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Saturday, April 26, 2008


In response to remark by Minister regarding Madrasah education, Ustaz Zhulkeflee as E. O. Research and Ag. Director English unit - responded and presented this paper to PERGAS management in Feb '98 / Syawal 1418
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
Why the need to write

It has been several months since the issue of the “Madarasah” system was broached giving rise to serious discussions amongst Muslims which showed that “Madrasah schools” , is held with loving concern by Muslims who still cherished it as a precious legacy of the community. It cannot be denied, like any other system, there are flaws and shortcomings in the “madrasah system” too. But when these shortcomings are highlighted in a manner as to question its existence, Muslims will feel it as their duty to defend it. Thus any perceived threat to it would invite reaction, whether positive or negative, depending on the persons understanding (or the lack of it) regarding its philosophy and the need for its existence.

Implication of what is stated

Thus when during the convention a Minister expressed his concern, especially regarding the 5% - 6% Muslim cohorts who opted into the Madrasah system, the points he raised need to be seriously assessed because it can have serious implications when we over-react or even if we do not react. But, firstly we ought to ask the question: “Are all the points raised true - or is it mere generalization?”

Dispelling the misperceived problem

It was reported that the Minister raised several concerns for those opting their children out of the mainstream education. We feel that his concern is true for all types of school systems, whether mainstream or non-mainstream in Singapore. When the remark was made in the context of the discussion on Madrasah, it gives the impression that such misgivings and shortcomings are only to be found in Madrasah alone. Also, such misgivings were reported as though it was generally prevalent, which we doubt. Even if there may be particular cases, we would assure the Minister that Islamic education does not condone such shortcomings too.
Therefore let us respond to these:

“ .....not able to integrate successfully into Singapore social and economic system” ?

Islam expects its adherents to be involved in the community, even when Muslims are in the minority. We are enjoined to cooperate in all that is good and to extend goodwill to all of humanity. Therefore we are surprised as well as saddened by such remark if it is directed at students of Madrasah. It is as though their education is causing this (i.e. if it is true in the first place). Granted that the field which they specializes tend to later expose them more to the Muslim community, it does not necessarily mean that they would be unable to adapt socially with others. It is up to the authority to ensure greater interaction via job opportunities as well as efforts toward removing feelings of alienation. Instead of generalizing that the problem lies with the kind of school a person goes to, the real obstacles in the way of national integration, such as chauvinism, prejudices, lack of understanding and intolerance should be removed. And the teaching s of Islam advocate greater understanding amongst mankind as in the verse:

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقۡنَـٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ۬ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلۡنَـٰكُمۡ شُعُوبً۬ا وَقَبَآٮِٕلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓاْ‌

“O Mankind ! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.”
(Qur’an : al-Hujurat : 49 : 13)

As regards the economic system, those schooled in Madrasah too have shown themselves quite capable and enterprising, when they seek a niche in the business/economic sector. As to those engaged in their traditional role in the field of Da’awah (Islamic propagation) and education, admittedly, their economic value presently may amount to little. But this is due to the apathy and neglect of the Muslim community, which allows it to stagnate at a very unrealistic level. Traditionally, Islamic scholars and teachers, due to their selfless and humble disposition, are not expected to demand or set monetary reward for their services. It is the Muslim community who sets the economic worth of these people through the remuneration that they give for their services. Although, Muslims recognizes that the social contribution of these group is indeed important, the disparity between their true worth and their economic worth must be corrected by the Muslim community themselves. Remuneration for such services must be realistically adjusted, taking into consideration the ever-increasing cost of living which these ‘ulama and asaatizah have to also face.

“ .... learn to cooperate and compete as part of the Singapore team” ?

We Muslims have always regarded ourselves as being an integral part of this nation. We are in the “Singapore team” as a distinct community, which reflect the multi-religious nature of the country. We do believe in cooperating, competing and being involved in the team. This is because we too share the common duty to ensure that our beloved country attains to what is said in the pledge “ to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.” As part of the teaching of Islam is to also mould good and useful citizens, as in the Arabic saying: “Hub-bul wataan minal Iiman (Loving own country is part of Faith)”, Madrasah education has always been mindful of its role in this area. We take strong exception to anyone questioning our loyalty to our beloved nation.

وَتَعَاوَنُواْ عَلَى ٱلۡبِرِّ وَٱلتَّقۡوَىٰ‌ۖ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُواْ عَلَى ٱلۡإِثۡمِ وَٱلۡعُدۡوَٲنِ‌

“.. but rather help one another in furthering virtue and piety, and do not help one another in furthering evil and enmity...”
(Qur’an : al-Ma’idah : 5 : 3)

“......not able to think critically” ? “…Or be discerning about ideas and people”?

In the Qur’an we are commanded to think, reflect, ponder etc. In fact in Islam, Faith cannot be by blind and imitative acceptance (taqlid) as Allah said:
وَلَا تَقۡفُ مَا لَيۡسَ لَكَ بِهِۦ عِلۡمٌ‌ۚ إِنَّ ٱلسَّمۡعَ وَٱلۡبَصَرَ وَٱلۡفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ كَانَ عَنۡهُ مَسۡـُٔولاً۬
“Do not follow a thing, in which you have no knowledge (understanding) in; for your hearing and your sight and your hearts
(thoughts), all of them will be questioned (in the Hereafter).”
(Qur’an : al-Isra’ : 17 :36 )

Even for lay Muslims, Islamic education emphasizes the development of conviction through correct use of the reasoning faculty. Apart from this we are required to be appreciative of legal matters (the Shariah). All the more so for Islamic scholars, they are required to be much more specialized in these. Thus we find that one of the mark of Islamic scholarship is astuteness, clarity of thought, critical and penetrative insights. Therefore for any one to hold such reservation upon Madrasah system (the institution whose primary role is to produce such Islamic scholars) it would only expose his ignorance of the system.

Certain suggestions which tends to divert the issue

We note that certain quarters are already suggesting ways on how to revamp the Madrasah system. Questioning its curriculum and some are of the opinion that Madrasah should become a premier school (in the model of Raffles Institution etc.) or a government aided type (like Anglo-Chinese school etc.). Others suggest some kind of streaming, etc. We are not questioning the sincerity of those who suggested them but we would like to caution against being “reactionary”. Is the understanding of what Madrasah system entails - (i.e. its philosophy, aim and purpose)- common to everyone? Or is it merely varieties of perceptions or misperceptions? We may be “barking up the wrong tree.” We should firstly ask ourselves whether we truly understand what the traditional “Madrasah” system stands for. A careful evaluation of what “Madrasah” system - of its philosophy and its function/role, its history and its development, we feel is crucial and conditional for those wishing to participate in this debate. For we believe the success of any system must be measured firstly against the aims and philosophy for which the system was set up - and not by any other.

The need for Madrasah

وَمَا كَانَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ لِيَنفِرُواْ ڪَآفَّةً۬‌ۚ فَلَوۡلَا نَفَرَ مِن كُلِّ فِرۡقَةٍ۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ طَآٮِٕفَةٌ۬ لِّيَتَفَقَّهُواْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَلِيُنذِرُواْ قَوۡمَهُمۡ إِذَا رَجَعُوٓاْ إِلَيۡہِمۡ لَعَلَّهُمۡ يَحۡذَرُونَ

“ ... it is not desirable that all of the believers take the field (in time of war). From within every group in their midst, some shall devote themselves (instead) to acquiring a deeper knowledge of the Faith (li-ya-tafaq-qahu fid-deen), and (thus be able to) teach their home-coming brethren, so that these (too) might guard themselves against evil.”
(Qur’an: at-Taubah : 9 : 122)

Allah s.w.t. commands the Muslim community that they must always ensure there is a group of people trained to become scholars well-versed in the matters of the Faith. In the above verse, even when the community is faced with war (i.e. even when the defense of the community is crucial), the need to prepare this group is still imperative and cannot be overlooked. They (‘ulama and asaatizah) have been the vanguard which served to transmit Islam and nurtured the Muslims with its teachings. They have been striving with dedication to ensure the preservation of Islamic values, enjoining all towards what is good and right, motivating the community towards becoming a model society guided by Islamic principles. The have been steadfast in forbidding what is wrong and harmful, correcting deviations in the community and persevere in combating social ills. It is due to them that Islam is kept pure and alive. Without this group, what would become of Islam and Muslims? It is for this reason that the Madrasah (Islamic schools) as a social institution developed amongst the Muslims in Southeast Asia and Singapore. Even when Muslim’s were under the rule of colonial powers, such schools still continued to exist although it received no assistance from the colonial ruler. It has survived due to the clear understanding of this collective responsibility (Fardhu Kifaaya) amongst all Muslims regarding its role and function. Some Muslim philantrophists even donated land and wealth as “Waqf” (trust in perpetuity) for this institution to continue to exist, although at the time, the British/Dutch had already introduced its own educational system for the general masses. In the past it has faced many challenges and saw diminishing enrollment of students mainly because career as religious scholars and teachers was seen as economically less “rewarding”. Yet we cannot deny, that those who chose their vocation as Islamic scholars and religious teachers have contributed very much in preserving the Islamic identity and values of the community even though they may be less conspicuous or prominent.

Warning against “throwing the baby with the bath water” - “missing the forest for the trees”

With criticism harping on the negative about the “Madrasah system”, we cannot help but feel as though it is being portrayed as a failure and thus, it has no other alternative but must be brought “into the mainstream.” Views arguing for its preservation, although was articulated, the argument thus far was not thorough enough as to convince the masses as to why it has to stay. To many, the debate has reached a foregone conclusion favoring a change to the character of our “Madrasah” because of the obsession with only the form, neglecting to consider its philosophy and aim. The “Madrasah” system has remained independent because its purpose and functions is unique to itself. If one wants to make a comparison then perhaps the Catholic seminary or the theological colleges etc. would be close equivalents. And we do not hear anyone making a fuss about seminary educational system for not being in the mainstream. Although we are always open to reform, we must also ensure that the reform does not undermine the very foundation for which Madarsah system stands. For all we know the so-called “reformed Madrasah” being suggested, may be totally alien to the tradition for which “Madrasah” was conceived in the first place. Then would we not be in danger of “discarding the baby with the bath water” or “would we not be missing the forest for the trees”?

Need to dispel unkind remarks which puts “madrasah” in a bad light

Statements coming from the Education Minister are no doubt “persuasive” and can affect simple-minded Muslims. Without any intention of being disrespectful to the Minister, we feel that to compare the “Madrasah” with the mainstream school is like comparing “apple with orange.” Each has its own philosophy and thus we should not try to impose one standard over the other. We wonder that perhaps such statements could have been made from only one perspective (national perspective) without a clear perception of Muslim community’s own special need for such school. Therefore our response to certain remarks which we feel is “unkind” should not be misconstrued as being rude to the honorable Minister. It hopes to clarify the basis in which Madrasah is established, which must be considered in any discussion on it.

His concern that students of Madrasah would not have any “economic value” is, we feel, out of place. The Madrasah which seek firstly to produce ‘ulama (Islamic religious scholars) and asaatizah (Islamic religious teachers) has never promised anything “glamorous” for such profession except that this is “Fardhu Kifaayah (Muslim community’s obligation) ” which must be fulfilled. It is the Muslim community’s duty to accord their services/expertise with realistic “economic value” so that those schooled in the Madrasah are not disenfranchised. If presently in Singapore, the services of the ‘ulama and assaatizah (i.e. students from the Madrasah) are not adequately recognized by the way they are economically rewarded or by the job opportunities accorded to them, it does not necessarily mean that they are irrelevant. If we take neighboring Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia as practical examples, people with such training have proven to be, not only adept at just teaching religious studies alone, we can even see many have fit in well in the administrative service, social works, and even some have assumed Ministerial positions.

reactions which aggravate the issue further by emotional / not well-thought of response.

To ensure that our future religious scholars and teachers are equipped to face the future challenges, we do recognize their need to be adequately informed with worldly knowledge too. Thus we need to develop these curriculum unique to Madrasah’s need. One example is by expanding the traditional subject on “Tauhid”-(Khaliqiyyah/Rubuubiyyah/’Uluhiyyah) by including contemporary sciences. Not only would we avoid being rigidly dogmatic, but this approach also would help future Islamic teachers to be relevant when they teach it. Instead of coming out with what is needed (i.e. coming up with the quantum required for these future ‘ulama and asaatizah), some find it convenient to simply adopt similar subjects which is already there in the mainstream schools. Some even argued that all students of Madrasah is required to take up these other formal subjects (similar to those in the mainstream school) in tandem with their own special Islamic studies curriculum, (even if this entails an extra burden upon these students) because “…. so that these students would be able to also compete in the job market”. Would this not be putting too high an expectation upon them? It may bring about inferiority complex in the students themselves because it puts them at a disadvantage. They are now expected to perform well in both the Deeniyat as well as the Duniyawi subjects unlike their counterparts in the mainstream school. If we are really concerned for our Madrasah students’ future, we should be thinking about their career placement, the job market for them (especially within the community infrastructure) which should be expanded and more opportunities offered for them. Presently, this is limited to their being religious teachers, kadhi, mufti, imam etc. We should note that even some of these limited positions have now been filled by others without Madrasah training, whereas traditionally, preference were given to those specializing in religious studies, We forget that “Madrasah” system is a specialized field - development of future Islamic scholars and teachers. And it is the community’s duty to employ them effectively.

If in exceptional cases, there may be students who showed disinclination to pursue “Deeniyat” (traditional religious subjects) courses, only then can we suggest a way to channel them. To think of channeling our Madrasah students from the beginning would only dilute the whole system. With the added burden (which presently meant that Madrasah students have to cope with 16 - 20 subjects instead of the national 8), this will inevitably lead to mediocrity. It is prudent to heed the wise Malay adage: “(Nanti) Yang dikejar tak dapat yang digendong keciciran (while failing to get what you sought, that which is in your arms are scattered (lost)”

The traditional Madrasah in Singapore has never pretended, on its own to be able to produce technocrats, economists and scientists etc. The main objective of Madrasah is to produce students who specialize in the Deen (religious subjects). Even then for those wishing to change specialization in other fields (takhaasus), these Madrasah student can still do it in higher institutions, if not in Singapore, in other Muslim countries which are now in vogue (e.g. International Islamic Universities etc). Granted that our Madrasah students need to be knowledgeable in Mathematics and Science, the humanities etc. the issue is the quantum (e.g. how much science should a religious teacher knows? Should they also compete with those intending to be scientists and technocrats when learning these subjects?)

Let us be clear that their purpose of enrollment into Madrasah, which has a central objective of producing ‘ulama and asaatizah, must be pursued single-mindedly. As it is, there are very few ‘ulama and asaatizah fulfilling the needs of our community and our hopes lies in these Madrasah students. Let us be reminded that “Kifaayah” have its roots in the word “kafaa” (meaning sufficient, adequate) would mean that if we do not strive to ensure that these needs of the community is adequately fulfilled, all of us Muslims would be held to be blameworthy and sinful.

Distinction between “Madrasah education” and “Islamic education”

Generally, there has been vague understanding as to what “Madrasah education” and “Islamic education” is. Some may think that the two are synonymous. Clarification on the distinction between the two terms is, we feel, necessary. Although “Madrasah education” is essentially Islamic, yet true “Islamic education” is characterized by it being all-encompassing (syumul) which presently the Madrasah system has not yet been able to develop into. Due to its essentially Islamic orientated approach (transmission of the Deen) it has the potential to be developed into a totally “Islamic education.” Yet, due to constrain and the need to ensure the continuous generation of Islamic scholars and teachers for the community, it took on a specific role which tend to limit its scope. Every year, about 9,000 new Muslims are being born. Who is to guide this future generation in their religion? (Going by the ideal teacher-student ratio) Are we producing sufficient asaatizah every year? This is the issue, which all Muslims should consider. Our hope lies in the Madrasah, whatever that has remained.

Then what is “Islamic education”? Is it not available only in the Madrasah?

“Islamic education” is the approach to education stemming from the basic concept of Tauhid (Attestation to the Oneness of God) from which man is to be developed, foremost as a servant of God. It has its own philosophy; epistemology and hierarchy of knowledge etc. Most importantly it does not detach itself from the consciousness of God and thus every knowledge pursued is within this concern for man’s conviction, fulfillment of the trust on earth and perfection of his nature as true servant of the One God. The mainstream education although is regarded as “secular” because it dichotomizes belief in God in its pursuit of knowledge, still has a place for Muslims because Islam regards all wisdom and sciences as part of the “...lost treasure of the believers (Hadith)” and must be sought after. It is the onus upon the Muslims to Islamize such knowledge - to link it back to the Tauhidal framework. Also, Tauhidal framework emphasizes not merely the intellectual development alone - but includes awareness of Muslims personal and community responsibilities, as well as development of their Islamic moral/character. Thus Muslim parents (who knows this) seek to compensate their children’s education by supplementing it with the Islamic inputs (presently being provided for in the mosques or at home). An increase in the intake in this part-time classes at mosques can be due to increasing awareness amongst Muslim parents. Especially, when the IRK (Islamic religious knowledge) was scrapped as part of the mainstream school curriculum they are left in a dilemma which led them to seek other available alternatives (to supplement the Islamic religious knowledge). This phenomenon should be noted by the Ministry concern. There are parents who want their children to have all the attending exposure of a totally Islamic education for their children from the onset and opted their children from the mainstream schools for a full-time Madrasah education. Their reasons for doing this should be analyzed. Issues which some quoted as a concern are things like dress code, boy/girl relationship and a lack of enforcement of Islamic values in the mainstream school are not strong reasons. But because they recognize that the preferred environment is only available in the Madrasah, they chose to send them there. But, they may not aspire to have their children to become ‘ulama or asaatizah (especially if in their mind, economic value is the only yardstick for success) - forgetting that Madrasah was established firstly to generate future ‘ulama and asaatiazah. The Islamic education which they hope to give their children is a general type, with option for their children to specialize in other non-“Deeniyat” or Duniyawi (worldly) fields. Actually these children could still be retained in the mainstream schools if their concerned for dressing, supplementary moral/religious instruction etc are met. Instead of taking these up with the Ministry, they chose to opt their children into the Madrasah. Their aspirations of the type of Islamic education for their children have led to some Madrasah diluting their totally Deeniyat (strictly religious studies) curriculum with a variety of ratio (70%-30%; 60%-40% etc. of Deeniyat and Duniyawi) Perhaps it was from this development that the idea of an Islamic government-aided school (following those of the Christian mission schools) came about. This type of school would be a very good idea for us to have but it must not be done at the expense of our traditional Madrasah, which have decreased to only 6. To have such school (government-aided Islamic school) would ensure that Muslim children can follow the mainstream national education with the many of the needs raised by Muslim parents catered for, without having to dilute our traditional Madrasah role. To avoid confusion, such school should not be referred to as Madrasah.

Problems peculiar to Madrasah - how to tackle?

Admittedly, as in any system, there are shortcomings and weaknesses, which Madrasah too faced. Efforts to resolve these shortcomings are to be constantly done but within its context. There are some tendencies to over-generalized these issues (if any) such as dropouts; heavy curriculum; delinquency etc. and blow them out of proportion. This approach can undermine the very existence of Madrasah. In the past, even though the approach in administration of the Madraasah may not be as professional if we compare it with the state-funded mainstream school, this was because of the constrain which Madrasah had to make do with whatever little resources available then. If we are well meaning, their basic problems of funding is crucial and has to be addressed. To attract and motivate teachers, their “bread and butter issues” of salary must be looked into, training and up grading programs provided, etc. All these are possibilities if there is ample funds. Even professional administrators, student counselors etc. (which even mainstream schools saw the need for them) could be employed thereby relieving the teachers of having to handle such tasks. Within the Madrasah administrative system itself, sub-committees such as the parent-teachers, welfare task force, alumni etc. could be formed to alleviate much of these other problems.

Suggestions / Recommendations

· Madrasah set their goal to single-mindedly produce highest quality Muslim scholars/teachers. Preferably to start from the earliest stage of a child’s development. Ideally, a hostel environment (pasantren/pondok) would be best.

· More funding for Madrasah, especially from the Muslim community treasury [Baitul-mal]. Regard it as an important investment for the community.

· Greater efforts to alleviate all the problems which Madrasah face - including professional assistance where necessary.

· Set up a special Asaatizah Training College, to better prepare them with relevant approach and teaching methodology.

· Issues raised by Muslim parents who sent their children to Madrasah because of dress-code etc. should be communicated to the Ministry of Education. Their concern, if met, can ensure that their children do not opt out of the mainstream education (since they do not aspire for their chidren to become Asaatizah/’Ulama.)

· Muslim can set up alternative Islamic government-aided school - following mainstream curriculum with added Islamic values/subjects but this must be distinguished separately from Madrasah. This should not be regarded as an alternative to traditional Madrasah but rather Muslim’s alternative to the mainstream schools.

· Set up panel to look into welfare and provide career counseling for Madrasah students.

· Asaatizah’s salaries need to be restructured in accordance with present economic realities.

· To look into creation of more job opportunities, empowering them for greater involvement (role of Asaatizah/’ulama).

· Need to educate the public on the role, contribution, history and development of Madrasah and Asaatizah/’’Ulama.

wallaahu a’lam, was-salaam
by : Ustaz Zhulkeflee Hj Ismail
(E.O. Research & Planning) - Feb ‘98 / Syawaal 1418
PERGAS (S’pore Religious Teachers Association)


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