Hassan Kaja Musungay, the son of a staunch Catholic Pastor, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo without any sight. As a child he would hear the adhan daily, since he resided close to the masjid. He wondered about the chant and was drawn to its melodious beauty.
Discouraged by his mother from displaying an interest in the adhan, he followed his father’s religious path and became a reader of the Bible and part of the church choir. This all changed when he embraced Islam at the age of nineteen. Hassan then learnt about a one-of-a-kind Islamic school for the blind and was determined to attend.
Located in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, the seeds of Madrassa An-Noor were planted in 1989 when a dedicated Sheikh began learning Braille from a blind teacher. Soon thereafter, Madrassa An-Noor was established with just one student on a carpet in a garage. Later, as parents of blind children moved and relocated to Pietermaritzburg, the madrassa grew in number. Within three years, three students completed the Qur’an, using their fingers to read the Braille script. Thereafter, more students began memorising the Qur’an.
Many would question why resources that could be spent elsewhere, should be spent on a small group of learners. Madrassa An-Noor would be a fitting response. Today, the madrassa has come a long way from its humble beginnings in a garage. When one of its students expressed interest in furthering her Islamic studies, they went on to offer a six-year programme in tertiary Islamic studies.
The first students had to Braille every textbook, including Sahih Al-Bukhari. Today, most of these books of hadith are now available in soft copy in Braille script. “The Madrassah is funded by donations from the community and has its own Braille printing press,” says Sheikh Hassan Murchie who has been principal of Madrassa An-Noor since its inception twenty-three years ago. Their own press means the Madrassa is privy to a range of Braille literature. The Madrassa also has their own recording studio where “talking books” are recorded.
Madrassa An-Noor today caters for both local and international students drawing blind students from as far as United Kingdom, Panama and Pakistan, as well as other African countries. One of the most noteworthy projects of the Madrassah is their five-day “Teach the Teachers” outreach programme where workshops are held in other countries so that teachers may learn the devised system on how to teach the blind. Sighted and blind people are taught the system of teaching and topics such as psychology and physiology as pertains to the blind are also included. According to Sheikh Murchie anyone can learn Braille and teach it. Thus far, this workshop has been offered in India, Bangladesh, England, Scotland, Mauritius and Mozambique.
Have any of these countries established a Madrassa for the blind following the workshops? “Not all the countries have the resources but many have incorporated the system we devised in their day-to-day madrassahs,” Sheikh Murchie says and adds that they provide all the resources such as Braille literature to these countries.
So what next for the pioneering Madrassa?
“A bigger campus, insha Allah.” At this new campus, the Madrassa hopes to offer farming, sports and life skills as well. From his young days as a member of the church choir, Hassan Kaja has come a long way. His blind twin brother also accepted Islam and is at Madrassa An-Noor. Today, Hassan is in the midst of completing the six year course in tertiary Islamic studies. On completion of his studies, he is determined to go back to his country and spread the word of Islam and also pass on his knowledge of the Holy Qur’an to other blind people.
For more information, please visit www.mnblind.org
“Have they not travelled through the land, and have they hearts wherewith to understand and ears wherewith to hear? Verily, it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts which are in the breasts that grow blind.” (Al-Hajj: 46)
Mariam Akabor lives in Durban, South Africa. In between raising her son, Zayd, she reads, writes, and works towards her Master’s Degree in English.