Nigerian school has a radical idea: to teach the children of Boko Haram

One day in May, Zina Mustapha scribbled two math problems on the whiteboard and discussed coordinate geometry with her 20 teenage students. But what appeared to be a typical high school in Nigeria is unlike any other in Africa’s most populous country.

In the heart of an area that has proved fertile ground for the radical Islamists Boko Haram, the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation is radical in another way: it accepts the orphans of Boko Haram members and, alongside them, the children of soldiers who fight the insurgents.

Why we wrote this

Governments typically confront terrorism with military force, but ordinary Nigerians show how other, more humane strategies can be more effective.

Since 2002, Boko Haram has shot more than 35,000 people as it tried to build an Islamic state in Nigeria and fight against alleged Western education and influence. But the sect, whose name means ‘Western education is prohibited’ and which has burned down thousands of educational institutions in the region, has never touched this school.

Founded in 2007 by Zannah Mustapha, a towering man who is a former sharia lawyer, the school has faced opposition from some parents for accepting the orphans of Boko Haram fighters.

Mr. Mustapha is not deterred. “To be [Boko Haram members’] children not orphans? Or are we going [judge] them for the transgression of their parents?”

MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA

One morning in May, Zina Mustapha stood in front of her 20 students and wrote two math problems on the whiteboard. “To solve these, you can use the coordinate formula or the vector formula,” she said.

As the teens recited the formulas to her, the scene could have been a typical high school in Nigeria. But the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation is unlike any other in Africa’s most populous country.

At the heart of a war that the jihadist sect Boko Haram has set against the government, the private Quran school has opened its doors to Muslim and Christian children of both insurgents and government soldiers, as well as orphans from both groups in the brutal conflict. Even as Boko Haram extremists raze and attack thousands of schools in the northeastern state of Borno, Zannah Mustapha, the school’s founder, preaches a different kind of radicalism: love for all.

Why we wrote this

Governments typically confront terrorism with military force, but ordinary Nigerians show how other, more humane strategies can be more effective.

Since 2002, Boko Haram has shot some 35,000 people and displaced 2 million people in its struggle to build an Islamic state in Nigeria and to abolish Western education and influence. In 2009, the group attracted worldwide attention when it began attacking state symbols such as military posts and public schools. Five years later, insurgents kidnapped 276 girls from their dormitory in a remote village called Chibok.

But some teachers continue to defy them.

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