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  • Islamic Learning, the State, and the Challenges of Education in Ghana by David Owusu-Ansah, Mark Sey, Abdulai Iddrisu
  • Steven J. Salm
Owusu-Ansah, David, Mark Sey, and Abdulai Iddrisu. 2012. Islamic Learning, the State, and the Challenges of Education in Ghana. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press. 230pp. $29.95 (paper).

Islamic Learning, the State, and the Challenges of Education in Ghana, coauthored by David Owusu-Ansah, Mark Sey, and Abdulai Iddrisu, explores the history of Islamic-centered and Western-style education in Ghana, from the precolonial era to the present, and even into the future, concluding with a suggested framework to overcome obstacles hindering its success. The narrative focuses on two main questions: why did the Ghanaian government need to create the Islamic Education Unit (IEU) in 1987? And how effective has the IEU been in enticing Muslim students to move from traditional Islamic schools to those with a curriculum promoted by the Ghanaian Education Services (GES)? Using 1987 as the jumping-off point, the authors trace the history of education and the role of the state in promoting Western-style education. In contrast to state power, they emphasize local agency in creating new and adapting old institutions to maintain and strengthen Muslim identity. Throughout the narrative, they weave the thread of modernity through strands of cultural and political perceptions of encounters among Islamic communities, government structures, and Western attitudes.

All three authors have outstanding records of research and publication on Islamic traditions and Muslim communities in Ghana. David Owusu-Ansah, a professor of history at James Madison University, for more than twenty years has been publishing works on Islam, including Islamic Talis-manic Tradition in 19th-Century Asante (1991). Abdulai Iddrisu, an assistant professor of history at St. Olaf College, has titled his most recent book Contesting Islam in Africa: Homegrown Wahhabism and Muslim Identity in Northern Ghana, 1920–2010 (2012). Mark Sey’s status as a faculty member emeritus of religious studies at the University of Cape Coast, coupled with his coauthorship of the series of religious and moral education textbooks used in Ghanaian secondary schools, confirms his deep connection to issues of Islam in Ghana. Harvard University history professor Emmanuel K. [End Page 143] Akyeampong is quoted thus on the back cover of the book: “I cannot see any other scholars more capable than those who have collaborated on this project producing such a work.”

The book consists of an introduction and three parts. The authors suggest that they have organized the publication into these parts, rather than traditional chapters, to “present this history of Muslim schooling in secular education in its appropriate chronological sequence” (p. xxxv). The introduction offers insights into the authors’ aims and the significance of this study. To understand why the Ghanaian government established the IEU, the authors argue, one must not begin with the premise that “Islam opposed secular education and therefore Ghanaian Muslims must be against modern learning” (p. xi). To negate this premise, this text seeks “to understand the tensions between traditional Islamic religious learning and secular education” by looking at the people directly involved in the process of establishing the IEU (p. xi). The book is timely, as the process of the IEU is now at a critical point, “needing an effective joining of efforts for a ‘take-off’ to be accomplished” (p. xii). Although Muslims were estimated to constitute only 15 percent of Ghana’s population in the 2000 census, the establishment and structures of the IEU provide a framework for greater inclusion of all groups in the national educational system.

Prevailing attitudes in the Western world after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the United States portrayed Islamic education in opposition to modernity and as a force for creating more anti-Western terrorists. In Ghana, Islamic education was never seen as part of this violent indoctrination. Some Muslim leaders were committed to the traditions of religious learning, and some saw value in incorporating more secular subjects into the curriculum. Both groups, however, retained suspicions of secular learning. To Owusu-Ansah, “it is in the context of this peaceful and tolerant Ghanaian religious and cultural environment that this research seeks to investigate the...


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