I spent a fruitful term sitting in the circle with the “literate” ladies. We read, but the class focused on memorization. That was fine. I wanted more, however. I knew that tajweed had rules of its own apart from grammar and I wanted to learn them. My husband suggested I enroll in a new madrassa that was opening in the neighborhood, so I took my girls and enrolled. There, I was put into a class with barely literate women, but that was fine, as long as we were reading and learning the rules of tajweed. My girls (whose native language is Arabic) went to a more advanced class.
After a few days, the mudeera (director) pulled us aside as we headed for our classes. She said, “We have a special class starting soon, a class for Western women, and I’m sure you’ll feel more comfortable there.”
“Fine,” I told her, and started for my classroom so I wouldn’t be late.
“Wait,” she said, and then gave me a speech about how, as a Westerner, I would want to learn with other Western women, therefore I should wait for the new class to start rather than continue. Something sounded fishy. I knew I was the only Westerner who lived in the neighborhood within a twenty-five mile radius.
“OK.” I said, “but I know how to read. What I need is pronunciation.”
She said I didn’t read well enough to remain in any class other than the special one being organized for Westerners, and I said yes, I do read well enough, “…and I’ll show you.” I opened the mushaf (copy of Qur’an) and started to read.
“No, no, you must go now. We’ll phone you when your class starts.”
“What?!” I said. “Ask my teacher. She’ll tell you that I am doing fine!”
“No. Please leave!” She got up and herded my girls and I out the door. My girls spoke up for me, but could not soften the will of the mudeera to be rid of us. The girls nearly cried. As we left the building, the mudeera shouted, “Wait! You can’t leave like that,” and threw down three pairs of black gloves.
We put them on and walked home, all three of us in tears.