When is a school not too Islamic?

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“We won’t let national schools become too Islamic,” said Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid recently.

I almost fell off my chair. “Become too Islamic”? Aren’t we already too Islamic?

I showed the news report to my children and asked them what they thought about it.

My son gave me the “huh” look with both his eyebrows lifted and his nose crooked.

“There’s nothing un-Islamic about our school lah, Ma. We read doa at every school event, even the regular assemblies. A few times a year we have to camp in the school surau to improve our Quran recitals and learn about solat, sacrificing half day of school. During every Islamic festival we are dragged out of our classrooms to attend ceramah agama.

“For the past six months, I have been forced to follow an additional period of agama class after school hours. Seriously Ma, if schools are not supposed to be too Islamic, why do we have a proper surau in our school when we don’t even have a properly maintained school field?”

My daughter said, “We’re forced to wear tudung, Ma. If we don’t, we will end up with bleeding ears having to listen to ceramahs about the sin we are committing. If you look into the Student Discipline Guideline Book for Sekolah Kebangsaan, even the diagrams show how a Muslim student should dress up.

“I can never forget how my ustazah told me that I looked like a Hindu girl when I wore a pinafore in Form 1.”

I asked them how they would describe a school which is not too Islamic.

Both took a long time to think. I suppose having been in the system for almost their entire lives, my kids could not even imagine how it would be in a “not-too-Islamic” school.

“Maybe like international schools or private schools, I guess,” my son said.

My daughter was quick to add, “Any school that does not make Pendidikan Islam compulsory would be a not-too-Islamic school.”

Intrigued by that answer, I asked her to elaborate.

“You know how we are given the choice to do Arts or Science. If we were given the choice to do Pendidikan Moral or Pendidikan Islam instead of being forced to join agama classes just because we are born as Muslims, that would be a not-too-Islamic system.”

I burst out laughing. “Like that was ever going to happen.”

“Precisely,” she said.

I suppose Mahdzir himself has no clue of what a not-too-Islamic school would be like. Well, allow me to explain.

A school is adopting a too-Islamic approach when:

  • It forces Muslim students to join religious camps after school hours and even orders the guards to lock the gates to prevent students from leaving.
  • The ustaz and ustazah teach students about segregating themselves from the non-Muslims, instilling in the minds of our children that as Muslims, we are better human beings.
  • The administration forces Muslim students to ditch their science classes to join ceramah agama, claiming that biology, physics and chemistry cannot secure them a place in heaven.

Religion and education should never be mixed. Instead of vowing that our national schools would be protected from becoming too Islamic, Mahdzir should have said that our national schools would be made free from any religious influence.

We do not want any religious identity for our national schools. We want Malaysian schools to have the Malaysian identity.

Here’s a challenge to Mahdzir: to prove that he sincerely wants to improve the education system, he should make a statement ordering all schools to stop recital of prayers during assembly with immediate effect.