Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has proposed that cross-cultural education be emphasised in the school curriculum. He said: “As such, I hope that my opinion can be further studied and discussed by academicians”.
Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) did so and came up with a finding that Malaysians lack knowledge about religions other than their own.
To remedy this, the Department of National Unity and Integration under the Prime Minister’s Department and the Committee to Promote Inter-Faith Understanding and Harmony have proposed that “Interfaith studies” be introduced in schools to “teach” about the various religions practised by the multiracial population in the country.
The proposal is not based on any experiences of the realities of “learning”. It sounds good, looks good, but is not good with so many anti-interfaith happenings going on in the country. Yet there are some who are so excited and support the idea.
What is the long-term objective of the proposed subject “Interfaith studies”? If it is just to achieve some KPI, then you will see “success” as students could be scoring high marks after memorising texts and regurgitating them in exams.
If the objective is to genuinely change adversarial interfaith relationships to congenial ones, then it will end up a miserable failure. Academic knowledge and real-life practices are two different things, sometimes worlds apart.
Take moral and religious education for example. These subjects were introduced to check behavioural decadence. Though children pass exams, some with flying colours, their character is a far cry from the values learnt in theory. The subjects are thus rendered useless, a waste of time, a deception.
In a multireligious society there can’t be real learning of religions other than one’s own when appreciation and respect for the religions of others is not part of daily life. This cannot be corrected through “teaching” in schools, which will only create other problems.
Will the muftis allow Muslim children to be taught about Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, etc? Will lessons in these be not considered proselytising? Will the teachers be those who themselves profess these religions? Could Muslim teachers (majority in national schools are Muslims) teach any of the other religions? Will there be no tendency for teachers to compare their religion with the others?
In a multiracial and religious society like ours, knowledge about religions and cultures other than one’s own is acquired by children from the way the multireligious, multiracial adults around them are practising their various faiths and cultures, and what good or bad they are telling them, both in and out of school, about those of other faiths,
In the 1950’s, without any subject called “Moral Education” or “Interfaith Studies”, children were so much better disciplined and had so much understanding and respect for those who professed religions different from their own.
For example, English medium schools of those days had cultural societies of the different races and religions and teachers of different races and religions. When one society organised a function, e.g. a stage performance to celebrate Hari Raya, it would have Chinese and Indian children participating in at least one or two items. Likewise when the Chinese or Indians had their cultural functions.
What meaning would “interfaith studies” have when even muftis publicly label non-Muslims as kafir harbi; when mobs threaten to damage churches if the crosses on them are not taken down; when parents demand that crosses be removed from mission schools (instead of not sending their children to these schools); when non-Muslim children cannot even eat in the presence of Muslim children in Ramadan, when ‘mad’ people go on rampages to desecrate places of worship of other faiths?
If the concern to rebuild inter-faith or cross-cultural relationships is genuine, then the way to do it is to act firmly, without fear or favour, against all those who create and fan anti inter-faith relationship feelings and drive wedges between the multiracial, multicultural Malaysians through their words and deeds. The wounds would then slowly start healing on their own.