Photo Credit | Abdullah Faraz on Unsplash
 
By Zara Shabir

Attending the madrassah (mosque school) was always something I was excited about as a child. I remember waving my older brother off when he used to go for his lessons and I longed for the day when it was my turn to go. It was a special moment like a rite of passage into becoming a practising Muslim. It meant going to Quran lessons to learn about the Holy Book, the messages of Allah and how to be the best Muslim we could, where we would learn to read the Quran in Arabic and read stories about the Prophets. 
Teachers would hit pupils often over the smallest mistakes and there was an instance when a young girl had a plastic desk thrown at her because she left the room to use the bathroom without permission.

However, that was far from what I experienced, and it broke my faith in Islam. The madrassah my two siblings and I attended was known to be popular in our community and it had good recommendations from people that our parents had asked. But that was far from the truth.

Abuse, unfortunately, was common. Teachers would hit pupils often over the smallest mistakes and there was an instance when a young girl had a plastic desk thrown at her because she left the room to use the bathroom without permission. I remember that when I was eleven, I was slapped twice by the teacher because I made one mistake in my recitation; I complained to my mother and she warned the teacher that she would report her to the police if she ever heard of anything like that again. 

There was a culture of silence, if we spoke up about what happened, it was very difficult for us to stay - they made sure I knew that. I was watched like a hawk and it made me scared to do anything. If I arrived a few minutes late, I was made to sit away from everyone else and wasn't allowed to recite and move on in the Quran. So, I turned up for a two-hour Quran session - isolated, depressed and victimised. 

We paid around £30 a week for our sessions as there were three of us siblings. We would attend a two-hour session from 4:30pm to 6:30pm- but it was waste of money. My parents wasted £2,000 a year for three years (and we didn't have a lot of money) so we could learn the Quran, yet none of us finished the Quran at all in our time there. It was supposed to be an investment in bettering ourselves, but it felt like a money-making scheme. We were constantly held back and belittled as children who were disobedient and would be punished by Allah for our behaviour when we were doing nothing wrong. While at the madrassah, I questioned why I was never able to move on when I could read pages and pages of the Quran perfectly. The teacher would scold me for questioning the way they did things and again, resorted to giving me two lines a week to learn. Two lines for five days a week for three years? Money determined how I was treated. I realised that the other girls whose families gave a lot of money to the mosque or sat on the board, were treated better than others and I started losing faith in the institution. 
I saw what happened when I spoke up I was threatened, and I was told by my older brother that he faced the same threats all because of me. 

This was not about learning and bettering our deen. This was not about reciting and understanding the word of Allah. This was about influence and money. It was corruption and abuse like mafia dealings in the dark. We know it happens and we know it is true but who would be the person to make the institution face up to its bad deeds without putting a target on their back? I saw what happened when I spoke up I was threatened, and I was told by my older brother that he faced the same threats all because of me. 

Our weekly sessions moved to three days a week to accommodate more pupils, and I dreaded to think what poor lambs were entering this slaughterhouse. Three days a week and we were still paying the same amount as before, even as the lessons changed to 7:30pm till 9:00pm. At this point, my mum and dad knew something was not quite right and we slowly stopped attending. Those days my mum would say, we're not going today made me so happy which was so wrong, and I knew it. 

My mum and dad realised that their money was being wasted when we reached three years at this madrassah and neither me nor my brother had finished the Quran once. We were pulled out and the talk of the community started; They're stupid children who weren't paying attention and Allah will punish them and you as parents for it as it is your failings people didn't even try to make this subtle. This was never a case of us not learning properly or being intellectually limited because after we were taken out of the madrassah, we were recommended a mosque teacher by other people who had experienced the same situation. He started coming to our house to teach us and both myself and my older brother finished reading the Quran, with little to no mistakes, within eight months. In the four years we spent with this mosque teacher, we were taught more than just the Quran he taught us the meaning of the words, elaborated on the stories of the prophets and successfully made us learn passages by heart. 

I hated that my experience at this madrassah made me lose faith in my own religion and the mosque institution. I only saw it as a money-grabbing scheme based on status and power, not based on any Islamic principles. I questioned why people wanted to go when it wouldn't benefit them in anyway and it was a terrible way of thinking for a practising Muslim. All standards of teaching in religious buildings and institutions need to be monitored, just like anything else and if children are involved, it needs to monitored even more so. 

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