Paulos Do Manuere, a staunch Catholic, doesn’t forget the Thursday in 2013 when he received a fully funded scholarship from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to study civil engineering at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia.
“I was astonished to see a dozen Christian Mozambique students get the scholarships too,” he said. “I’ve got strong Catholic roots and I thought Saudi scholarships here in Mozambique are geared exclusively for Muslim students to study in varsities and Islamic madrassas over there in Saudi Arabia.”
Smiling, he added: “Now as a professional engineer, I owe who I am to the generosity of the Muslim Kingdom of Saudi Arabia scholarships.”
The oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the Muslim Holy City of Mecca, runs a vast network of scholarships offered to students in extremely poor African countries like Mozambique. And students say that surprisingly, in certain times Christian recipients of the scholarships from Mozambique outnumber Muslim beneficiaries.
“It is a wonderful surprise,” agreed Baneto Mola, an Anglican student from Mozambique who has received an Islamic scholarship to study medicine in Saudi Arabia.
“I come from gas-rich Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique, where an Islamist ISIS insurgency has caused deaths and displacement. So as Christian Mozambique youths we grew up with lots of suspicions toward our Muslim fellow citizens and by extension anything Saudi,” Mola said. “We had so much wrong misconception that Christians are unwelcome in Sharia-law led Saudi Arabia, but the scholarship has shown me this is nonsense. I’m so catered for, welcome and learning at a top university and plan to do my master’s degree here.”
Apart from constructing mosques, funding livelihood charities, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia doles out lots of generous scholarships across Africa yearly. Via its embassies, private charities and businesses, the Saudi education endowments in Africa can reach $90 million a year and benefit nearly 1,000 university students, according to Zenaibu Al-Fashar, a foreign education director in the Saudi foreign affairs ministry.
“It’s a key pillar of Saudi diplomacy — lavish university scholarships for African students,” explained Donaldo Banda, owner of Marques Education Services, a consultancy in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, where he guides students on the application process for Saudi and other Gulf Arab universities. “The Saudis love to outcompete with traditional European and U.S. ‘Christian’ countries that have always provided scholarships for African students in the last 100 years. Education is the ultimate soft power.”
In nearby Malawi, an overwhelming Christian country, Bakili Chipoya is another example, of youth embracing Saudi Arabia’s educational opportunities. He went on to Islamic Law (Shariah) at the Islamic University of Madina in Saudi Arabia after completing the usual Western British-style education in his home country. When he was connected with the Islamic Zakat Fund, a Saudi-supported charitable organization assisting deserving needy students, he successfully applied for a scholarship. Upon graduating from school in Saudi Arabia, he plans to return to Malawi where he can practice law and advise Muslims and Christians on both secular English law and Muslim law.
Saudi universities are equally as good as European or American ones, he believes. “They are purely academic institutions like Oxford. The difference is only that some use Arabic for instruction. I am an intellect now because of the scholarship.”
Faith-blind Muslim charity funded by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Mozambique has seen very poor citizens (Muslim and Christian) benefit from clinics, lavish scholarships, school buildings and more. Baptist News Global previously reported on how Islamic generosity backed by lavish Saudi funds is winning the minds of youth and making young Christian Millennials keen to understand more about Islam across Africa.
Mozambique is a staunchly Catholic country but the Saudi-backed Muslim charity is helping change attitudes and foster dialogue, especially in war-torn regions of Mozambique like Cabo Delgado province where the Catholic Church is pushing ahead with inter-religious dialogue as the only way to achieve peace between Muslim and Christian communities.
“Saudi Muslim scholarships allowed me as a Christian Pentecostal to study and qualify as an actuarial scientist, a course that doesn’t exist yet here in Mozambique universities. As a Christian I don’t how to return this favor,” added Jani Torise, a Mozambique student recently returned from university in Saudi Arabia.
“When I was studying in Saudi Arabia, no one forced me to attend the mosque for Friday prayers. I kept my private Christian faith. It’s cheap propaganda that Christian students are not welcome in Saudi Arabia.”