Religious Conflict in Schools: A Response to the Jamhuri High Incident

The recent religious conflict at Jamhuri High School in Nairobi should be a wakeup call to all of us in Kenya. This incident should worry political, religious, academic leaders as well as teachers, school boards, parents associations, parents, men, women, and girls and boys. If such conflict is not contained and addressed immediately, it may be disastrous for us all in future. Each one of us have a role to play in changing intolerant mindset to one that is tolerant; in steering religious education to general conversations of national unity. There is an urgent need to convene a national conference on the issues relating to religious tolerance and inclusion in Kenya.

I am making these suggestions based on my experience as a Muslim and a former secondary school teacher, schools’ adviser, social worker, civic educator, and administrator in a number of local authorities in the country. I also have international experience working with both Muslims and Christians in various capacities. Experience shows that religious harmony or co-existence of students is guided by the policy adopted by the school as a social entity.

The school leadership should appreciate the religious diversity. They should respect that adherents of different religions may have different needs. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides for the recognition of these divergent  needs, rights and fundamental freedoms; schools  should adopt and enforce them accordingly. Key Articles of the Constitution that address these issues include Articles 19 (rights and fundamental freedoms); 27 (equity and freedoms from discrimination) and 32 (freedom of conscience, religion, belief and opinion).

There are examples of good practices in the country. I would like to single out Nkubu High School in Meru. This is the school where I completed my Form Five and Six. Muslim students were only two in the school - my colleague Mohamed and I. This was 1972/73. Back then we were listened to and involved on issues that affected us, like the times of prayers and special food during the Holy Month of Ramadhan. Currently one other example of a school that I know of that has religious harmony and  co-existence is Garissa Girls High School.

I propose as a starting point, now that a new curriculum is being launched, citizenship, civic education and awareness on religious tolerance integrated in our educational institutions including  primary, secondary, teacher education and tertiary institutions. At the same time, we must also target religious schools, churches and mosques, political gatherings and barazas (public meetings) to educate people on religious tolerance and thereby eliminate intolerance and bigotry.