Uncertainty and worry have gripped students of the Islamic International School at Mazagaon, and their parents, since the National Investigation Agency (NIA) froze the school’s bank accounts on Friday morning. The school, run by controversial preacher Zakir Naik, is currently holding its first-semester exams and the uncertainty over the school’s future has left many students struggling to concentrate on their studies.
Over 165 students from nursery to Class 10 are enrolled at the school, which offers the international Cambridge curriculum and has applied for affiliation.
On Saturday, NIA officials searched 10 places in Mazgaon, including Naik’s home and the offices of his Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), but according to the school authorities no NIA officials visited the school building. “This is the school’s own bank account. It has no connection with IRF. While the government said that they would ensure that students and the school’s functioning will not be affected, these actions prove otherwise,” said a legal assistant to IRF, who did not wish to be named.
Principal Mohammad Imran Qureshi said that he will be paying for the school’s expenses from his own pocket for the time being. “We need money to meet day-to-day expenses such as providing mid-day meals to the children,” he said. “We have to print question papers, answer books and circulars. I am using my own account to make these payments for now but how long can this continue?”
The situation has taken a toll on many students and parents. “I am not in the right state of mind to take an exam right now,” said Umar Armar, 13, a Class 8 student. “I feel disturbed when I hear such things about my school. We were never taught to look down on anyone or to cultivate any anti-national feeling.”
Adil Patanwala, a parent whose two daughters are in senior kindergarten and Class 8, said that his eldest daughter is depressed. “My eldest daughter is the most affected by this controversy. She is very attached to her school and if it closes, it will be difficult for her to move on,” he said. “The government should at least allow the school to complete the current academic year because it will be difficult to switch schools mid-term.”
Patanwala added that very few schools offer an international curriculum along with Islamic studies, including Quran memorisation. “I didn’t want to send my children to a madrassa but I wanted them to know about Islam. This school offered both,” he said. “It will be difficult for me to find another school that offers this combination.”
Retail businessman Musharaff Armar, another parent, said 15 children from his family have studied at the school. “We have been inspired by Zakir Naik; he has changed our lives and thinking. Because of him, our children can aspire to be doctors or engineers. The quality of education at the school is very good,” said Armar.
Despite the ongoing troubles, most parents said they were not thinking of changing schools yet. “We will try to save the school till the last,” said Armar.