Minnat-Allah Aboul-Ella

Passing on the Words of GodMinnat-Allah Aboul-Ella

—by Seemab Zahra

A daughter of the Nile was born near the Great Lakes in Canada, but she did not stay there for long. She soon left to discover the world, like the water that wanders from place to place in search of paths to follow and valleys to unveil. The Great Lakes cherished her beautiful memory when she left and embraced her with open arms when she returned. Minnat-Allah Aboul-Ella was born in London, Ontario, to an Egyptian Family. Her father had come to Canada to join a Ph.D. program at the University of Western Ontario.

After five years of living in Canada, Minna relocated to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with her family. There she attended an International Islamic School that followed the British curriculum. They would obtain all their books from the United Kingdom, and most of the subjects were taught in English. The language skills Minna learned during those years helped her a great deal later in life.

Minna’s father was still working in Saudi Arabia when she independently decided to move to Egypt and join the School of Optometry. She was not able to complete her degree because of her marriage and choice to move to the United States with her husband. Minna wanted to explore other career paths in the United States where her family stayed for six years. Life was good there, but 9/11 changed everything. The US economy was affected a great deal, shutting down various businesses. Minna’s husband lost his job as well, but shortly after he was offered a job in Germany, which he accepted. Minna had to once again shift to new country.

Minna had become a mother by the time she moved to Germany. However, the family didn’t stay in Germany for long and soon moved to Malaysia. The University of Cambridge had a branch in Malaysia, and as Minna had a high school diploma from the University of Cambridge, getting enrolled in the Cambridge International program for teaching and training was not difficult. After finishing school, Minna was offered a teaching job, but before she could accept the offer, her husband had accepted a job offer in Canada. Once again Minna chose to accompany her husband to Waterloo, Ontario in 2007.

In 2009, Minna finally decided to employ her teaching skills. She found MAC Al-Huda Saturday school in Waterloo and started working there as an administrator. It was not a remunerative job, but since she wanted to connect with educational institutions where Islamic studies were being taught, Al-Huda seemed to be the best option — a good start for Minna’s educational career in Canada.

Her knowledge and teaching skills helped her climb the career ladder very quickly, and she was soon promoted to vice principal. While she was serving as a vice principal, the principal noticed Minna’s extraordinary potential and appointed her to take care of the Quran section of the school. The objective was to make the subject relatable, practical, engaging and fun for students.

Minna says that the Quran is book of Allah and is complete in its meaning, it must be learned and understood, not just memorized. When students merely memorize the verses without knowing the essence, they do not understand the divine message. From her training, she knew that every child has a unique way to learn: some like to listen while others love to see. Minna came up with a plan to make the Quran fun and comprehensible for every student. She would attend all the Quran classes from junior kindergarten to grade 12 and would silently observe. It wasn’t long before Minna identified the issues and suggested solutions, such as simplifying the curriculum, adding drawings to the text and seeking different ways of teaching.

Minna wanted every child to learn. She replaced the system where students learned under the fear of failing and later explained why. She transformed the entire system; thus, the school started to flourish. She was soon promoted to the position of principal, and once she had whole system under her control, she changed the curriculum, trained teachers and designed new lesson plans. She brought twenty-first-century skills such as projects, presentations and technology into the class to enhance learning for students and improve their overall experience. Her hard work soon began to pay off and enrollment went up.

In 2014, Minna was still working as a principal at Saturday school when she was offered a position to teach part-time at MAC Maple Grove School — a full-time Islamic school. She accepted the offer, and began working two jobs. She would work as a part-time teacher at Maple Grove school during the week and over the weekend she would perform her duties as a principal at Al-Huda school.

After 11 years’ of working as a teacher, a principal, teachers’ trainer and administrator, Minna decided to start her own Islamic school. She left both of her jobs and initiated Tayba Islamic Academy in 2019. The school started with just one class, but Tayba is now a full-time Islamic school registered with the Ministry of Education. At Tayba, pupils are taught the Ontario curriculum, integrating Islamic education into their daily learnings. Students also have character-building classes where they learn the morals (Ikhlaq) of the Prophet Mohommad (Peace be upon Him).

Minna never stopped learning and continued to acquire various certifications online such as Character Coach Certification delivered by an organization called Define 360. During this certification Minna completed a 10-module course about character (Akhlaq), how to acquire good character in connection to neurology. Minna learned how people perceive the information and how the environment in which a certain individual lives affects them and makes them grateful, ungrateful, depressed or sad. Apart from that certification, Minna also has a certification in teaching the Quran from Egypt. For this certification, Minna would travel to Egypt once a year to take the exam. Moreover, Minna is certified in Quran recitation. She has learned to read the Quran in the same way as it was read by the Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon Him). For the last two years, Minna has been coaching with principals of Ontario private schools.

Minna is a niqabi; she covers her face as an expression of her faith. It is a personal choice, and not all Muslim women cover their face. In 2009, Bill 94 was presented to the Quebec Assembly that barred anyone with a face covering from entering public offices. As a niqabi, it affected Minna deeply and she wanted to do something about it. Through an email campaign, Minna found a group of Muslim women who were urging Muslim men and women to come forward and speak about Bill 94. Minna joined the group called Coalition of Concerned Muslim Women of KW at the time.

In order to highlight the urgency of the issue, the group organized a forum at the Kitchener City Hall called Let Us Talk. At the forum, Minna presented the opening statement in a press conference that was held before the forum and argued that Muslims in Canada should be able to enjoy the Charter rights just like everyone else. She also emphasized that hijab or niqab is a personal choice and Muslim women must be free to choose what they want to wear.

That group, later renamed the Coalition of Muslim Women of Kitchener-Waterloo (CMW), continued their association after the press conference and community forum. Minna became the first coordinator of the CMW. As the coordinator, she organized group meetings and enjoyed co-planning the educational workshops and public events with other members. As the group started to grow and bring more structure to the work, the CMW’s first board was formed in 2012. Minna joined this inaugural board as the board secretary. Later, as Minna became busier with her two jobs, she took a break from the Coalition, fearing that she wouldn’t be able to give 100 percent to the position.

Minna’s accomplishments would not have been possible without her husband’s support, and she credits him for standing by her every step of the way: whether it was completing her teaching degree from the University of Cambridge in Malaysia or working two jobs at two different schools at the same time or starting her school in the Waterloo region. Minna says, “If you do not have a supportive husband who understands the value of what you are contributing to society and who believes in that as well, it will be very difficult to achieve anything.”

Minna urges Muslim women to have a role model — a person whom they look up to. Several women have inspired Minna to become who she is today. Her first inspiration came from her mother who is an engineer by profession and dedicated 40 years of her life teaching the Quran. Her second role model is Sister Elham Hindi, who inspired Minna long before she started Tayba Islamic school. Sister Elham Hindi is a principal of an Islamic school in Canada and has mentored Minna for many years. Minna’s third role model is Abeer Nou Nou, who is the principal of an Islamic school in Egypt for the last 25 years. Abeer’s dedication and strength to fight against unfavourable situations to keep Islamic education alive in Egypt in the face of challenges by the state, has inspired Minna for many years.

Imparting Islamic education is Minna’s domain where she feels very comfortable in her niqab. For her, niqab is an act of obedience to Allah. It is a way towards modesty, and to express her identity. She does not have to say that she is a Muslim trying to be close to Allah when she covers her face. Her belief that Allah guided her to choose niqab as a way of life, where she doesn’t have to dress in a certain way to impress anyone, empowers her. Minna has been very open to talking about her choice publicly. She has been interviewed for, and quoted in, a number of media articles on the topic of niqab.

Minna’s work aligns with her passion to teach the words of Allah and pass them on to following generations. She has struggled beyond the bounds in making it possible that the deen (Islam religion) never stops. What kept her motivated all these years was the question: “Are my children going to be Muslims after me?” She wanted to provide an environment for Muslim children in Canada where they do not have to get confused between their Muslim identity and their Canadian one. This is why she decided to start her school and has been working tirelessly toward making her school a place where Muslim children can learn the Ontario curriculum without having to be anxious over their identity.

Minna wants Muslim families to understand that our children are our refuge. They are the torch bearers of our legacy. If we don’t invest in their religious education, who will continue our Muslim faith after we are gone? She wants Muslim children in Canada to develop their identity in a way that fosters pride in incorporating the mutually respected ideals of social justice and human rights in Canadian society and Islam in their character, while being steadfast in their deen. Only then, she believes we can raise Muslim children who are focused on their way of life according to the words of Allah, which are easy to understand, and not mutually exclusive to being a successful Canadian.

Read more stories here