Restrictive education against spirit of Islam, says ex-Asean chief

Surin-PitsuwanKUALA LUMPUR: The former secretary-general of Asean, Surin Pitsuwan said a restrictive and limited form of education was generating a shallow mindset among Muslims.

“There is an emphasis on the fundamentalist message that it has to be interpreted in one way and no other way.

“I don’t think that is the spirit of Islam. The spirit of Islam is to allow individuals with his or her own intelligence to be able to make judgements on some of the issues with the spirit of Islam in mind.”

He said when it is interpreted so literally, which is the fundamentalist approach, there is a tendency to limit mindset, and limit space in interaction with the world.

“The world is a diverse space. Everyone is a minority in the globalised world. We are not living on the planet alone. If our way is the only way exclusive of the rest, then that will turn us into an island.

“An island of insecurity and lacking confidence in interacting with the world,” Surin told FMT.

Surin, who is also a former foreign minister of Thailand, is in Kuala Lumpur to speak at a regional conference entitled, State of Democracy in Southeast Asia: Achievements, Challenges, Prospects.

He cautioned that such thinking will lead to mutual distrust to potential instability in Malaysia and other countries.

“And that is not only about Malaysia but everywhere with multi-ethnic communities.

“The only way forward is tolerance, mutual respect and giving each other space to fulfill his or her own mission of having a good society,” Surin said.

He added there has to be respect for rules and regulations by the government and its people to live peacefully.

Economic growth

Furthermore, he said a nation’s economy relies on its political stability.

“But if political space is restricted, if security cannot be assured and guaranteed, then there will be implications on the economy as well.

In the end, the political structure has to be right and with the proper ambiance, the economy will grow further.

“But without this, economic development will be affected.”

He added right up to the 80s, Islamisation used to be a good word where people integrated Islamic values and norms into every aspect of their life including in education, work and economic development.

However, now he said the meaning has taken a turn to becoming more restricted, less tolerant and complicating the efforts in governing a diverse country like Malaysia and other countries in the Islamic world.

“Islamisation has become identical to communal politics, which is not a fundamental message of Islam. Islam has to be a message of goodwill and a blessing for all mankind.

“We (Muslims) are in danger of becoming more inward looking and less tolerant, less respectful. It is not good for anyone.”

Surin added education itself was a reaction to the insecurities of being more inward and less tolerant.

He said after three to four decades of “very quick industrialisation and development, people lose control of their life. People feel insecure of their traditional norms and values and they feel their life has been affected.”

He said there was a need to go back to the basics to teach citizens to be relevant to society by looking at the situation in the context of a development process.

“They need to look at interaction with the rest of the Asean community and the world.”