KUALA LUMPUR: Parents and family members of children enrolled in reputable government residential schools are questioning what they view as an over-emphasis on religious practices that disrupt the pupils’ studies.
Many find that the practice of religious rituals and activities has reached a point that academic performance is affected.
These activities take up too much of the students’ time and energy, causing them to be tired and lethargic at regular classes and revision periods, they told FMT.
“As far as I’m concerned, we did not send our kids to a tahfiz or pondok school,” said Amir, father of a student who took the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination last year at a branch of the Mara Junior Science College, or MRSM in Johor.
Parents of other children in the same school told FMT that the situation is worse for those who will be sitting major public exams in Form 3 and Form 5.
They said students were frequently asked to attend compulsory sessions to perform congregational prayers, including non-obligatory rituals such as the solat tahajud, solat hajat and tazkirah, special prayers performed by Muslims in times of adversity.
For most of these prayer sessions, students are required to get up as early as 3am.
Complaints to the headmaster have been futile: the parents were told that the rituals were to get “blessings” and to ensure students obtained excellent results in the exams, thus elevating the status and the name of the school, Amir told FMT.
“But the school’s status won’t go up; they are competing on which school is more Islamic instead of being better academically,” he added.
Similar complaints of religious overtones and symbols in non-residential government schools have also arisen, in the midst of a continuing public debate over Malaysia’s polarised education system.
Many analysts and experts have expressed fears that national schools have ceased to be multiracial. There have also been calls for the government to work towards a single-stream school on grounds of fostering national unity.
Amir, 43, is also a product of MRSM. He said he was happy when his child received an offer to enrol at his old school, as he was convinced of its focus on high quality education.
An obsession with the supernatural
Another parent spoke of her daughter’s bizarre experience of her school’s obsession with the supernatural.
She told FMT that her daughter was told to attend a “ruqyah” session, in which Quranic verses are used to treat a sick person, as well as to cure from the possession of “bad jinns”.
Her offence was missing the Talaqqi, or Quranic pronunciation classes, because she had to attend extra classes in Biology.
“My daughter was accused of being too lazy to study (the Quran) and of having disturbances from jinns. So they told her to come for the ruqyah session. It’s simply unbelievable,” said the parent who wanted to remain anonymous.
She said the teacher had insisted that her daughter attend the Quranic recitation classes, even after being told that the biology teacher had requested that she be excused.
“In the end, my daughter dropped the Biology subject when sitting for SPM last year,” she said.
Amir is also aware of the Quranic recitation class, saying it is subject to an additional school fee of RM200.
FMT has learnt from other parents that Talaqqi classes after school were made mandatory for students from Form 1 to Form 4.
“If they don’t go, they’ll get punished. If they fail the exam, they have to retake the exam,” he said, adding that students who skip class or fail their exams will be asked to memorise verses of the Quran.
Haiqal was surprised when his niece told him of “illogical rules” at her school, such as a requirement that female students wear long pants under their long skirts, as well as gloves and long-sleeved T-shirts during sports and games.
Haiqal said he was told by school authorities that the requirement was to avert male gazes on female students.
“We didn’t have rules like these last time when we were in school, but we were still able to take care of ourselves and dress well to school,” said Haiqal, whose niece is enrolled in an MRSM school in Perak.
Amir also questioned the version of Islam being taught in the school.
He said students were taught to question many traditional Malay-Muslim practices as being bid’ah, or innovations in religion.
“When they go home to their families, they would even accuse family members of committing bid’ah through their religious practices,” he said. “Is this what the school administrators call ‘blessing’?”
FMT is awaiting a response from the schools involved and the education ministry.