The failure of religious education


PETALING JAYA: The Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) has called for a revamp of religious education to make it effective in addressing social problems such as illegitimate births.

Speaking to FMT, IRF Director Ahmad Farouk Musa alleged that the current curriculum for Islamic education placed too much emphasis on the performance of rituals at the expense of giving students a proper understanding of the philosophy behind the rituals.

Referring to the issue of premarital sex, he said it was apparent that the current approach to religious education had been ineffective.

He cited statistics from 2012 which showed that Malay parents were responsible for “slightly more than 50 per cent” of children born out of wedlock.

“If we look at the school curriculum, Muslim students are subjected to Islamic Studies and non-Muslims to Moral Studies.

“Theoretically, there showed be fewer children born out of wedlock to Muslim couples than to non-Muslims.”

Farouk was commenting on a Berita Harian report that said 159,725 children had been born out of wedlock to Muslim mothers since 2013. The report used statistics from the National Registration Department.

Berita Harian also mentioned a proposal by Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia official Norsaleha Mohd Salleh for the Education Ministry to increase the amount of time allotted for Islamic Studies and Moral Studies at all levels in school.

Farouk, however, said the problem needed to be handled in a more holistic manner.

He said those who believed in taking the religious path towards solving the problem must look at what was lacking in the current Islamic education scheme.

“We are now more concerned with halal and haram than with ethics and morality or the philosophy behind the rituals,” he said.

“For example, the first chapter of any book on Islamic jurisprudence deals with the cleansing of oneself. But why do we have an ummah that is considered one of the most filthy?

“The reason is that we do not understand the ethics and morality of the teachings. We look at the rituals, but not the philosophy and moral values associated with them. So, we do not apply them to our daily lives. That’s what is lacking in this society.”

Farouk suggested a multidisciplinary educational approach as a means of preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies. He said sex education should be one of the disciplines in the approach.

Pointing to studies showing that many teenagers were ignorant about the causes of pregnancy, he said they should be taught “not only how to avoid getting pregnant, but everything related to sex, including contraception, abstinence and sexually transmitted diseases.”

He added: “The most important thing is to let them talk about attitudes towards sex and behaviours associated with it, instead of sweeping these matters under the carpet.”

Woman’s Aid Organisation Communications Officer Tan Heang-Lee argued for the conduct of sex education as a stand alone subject at all levels of education, from primary to tertiary.

She said the curriculum must cover both the biological and psycho-social aspects of sexual health.

“There’s often the misconception that sex education encourages young people to experiment with sex,” she told FMT. “In actual fact, it encourages responsible and informed decisions regarding sexual health.”

Tan also called for the expansion of access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. This would include access to contraceptives, she said.

She noted that Malaysians lagged behind other Southeast Asians in the use of contraceptives.

“According to a 2015 United Nations report, the use of contraceptives among married or in-union Malaysian women aged 15 to 49 is only at 57.1 per cent whereas the Southeast Asian average is 64 percent.

“Meanwhile, 15.4 per cent of married or in-union Malaysian women aged 15 to 49 have an unmet need for family planning. The Southeast Asian average is 12 per cent.”