Your Weekly Digest on What Muslim Women Are Talking About

Soukeyna Osei-Bonsu on Why She Wants to Create a School for Black Muslim Children and Why Our Curriculum Needs Decolonising

by in Identity on 9th October, 2018

Autism

Welcome to Amaliah’s ‘In Conversation With’ series!

We invite Muslim women on social media from across industries and across the world to have some interesting conversations with Amaliah about their field of work. Being established in their profession, these women have offered to provide us all with a real insight into areas we’ve all had questions about, on everything from how they got their foot in the door, to what it’s like practicing their faith alongside their livelihoods and passions. We want to understand the women behind the crafts that they are known for.

This month, we’ve been fortunate enough to discuss education, decolonisation, and positive role models for young black children. Soukeyna Osei-Bonsu is the founder of the Black Muslim Forum, a site dedicated to bringing awareness and creating solutions to combat racism, colourism, and anti-Blackness in the Muslim community. The Black Muslim Forum is dedicated to creating spaces such as their supplimentary school which explores topics like identity, confidence as well as teaching english and maths.

The initiatives aim to bring about better education for children about their history and heritage free of colonised knowledge and resources.

1.What inspired you to start the Black Muslim forum?

I started Black Muslim Forum out of a need to highlight the problematic situations that black Muslims often find themselves in within the Muslim community. Also out of a need to create solutions to these problems. From my own experiences and through listening to stories of other black Muslims, anti-blackness and colourism have been two key issues that pervade within the Muslim community. This has been an issue since the time of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), and given that He (peace be upon him) mentioned race and racial complexes in his last sermon I feel as though it is our duty to try and raise awareness about what a specific demographic of the Muslim community is faced with on a daily basis and try to positively combat this.

2. You mention self -development in the community school lessons-what prompted you to add this aspect?

Self-development is something I am passionate about. A sister who offered to volunteer for the school mentioned we should add a self-development component and I agreed so added it in. Mainstream schools and even Islamic schools will not typically teach manners, confidence, self-esteem, responsibility or self-love, however, these are components that we are called to adopt and develop by default of being Muslim.

If you are a black girl or a black Muslim girl, mainstream beauty standards are averse to what you look like. I think it was Malcolm X who said that the most disrespected person in America is the black woman and this still stands.

Teaching children necessary tools early on can mean that children who will later undergo tough experiences will have some necessary tools to navigate through them and a strong sense of identity when handling daily life. This is especially true for the black child who has to work twice as hard as their white counterpart for the same opportunities in life.

3. What was your Black history education like in and out of education?

My black history education at school was minimal. At school, we learned about slavery in America and the abolitionist movement. We were misinformed about Malcolm X and especially in geography, miseducated about Africa in general. I learned more when I went to university, but I would have loved to attend a black studies class when I was younger.

4. What is the importance of filling online spaces with content that celebrates Black History during Black History Month?

I think it’s essential. Especially in the case of mainstream media publications, Black History Month is the only month where a significant amount of content will be published on black history, educating readers who throughout the year many never hear anything to do with this topic.

5. Do you believe in the need for a presence of Black History Month?

Yes and no. I’m hoping for a time that mainstream education will be so systematically decolonised that there will be no need for it.

6. One of your pieces covers ideas looking into why a Black United Nations is needed. Can you tell us more about this?

Well, the production and distribution of narcotics kill thousands of people every year so there is a ‘war on drugs’ and dedicated government bodies and institutions existing to counter this imminent crisis. The same applies to radicalisation and terrorism- the issue is securitised and institutions however effectively try to counteract this. The same goes for war, famine etc.

When it comes to black bodies, however, which have been brutalised for centuries, there is no overarching governing body recognised on an international stage solely and powerfully dedicated to the welfare and empowerment of black people who still suffer today in ways impossible to articulate.

So I think this is something that needs to change and I believe Malcolm X was onto something when he founded the OAAU.

7. How will you be celebrating Black History Month?

I am not sure how I celebrate Black History Month as black history is something I celebrate throughout the year, but I have seen a few events that I would like to attend advertised during the month.

8. Which voices do you think are amplifying Black Muslims well?

I think the Black and Muslim in Britain project is excellent as well as The Black Muslim Times. Also, the Salam Project does a lot for Black Muslims.

9. What has been the response to your work?

People are generally supportive of the school, I’ve had parents interested in sending their children to do Black history and self-development workshops with me during half term breaks and the summer holidays so Alhamdullilah, though I haven’t yet had enough people to run the school regularly on Saturdays.

10. We recently saw your Nana Asma’u community school for key stage 2 advertised, it looks incredible Talk a little about the symbolism, and importance of Nana Asma’u?

Nana Asma’u was the daughter of Usman Dan Fodio, founder of the Sokoto Caliphate. She was a Nigerian princess fluent in several languages and was passionate about Islam and women’s education. I named the school after her as she is a positive black Muslim role model that people especially little black girls can look up to.

11. What is your vision for your supplementary school for Black Muslim Children?

Eventually, I would like the school to run weekly throughout the year inshaaAllah. I’d like it to be a place where all Muslim children are welcome as all children can be victims of white and Arab supremacy.

12. How do you think such an initiative can help young children maintain positive affirmations, and gain more knowledge about their identity, heritage, and history?

I believe symbolic workshops that aim to develop helpful habits in young children can give them an easier time in navigating their daily lives especially when they are older. I believe in repetition. The more you repeat to a child through creative workshops that they are worthy, valuable, capable and beautiful the more they believe it and will live it.

13. What do you think is missing from the current curriculum?

I think the British curriculum is naturally conflated with the nation’s agenda which is essential to preserve and protect the nation in the public imagination. As a result BAME students have their histories rewritten, undermined and subverted for the sake of a ‘rosy’ British history and account of empire. What I think is missing from the current curriculum is some honest introspection concerning British history and a way of teaching it that doesn’t gloss over the atrocities that have been committed. Moving away from that I believe basic tools like identity and responsibility need to be taught to children at a younger age as well as a positive image of Africa and Asia.

14. Can you tell us what to expect from the school?

I hope that the school helps to undo legacies of colonisation that exist in the minds of our children. I also hope that children learn to be proud of their histories and find an inspirational genealogy to be part of. The school aims to equip black and non-black Muslim children with tools to navigate through everyday life. What can be expected is safe and fun-filled lessons including art and crafts, reading, writing and performing poetry, zine making, and short story writing!

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