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Fighting a culture of ignorance

 | May 24, 2017

Acquiring an academic degree doesn't necessarily make one an educated person.

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Kamarul-Zaman-Yusoff-2

A good author can open our minds to a new world or give us fresh insights into a world we thought we knew.

When Universiti Utara Malaysia lecturer Kamarul Zaman Yusuf read Hannah Yeoh’s autobiography, he was profoundly touched by it. We should therefore consider Yeoh one of Malaysia’s literary greats.

Apparently, however, the power of Yeoh’s words worked like a nightmare on Kamarul. When he woke up from it, he wrote a lengthy treatise on his Facebook page to discredit her. In a report he lodged at a police station, he accused her of promoting a Christian agenda.

Yeoh must indeed be a great writer if she can make Kamarul doubt his own beliefs. Either that, or his own faith is as wobbly as agar-agar jelly.

I went to a mission school, as did many Malays. Whilst my faith as a Muslim is intact, as is theirs, why do some Malays tremble at the sign of the cross or the sight of the Bible? Perhaps more Malays should be enrolled in mission schools because government schools appear to be churning out Muslims who fear their own shadows.

After my secondary mission schooling, I attended a boarding school in England, as did the sons of Malaysia’s second prime minister. Many Malay families still send their children to these schools. We were exposed to the normal daily routine of a Church of England school. Children of different faiths sat at the same dining table, but anyone with a religious dietary requirement or allergy was served an alternative dish.

The House Mistress said grace and those of other faiths quietly gave their own blessings. We all said “Amen” together.

A Jew or a Muslim may sit beside the other girls eating roast pork and a Hindu may be given an alternative to beef. There were no ugly scenes, and we behaved as mature adults. None of us demanded blood transfusions if we were mistakenly given prohibited foods by mistake.

At morning assembly, the headmistress and head girl would read passages from the Bible and lead others in prayer. Hymns were sung and psalms read. The Lord’s Prayer was recited daily, and many Malays who shared my experience can still recite it.

Girls with a penchant for singing were encouraged to join the choir or school orchestra. With the approach of Christmas, in the Michaelmas term, several carol services were held.

Did these activities make me a Christian? No. Did they make me a bad Muslim? No.

That’s why it is difficult to believe that a lecturer who disagreed with the contents of a book but was unable to put it down felt compelled to drive Malaysians apart and behave stupidly.

It is not how many university degrees one receives, but what one does with the education one has received, that makes one a better person.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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