By Lim Sue Goan
The move of making Islamic and Asian Civilisation Studies (Titas) compulsory for local students in private institutions of higher learning has sparked a controversy. At the same time, it has also made us reflect the racial and religious relations in Malaysia.
Those who oppose to the move believe that compelling students to study Titas is a violation of the Constitution while those who support the move argued that in addition to Islamic civilisation, it also includes Chinese, Indian and other Asian civilisations, so what is the problem?’
The polarised responses were driven by personal perspectives. Does it mean to instill religious teachings in non-Muslims? If it carries no such intention but to let students understand various civilisations in Asia, impart knowledge and foster understanding, it would then have nothing to be worried about.
Another point is, how heavy is Islamic civilisation stressed in the subject and are all civilisations included to let students of different religious backgrounds understand the history and evolution of various civilisations? If the curriculum of the subject is imbalanced, it would not be able to attract students' interests and thus, lose the significance of making it a compulsory and must-pass subject.
Therefore, instead of letting members of the public make their own interpretations, it would be better to invite scholars drawing the subject syllabus to explain the curriculum, objective and emphasis of Titas.
Just like some people think that Islamic history has made a large proportion of the History for national secondary schools and Islamic Civilisation has also been included in national secondary school's exams. Starting from this year, History has also been made a must-pass subject for SPM students and from 2014, History will be made a compulsory for Standard Four students. At the same time, one of the conditions put forward by the government to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) is, the History and Geography curricula in independent secondary schools must conform to national conditions.
Who should dominate history interpretations? Which part should be focused on? It is believed to remain controversial and the crux of the problem lies in the lack of trust and the surge of suspicions.
Too many tough political actions and too little communication and understanding have resulted in mutual suspicions while suspicions lead to the loss of objective thinking and rationality. Therefore, I personally think that cross-civilisation dialogues are necessary to build mutual trust. It is the responsibility of the government, as well as all those who are involved.
When Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was still the Deputy Prime Minister, he had vigorously promoted the Islam-Confucian Dialogue and thus, public universities made Titas a compulsory for students in 1998.
However, after Anwar was sacked, no other Umno leader has promoted the Islam-Confucian Dialogue. After the rise of racial and religious politics, as well as after politics has intensified contradictions, the will to communicate among different religions seems to have faded. The Special Committee to Promote Inter-religious Understanding and Harmony established in 2010 seems to have stopped operating, too.
There have been some religious issues in recent years, such as religious conversion, the use of the word "Allah" and church arson attacks. Emotions were not properly released as communication has been replaced by clamour, warning and intimidation.
Young netizens seem no longer sensitive to religious issues, such as the ignorance of the sex blogger duo. If the communication mechanism is not started, religious relation could go worse.
National and religious harmony is a lofty and priority agenda. It is politicians who have distorted it and led the country towards a dangerous path.