This was one of those once in a lifetime moments which never fade away in the memory of time. Nervously, we stood outside the castle gate awaiting the first arrival of students. And what a colourful picture it was: families holding the hands of their little ones all dressed up for the occasion, some, fondly carried and others followed the footsteps of anticipating parents and guardians. And the rest was history - quite simply.
The opening session was an introduction to the school - we explained our objectives, values and how we aim to operate. We are a team, we are a family and we are a community. These were key messages we wanted to emphasise. Following a question and answer session, we took a break and resumed for a ‘taster’ class to show what students would expect from the madrasah during their term of study. The topic was on ‘being Muslim’ in Scotland. This was deliberately chosen for a number of reasons. First, we wanted to emphasise the relevance of what we teach to our students’ everyday lived experiences. We also saw it important to ground ourselves within the unique geographical, social and cultural setting we found ourselves in.
For the Madrasah students, the opening class was followed by activity whereby the students were split into two groups based on their ages and levels to carry out set tasks. During this, we went and sat with each group joining in their activities and conversations. And it was here that we had some really eye opening moments which we see important to share here. To start off on a high, we were overjoyed to see how bright the future can be. There we were surrounded by smart, creative and talented young people so eager to shine like stars that you could see it in their eyes! As a community, we have a duty to nurture this potential so that it grows in security to fulfill its purpose and bear fruit.
We learned that it was absolutely crucial to provide the ‘safe’ spaces to allow our children to open up and we saw how important is was to listen to their voices and engage them in conversation. In our conversations with them on being Muslim in Scotland, we came to learn about how genuinely challenging it is for young Muslims to grow up as ethnic minorities from a minority religious community. From complaints of bullying by classmates to playground antics, and from being the ‘only one’ in class to learning difficulties. It remains important for all stakeholders to consider these voices seriously and to explore ways of addressing them for indeed every child deserves the fair opportunity to fulfill their special purpose of being and achieve their dreams and ambitions.
And this is where institutions which come into contact with these minority voices have a huge role to play in not only reassuring but in infusing confidence, belief and self-esteem so that it translates into values of respect, integrity and citizenship. We believe at Olive Tree Madrasah that this is a niche for us to tap into in partnership with our students, the local communities of Edinburgh and the respective authorities on the national level. We certainly have been motivated by such an inspiring yet humbling start and we look to building on our reputation as a partner in community building and social cohesion in Scotland and further afield.
Here is a gallery of images which captured some special moments in the opening week of the madrasah and seminary.