LILONGWE - After long years of neglect, girls' education is gaining a maximum attention and support among Muslims in Malawi, a progress hailed as a result of Muslim efforts to enlighten the community about the process.
It's been a long held belief among some parents and communities that education for girls is a sheer waste of time and resources, Dinala Chabulika, national coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau (IIB), told OnIslam.net.
But sadly this has in the end worked against them.
He said opposition to girls' education has nothing to do with Islamic teachings.
Those who disapprove of girls' education are not speaking from a sound religious perspective, he said.
There is nothing in Islam that prevents the education for girls.
Estimates show that the number of Muslim girls accessing education beyond the primary school in Malawi has tremendously increased over the years.
Community leaders believe that the progress is a direct result of campaigns aiming to enlighten Malawi Muslims about the importance of education for girls.
In our campaigns, we have sensitized parents as key stakeholders in the education sector and traditional leaders as custodians of culture on the importance of girls' education, Chabulika said.
Our efforts have helped to change people's mindset towards education for girls.
Through these efforts, we have managed to break some cultural norms, which have been holding back girls from attending school. Without these efforts, the situation could have been very detrimental.
He said many Muslim girls and women who have excelled in their education are now holding senior and influential positions in public and private sectors.
These people have been moving around in schools and communities sensitizing girls and parents on the importance of education, Chabulika said.
Their presence as role models has encouraged the girls to have a desire to further their education. Through them, the girls have realized and appreciated the need to go to school.
Official statistics suggest Muslims constitute 12 percent of Malawi's 14 million people, but the umbrella Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) puts the rate at 36.
Islam is the second largest religion in the southern African country after Christianity.
Since the late 1990s, there has been a proliferation of international Muslim organizations working in the education sector in Malawi, which have constructed many schools for girls only.
More Muslim girls are now accessing scholarships for secondary and university education in Malawi.
Previously, boys were the only ones applying for scholarships in large numbers, but now we are seeing girls taking the lead, Muhammad Osman, executive director of Islamic Zakaat Fund (IZF) in Malawi.
These figures are increasing every year, a strong indication that parents and communities are realizing the importance of education for the girl child.
Osman indicated that there has been massive investment towards the education for girls in Malawi than it was the case in the past.
Girls in Malawi no longer have an excuse not to go far with education.
Records also indicate that there are more Muslim girls pursuing various disciplines in public universities in Malawi now than ever before.
In the past, the situation was not like this. We have had the lowest numbers of Muslim girls entering public universities in Malawi, said Dr Emmanuel Fabiano, Vice Chancellor of the University of Malawi.
He said that the number of Muslim students have been on the rise in the past 15 years.
I have been in the university for long and in know what I'm talking about. There could be something triggering this rise.
One of the reasons to this progress is the establishment of Maryam Girls Teacher Training College, Malawi's first tertiary institution within the Muslim community.
The establishment of the college five years ago at the initiative of Islamic charity Bilal Trust is seen as playing a leading role in removing cultural barriers which have been limiting access of girls to education.
The college is seen as part of a sincere effort to bridge the gap of gender in education, said Altaf Gani, secretary general of Bilal Trust.
He said through this institution, an opportunity was being promoted for girls who completed their secondary school to pursue their education.
Every year, we are flooded with applications from girls across the country wishing to further their education, but due to limited space, we can't accommodate them all at the same time.
Malawi Minister of Transport and Public Works Sidik Mia, himself a Muslim, hailed efforts of Muslim groups to encourage more girls to access education in the country.
If it could have been left to government alone, changing people's mindset to understand that even girls have a place in society, the situation could by now be turning into worse, he told OnIslam.net.As a government, we are very grateful for this move and sacrifice.