Transformations in Islamic Education in Ghana

by David Owusu-Ansah

About the Collection

Islamic Education, Cultural Diversity, and Religious Tolerance
The collection covering issues of Islamic education in Ghana as well as on the subject of inter-religious dialogue is part of the larger research on project on Islam and religious tolerance in the West African countries of Senegal and Ghana.  While scholars, such as Nehemia Levtzion and J. S. Trimingham, presented research that illustrated that Islam was largely introduced and spread in West Africa peacefully, specific scholarship on religious tolerance in Ghana as represented in the history and culture of the people was represented in the work of Emmanuel Akyeampong (1999), Thomas McCaskie (1972), Ivor Wilks (1968), and David Owusu-Ansah (1991).  The diversity and tolerance in the historic past impacted the socio-cultural environment of Ghana positively.  In that context, it can be argued that the interviews on Islamic education represented in this Gallery was conducted with the view of understanding how conversations about secular education for Muslim children attending Islamic schools was a continuation of the larger national dialogue on cultural diversity, religious tolerance, and national development.
Following the final defeat of the powerful Asante Kingdom, the British government in 1902 unified their coastal Gold Coast Colony, and the recently acquired lands of Asante and its northern dependencies into the colony of the Gold Coast.  Because the economy of the Gold Coast centered on the extraction of mineral resources from the southern sector of the country, and also because the many Christian missionary schools concentrated their operations along the coast and the geographical highlands of the colony, the northern territories where the Muslim population was the largest was relatively ignored.  Instead, that region became a reservoir for the supply of labor to the southern mines and farms.  Even when secular education was considered for Muslim children in the colonial Northern Territories, it was never aggressively pursued.  Muslim suspicion of European intentions for introducing secular education negatively affected the level of responses.  Similar reservations toward western education would be extended to national policies on post-colonial education for all children in Ghana.  It will not be until recently that the Ghana Education Service would be successful in the effort—by attracting Islamic religious knowledge school operators to add an approved national secular curriculum and allow an Islamic Education Unit of the Ministry of Education to monitor compliance to national standards of learning.
The establishment of an Islamic Education Unit (IEU) as an agency of the Ghana Education Service took place in 1987.  The research to place the IEU into a larger historical context began in 1999 as a collaborative manuscript project by David Owusu-Ansah, Abdulai Iddrisu, and Mark Sey.  Dr. Emmanuel Akyeampong saw fit to link the current research on inter-religious dialogue to the subject of education—especially in a country where Muslims have been in the minority and where Christian schools have been viewed as having had a long historic advantage and national support for the conduct of schooling.
The persons interviewed for this project were many but connected by their involvement in the provision of education to Muslim children or had comparative experiences in the provision of education at Christian institutions.  Above all, every one of the interviewees is a leader in his or her right.  They include leaders of Islamic Non-Governmental Agencies (NGOs), Muslim female teachers and female participants in Islamic welfare groups, Imams and operators of Islamic schools, university professors, and Muslim opinion leaders.
The larger themes that come out from this research include the subject of intra-religious relations (Sunni Muslim, Wahabbi Ahl-Sunnah Muslim, and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Ghana); Traditional Muslim leadership as perceived by the emerging leadership of the Non-Governmental Agencies; Religious Community support for Secular Education; the state of Ghana Education Service/Ministry of Education partnership with Religious institutions for the provision of secular education; Inter-religious dialogue through the Ghana Christian Council and the National Religious Forum; and finally, the role of history and society in fostering tolerance.
Akyeampong, Emmanuel, “Christianity, Modernity, and the weight of Tradition in the Life of ‘Asantehene’ Prempeh I, c. 1888-1931,: Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 69, 2 (1999), pp. 279-311.
Levtzion, Nehemia, Muslims and Chiefs in West Africa: A Study of Islam in the Middle Volta Basin in the pre-colonial Period (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1968).
McCaskie, Thomas, “Innovational Eclecticism: The Asante Empire and Europe in the Nineteenth Century,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 14 (1972), pp. 30-45.
Owusu-Ansah, David, Islamic Talismanic Tradition in Nineteenth Century Asante (Lewiston, NY., 1991).
Owusu-Ansah, David, Iddrisu Abdulai, and Mark Sey, Islamic Learning, the State and the Challenges of Education in Ghana (Trenton, Africa World Press, 2013).