Aaminah Kidwai • Artist Extraordinaire
On February 5th, 2015 the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry presented a grade five student with a provincial award: the 12th Annual Kids Fish Art Award. This young student’s name is Aaminah Kidwai. What makes Aaminah stand out is that she doesn’t attend a public school, nor does she attend a conventional private school or Catholic school. She attends an Islamic School, Maingate Islamic Academy.
In light of the whirlwind of negative press surrounding the Islamic faith—from the Charlie Hedbo attacks to ISIS’ gruesome media stunts—the idea of an Islamic school may seem foreboding to many. With Islamic schools often viewed as breeding grounds for Muslim fundamentalists who see the world through a black and white lens, it may come as a surprise that children who attend Islamic schools enter mainstream, provincial competitions, let alone win art competitions.
But they do. In fact, Muslim educators strive day in and day out to teach students to integrate into the fabric of their broader societies while maintaining their distinct heritages and spiritual identities. Not only must Muslim children learn to balance their level of integration versus distinctness, but they must also grapple with the challenge of finding their own, individual voices in a world that will label and pigeonhole them all too quickly.
The teachers and administration at Maingate Islamic Academy, Aaminah Kidwai’s school, work tirelessly to equip their students to confront these challenges. For one, the administration at Maingate has designed a unique curriculum that integrates Islamic teachings into the Ontario Ministry Curriculum. By learning this way, students at this school do not feel alienated as a result of their religion; rather, they stay in sync with other students in the province while recognizing that their faith adds a unique dimension to their schooling. Working further to combat negative, anti-Islamic stereotypes and to instill positive values in Maingate’s students, the teachers and administration at Maingate engage their students in numerous community activities such as fundraisers to build wells, raising money for Sudanese children, and growing an organic garden.
Not only do Islamic schools face negative stereotypes from mainstream, non-Muslim audiences, but also parents within the Muslim community itself often view religious schools as substandard and shy away from them as a result. Once again, Aaminah’s school treats us with initiatives that challenge such misconceptions. With innovative programs from a robotics program, to the incubation of duck eggs, to the implementation of a self-regulation program known as the ALERT program, Maingate Academy proves that Islamic schools, like any other broad type of school, cannot be judged all together. Rather, each school is distinct and has its own unique potential to surprise us.
A fifth grader winning a fish art competition may seem like an insignificant event. However, it means much more. It means that an education that is different from the mainstream is not necessarily an education that conflicts with the mainstream. If Aaminah can enter and win a fish art competition then the children in thousands of Islamic schools around the country can hold on to their faiths and simultaneously have healthy interactions with the broader Canadian society.
Written by Farrah Marfatia