“…I have no problem at all remembering my initial meetings 25 years ago here in Mombassa with the Ummah leadership – with leaders of the Aga Khan Foundation, and with others of you who shared what was then an innovative insight.”
His Highness the Aga Khan
From the Arabic word darasa, which means ‘to study,’ a madrasa is basically a place to study, similar to the English word school; many of the earliest madrasas were comparable to today’s colleges. Historically, in Muslim societies, education was highly valued, so the madrasa tuition was often heavily subsidized by generous sponsors.
In the early 1980s, research suggested that attention paid to children’s health, nutrition, and education in the early years provided a good foundation for their later success in life and school. During a visit by His Highness the Aga Khan to East Africa in 1982, leaders of the Muslim community in Mombasa, Kenya, requested him to help them address their concerns about their children’s education. Muslim children were being marginalized due to their lack of access to primary schooling.
In 1986, after five years of planning and consultation with the various stakeholders, the first Madrasa Pre-school opened in the Liwatoni Mosque in Mombasa. The second centre opened in Zanzibar in 1990, and the third, in Kampala, Uganda in 1993. Given the diversity of the Muslim Ummah in the three countries, and indeed across the world, the Madrasa Programme clarified it would not promote any one interpretation of Islam over another, but promotes “a secular, integrated curriculum based on the universal ethics and values of Islam and local cultural traditions.”* The programme is open to girls and boys of all faiths.
During the initial years, Aga Khan Foundation was the only source of funding for the Programme. Subsequently, other agencies including the Canadian International Development Agency, UNICEF in Kenya, the World Bank, among others began to support the Programme.
The Madrasa Programme has “grown to include 203 pre-schools, with nearly 800 teachers, reaching some 30,000 households and serving more than 54,000 children.”**
During the Golden Jubilee visit of His Highness the Aga Khan to East Africa, Aga Khan Foundation marked the 25th anniversary of the Madrasa Early Childhood Development Programme on August 14, 2007 in Mombasa, in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan, founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and Kenya’s Minister for Science and Technology, Hon. Dr. Noah Wekesa.
Compiled by Nimira Dewji