A leading Islamic academy in the city of Ghent, Belgium, has celebrated its 25th anniversary, marking a quarter century of success in teaching the Holy Qur’an and Islamic education.
Ghent is located 60 km from Brussels, with about 25,000 Muslims living there.
The Islamic Development and Research Academy was founded in Ghent in 1989 to cater to the needs of the Muslims in the region. The academy also monitors the process of providing animal meats for consumption according to the Islamic laws on slaughtering and it issues certificates for Halal food products.
The top priority since its foundation has been to preserve the study of the Arabic language, Islamic education, and the Holy Qur’an among the younger generations, who are born and raised as Muslim Belgians.
A ceremony at the academy was recently held to congratulate 15 young boys and girls for memorizing the Holy Qur’an. They were awarded a number of prizes for accomplishing this feat, including winning a trip to Makkah to perform the pilgrimage.
The youngest of these students was a 15-year-old boy, and currently there are 200 students enrolled at the academy who are studying not only the recitation and memorization of the Holy Qur’an, but are also studying the meanings of its verses and the correct implementation.
The ceremony also honored Mustafa Al-Diwani; a scholar from Morocco who has been engaged in teaching the Holy Qur’an since 1975.
“It is possible to train and educate moderate and well-learned Imams and scholars who are born and brought up in Belgium,” Ibrahim Letoush, the director of the Islamic Development and Research Academy, told Kuwait News Agency.
Letoush said that the young boys and girls were all born and brought up in Belgium and they can now become Imams or scholars with a solid foundation in Islamic knowledge. He said that it is very difficult to find Imams who were raised in Belgium and who understand the Belgian and European context, way of thinking, language, and social challenges.
“While attending the Islamic Academy, these youngsters are going to Belgian schools and they are doing very well in their studies. They are combining the two studies and the two disciplines academic and spiritual,” he said.
“It was a great day for me because my 17-year-old son, Anas, today has become a Hafiz (one who memorizes the whole Qur’an),” added Letoush.
The founders of the Islamic Development and Research Academy envision a generation of young Muslims who uphold and practice the true values, morals, and teachings of Islam, and not just a verbatim memorization of the words of the Qur’an.
The leaders of the organization have asserted the importance of education to protect youngsters from radicalization. A thorough and true understanding of Islam is desperately needed; as a religion that calls for peace, tolerance, kind treatment for all, and the prohibition of harming innocent people or the damaging of their properties, regardless of their faith, and a religion that stresses the sanctity of human life.
“Most of the young Muslims who are misguided and take the extreme path know hardly anything about the Qur’an and they were not taught its meanings,” Letoush said.
“If you ask them how much of the Holy Qur’an they have memorized, they will say perhaps a few surahs (chapters) and their understanding of the Qur’an is not correct. We have to invest in our younger generation. The only way is to teach them the correct understanding of Islam and the Qur’an,” he added.
Among the European Union, Belgium and the Netherlands have some of the largest Muslim communities, according to a report by Gatestone Institute; International Policy Council.
Belgian cities have significant Muslim populations, comprised mostly of Turkish and Moroccan immigrants, as well as a growing number of native Belgians who converted to Islam.
Belgian Muslims are estimated at 650,000, or around 6% of the overall population, about half of them are from Moroccan origin, while 120,000 are from Turkish origin. The report stated that the Muslim population is young; nearly 35% of the Moroccans and Turks in the country are below 18 years of age.
Since 2008, the most popular name in Brussels for baby boys has been Mohammed. It is also the most popular name for baby boys in Belgium’s second-largest city, Antwerp, where an estimated 40% of elementary school children are Muslim.
The director of academic affairs at the Academy in Ghent, Dr. Tijani Boualaouali, is from Morocco and he studied Arabic language and literature. He moved to the Netherlands where he lived for 15 years and studied religion and theology at the University of Amsterdam.
Tijani is a highly appraised poet and when he moved to Belgium, he joined the academy and trained teachers in the Arabic language.
“When I moved to Europe I found that the Muslims are not in need of a poet, but they need someone to serve the cause of Muslims in the West. From there my journey in the service of Islam began,” he said in a report in OnIslam.net.
The Muslims in Ghent have celebrated yet another victory only a few months ago; the city has rescinded a 6-year-old ban on wearing the hijab. Now Muslim women working in civil offices are allowed to wear their headscarves, or hijab.
“This is a historic turning point for ethnic and cultural minorities. Migrant populations are gaining political voice,” said Naima Charkaoui, director of Forum of Minorities.