Some days ago, while waiting in my car for a traffic signal to turn green, a young kid nonchalantly stuck a flyer under one of the car’s wipers. Usually I throw away such pieces of paper, but this time I decided to take a look at it. It was a flyer advertising a Montessori school called ‘Model Islamic Montessori.’
Once home, I decided to call the school and asked to be connected to the principal.
“Hello, Asalamwualaikum,” I said.
“Walaikumasslam,” came the reply. It was a lady.
“Is this the principal of Model Islamic Montessori?” I asked.
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“I have a three-year-old son whom I wanted admitted in your school,” I said.
“Okay, he’s most welcome,” she replied.
“But I have some questions,” I said.
“Sure, you can ask us anything,” she offered.
“How is your school different from the non-Islamic Montessori schools?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” She responded.
“Yours is an Islamic Montessori, right?” I said.
“Well, yes…” she hesitated a bit.
“So how is an Islamic Montessori different from a non-Islamic Montessori?” I asked again.
“Well… we teach children about their Islamic heritage and the basic principles of Islam, like roza (fasting), salat …”
“You mean namaaz?” I interrupted.
“Yes, namaaz, it’s the same thing” she explained.
“Fair enough,” I said. “What else do you guys teach the children?” I asked.
“Well, we teach them good manners and…”
“Islamic manners?” I interrupted.
“Well… yes,” she hesitated again.
“That’s good,” I said. “Islamic manners are so much better and civilised than non-Islamic manners.”
“Err, sir… may I ask you a question?” She asked, politely.
“Why are you going on and on about Muslim and non-Muslim?” She protested.
“Well, I want my son to be in an Islamic school. And since yours says ‘Model Islamic Montessori’, I am just trying to make sure it is not like all these other non-Islamic Montessori schools out there.”
“How old is your son?” She asked.
“Why don’t you come over and we’ll take you around the school,” she said.
“Do you teach them how to recite naats?” I asked.
“Yes, we do,” she replied, proudly.
“And you don’t teach them those stupid old English nursery rhymes that have sinister hidden Zionist messages in them, right?” I said.
She snickered: “Don’t know about that, sir, but yes, we do discourage teachers from teaching children nursery rhymes.”
“That good to know,” I said. “What about qawalli? Are the children taught any qawalli? I love qawalli.” I started to hum one, “Bhar do jholi meri…”
“Err… no, sir,” she interrupted. “Just naats and basic Islamiat.”
“But doesn’t a kid usually study and learn all this in a non-Islamic school as well? How is your school Islamic?” I asked.
“Sir, why don’t you come over and see for yourself,” she insisted. “No other montessori has young girls in hijab and boys in traditional Islamic dress. Come and see for yourself. You’ll be impressed,” she explained.
“Young girls in Hijab!” I sounded delighted. “Wonderful. What about the young boys?”
“They are only allowed to wear shalwar-kameez and praying caps,” she said.
“But shalwar-kameez is a national dress, not an Islamic dress,” I said. “You should have the boys wear Arabic choghas! I will make sure my son wears one.”
“What’s his name?” She asked.
“Paul Neil Fernandes Jr.,” I said.
“Hello? Madam Principal. You there?”
“Is this a joke?” She responded, somewhat sternly.
“No, madam. Not at all. I am very serious,” I replied.
“You are Christian. Why would you want your son in an Islamic school?” She asked.
“That’s simple. Because I am Christian in an Islamic Republic. Do you know how it feels like being a religious minority in an Islamic Republic, madam?”
“Well, I want my son to learn all the mannerisms of a good Muslim so he does not feel like a misfit!” I continued.
“Why don’t you convert then?” She replied, in a matter-of-fact manner.
“Why should I?” I said.
“Because of the way you feel,” she said.
“Why don’t you change?” I replied.
“Change?” She asked.
“Yes, change the way we are sometimes treated here.” I said.
“Sir, I don’t want to get into all this,” she announced. “And anyway, I don’t think we can accommodate your child in our school.”
“Just because he’s Christian?” I asked.
“I’m afraid so,” she said.
“But a lot of Pakistani Muslims are accommodated in Christian schools,” I protested. “Why not treat my kid as a Pakistani and more so, a human being?”
“Sir, I am sorry, but we can’t help you,” she lamented.
“What if I give you double the usual fee of your school?” I offered.
“Sir, that would be seen as a bribe,” she said.
“Not really,” I replied. “Take it as jaziah!”