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A Muslim student studying in a Catholic school



St Joseph’s Marist School, Rondebosch, Cape Town

29/11/2006: South Africa

This piece was written by a Bangladeshi who came to St Joseph’s three years ago at the beginning of Grade 10 and has just written his final Grade 12 exams. He came to SJC very reluctantly after firm insistence by his dad who gave his reason: “At St Joseph’s you will meet the world.” At the end of his stay, our Brother Laurence asked Saif what he thought now: “I was wrong and I’m very glad that my dad was right!”

Many people have asked me, “Saif, how does it feel being a Muslim learner studying in a Catholic school?” Although that question can not be answered with a single adjective, studying at St. Joseph’s College was indeed an amazing experience. St. Joseph’s magnificent location, diverse pupils and especially its brilliant staff have created such a beautiful and friendly atmosphere in the campus that I do not recall being alienated for a second. What really impressed me is the emphasis put on religion at this college. At a time like this, when we humans, the greatest creation of God I believe, are becoming more and more materialistic because of our obsessions with wealth and power, I was given priceless lessons on things such as piety, humbleness and good manners. I truly believe that these lessons are universal and will indeed serve me as moral guides in my road to future.

A Muslim is supposed to pray five times a day. The prayer that takes place on every Friday afternoons is considered as the most important of all prayers. As far as I know, in many other non-Muslim schools, Muslim students are given the opportunity to go home early on Fridays in order to make their prayers. However, what makes St. Joseph’s stand out amongst other schools for its tolerance and appreciation of other religions is that, Mr. Hugh Fynn, the head of this institution, physically transports Muslim learners to a nearby Mosque every Friday and fetches them once the prayer service is over. On behalf of all the Muslim learners of St. Joseph’s College, I thank Mr. Fynn for making such encouraging efforts. I also thank our former high school principal Mrs. Jenny Marshall and Mr. Tom O’Reilly for allocating a prayer room especially for learners of Muslim and other faiths.

In a world where many innocent Muslims, followers of a religion of peace, are being stereotyped everyday, I was treated with great respect at St. Joseph’s College. What truly amazed me is that, I, a Muslim learner, was awarded the Marist Brothers Religious Education Award. I think the message behind this would be that at St. Joseph’s College, learners of every religion are treated fairly, equally and with respect. I certainly feel that way. However, the feeling of winning that award is not what brought me the utmost pleasure. What made me feel truly honoured is that the minor knowledge of a Muslim learner on religion was recognized and even considered for an award in a Catholic institution.

One essay is not enough to express how much I enjoyed my time at St. Joseph’s College. The aspect of Catholic prayer service that really seemed profound to me is when everybody offers each other peace by shaking hands in Chapel and says ‘Peace be with you’. Even to a non-Catholic learner like me, it is not just an ordinary gesture ….it is a sense of connecting with another human being on a spiritual level. I can never repay St. Joseph’s College for what it has given me but only agree with Brother Laurence on the meaning of Catholicism according to an Irish poet who once said, “Catholic means Here comes everybody.”

Mohammed Saif Islam
Saif came to St Joseph’s in January 2004.He completed high school there in December 2006

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