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Wednesday, 26 October 2011 16:14

Islamic College getting settled in prairie town

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By Matthew Liebenberg — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The process to get the Darul Uloom or House of Knowledge in Prelate up and running is occurring, although at a slower pace than anticipated.


The school is located in the former St. Angela’s Academy Catholic boarding school for girls in Prelate. The 76,000-square-foot main building on 9.4 acres was sold to the Islamic College of British Columbia (ICBC) in August after sitting empty for four years.

ICBC President Muhammad Tayyab said their former premises in Hope, B.C., was getting too small for their needs after a decade of use.

They can accommodate around 100 students in Prelate while there was only room for 25 to 30 students in Hope.

“The building was very old and not in good condition. The one we got in Prelate was built for the same purpose and it’s a nice building to have a boarding school. ... We don’t need lots of renovation. Everything is ready to go.”

Since the sale of the building, he and three other staff members have moved from British Columbia to the prairie.

“It’s definitely a big change,” he said. “There’s a lot of rain there and there’s a lot of wind this side.”

As part of the move the original college name also changed. He said they have already renamed it to Islamic Academy of Saskatchewan.

A dedication ceremony for the new building took place on Sept. 4.

“It was well-attended,” he said. “The Muslim community came and all the other religions surrounding our area, everybody participated.”

According to Tayyab, the response from the local community to their arrival has been positive.

“Everybody says “welcome” and they’re very happy.”

The challenge now is to recruit a sufficient number of students. They need around 35 to 40 to start classes. The original intention was to open the school in October, but they have not yet reached the required number.

“This will take time because we have to get the students and register everything,” he said. “Probably it will take a few months.”

The college will provide education for boys from Grade 4 to 12. They will follow the school curriculum of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education in combination with traditional Islamic education, which will include courses such as Tajweed (art of Qur’anic recitation), Fiqh (Islamic law and jurisprudence), Seerat (life of Prophet Mohammad) and Hadith (prophetic traditions).

“They spend almost six hours a day for the academic education and around two to three hours a day for religious studies,” he mentioned.

Tayyab described the small town of Prelate with its population of around 126 as a perfect setting for the students to learn without distraction.

“They need some quiet area where they can focus just on study and become a good Canadian citizen,” he said.

Other small Saskatchewan communities similar in size to Prelate have benefitted from the presence of educational institutions in their midst.

The Chinook International Program at the school in Hazlet have brought students from across the world to the community. Principal and Recruiting Director Kristy Sletten said the program has many benefits.

“When we first started the program we really thought it was to benefit the school and actually we found that the greater benefit has occurred to the community. The influx of economic activity, the interest that it has created in the community, the hope that it has given our small community that there was a sustainable future for us, all of those things were off-shoots of the international program.”

The cultural impact of the program has been equally important. It gave students as well as other members of the community an opportunity to interact with people from around the world and to develop a more global view.

“It just created a very rich atmosphere in the school and in the community,” she said. “It’s given us this uniqueness which is great and it developed pride in people about our community.”

The visits by family members of international students have been part of the economic benefit  experienced by Hazlet. For example, six former students returned during the summer and they brought their families along.

“Each year we have different students that are returning either on their own or with their families. It’s just one of the more amazing parts because they’ve developed such a close connection to the community and it’s been great.”

The program is currently in a rebuilding phase after one of their main recruiting partners withdrew from English-speaking Canada due to financial reasons. As a result, there is only one international student in the school of 63 local students. In the past, the number of international students varied between six and 17. Sletten said they are already seeing positive benefits from their new recruiting efforts.

In Val Marie, the Prairie Learning Centre has also brought more visitors to the town and area. The centre, which provides environmental education in close partnership with the nearby Grasslands National Park, draws students from across southwest Saskatchewan.

Program Manager Christie Thomson said there has already been about 450 students this fall and she estimated close to 700 students will visit the centre by the end of the school year.

“Val Marie is so far off the beaten track that getting here is the biggest problem,” she said. “When people are here they tend to love it.”

Part of the initiative to start the Prairie Learning Centre was to help stimulate the economy and to provide something that has not been offered in the community before. Visits to the centre has an add-on effect, as people will relate their positive experiences to family and friends who might also come to the area.

“Students, because they’re outside of the classroom, are enjoying hands-on experiences in the park,” Thomson said. “They leave here with a really favourable impression, both learning about biology and about the town, so I don’t think there’s really a downside to it all.”


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