By Khairil Azhar
January 20 2016
What can we do, as educators, to help our students keep away from the potential threat of being involved in terrorism? As one’s belief can be fertile ground for the seeds of terrorism to grow, how should religious education be managed?
What should parents do, as the seeds of terrorism can access their children and be accessed as easy as a single click nowadays? How can they ensure that monitoring does not turn into a paranoid act, but a fruitful nurturing mechanism?
In the context of Islamic education, considering the current phenomena of how terrorists are mostly identified as Muslims and how they subjectively identify their actions as being on behalf of Islam, any endeavour to unravel the situation is surely worth a try.
As in most religions, Muslims mostly understand and practice religious teachings they take for granted. If they do not depend on clerical authorities they usually obtain religious teachings from available written sources, tradition or even use their common sense and because a religion tends to easily enable absolutism — that one perceives everything related to his religion as sacred and undisputable — the seeds of terrorism can straightforwardly be sowed.
At all schools providing Muslim students with Islamic study subjects, they actually have similar practices. The religion teachers decide which textbooks are to be used based on their knowledge, teach the students the religious teachings they understand and practice and mostly use the teaching methods they experienced when they were students.
Rote memorization is surely a favourite — so frequently students are not required to understand the meaning of the verses of the Koran or of the traditions. Obtaining the sacredness of the verses, which is enigmatically believed as sufficient to secure one a place in paradise, is sufficient.
Even the sacredness is believed sufficient to shepherd one to traverse the right path and there are festivals and competitions celebrating the “imaginary” blessedness.
With the practices, how do the students understand, acquire and practice virtues, as religious education is acknowledged as a means for moral education? What pedagogical reasoning can then explain and assure us that such religious education is scientifically needed in society?
In the realm of Islamic education, while meaning and understanding are second or even third to absolutist entanglements, indoctrination tends to become the most fancied choice.
Virtues, the very things a religion is built upon, are reified more as magic words or phrases, memorized and inscribed on statues and banners. “Cleanliness is a part of faith!” they say. Have a visit to nearby traditional Islamic schools and you will find garbage scattered all around.
Historically speaking, we have got to say that there has been a blundering shift on how religious teaching has been facilitated, especially for the ones in secondary levels.
Previously, almost in all private traditional Islamic schools and state ones, religious subjects could be classified into Uluum Al-Din, the disciplines related to already “cooked” religious teachings, and Uluum al-Alat, the disciplines learned and taught as the means to understand or “cook” the religious teachings.
While the former disciplines — consisting of theology, private and public jurisprudence and ethics — tend to be static and closely related to the time and place that they differ in various schools of thought, the later ones — such as critical linguistics, Mantiq (logic) and al-Hikmah (philosophy) — were the tools used to produce the applicable knowledge and practices and should be then used to criticize and amend the products if contextually necessary.
The availability of the Ulum al-Alat, which to a certain extent are now still taught traditionally in many schools, yet more with rote memorization methods, had enabled a kind of dialectic — a process that enables Muslim students and scholars to critically examine a teaching in correlation with contextual imperatives.
As the critical disciplines were started to be taught on lower secondary levels, the students were accustomed to not only practicing reasoning processes on provided examples in their classic textbooks (Kitab Kuning) but also to simultaneously exercise their opinions and even to critically question an existing religious teaching for better understanding.
As a student of a traditional Islamic school from 1989 to 1994, I was fascinated in our Muzakarah — the debate sessions in which we discussed an issue or a Quran verse using our limited linguistic, logical and classic hermeneutical spectacles.
Imagine that we could question linguistically the real meaning of Salat (Muslim prayer), why we must perform it and so on. Our supervising Ustads (teacher) just sat watching smilingly and in the end of the session he would explain what, how and why without any threats.
Pedagogically, the availability of the Uluum Al-Alat and the practices of using them could equip students with critical tools to nurture their critical minds. Naturally, they would be accustomed to being critical to new knowledge and information and struggle for their freedom of thinking.
Is it possible for Indonesian Islamic education to learn from its own history?
It is then just mainly about courage.
If you are a teacher, you can start with small but critical discussions on the issues of religion. If you are a policymaker at a school, start with facilitating activities that enable students to unleash their critical thinking about religion. If you are a parent, open up your children’s mind with an atmosphere conducive to dialogue about religion, significantly reducing unnecessary dos, and dont’s.
Khairil Azhar is director of SukmaBangsa Schools, Lhokseumawe, Aceh