By Ainaa Aiman
January 12, 2019
An academic has alleged that officially sanctioned Islamic education in Malaysia is not effective in cultivating values that are considered desirable in Islam.
Azmil Tayeb of Universiti Sains Malaysia, who has done a comparative study of Islamic education in Malaysia and Indonesia, claims that neither the syllabus for national schools nor the one used in the Jakim-approved programme called “Kafa” incorporates the teaching of such democratic values as openness and respect for diversity.
Jakim is the Malay acronym for the federal department in charge of Islamic affairs.
Azmil told FMT he found that both the school and Kafa syllabi were heavy on the teaching of rituals and avoidance of sins and he said this made them superficial.
He also said the teaching in schools tended to encourage rote memorisation and to give a narrow interpretation of Islam.
“It does not encourage critical thinking and the development of analytical skills,” he said. “It teaches students how to perform religious duties, but does not impart the meaning of what it is to be a Muslim, especially in a multi-ethnic society like Malaysia.
“There’s no opportunity to really study the Quran, to get into the deeper meanings.”
The Kafa programme, which teaches duties that Islam requires of adherents as individuals and members of communities, is regulated by Jakim and state Islamic authorities. The classes are usually held in the afternoon or evening at dedicated centres, but sometimes in mosques or suraus.
Figures from 2016 show that there were more than 19,000 students at Kafa programme centres in the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya.
The students may choose to sit for the Kafa Evaluation Examination to earn a certificate. The subjects include Islamic Sciences, Arabic, Quranic Studies, Islamic History and Islamic Manners.
A recent Berita Harian report told of a Buddhist girl in Terengganu who scored 8As in the Kafa examination.
Kafa’s main function is to supplement Islamic Education in non-religious public schools, which many Muslim parents see as not adequate.
Azmil said the case of the Buddhist girl proved that excelling in the Kafa programme did not require any deep affinity to Islam. “If a student studies hard and memorises enough, he or she can do well.”
He said he found that the Islamic syllabus in Indonesia was not as heavily regulated by the government as in Malaysia, adding that the federal government’s heavy hand could be seen even in Kelantan.
“You would think Kelantan, being an opposition state, would have an Islamic syllabus that is more autonomous and independent, but this is not the reality.”
He said this was partly due to the central government’s ability to offer financial resources. “It can afford to provide financial aid, to help build infrastructure and supply equipment. It would be difficult for private schools or the state government to compete.”
Azmi criticised the Malaysian syllabus for teaching what he called “extreme behaviour”, such as killing apostates and beating disobedient wives.
“Beating wives is actually in the textbook,” he said. “There are guidelines on how to do it, such as not hitting the face.”
He said he found no mention of such things in the Indonesian textbooks. “There may be one line on polygamy being allowed under strict circumstances, but that’s it. But in Malaysia, there is one whole lesson plan just on polygamy.”
He recommended a revision of the Islamic Education syllabus for national schools to include components on comparative religion, arguing that this would cultivate understanding of other religions and cultures.
However, he acknowledged that it would be a challenge to find enough qualified teachers to teach topics on comparative religion.
Currently, he alleged, religious teachers in school would often speak of other religions negatively.
But he said schools could invite religious figures or people from religious organisations to speak to students or conduct question-and-answer sessions with them.
“We can even have school visits to temples and churches. These are things schools can do by themselves without waiting for the ministry to decide.”