Sign of Sri Lankan Muslim girls’ education


I know enough people who will chuckle when they see the sign in the photo. Superficially some might want to tag it under “Sri Lanka’s funniest school names”. However the institution behind the name represents an envied niche in Sri Lanka’s creaking education infrastructure : private Muslim girls’ schools.

Lead the Way Girls International School sign, Dehiwala

These are not burka swaddled Madrasas. Non Muslims seem to view Muslim girl’s schools offering secular skills and confidence with a strong religious education. Not too long ago, Muslim girl’s schools were among the few places in the country that offered a coveted English language education.

Quite a few times I have heard relatives comment that it is hard to compete with “smart well spoken girls from Muslim schools” for top jobs in the private sector. Or X must be smart because she went to Y Muslims girl’s school. The interesting thing I remember about these comments is that they were uttered with awe rather than resentment. Similar to the way people talk about MIT or Oxbridge grads. Its a significant contrast from private Christian Girls schools which were unfairly regarded as colonial lady factories churning out trophy wives for upper crust men.

Muslim girl’s schools also seem to be admired for shielding their charges from distractions. Not just from hysterical boys trying to storm the walls during big match days. Overall the perceived uncompromising religious identity is viewed as protection from sex obsessed western materialism imported via Michael Jackson and other agents of “social decline”.😉 According to its website, The Lead the Way Girls International (it claims to be “Sharia Compliant”) aspires to carry on that tradition. I suppose the “International” part represents a global out look.

Of course my knowledge of the subject is limited to eavesdropped conversations. Opinions of elderly female relatives are mere paint flakes of the total picture. For the better informed, the comment box awaits your wisdom.

19 comments

  1. never heard of that! i am slightly familiar ’bout ‘the lady factories churning out trophy wives for upper crust men’ view though..

    best not to tread into unknown territory in the already dark regions wrought with unknown danger that is speculation about women😀 at least, i’ll leave it you brave few for now.

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  2. Wow! its so refreshing to hear these positive views about Muslim Girls Schools. I for one, whenever I travel and see these white shrouds masquerading as school girls, feel a slight shiver. I know it has nothing to do with the education they are getting, but I wonder if they can do sports properly or play hide and seek etc.
    I personally am against denominational public schools. All schools should be open to students of all denominations. That is the first step towards making us accept those of other cultures.
    But a private school can do whatever, and International schools are private, so good for the Leading the way school. Just hope that it is not leading them astray!

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  3. Most of my friends who have attended such institutions possess tongues as sharp as that ice pick in Basic Instinct and not just in excellent English. So you wont hear me say any negatives on the matter in public or private, in serious or in jest without a proper exit strategy 😆

    though that “lady factory” ….. no best take Whackos advice😀 You’re brave C, very brave.

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  4. TheWhackster & Dili Me brave?😐 you are joking no? Or should I at this point be very very scared? (though I don’t know whom/what I should be scared of😉

    asia:Thank you🙂 Happy you found the post interesting🙂 I don’t know what’s been taught in those schools as well. Perhaps someone who does might care to comment.

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  5. TheWhackster & Dili: Me brave?😐 you are joking no? Or should I at this point be very very scared? (though I don’t know whom/what I should be scared of😉

    asia:Thank you – Happy you found the post interesting🙂 I don’t know what’s been taught in those schools as well. Perhaps someone who does might care to comment.

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  6. regardless of the education that these institutes may provide, i think we can all agree that that is a really ridiculous name for a school….!😀

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  7. as for the education they provide, its a normal education. Asia, maybe you need to stop being so afraid of things ur not used to. Of course they play sports and hide and seek. they are normal growing kids. Just from a different cultural/ religios background.

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  8. Salaam

    Muslim children suffer from identity crises because their parents teach them Islam and their schools teach them something else. There must be a positive co-relation between school and home, otherwise, children will suffer academically, spiritually , socially and emotionally. They are also unable to develop self-confidence and self-esteem.

    Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

    Bilingual Muslim children need to learn and be well versed in standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. At the same time, they need to learn Arabic to recite and understand the Holy Quran and Islamic literature. They also need to learn and be well versed in Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry.

    A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brit.

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  9. Asia, I’m sure they can play sports and games quite well in their uniform… Many are not aware that in some parts of Sri Lanka, the “lama sari” (half sari) is the uniform for girls scholls and I have met girls who say they play games, including “elle” perfectly well in them!

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  10. Gehan: I have to agree with you on that one!🙂 At least it is way too literal.

    TheWhackster: Good point. I think in places like Sri Lanka Islamic education is more integrated into the mainstream than in the west. To the point its not even an issue.

    Angel: Good point about the issues of sports – I wonder if schools such as these would advocate Islamic sportswear

    Iftikhar: Thank you for that informative comment🙂 I couldn’t help but think that in Sri Lanka things like what you are talking about a practically non- issues.

    I disagree with you on the notion that public funding must go institutions that are not accessible to people because of their faith. Part of living in a “global” village is to be able to live alongside different belief systems other than your own. The other option is to retreat into a ghetto and try to shut out the world. I doubt that the flowering of Islamic civilisation would have been possible if that course was adopted. I also must add that suffer from identity crises isn’t unique to Muslim children.

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  11. I dont really think its about the school, its all about the person and the upbringing. My sister went a muslim school until ol’s. That made her religous and what not. Those are things that she learnt from school and she admits that it was school that made her religous and not home. While home allowed her to listen to Rock music, take pictures and party. Which muslim schools dont allow.

    And i agree with Dilli, some of them have razor type tongues.

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    • I agree with you on the person and the upbringing at home being powerful influences. But I think the school muse have some – possibly subconscious impact.

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  12. Makuluwo, Cyanide and I, plus a few other bloggers all went to the same Islamic International Girls’ school. It was like any other international school in terms of quality and we had excellent faculty as well. And yes, we played sport and were pretty good at it. Sure we didn’t have the sexiest sport uniforms. But goes to show that you don’t need to show leg to kick ball.🙂

    I went to a secular International co-ed school after my o/levels and it wasn’t all that different. There were just boys around and more curri-cular activities. One thing mssing was the dearth of intelligent, creative, strong, independent women. Somehow my friends at the muslim girls school were far more interesting to talk to and could converse on diverse topics from politics to commerce to cinema to literature (and we did far crazier stunts). Plus our inter-house debates were fantastic to watch. At the new school I just hung out with the boys as 15 minutes with the girls would lull me to sleep.

    And on the Islamic education bit. I think it helped a great deal in rooting out extremism. At least for me. I know my religion enough to know that it does give me my rights as a woman.

    Oh and btw, my muslim school was open to admissions from students of other faiths. There were two hindu girls in my class and there were few christian students in the others as well. And they were excused from sitting through the religious classes.

    I agree that the uniforms need to be revamped and I’ve been camapaigning for that for awhile. Anyhow, good to know that our appearance in the job market is helping clear our image up a bit…

    Oh and anyone needing a hijabi photographer please look me up!😀

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    • Thank you for that insight!🙂 Sums up my a remark I heard my mother say about some corporate exec she’d met “She was so smart and well spoken she must have gone to a Muslim girl’s school”.

      You ought to write a post on the topic. Too many people particularly in the west (and some in Sri Lanka) seem to think that Islamic girls school are just there to teach people how to wear a Burka.

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  13. Aamina, slight boo boo… Formerly known as Cyanide, I’m now The Puppeteer.

    Cerno, well… I don’t really know where I’d be without my Islamic education. I’m not one of the most religious products from my school. So minus my religious education (which I’m greatly thankful for), I’d have probably turned a bit rotten😛

    In terms of academics, we had brilliant teachers who’ve fashioned several Edexcel prize winners. Sports wise, let’s just say we’ve had quite a few kick ass netball teams😀
    To boot, our uniform is a comfy knee length top and a pair of trousers, so I had no qualms about doing cartwheels in class at any given time!

    This post truly is refreshing considering more often than not people are surprised when they find out I was at an Islamic girls’ school, they expect us to be narrow minded “hoodies” who rarely step out of the house. But that’s a gross misconception. My sisters and I are from the same school, one’s a lawyer, the other an architect and I’m a journalist. Attending an Islamic girls’ school hasn’t restricted us in the least.

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  14. I’m a student of Lead The Way and i’m very proud of it. InshaAllah it will become one of the best schools in the world.Cause our principle(Liyakath Ali) is working very hard for the betterment of our school

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  15. […] Aamina Nizar’s photoblog is the “eldest” of the three Sri Lankan blogs I want to introduce. Its focus is Sri Lanka and our gigantic neighbour, the continent of colour. Mumbai based Aamina has recently captured one of India’s more exotic corners: Ladakh – one of three places I have always wanted to visit. I particularly like the way her images of everyday details are captured to look both spontaneous and carefully composed. I came across her blog only after she posted an insightful comment on the experience of going to a Islamic girl’s school in Sri Lanka. […]

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