Decide who takes charge of religious education, Putrajaya and state govts told

(From left) Zainah Anwar, Dr Narimah Awin, Hishamudin Yunus and Mohamed Azam Adil at the panel discussion in conjunction with the launch of G25’s ‘Administration of Matters Pertaining to Islam’ report.

KUALA LUMPUR: The G25 group of former senior civil servants has urged Putrajaya and state governments to decide once and for all which administration should oversee religious education in the country.

G25 member Hishamudin Yunus said this is necessary as it is unclear who has jurisdiction over religious institutions, including tahfiz schools.

Hishamudin, who is also a Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner, said multiple incidents involving tahfiz schools have taken place over the past few years, even leading to several deaths.

“Education is a federal matter, but Islam is a state matter. Here, we’re talking about tahfiz, which is religious education. So, this is a grey area. Does it fall under federal jurisdiction as an education matter or does it fall under the state as it concerns Islam?

“It’s time for the state governments and the federal government to sit down and decide once and for all who is responsible for religious education in this country.

“If it’s decided that it should be the state, then the (Federal) Constitution should be amended to make it clear that it falls under the state’s jurisdiction,” he said at a panel discussion in conjunction with the launch of G25’s “Administration of Matters Pertaining to Islam” report.

Hishamudin said he was of the opinion that Putrajaya should take responsibility for anything that pertains to education, including the regulation of tahfiz schools.

However, he said it seems like state governments have “assumed control” over the matter, adding that there are some state laws that require religious groups to register under the state’s religious authority.

The other panellists at the forum were Mohamed Azam Adil, deputy CEO of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia, and Musawah executive director Zainah Anwar. Dr Narimah Awin was the moderator.

Last year, a seven-year-old student at an unregistered tahfiz school in Temerloh died after an alleged assault by fellow students, sparking fresh debate on the authorities’ lack of supervision of tahfiz schools following a series of accidents and abuse cases.

It came two years after a fire at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz school in Kuala Lumpur killed 21 children and two teachers.

Several months before the fire, the death of 11-year-old Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi in Johor sparked calls for Putrajaya to tighten control over tahfiz schools nationwide, amid allegations of abuses and unsafe dwellings.