By Jemal Oumar
Armed groups in northern Mali are forcing their Salafist version of Sharia upon their captive populations. Their latest target: school children.
Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and their Ansar al-Din allies re-opened schools in Timbuktu and Gao on May 7th, but students returned to something unknown before the March coup.
“Islamists imposed a system separating boys from girls at classes,” Journal Du Mali reported. ‘Students were also separated according to shifts, with boys now studying in the morning and girls studying in the evening”.
The Islamists also decreed that schools could no longer teach philosophy and biology.
“In addition to cancelling some subjects and separating girls from boys, the Islamists forced young girls at schools to wear Islamic clothing that requires them to fully cover their heads and bodies,” Abou Bacrin Cissé, an education representative in Timbuktu, told Magharebia.
In response, some families have pulled their children out of school, some students have refused to be tested under these conditions, while others, however, have “accepted the status quo because they can’t afford the alternatives,” Bacrin Cissé said.
“This is not acceptable,” Timbuktu mayor Hallé Ousman said as he condemned the radical groups’ approach to education. “It has caused a shock for residents, especially students’ parents,” he said.
In Gao, the situation is not much different from Timbuktu. Even though boys and girls are allowed to sit in the same class, the boys are at the front of class and the girls are in the back, Malian daily L’Express reported.
Anara Miga, a teacher in Gao, described her work since schools re-opened there in late April.
“As teachers, we’re searched on a daily basis by Ansar al-Din,” she said. “They fear we may teach some subjects that they consider ‘prohibited’ and ‘contrary to God’s Sharia’,” she added.
Meanwhile, Timbuktu parent Abdallah Hamanu complained that what is going on was the same as “medieval times”. The similarities manifest themselves “in terms of restricting thought, preventing the teaching of some subjects under the pretext that they promote infidelity, and establishing inquisition courts”, he said.
“It’s a crime against children,” Hamanu added.