Why a strong religious education is needed?
Needless to say that education is the most fundamental component in the development of a nation. To have an excellent education system, however, it must be based on a strong philosophy and should be in line with the reality and needs of the country. Only that, the philosophy and needs of the country may differ depending on the worldview of the people and leaders of the country.
This is reflected for example in the recent issue concerning the position of Islamic education within the national school curriculum in Malaysia. The issue is closely connected with the critical review by some concerned parties with regard to the administration of Islamic matters in Malaysia.
Concerning education, it is argued that the over-load learning hours of Islamic Education in the national schools have caused the students to be preoccupied with religion hence ignoring the importance of other sciences. This comes with the assumption that Islamic education is strongly associated with a rote learning approach that lacks rational and analytical strength.
The criticism is also supported by ideological and administrative arguments. Ideologically, it is argued that since Malaysia is a secular country (based on Tunku Abdul Rahman’s statement during independence), religious education should not be the priority of national education. On the contrary, national education should focus more on the teaching of critical subjects that are pertinent in developing the country such as the pure and technical sciences.
As to the administrative aspect, it is argued that too many hours of Islamic education in school has taken the time for other subjects which are more fundamental for students’ development. Therefore it is suggested that religious education be removed from the core subjects and should be taught only after school hours. It is also important to revamp the whole religious curriculum and give a strong focus on ethics rather than the doctrines.
To analyze these arguments it is equally important for us to look into the spirit of the constitution as well as the history of the country.
As to the constitution, the inclusion of Islam as the religion of federation and some other articles relevant to Islam within the constitution can be argued as a strong legal and constitutional basis of the need of Islamic education in the national curriculum.
Although religion in the strict sense is the state’s affairs, the role of the federal government as coordinating institution for the national affairs legitimize their action, especially through the Ministry of Education, in regulating religious education to the people in line with the constitution. This is also following the spirit of Education Act 1996 and the National Philosophy of Education which states that the ultimate aim of education is to produce a balanced human being physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.
As to history, it is proven that Islam has already played a pertinent role in the development of education in Malaysia reflected in the rapid growth of Islamic education institutions which began in houses but later on expanded to the mosques and proper educational institutions. In fact, religious education already became a mainstream education for Muslims in Malaysia before colonialization.
On top of all the above matters, one important point that should be borne in mind is that the ultimate purpose of education is to produce a good man. This noble aim could not be achieved without a strong ethical basis. Religion, in this regard, for a long time, proven to be the most important source and foundation of ethics and morality. The same role played by religion is still needed today especially when the world is now facing crucial ethical problems that have destroyed the whole of humanity.
Without denying the fact that there is still wide room for the improvement of the Islamic education system in this country, the suggestion to remove Islamic education from the core formal national system will only bring us backward. What is more relevant to do is to strengthen the system through the continuous process of integration between textual and rational approaches and between the rote learning system and the more critical and analytical method of learning. It is only through the combination between the richly value-laden religious subjects which caters to the spiritual and ethical needs of the students with the rational aspects of the scientific and technical subjects, the aim of producing a good man as enshrined in the philosophy of education can be successfully achieved.