh mi not to go over the Muslim church’. But I think I have read enough to know that Islam is just another religion like other religions that talk to God and seek to love and to care. We have to learn as a society to be more tolerant of other people.

“I know of a lady who was about to get a job, and they wanted to employ her because she’s a good person at heart, but she cannot read and so she could not get the job. She’s never had a formal job, she’s always hustling. But one of the sad things is because of church she doesn’t want to come over here because it’s a Muslim church.

“Jamaica is small and we have to join with the rest of the world because the world is now a global village.

“So we have to teach our children tolerance, we cannot keep them locked up in a box. We have to learn to live as one people, whether you are a Rastafari, whether you are a Hindu, whether you are a Taoist or Buddhist, everybody has a right to live and to worship. And that is what I want for my people in my class to learn that we are one people,” she said.

She argued that too many things such as politics and class, are being used to divide societies and that “irrespective of our differences our similarities are even greater”.

She told Old Harbour News that Islam isn’t taught to the students nor is there any effort by their facilitators to force their beliefs on the group.

“We don’t talk religion here. What we talk about here is love and education,” she said.

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