Pooja Kushwaha, a regular Class XII student by day turns teacher at dusk, giving lessons to 35 Muslim children lessons on the Quran.A temple courtyard serves as her open-air classroom every evening in communally sensitive western Uttar Pradesh’s Agra.

With her command over difficult Arabic phonology involving a variety of syllables and emphatic consonants, she is every inch the teacher parents of these children always wanted. Reshma Begum, mother of Alisha, 5, one of Pooja’s students, says: “It is a marvel to see Pooja achieve this rare distinction at so young an age. I am pleased to have her as my child’s teacher.Her religion is the last thing on my mind.“

So, how did Pooja learn Arabic? “Many years ago, there was a woman of mixed faith in our locality. Born to a Muslim father and Hindu mother, Sangeeta Begum used to hold Quran classes for children. I got interested in the holy book and started attending her classes,“ Pooja tells TOI.

Sangeeta Begum had some personal problems and discontinued her classes. She requested Pooja to keep alive her legacy . “She taught me an important tenet of Islam, that there is no point gaining knowledge if you don’t share it,“ the 18-year-old says.

Pooja’s classes are free.“Most of the kids are from poor families. They do not have money and I do not want it either,“ she says. As her class grew, her home couldn’t accommodate all the children.Local elders readily offered her the temple compound.

Pooja’s elder sister Nandini, a graduate, teaches children Hindi and the Bhagvad Gita. “These children are from underprivileged homes and teaching them is great work. I am proud of my daughters,“ their mother Rani Kushwaha says.

And what does the local Muslim population have to say about Pooja’s efforts?
A prominent Muslim leader in the city , 70-year-old Haji Jamiluddin Qureshi, who chairs many social forums and has a school of his own, says: “It’s heartening to know that such rare examples of communal harmony exist in our city . A teacher is a teacher. Her religion matters little, as long as her knowledge is sound. Islam does not object to anybody learning Arabic or reading the Quran.“