What to do with religious education

I have spoken extensively about the overwhelming religious nature of the Malaysian public schools and public education system, including the lopsided hours between religion compared to science.

Recent revelations show that the Education Ministry needs to urgently and seriously revamp the curriculum and content of the Islamic Education subject being taught to our students. I have said it again and again, the indoctrination taking place in our schools is producing youths with ideologies that are no different than those being indoctrinated by the Taliban and so-called Islamic State (IS) terrorists.

Public schools’ texts seem to be teaching students how to cane “disobedient” wives. I can guarantee that to a fair number of Malays, this sentence does not even sound jarring to them when years of such indoctrination have been taking place and sold as God’s will and demand. A state-sanctioned Form Four text on Pengajian Islam advocates murder for apostates. Let me repeat it in another way. Our schools are teaching 15-year old Malay/Muslims that murder upon those who decide to change their beliefs is a duty.

What else have our Malays been brainwashed to believe? The funny thing is that not any of the Islamic texts being taught point to the Quran, including what is said in An-Nisa 137 – of how God never prescribed any punishment for those who believe and disbelieved and revert but then disbelieved again – why? One can’t help but think that it’s because it does not follow their personal narrative of a cruel and draconian religion. A peaceful and forgiving religion which allows its adherents to think for themselves would not have a flock in the grasp of an authoritarian cleric class.

You are what you read.

Do not tell me that all these indoctrination has had no impact on our Malay youths and our Malaysian society in general. What this Taliban ideology being taught over the last decades has produced is an Islam that is uncaring, cruel and draconian, instead of the peaceful and forgiving version my grandparents, parents and I had grown up with.

This is the conclusion of the thousands of Malay students being sent overseas to the Middle East, Egypt and elsewhere coming home and importing a draconian Salafist Islamic ideology alien to our land previously. Their return transformed our gentle and polite Malay society into a strict Arabic one with the cruelty to go along with it. A society those who grew up in 70s can no longer recognise, and not for the better.

As a result, today we have ustazs, ulamaks, and muftis advocating caning of victimless offenders. We have religiously-inclined politicians advocating Shariah laws that would provide more penalties for moral “crimes”. We have self-serving vigilante groups terrorising shops and hotels doing moral policing with impunity. We have today radicalised youths coming out from our indoctrination factories: our own government public schools, taught by these Salafist teachers and preachers and their written texts.

In 2013, the venerable Pew Research Centre published an extensive poll result and analysis entitled The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society. 

Bearing in mind that Malays make up more than 90% of Muslims in Malaysia, here are some notable and frankly scary results with respect to their thinking:

41% believe that Sharia is the revealed word of God

86% favour making Sharia the law of the land and of those who favour Sharia:

41% believe it should apply to both Muslims and Non Muslims

66% favour corporal punishments for crimes such as theft

60% favour stoning for adultery

62% favour death penalty for apostasy

Let this sink in. For these self-proclaimed adherents of a religion of peace, of no compulsion in religion, more than half of them have no compulsion in murdering a fellow human being for leaving his beliefs.

Malaysia is without question sliding towards the theocracy of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Our religious and public education system, content and all, are making our Malay people an intolerant and cruel society. This needs to be halted NOW.

We need to stop religious indoctrination in school today. It has no place in education. Take religion out of public school. Let religion be a choice and not imposed upon our children. Let the true Islam be practiced, that there is no compulsion in religion.

Here are my suggestions:

1. The Ministry of Education needs to find a place where if parents choose to indoctrinate their children in religion, any religion, it should be done outside of the public school system.

2. All religious centres, classes and texts need to be vetted and regulated to ensure that no indoctrination of extremist and radical ideology is ever taught in any Malaysian setting.

We need to set our education priority right. Religion is not education. Religion is personal beliefs. With that, all mandatory religious exams in public schools must be abolished. Religion is not something to be made into exams within a public education system. The right place for theocratic studies is not in public schools but in specialised religious seminaries and tertiary institutions.

If Malaysia is ever to be a developed nation, its mindset must mirror that of a developed civilisation. And that starts with education where critical thinking, science and an irreligious curriculum builds a peaceful, forward looking mindset.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Star.

Tags / Keywords: Politics , Siti Kasim , Siti Thots column , religious education

Siti Kasim

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Content retrieved from: https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/siti-kasim-thots/2018/09/30/what-to-do-with-religious-education-the-right-place-for-theocratic-studies-is-not-in-public-schools/.

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