IT’S NOT MY RELIGION THAT OPPRESSES ME, IT’S YOUR IGNORANCE.

It was in 2007 when I realized being a Muslim was a blessing only to me and my fellow Muslims. To some who weren’t, it was the perfect weapon to express their cruel nature towards me and my religion.

It’s only natural for human beings to thank God after he grants their wishes and answers their late night prayers. Things were not any different on this casual Friday when the KCSE results were released. I was ‘fortunate’ enough to join a school that was ranked top nationwide. Pangani Girls’ School. So as was the norm, the students from the previous year performed exceptionally well. I was in my first year so I was not familiar with the routine and the culture of this new environment. Turned out, after the results were out and everyone had celebrated, students and all teachers meet up in the school hall for a thanksgiving session. You wouldn’t have this without a number of pastors and Bibles of course.

I was shocked to realize that this was actually mandatory for everyone. Regardless of your religion or belief. Last time I checked I just had to perform ablution, offer salah and sajdatul shukr and give all my thanks to Allah. This entire praise and worship buzz was somewhat strange to me. Having no say as a mere first year, I joined the crowd with my other Muslim sisters, only to be seen. I have to say the songs were a bit catchy and interesting! And Masha Allah they have crazy energy which turns into serenity in a split second when they get to the worship part.
Anyway, let me cut to the chase. The clock ticked and it was time for dhuhr prayers. So we (Muslims) decided to go offer salah as the congregation continued with the worship. Now, let me take a second to explain how ‘big’ our prayer room was. It could only fit four at a time. Maybe two depending on the physique of the individual. Apparently it was a charcoal store judging from the black walls and the dusty floor. And because we were a group of almost thirty, we decided to take turns. First bunch went in, prayed and gave way to the second. I can’t clearly recall what group I was in but I remember vividly what happened next.
The principal walked by and started throwing tantrums simply because we left the event to come and ‘make noise’. She took down our names, not  giving us even a millisecond to explain what we were up to.  She then told us to report to her office first thing on Monday. Anyone who has been through high school knows this is definitely not a good sign and it never ends well. You’ll either be given an expulsion, a suspension, or detention for those of us privileged enough to be kept in a room alone as a form of punishment. Sigh.
Okay, so fast forward to Monday morning. We all match to her office. First question she asks us…..”How many places in the school need cleaning, scrubbing and wiping?”
I couldn’t believe I was about to be punished for practicing my religion.
Just from her look, no one had the audacity to ask questions.We listed down all the possible places we could think of. After a prolonged silence, she added. “Don’t forget the walls and toilets”.

I could literally feel the disgust in my gut just from imagining how filthy those toilets were.
We were then ordered to get into groups of three and start working on the list. Each group would clean a specific part. Not for an hour or a day or two. But for a whole week!! Even worse, twice a day! I started crying not because I’m a sissy….okay maybe I am a little bit. But! This was too much. I couldn’t understand.

I have so much respect for cleaners because this was not an easy task. By the time we were done with one part and moved to the next, it was already muddy thanks to the other students who had no choice but to walk around.
So we did this for a week. Missed our classes for a week. Got sick for a week. And hated my life that week. I have never cleaned a spot for so long. I could actually see my reflection through the wall!
This was just one of the crazy mean things that principal has done to the Muslims in that school. We could go hungry during Ramadan with no iftar just because she wanted us to be in class making a grade.

As I write this piece, it’s been a good eight years down the line and I still hear complaints from my Muslim sisters. Today, there is a huge hole on the roof of their prayer room.

Saddest part is, a number of parents were willing to renovate it but her Excellency rejected them. I mean, what excuse or reason would she have to refuse? What would she lose? How would it affect her life?  Subhannallah
I was narrating this story to one of my cousins who happens to be in a public primary school. Alhamdulilah they wear their hijab to school. However, my heart broke into a million and one pieces when she told me what she goes through in school. One of her teachers, a lady, always tells her how ugly she looks in her hijab. That she’s hiding her dirty hair under it. All her brains are covered with her hijab and she can’t think straight. I didn’t quite understand her point here because my cousin with her other hijabi friends were the top six candidates in that school. I figured that teacher was just a mix of stupidity, ignorance and more stupidity.
Unfortunately, all this is happening in most schools in Kenya today. Muslims around the country are being oppressed and denied their rights. What happened to freedom of religion? Freedom of worship? Freedom of expression?  What happened to humanity?

And more importantly, what are we Muslims, myself included, doing about all this? It’s high time our voices were heard. It’s time to define who we are and reduce the level of ignorance out there.

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