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What Can the Arab Educated Sierra Leoneans Do?

What Can the Arab Educated Sierra Leoneans Do?

Sierra Leoneans began to embark on educational journeys to the Arab world in the early 1960’s. The majority found it easier to head towards the then Egypt of President Gamal Abdul Nasser. And it is worthy to note that it was President Nasser, one of the early Pan Africanists, who widely opened the doors and shores of Egypt to Africans at a time when a number of African countries were still struggling under the yoke of colonialism. He did that wholeheartedly as a sheer manifestation of his true belief that Egypt was part and parcel of the African continent which Africans should deem as their second home. And indeed, in the years that ensued, a number of Egyptian institutions, especially Al-Azhar University, offered scholarships to many Africans from various corners of the continent. As a result, Africans pursuing knowledge in the Islamic teachings and other disciplines journeyed to Egypt in droves.  (Photo: Ibrahim Sillah, author)

Egypt was not the only Arab country that embraced African students on its soil. Other Arab countries like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Sudan followed suit. However, since the mid 70’s, many African students have found Saudi Arabia a most fertile land for their pursuit of academic excellence.

Indeed, it is noteworthy that the majority of Africans who had the opportunity to study in the Arab universities majored in a variety of Islamic disciplines such as: the Islamic Jurisprudence, Islamic Theology, Arabic Language, Origins of the Islamic Faith and other fields related to the Islamic teachings. Most of those who chose the aforementioned disciplines either did so because they were the only options available for them or because they wanted to get profoundly knowledgeable in the Islamic teachings with the sole and noble purpose of getting their African brethren thoroughly educated about the true and authentic Islamic teachings upon their return from their educational journeys. And indeed they have been fountains of enlightenment for Muslims across the continent; their relentless and concerted efforts to educate their fellow Muslims have been palpable and fruitful to a great extent. They are making huge differences in terms of purifying people’s Islamic faith from innovative practices so that Muslims would practice their religion with the true understanding of the Islamic faith.

On the other hand, scores of Africans who had the very opportunity to pursue their academic excellence in the Arab world majored in other vital disciplines not totally or solely related to the Islamic teachings such as: medicine, engineering, agriculture, sciences, education, arts, languages, commerce, business administration and a number of Information Technology (IT) courses. As a matter of act, the Arab world has produced excellent African professionals in almost every discipline and area of knowledge needed in the labour markets.

In the case of Sierra Leoneans, there are Arab graduated medical doctors working in tertiary hospitals around the globe today. There are engineers and chartered accountants working at international institutions and there are teachers and lecturers working at prestigious schools and universities in the Arab world and elsewhere around the world. For instance, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) located in Jeddah has a number of Arab Educated Sierra Leoneans holding key positions; and it is worthy to note that IDB is an affiliated institution of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which ranks as the second largest Inter-Governmental organization after that of the United Nations.

However, irrespective of the academic excellence attained by a number of Sierra Leoneans educated in the Arab world, successive governments of Sierra Leone, over the years, have not given due consideration to this category of their citizens; instead, they have grossly marginalized them, and , many a time, deemed them inferior to their Western educated counterparts. Sadly, this baseless belief is due to a number of factors:

  1. The negative and biased image with which the West has painted the Muslim world has unfortunately made feeble-mended people to believe that anything that emanates from the Arab world must be of a mediocre and low quality.
  2. The erroneous belief that Arab educated Sierra Leoneans can only fit in mosques and schools of Quranic and Arabic studies is another negative factor. As a matter of fact, Arab educated Sierra Leoneans have proven and can undoubtedly prove that they are by no means inferior to their Western educated counterparts. In fact, they can be better off in a number of domains. It would, therefore, be a big folly to think that the role of the Arab educated Sierra Leoneans is exclusively confined and restricted to religious practices. Given an equal opportunity, they can effectively contribute in nation building like any of their counterparts educated elsewhere in the world, or even better because they are more Godly conscious people.
  3. The fact that most of our Arab educated brothers have submitted themselves to the above unfounded beliefs and have barely or never effectively attempted to erase these erroneous beliefs from people’s minds has woefully contributed to their marginalization by  the Sierra Leone governments over the years. There is no justification, whatsoever, that should deter them from effectively taking part in the governance of their country.
  4. The fallacy which entails that there is no religion in politics and no politics in religion is erroneously misleading and is, thus, out of place. Religion and politics have, in one way or the other, always operated as parallel components. Religion is what guides and keeps politicians at bay. Politicians of any religion should be conscious of their moral standards so that they will maintain their scruples to discharge their assigned duties professionally and deliver the goods according to the expectations of the leader who appointed them and the masses they are there to serve. Some may argue that Sierra Leone is by and large a secular country. This is true. Nonetheless, even in the most secular system, there should be the awareness and consciousness of the Almighty Lord.
  5. Arabic being the language of the holy Quran, the official language and lingua franca of the Arab world does not necessarily entail that whoever gets educated in the Middle East is solely overstuffed with Arabic. However, even if they happen to receive their education exclusively in Arabic, it does not by any means mean that they are not properly educated. Those who study in Russia get educated in Russian; those who study in Germany get educated in German; those who study in Spain and Italy get educated in Spanish and Italian languages respectively. But the stigma of inferiority is often attached to those who get educated in the Middle East mainly. What many Sierra Leoneans are, unfortunately, not aware of is the fact the Arab world abounds with universities that have been rated among the first two hundreds in the index of world universities. The author of this article is lecturing in one of such universities.
  6. Based on the above, and on behalf of the Arab educated Sierra Leoneans, I am fervently requesting H.E. President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma to help eradicate this archaic and prevalent sick mentality of our Western educated counterparts and previous governments of Sierra Leone towards their Arab educated citizens. I think it is high time due consideration was given to this category of citizens who have been for too long marginalized and deprived of their rights to partake in nation building. In my view they ought to be tried by giving them the equal opportunity to handle key positions in the Government.

I am appealing to President Koroma to include his Arab educated nationals in both his “Agenda for Change and Agenda for Prosperity”. If he does, perhaps this will be one of His Excellency’s legacies for which he will be dearly remembered in years to come.

It is dismally deplorable that successive past governments of Sierra Leone have failed to fully assess the actual value, weight and importance of the Arab world, particularly the Gulf region, which has become the nucleus of the world economy.

 Under the pragmatic leadership of President Ernest Koroma, Sierra Leone needs to exploit all possible avenues, including its diplomatic ties with other countries, to maximize the gains of His Excellency’s “Agenda for Prosperity”. This can indeed be done by having all hands on deck, without any discrimination based on ethnic, tribal, or religious factors. Sierra Leoneans should desist from being unjustifiably judgmental as to who is fit or not fit to take part in administrating the affairs of the country. I think wisdom, merits, expertise, strategy and national interest are the hallmarks that should be primarily taken into consideration when appointing individuals who are assigned to handle the affairs of the nation. By so doing, no citizen would feel left by the boat.

As graduates of a variety of disciplines, Arab educated Sierra Leoneans can effectively offer their services in a number of vital areas such as: medicine, engineering, education, translation, banking, accounting, management, diplomacy and international relations. Furthermore, they can improve Sierra Leone’s diplomatic and bilateral relations with the Arab world in a way that would certainly maximize its gains from Middle Eastern countries.  However, to be more realistic, there are a few Sierra Leoneans educated in the Middle East who have had the opportunity to handle positions in the country. Having been educated in the Arab World, particularly Saudi Arabia and having a thorough understanding of the terrain, I think our scholars should head the Hajj Mission from now on. I have the firm belief that they can better manage the affairs of Hajj in a way that would make our pilgrims more comfortable in their performance of the Hajj rituals and their temporary stay in the Kingdom. They can also advise Government on religious issues and how to deal with Arab issues, if given the opportunity to contribute in nation building.

God bless Sierra Leone.

Prepared by: Ibrahim Yousuf  Sillah

The author is a former president of the Sierra Leone Nationals’ Union in Saudi Arabia and a lecturer at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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  • I echo the premise of ‘THE WHEEL MAN’s article. We need to blend the component of members in governmental positions with citizens that have either Islamic or Christian beliefs. As a secular state the fair representation of all in society regardless of your academic background or tribe has to be reflected fairly and practically across the spectrum of governmental administration of which the current administration deeply share. God’s fearing at generic levels plays a fundamental role especially when it comes to the fair-minded distribution of our national chattels and care provided to those in severe agony.

    15th January 2013

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