Ontario Association of Islamic Schools takes off

By Anela Jadunandan

The enthusiasm in the room was evident at a recent meeting held on December 4, 2010 at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto.

Speakers came up one by one to the podium to voice their support for forming a new collective body – the Ontario Association of Islamic Schools (OAIS). 

The meeting, spearheaded by Alimamy Bangura, Executive Director of the Muslim Education Network (MENTORS), was attended by principals, educators and community leaders from across Ontario.

Well known personalities including Dr. Jasmin Zine, Dr. Nadeem Memon, Khalid Khokar, Yahya Qureshi and Muneeb Nasir addressed the audience which included representatives from a number of Islamic schools. 

Ontario has over 50 such Islamic schools that run privately and each school must register with the Ministry of Education in order to operate in Ontario.  

Unlike other Faith groups, there is no umbrella organization that looks after the collective needs of Islamic schools in the province.

Alimamy Bangura outlined a number of benefits to be gained by creating an association of Islamic schools, such as providing professional services – social workers, psychologists, curriculum specialists, speech and language pathologists and special education experts to Islamic schools.

Bangura said that one of the greatest pluses of such a body would be reducing costs related to education services such as purchasing equipment and supplies, text books, library resources, etc., in bulk to benefit from the economies of scale. 

He said that sharing best practices and advocating to government and other agencies on behalf of all Muslim schools on issues such as the tax system, funding and legal issues will be of vital importance.

“Our Islamic schools can play a big role in creating a Muslim civil society in North America that is fully integrated and active in the mainstream”, said Dr. Jasmine Zine, Associate Professor in Sociology and Muslim Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Zine told the attendees that, after the tragic events of 9/11, it is imperative that Islamic schools align themselves with what it is to be a good Muslim.

Muneeb Nasir, President of the Olive Tree Foundation echoed these sentiments.

“Anytime we come together for the betterment of our children, their families and this society, we are making an important civic contribution,” Nasir said.

Some of the other speakers who extolled the virtues of forming OAIS were Sheik Yusuf Badat (Imam of the Islamic Foundation), Dawood Zwink (Convener of the Canadian Muslim Fellowship of Scouting), Rufeeda Bukhari (Masters of Education student at OISE and former Principal of Madinatul Uloom Academy) and Abdullatif Bakbak (Principal, Olive Grove School in Mississauga).   

“Toronto has one of the largest concentrations of Islamic schools in North America,” said Dr. Nadeem Memon, Assistant Professor of Faith Based Schooling and Project Director of the Islamic Teacher Education Program.

Memon added that he feels he is “in the right place at the right time because the amount of leadership, expertise and enthusiasm in the room is phenomenal”.

A core team has volunteered to assist the Association to move forward quickly.

The next general meeting will be held in January 2011 and all Islamic schools in Ontario will be invited to attend.

For more information, please contact Alimamy Bangura @ alimamyb@gmail.com  or call 416-435-9131.