A video clip that has been doing rounds has caused more than a murmur in religious circles. The video announces the government’s move to integrate the Islamic religious schools – commonly known as Madrassa – into the formal education system.
The integration is also to absorb into the curriculum the Duksi system, which is largely practised among the Somali and involves memorising the Koran and other Islamic teachings. What has raised eyebrows is the statement that “the Duksi and Madrasa teachers will be paid by the government” and the schools will officially fall under the mainstream education system.
For many, this amounts to the government paying for what is clearly religious instruction, which would normally be the sole responsibility of every religion.
In Christian terms, it is argued that this is akin to the government taking over the running of Sunday School classes and paying the teachers who would normally offer their services pro-bono or as supported by the church.
What may be lost to many, however, is that the Education Ministry is simply implementing the provisions of the Basic Education Act No. 14 of 2013.
In Section 95 sub-section 2(e), the Act provides for “integration of the madrassa, Duksi and pastoral programmes of instructions into the formal education system as appropriate to improve access and retention.”
The Sixth Schedule of the same Act then provides details for establishment and functions of what is known as the National Council for Nomadic Education in Kenya, which is charged with the responsibility of implementing and overseeing the program.
In a sense, therefore, it is rather late to raise any serious concerns over this program at this stage. When the Bill was first brought to Parliament in 2012, then acting Education Permanent Secretary, George Godia, said through the integration program, students would get financial assistance from the government.
What is curious though, is that Prof Godia pointed out that the Madrassa system would be “limited to predominantly Muslim areas.” Whatever the case, this new move seems to have revived concerns over the apparently disappearing boundaries between government and religion.
Last year Senior Church leaders raised concerns over provisions in the Finance Bill 2017 that amended several finance related laws to accommodate Sharia financial services. Back in January 2015, the government announced that it was about to join the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation as a member nation.
According to the Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, this was to give Kenya access to cheap loans from the Islamic Development Bank, extended on interest free terms as per Islamic banking practice.
The moved caused uproar in some quarters and the government appeared to retreat. But, in February 2016, the Attorney General, Githu Muigai, announced that Kenya would be reviewing all relevant laws and regulations to aid the issuance of a debut Islamic law-compliant finance bond known as Sukuk.
Apart from these, many would remember the storm caused by the inclusion of the Kadhi’s Courts in the constitution back in 2010. Under this provision, the kadhis are official state officers fully paid by the government to deal with matters related to personal family laws for Muslims.
Whereas there may actually be nothing wrong with government paying kadhis to undertake such duties, the church has wondered why the same government requires Pastors to pay to be licensed to officiate marriages. Furthermore, churches have to purchase marriage certificate books to register marriages – a strictly government function.
A Christian marriage ceremony is a solemn event that neither includes nor requires the issuance of a certificate. The Pastor is therefore under no spiritual obligation to issue such a certificate.
Yet, whereas both the marriage registrar at the AG’s office and the kadhi are rightfully paid to conduct weddings within their jurisdictions, the Pastor – acting as a government agent – has to pay to register a wedding.
These notwithstanding, no one should begrudge Muslims of the steps being taken by government towards their greater inclusion into the life of the nation. It howeverbehoves those in government to ensure that their actions, no matter how noble are not wrongly misconstrued as being in favour of one religion.