Muslim leaders back tahfiz schools registration, but not curriculum standardisation
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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 22 ― Several Muslim leaders have voiced their support for the amendment of Education Act 1966 (Act 550) to register tahfiz schools, following a suggestion Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi this week.
Universiti Sains Malaysia political science professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid lauded the recommendation in principle, but the Islamic scholar voiced his concern that any amendments must not interfere with the tahfiz schools' curriculum and academic independence.
“If it's for safety and security measures then it's a good move. There should be a loose monitoring to ensure that the school facilities and infrastructure are up to standards.
“But we also question if the intention is first to provide security and then proceed to the homogenisation of Islam, Islamic thinking and Islamic thought. Once you have that level of control, you can also disseminate your own curriculum and patronage to the school,” Ahmad Fauzi warned.
When asked why Islamic homogenisation is a bad idea for these schools, Ahmad Fauzi said that Islam itself is a diverse religion.
He pointed out that tahfiz schools should not be stereotyped as backwards and only fit for poor Muslims, claiming the system has produced very well-rounded Muslim leaders. He did not provide any examples.
Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria also agreed with Ahmad Fauzi, saying that Zahid had made a “very good recommendation.”
“I agree that all these schools should be registered at state or federal level so we can monitor and regulate their safety and security procedures. But we need to remember that tahfiz schools don't have a lot of money.
“The regulations should focus on safety procedures and infrastructure,” said Harussani.
He pointed out that tahfiz schools were generally reluctant to be registered and monitored because they lack funds, and some schools find there are too many criteria or conditions that need to be fulfilled.
He said the government should not go overboard when coming up with these conditions.
“Just adequate measures should be enough. Don't be too strict on them as many of these schools educate the poor. Ensuring the safety and security of the teachers and students should be enough,” he said.
Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM) chief activist Datuk Nadzim Johan on the other hand believed that the government should go a step further and table a new Act specifically for tahfiz schools.
He said amending the Education Act 1966 is not enough seeing that there will be no national standardisation if these schools report to the State.
“I don't think it's that hard for the government to come up with a new Act for this. Although the Constitution says Islam falls under the purview of state rulers, it doesn't hurt to have an Act regulating these schools,” Nadzim said, highlighting that even kindergarten and pre-schools fall under the Child Care Act 1984.
He however disagreed with Ahmad Fauzi, warning that without a standard national regulation, extremist elements like the Islamic State’s ideology might infiltrate the school’s curriculum.
Following the death of 21 students and two of their teachers at a tahfiz school at Jalan Datuk Keramat, attention has again fallen on the safety standards at the schools that operate outside the purview of the federal government.
Zahid had then revealed that many of such schools have resisted the implementation of safety regulations for fear that these may lead to interference in their affairs.
On Tuesday, Zahid said the Education Act 1996 should be amended to allow the registrations of private Islamic education institutions including private tahfiz schools to be subjected to the act with the agreements of the state governments.
He said the recommendation was a proactive measure submitted in looking for ways over issues related to tahfiz schools including security in view of the fact that the management of such schools were currently under the jurisdictions of the state governments.