Following the intense scrutiny to which Islamic societies and cultures have been subjected in the recent past, I was intrigued by the excessive emphasis on the nexus between terrorism and Islam. In particular, I noticed the suggestion in the media on Islamic schools or madrasas as breeding grounds for terrorism, terrorist thought and ideology. What I found disturbing was the insinuation that Muslim children were indoctrinated with hatred for others, and consequently grew up to become terrorists. Two things piqued my curiosity— do Muslim girls not frequent these schools? and why haven’t there been as many cases of Muslim female terrorists if they, too, were being indoctrinated with hatred in these schools? I always suspected that something was amiss and it led me to wonder if these schools were open only to boys—was there any place for girls in Islamic education? Furthermore, why weren’t regions that don’t typically fall under the radar of scholarship or media attention vis-à- vis Islam such as Africa being examined to provide a holistic view of Islamic culture and practice? Since I analyze cultural phenomena in African literatures, I quite naturally wanted to expand the scope of our understanding of Islamic schools and of Islamic education, in general. Specifically, I wanted to know what Muslim children, especially girls were studying in these schools, and how was this education shaping their adult lives? I also began to think more deeply about the curriculum in these schools, having visited Islamic schools in different parts of the world, including Africa and Asia. I found numerous examples of girls frequenting Islamic schools and acquiring a positive, if not productive, experience from their visits to the school in various novels from West Africa, contrary to the widely circulated notion that Islamic schools promote and encourage rote memorization, repetition without comprehension and are in the end ineffective media of education. I felt that all these unexamined perceptions were part of a salvo to systematically discredit anything connected to Islam, Islamic practice or habits—a scholarly and popular tendency that has long existed in academia. By focusing on the details of the curriculum of Islamic schools in the various works of fiction I analyze in my paper, I hope to expand not just the scope of our conceptions of Islamic schools, but I invite consideration of what exactly Islamic education entails—its nuts and bolts, and what impact, if any, it has on the minds of young Muslim girls. I believe that this specific analysis speaks to the crucial topic of female education in general since in most third world countries, women do not have equal access to education and other opportunities typically reserved for boys. As a result, I open up new dimensions of inquiry into Muslims societies, the experience of Muslims vis-à-vis education, female education. But most of all, I draw attention to what exactly Muslims study in Islamic schools. As a researcher, this topic makes me realize the myriad ways to which a curious thinker can be exposed, unknowingly and unexpectedly.
Shirin Edwin (Sam Houston State University, Texas)