In South Africa, the government provides secular education through its special schools for the disabled. However, the Muslim community always felt a need for an institute that would cater specifically for their religious requirements. Parents were particularly anxious about their children’s Islamic education. The Holy Qur’ân was available in Braille, but there was no teacher and special Madrassa for the blind. The best any parent could hope for was for their child to attend the conventional Madrassa.
Due to large classes and time constraints at normal Madrassas, it was not possible for a disabled child to get special attention. A disabled child requires special attention and needs help to travel the extra mile.
Some members of our community were not positive to this reality. Since the learners were few in number, they felt that it would be very expensive to run a special Madrassa for the disabled and the money could be productively utilized elsewhere.
However, some dedicated parents and a Sheikh took up the challenge. He began by learning Braille from a Blind Muallima and soon thereafter Madrassa An-Noor for the blind was established in 1986. Parents relocated and settled in Pietermaritzburg for their children’s education.
The Madrassa started with one student who began learning the “Qaaida” or primer. A few others joined. Our first Madrassa was a garage which had a carpeted floor and a few small desks to put the Qur’âns on. In about a years’ time, the first three students completed their Qur’ân. They read the Qur’ân’ with their fingers (Naazara).
The Sheikh would then use the (Perkins) Braille typewriter to transcribe the students lessons into Braille. Soon thereafter, a few students started Hifz ul Qur’ân. We then shifted to bigger premises.
At most libraries for the blind around the world, very little Islamic literature in the English language is to be found. Nowadays, the Blind use Braille, audio recordings and computers for their information. With the advance of technology, screen reading software programs like “Jaws” and “Ibsaar” are widely used.
At Madrassa An-Noor for the Blind, we built our own recording studio and began producing “Talking Books”. We also established a Braille printing press. Our embossing machines print Islamic books in Braille. The cost of printing a braille book is much higher than printing normal books. Presently, most of our literature comprises of text books. We print and stock most books published by the Ulama bodies of our country.
After some time, one of our Hifz students expressed her desire to become an Aalima. We contacted normal Darul Ulooms for girls but they could not provide for her special needs. Coincidently, a mother from Thailand contacted us expressing her blind sons desire to become an Aalim. That being the impetus, we initiated the Aalim course at our Madrassa and transformed into a Darul Uloom or Centre of Higher Education. This was a new journey for us. Our teachers and students had to braille every text book. Our first Ulema also studied the Qiraat Saba Ashara course. In 2004, our first Aalim and Aalima graduated. We have on soft copy most Kitaabs of the Aalim course including the Sahih Al Bukhârî, Alhamdulillah.
On many occasions, we were approached by persons from other parts of the world for assistance in starting a Madrassa for the blind in their countries also. Their experiences and challenges were similar to ours.
The first problem was that they had no trained teachers. Another difficulty was that it would be impractical for a young blind girl from England to travel and study in South Africa. We could never replace a mothers’ care and love and compensate for a family’s support.
To overcome this problem, we embarked on an Outreach program organizing Qur’ânic Braille workshops in different parts of the world. Workshops were held in India, Mauritius, England, Scotland, Bangladesh, Mozambique and locally in South Africa and there is need for more workshops.
The purpose of these workshops was to train Ulemâ and Qur’ân teachers and empower them so that the blind benefit directly.
We help establish Maktab / Madrassas by supplying the necessary books, literature, training and support from our resource centre. With the grace of Almighty Allah, a few Maktab / Madrassas overseas have already been established and are helping the blind in their communities.
Recently, there has been an increase in students to study at our centre. Due to space constraints at our present premises, we have acquired a farm at Cedara which is about 17 kilometres out of Pietermaritzburg. This will be the new home of our institute. Inshallah. Our teachers will live on campus and we will offer sports and other important living skills also. Inshallah. We request you to make Duaa for our success and that Allah Ta’ala accepts our efforts and forgives us our shortcomings. Ameen.