“At Josephs you will meet the world,” insisted my father. Once I had enrolled, many people asked: “Saif, how does it feel being a Muslim learner studying in a Catholic school?”
Although that question cannot be answered with a single adjective, studying at St Joseph’s College in Rondebosch, Cape Town, was indeed an amazing experience. St Joseph’s magnificent location, pupils from many diverse backgrounds and especially its brilliant staff have created such a beautiful and friendly atmosphere on the campus that I do not recall being alienated for a second.
What really impressed me was the emphasis placed on religion at the college.
At a time like this, when we humans, the greatest creations of God I believe, are becoming more and more materialistic, I was given priceless lessons on things such as piety, humbleness and good manners. I truly believe that these lessons are universal and will indeed serve me as moral guides on my future road.
A Muslim is supposed to pray five times a day. The prayer that takes place every Friday afternoon is considered the most important of all prayers. As far as I know, in many other non-Muslim schools, Muslim students are given the opportunity to pray. But what makes St Joseph’s stand out among other schools for its tolerance and appreciation of other religions is that Mr Hugh Fynn, the head of the institution, transports Muslim learners to a nearby mosque every Friday and fetches them once the prayer service is over.
On behalf of all the Muslim learners at St Joseph’s, I thank Mr Fynn for making such encouraging efforts. I also thank our former high school principal, Mrs Jenny Marshall, and Mr Tom O’Reilly for allocating a prayer room especially for learners of Muslim and other faiths.
In a world where many innocent Muslims, followers of a religion of peace, are being stereotyped as violent, I was treated with great respect at St Joseph’s College.
What amazed me was that I, a Muslim learner, was awarded the Marist Brothers Religious Education Award. I think that was proof that at St Josephs College learners of every religion are treated fairly and with respect.
However, winning the award was not what brought me the utmost pleasure. What made me feel truly honoured was that a Muslim learner of religion was recognised and considered for an award in a Catholic institution.
One essay is not enough to express how much I enjoyed my time at St Joseph’s College. The one aspect of the Catholic prayer service (Mass) that I really thought is profound is when everybody offers each other peace by shaking hands, saying “Peace be with you”.
Even to a non-Catholic learner like me, it is not just an ordinary gesture – it is a sense of connecting with another human being on a spiritual level. I can never repay St Joseph’s College for what it has given me.
Mohamed Saif Islam is from Bangladesh. His essay was first published in Catholic Education, a publication of the Catholic Institute of Education