As far as the police are concerned, the case of the torched tahfiz school is closed and seven teenagers have been arrested. Some people are alarmed that the full punishment will not be meted out if any of them are convicted of a crime. Try telling that to the families of the dead children and wardens.
If the children died martyrs, why has no one told the parents about retributive justice in Islam, as in “an eye for an eye”?
The authorities cannot easily dismiss the safety violations and the fire risks at the school. Recent news reports revealed that in a two-year period from August 2015 to now, there were a total of 211 fires in tahfiz schools around the country.
It is public knowledge that many of these schools are not regulated. Home Minister Zahid Hamidi announced he has no power to shut them down. Why is that?
We are reminded of the statement made by the education minister that the Malaysian Islamic Development Department or Jakim, will be in charge of these schools. This statement was made after tahfiz student, Mohd Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi was beaten, and his death attributed later to leptospirosis.
Thus far, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Jamil Khir Baharom, whose remit it is to deal with religious matters, and who heads Jakim, has kept silent about the issue of regulating tahfiz schools.
It was also irresponsible of Prime Minister Najib Razak to allocate another RM30 million to tahfiz schools, especially as there are still so many unanswered questions about them. He did this on his return from the US.
Instead, he should have ordered an immediate probe into the many failures associated with these schools. For instance, why are they allowed to operate without any ministerial guidelines? Why are tahfiz students allowed to beg for money in towns? Why are their teachers not properly vetted?
Religious schools, which are registered, come under the state religious authority, but the proliferation of unregulated schools means that they fall into “no-man’s-land”, where no rules exist and therefore, no enforcement is possible.
So, if things go wrong, no-one can be held responsible. Instead of learning from our mistakes, we appear to repeat them mega-fold.
It is evident that all tahfiz schools could be regulated if just one minister were to act responsibly.
Last April, Najib donated RM80 million to these schools. A few days ago, he gave another RM30 million.
That would mean these schools have received RM110 million in just five months. This is like throwing good money after bad, especially as no one knows how these schools spend their money. Someone should scrutinise the books, and demand transparency, proper accounting and auditing.
A parent who sends her child to an independent Chinese school said, “Like tahfiz schools, we survive mainly on donations, but at least there is transparency in how the money filters to the school, and how it is spent.”
Another parent, whose child goes to a Mara boarding school in Negeri Sembilan said, “If the Mara boarding schools can avoid the violations we commonly see in tahfiz schools, why can’t tahfiz schools organise themselves properly? Otherwise, shut them down. How many more children should we bury, before the right thing is done?”
A parent whose children attend an ordinary government day school commented about the seven teenagers arrested on suspicion of setting the religious school on fire. Six tested positive for drugs while two others had records for serious crimes. This parent asked, “What sort of parenting allows children to frequent a mamak shop at 2am?
“How did these teenagers get hold of ganja? What sort of parents allow children to be drug users, and roam the streets in the early hours of the morning? These children do not have a moral conscience, and think that setting fire to a building, with children sleeping inside, is acceptable?
“Did their parents not teach them that it is wrong to steal, or damage other people’s property?”
A massive rethink is needed in the education of our children. We don’t need extra parenting courses, or to learn Islamic ways of doing things. We just need common sense and a return to moral values.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.