Studying the fundamentals of Islam in Zimbabwe
By Brian Maregedze
THE two Islamic texts, An Introduction to Islam: An Ordinary Level Textbook on Islam and A Guide to Islam: An Advanced Level Textbook on Islam are 2019 publications grounded on an insider’s perspective on Islam as a religion. The last book is the second edition from Shaibu Asali. In the search for pluriversality (borrowing from the decolonial dictionary) under the ministry of Primary and Secondary education in Zimbabwe, the learning of Islam is a significant pillar in the quest for well-rounded learners.
The introductory book for Ordinary Level on Islam engages with a number of topics, including the distribution of Muslims in Zimbabwe, rituals, religious practitioners, sacred places, the interdependency of families and chronic conditions and disability (p. 5-33). At the end of each and every chapter are practice questions to help learners revise and meet the objectives of the syllabus. Important questions to do with the history of Islam are well addressed and also identify the migration trends which saw Islam being established in Zimbabwe.
Shaibu Asali’s Advanced Level book has 15 chapters which captures the essentials of Islam from Tenets of Islam to natural environment as prescribed by the Family and Religious Studies syllabus for Advanced Level under the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. More notable is that the book goes beyond addressing demands of Advanced Level’s learners and teachers in FRS but “anyone interested in studying Islam (p.3).”
The author, Shaibu Asali is a Zimbabwean Islamic scholar, researcher, consultant, resource person and Arabic English translator. He holds a degree in Islamic Jurisprudence from Saudi Arabia, and a Master’s degree in Contemporary Islamic Jurisprudence from Qatar. He is not a new name to inter-religious dialogue and programmes on Islam through the national television in Zimbabwe as well as local radio stations. As such, Shaibu Asali becomes an important voice on Islam in Zimbabwe to use the late Ephraim Mandivenga’s most cited book title in Islamic Studies published in 1983. Asali is also the Head of the Arabic Department at New Hope College in Harare and a Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies and Arabic Language.
Due to Shaibu Asali’s linguistic academic prowess in Islam, the book in some chapters has linguistic meaning/s on important key terms such as basics of definitions of Islam, Quran, ethics and marriage. In striking the balance on meanings of terms, the author also invoked technical and scholarly citations which address Islamic daily discourses usually misinterpreted. The first chapter covers the essentials on the tenets of Islam.
The second chapter is well engaging since unlike existing textbooks on the topic, Mohammad, prophecy and revelation offers the historical and political background of Arabia Peninsular before the Advent of Islam. Again, the role of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the spread of Islam answers the generally asked questions by learners and teachers with an insider’s tone. This is so, since, Asali made it clear from the onset in his foreword that the book, “provides authentic and verified information about Islam from primary sources and secondary sources of the religion (p.3).”
More illuminating is the way Asali opens up to the way Islam spread beyond the claims of “the sword narrative” with three main reasons posited which readers may want to read on their own. The centrality of Muhammad’s legacy in championing monotheism, being an agent of sanity in Arabia, promotion of knowledge and literacy, doing away with racism and alcoholism through divine legislation and ensuring that women be given due rights and respect forms important aspects in this 2019 publication (p.51-52).
In Chapter Three of the book, the author demonstrates his judicious handling of sources on Ethics in Islam as the Oxford dictionary is frequently cited in defining terms of words under study. Also important is the Quranic citations and explanations from Asali using his vast research skills.
Chapter four focuses on Islam and gender relations. Far from the conventional view that women are oppressed and denied their rights, Asali worked hard to dispel and demystify such notions (p.69). Again, it is within this same chapter that Asali dealt with the arguably controversial issue of polygamy. The question on whether it is a necessity to have polygamy or not in society is addressed (p.72). The chapter ends with women and politics, citing both Islamic scholars and the Quran.
Chapters, 9, 10 and 11 confronts issues such as social responsibility, governance, status of women in Islam and marriage in Islam respectively. Humanitarian services in Islam encompasses making people happy, alleviating their suffering, and empowering them (p.79). Another myth dispelled by Asali is that of Jihad which is misinterpreted as military action. The centrality of New Hope Charity Trust, Majlisul, Zakat Fund and Direct Aid among others as charitable organisations is articulated (p.92). Furthermore, the meaning and importance of marriage using Islamic texts is addressed. Relying on Islamic scholars, the contested issue of forbidden marriages and divorce are analysed (p.83-86).
The last chapter focuses on Islam and the natural environment. The Quran and the Sunnah are used as key texts to instruct on issues relating to the natural environment. The book ends with emphasis on planting of crops as an imperative activity among Islamic believers.
The history of Islam in Zimbabwe, which the late Ephraim Mandivenga addressed remains with case studies not updated. More notable is that Asali made positive improvements by offering a list of references for the Islamic scholarly works cited in the whole books to assist learners and teachers have access for further reading. Above that, it is clear that Asali’s books are not his last contribution but a continuous journey in the life of an author who has the desire to immensely contribute to Zimbabwe’s New Curriculum in FRS in fulfilment of the multi-faith approach.
To reinforce the cross-cutting themes articulated in the FRS syllabus that is, Information Communication Technology (ICT), Asali has his website, www.shaibuasali.net for “Islamic content, media, articles, insights and beliefs.” Personally, I visited the online website and the information generated by Asali exhibits his unending commitment to the teaching and learning of Islam in Zimbabwe. To both learners and facilitators of FRS, I do recommend the online website handled by Shaibu Asali.
Although such positives are noted, illustrations, maps, pie charts, activities for learners to engage in are still missing gaps within these two Islamic texts for secondary school learners to make it more interactive. I do believe there are a number of Islamic institutions around Zimbabwe which can be recommended for school visits so as to appreciate the religion through interaction. New Hope College in Harare is one such institution where FRS learners and facilitators can utilise to gain insights on Islamic teachings. Again, a minor typo on the objectives covering Chapter 3 for the Ordinary Level book needs attention which reads, “describe the roles religious practitioners in Islam” (p.20). Instead, describe the roles of religious practitioners in Islam is accurate. Other two mishaps which need attention include titles for chapter eleven and fifteen for Ordinary and Advanced levels texts respectively reading as “Islamic and conflict management” and “Islamic and the natural environment (p.54; p. 108).” With close editorial assistance, these minor issues can be well addressed. Not withstanding these issues, the books are vital contributions with useful content in the study of the fundamentals of Islam in Zimbabwe.
The two books are worth buying especially learners and teachers in Family and Religious Studies for Ordinary and Advanced levels. The books are affordable, readable with well appealing Islamic terminology to novices and advanced learners. An Introduction to Islam: An Ordinary Level Textbook on Islam and A Guide to Islam: An Advanced Level Textbook on Islam are welcome contributions which I am proud to have in my library.
Brian Maregedze is an author, historian and columnist. Brian has written Advanced Level History, and Family and Religious Studies textbooks in Zimbabwe. He is also a Research Associate with Leaders for Africa Network (LAN) — a Pan African research think and has membership with Zimbabwe Historical Association (ZHA). He can be contacted at [email protected]
Author, historian & columnist