Principal defends Islamic programmes as critics hit out at ‘outward religiosity’ in schools

Critics say religious teaching in schools is excessive to the point that the studies of other subjects has been neglected.

PETALING JAYA: The headmaster of a Mara Junior Science College (MRSM) in Johor has rejected complaints that his school gives an undue emphasis on religious practices.

He told FMT the programme had the blessings of parents.

The headmaster, who is new in his position and who did not wish to be named, said the complaining parents should have voiced their grouses to him instead of doing it through the media.

“The programme has been in place for a long time and we have never received any written complaint from parents,” he said. “This decision was agreed to by the parents.”

FMT reported yesterday that parents and relatives of children enrolled in reputable government residential schools were questioning an alleged overemphasis on religious practices.

They said these activities took up too much of the students’ time and energy, causing them to be lethargic during regular classes and revision periods.

They said students were frequently compelled to attend congregational prayers and other non-obligatory rituals and that many of these sessions required them to get up as early as 3am.

Sharifah Munirah Alatas.

The issue brings to light criticism that religious overtones and symbols in national schools have made them less attractive to non-Malays, in the midst of a continuing public debate over Malaysia’s polarised education system.

An academic called for a sharper focus on the study of social sciences and humanities alongside science and mathematics.

Sharifah Munirah Alatas, who teaches at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said these were what students needed to learn to form a complete Islamic worldview.

“An Islamic way of life and an Islamic worldview does not mean learning to memorise the Quran excellently or learning how to correctly pronounce the verses in Arabic,” she told FMT.

“An Islamic way of life is a holistic approach to life. It means learning subjects that will nurture a complete human being. This complete human being must know how to react to complications in society.”

She alleged that religious teaching in schools had become excessive to the point that the studies of other subjects had been neglected.

Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim.

Parents, and not teachers, should be taking the lead in inculcating Islamic values in their children, she said, adding that these values were also developed outside the strictly religious context.

She said teachers must ensure students were not bullied by their peers over trivial matters such as failing to wear the tudung or to fully follow certain rituals that were not Islamic-based.

“Peer pressure is unhealthy and demoralising, especially when it has to do with outward demonstrations of religiosity, not an inner growth of faith and understanding,” she added.

Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, who heads the Parent Action Group for Education, urged Mara chairman Hasnita Hashim to get rid of religious influences in MRSMs.

She said the schools should remain focused on science, innovation and problem solving, adding that parents would have sent their children to religious schools if they wanted them to obtain religious education.

“The problem with religion is that once given it is difficult to take back,” she said. “And worse, when one shows opposition, one is seen as anti-Islam, even though one is right.”