Recently my Facebook newsfeed exploded with a piece of controversial news involving Ministry of Education (again. Hahha). Some keyboard warriors among netizens have lambasted Teo Nie Ching, our Deputy Minister of Education, for allegedly sticking her nose into the Islamic Syllabus of Muslim students in Malaysia. Racial slurs could be read in every other comments on Facebook, it was positively nauseating.
To those who are still in the dark regarding what has been going on, let me just give you a short update of the matter just to give you guys a heads-up (please google the news further for more details).
The Ministry of Education, via the National Education Advisory Council (Majlis Penasihat Pendidikan Kebangsaan /MPPK) had launched a national survey to revise and upgrade the Islamic Education Syllabus for Muslim students in Malaysia. Our Deputy Minister of Education, Teo Nie Ching, had then innocently shared the link to the news via her social media. Suddenly, the netizens blew the matter out of proportion by accusing her, a non-Muslim, of trying to stick her nose into the Islamic Education. The UMNO/PAS politicians and supporters started to politicize the matter with religious and racial themes in their fear-mongering campaign against PH.
Maszlee Malik defended his deputy by saying that “Kaji selidik tersebut dikeluarkan di laman web Kementerian Pendidikan, kemudian Nie Ching kongsikan maklumat tersebut di media sosial beliau. Ada orang tangkap layar dari media sosial beliau dan timbulkan isu bahawa timbalan menteri mahu campur tangan isu Pendidikan Islam, itu tidak benar dan tidak timbul isu campur tangan,”
In other words, Teo Nie Ching was only sharing on her social media of the latest initiative by her ministry (because she works there, okay?). It just so happens that the latest initiative by the ministry (in which she is THE DEPUTY MINISTER) is about our Islamic Education. However, because she is a non-Muslim, she was accused of sticking her nose into the Islamic education of Muslims. *sigh*
There haven’t been many occasions in which I was supportive of the Ministry of Education. But in the matter of revising the Islamic Syllabus for Muslim students in Malaysia, I am all cheers! I think, it is high time we have a deep and conscientious thought about what sort of Muslims we want to produce in this country.
I have said it before, and I will say it again now. I learned MUCH MORE and in GREATER DEPTH about Islam when I was in Australia (by my own initiative and with my seniors in usrah) than what I had learned in 11 years of FORMAL Islamic education in school. Our Islamic Education syllabus in Malaysia is very superficial, focussing more on ritual than it focusses on creed (akidah); emphasizing more on superficial memorization than in-depth understanding; rewarding shallow knowledge than higher-order-thinking skills (HOTS/KBAT).
11 years!! of formal education was wasted on me! I found it so difficult to question things that I didn’t understand in the religion because it was so taboo to appear to doubt what was taught to you. Because it was a tacit understanding that questioning things that you don’t understand would somehow reflect badly on the strength of your iman. So, I just performed the rituals of prayers and fasting without any real “penghayatan” about what being a Muslim meant.
Want to know what I mean? Read on!
Question #1: Who creates God?
Don’t kid yourself! Don’t deny it! Everyone – including YOU, my dear readers – MUST have thought about this question at some point in their lives. But most of us swallowed it and brushed it off, didn’t we? Because some of us were told “Kalau kita tanya banyak sangat perkara-perkara ghaib, iman kita tak kuat. Benda ni kena percaya sebab rukun iman.” And then we were told to mengucap and say astaghfirullah for having doubts. I had asked this question to adults since I was 8 years old.
But could the adults in my life answer my question to my satisfaction? Not really. They would say something like “Mestilah Allah tak diciptakan. Kalau Allah tu diciptakan, Allah bukan Tuhan lah.”
Oh ok… so you are answering my question based on YOUR DEFINITION of God. I see.
But I wasn’t satisfied. You told me only JUST NOW that “semua benda di dunia ini diciptakan.” So, wasn’t it natural for me to just ask, “Jadi siapa cipta Tuhan? Kan semua benda di dunia ini diciptakan. You just told me that!” And now? You couldn’t answer it yourself! Or you think your previous answer satisfied me? Well, it didn’t! But because I could sense your discomfort and your disapproval, so I put off questioning you further.
I learned eventually to brush it off and bury my doubt deep inside my heart. Even when I was just a child.
But how long could I bury it? On and off it would bother me again and again. And I said astaghfirullah again and again! (And I believe this is the case for many Muslim kids as well. I was not alone, here. But because I am the ruminating, over-thinking type, hahha… it bothered me more than others, perhaps. I certainly knew that even my Kak Long had wondered the same thing and I had discussed this with her as a kid, and then later as a young adult. So jangan kata aku sorang yang tertanya-tanya benda ni! Mustahil aku sorang yang wonder pasal benda ni. This is basic akidah yang FORMAL EDUCATION di sekolah TAK MAMPU address dengan baik! Basic akidah, weh!)
Until at one point, I couldn’t bury the question anymore. After my friend passed away at the age of 18 from a car accident, I was so shocked to the core that I felt like I could not postpone answering this question any longer. It MUST stop bothering me once and for all.
So I did my research and somehow (Alhamdulillah) I happened to pick up a book by Harun Yahya entitled Timelessness And The Reality of Fate and I devoured the book in 2 days. From the very first few chapters of the book, I got the answer already. The answer that I had been wondering about since I was 8 years old… it was hidden in this 97-pages-thin, ordinary-looking book! Amazing! The best, most-worthy book purchase I have ever made in my entire life to date!
I couldn’t recall the specific words of the explanation but it basically goes something like this:
“In order for anything to be created, it must be in the system of time. ‘Before and After’ only exists in the system of time. The system of time itself is created by God. God is not bound by the system of time. So, it is scientifically impossible by the law of physics to ask a question of who creates God because the system of time existed after God had created it. In fact, the question is unscientific and irrelevant.”
See? The book even talked about the science of physics when it discussed the system of time. Siap dengan quotes by famous scientist and physicist of the world! Barulah convincing! It makes sense! I could accept it easily enough! Think about it! Malam dan siang adalah masa kan? Macam mana nak wujud malam dan siang kalau matahari dan bumi pun tak wujud lagi. Planet, bintang-bintang dan matahari pun tak wujud lagi, macam mana bumi nak beredar untuk menghasilkan peredaran masa atau malam dan siang itu? So, everything must be in place first (the whole universe, the planets and the stars, must be created by God first! The system of time must be there first before you can ask who creates what! The creator exists BEFORE the creation. The creation exists AFTER the creator. But BEFORE and AFTER are the terms in the system of TIME. And the system of TIME did not exist until God created the universe, including the earth and the sun. This is what we mean when we say God is beyond creation. That is why when you ask who creates God, the question is unscientific! Your question is unscientific because that is THE LIMIT of the science of creation in this physical world.)
Now, ask yourself: Boleh ke ustazah sekolah rendah dan sekolah menengah ajar macam ni? Can they explain as comprehensively and thoroughly as above? Boleh tak depa address BASIC matters of akidah sampai student puas hati? Mana mungkin boleh kalau ustaz/ustazah sendiri jahil fakta sains! Lepas tu membuat ‘insinuations’ yang orang yang bertanya itu yang kurang iman! Padahal, mungkin mereka yang tidak pandai jawab! (Sorry if I sound emotional. This is a raw topic for me! Sampai sekarang, aku tak boleh terima orang-orang agama yang jahil kemudian berlindung dengan imej agama untuk MEMBULI orang yang hanya bertanya untuk kepastian. Tiba-tiba dijawabnya kita kurang iman!)
Question #2: How do we know Islam is the right religion?
Again, don’t lie to yourself. I am sure EVERYONE must have thought about this at some point in their lives!
In fact, inilah caranya orang-orang dari agama lain boleh menemui jalan untuk memeluk Islam. Sebab mereka sendiri bertanya dalam diri mereka sendiri, is my religion the real truth? And then they did their research until they come across Islam.
Ini adalah NALURI (instinct!) yang Allah kurniakan kepada SEMUA manusia supaya manusia mengenali diri-NYA. Just because you are born as a Muslim, DO NOT EVER THINK that you have real faith! Your faith doesn’t mean a thing if it was never challenged. Your faith may not be true if you’ve never had to answer the challenge and come to your own conclusion. That’s why we are tested in this life… to TRIGGER us to seek REAL CONVICTION and REAL BELIEF (the death of my friend was MY trigger. I have met people whose trigger would be different. It might be ‘divorce’… it might be ‘cancer’… it might be bankruptcy…. it might be ANYTHING) Kalau kita hanya mengikut arus just because we were born into Islam (but we were never really convinced in the first place) what good is that belief? Apa beza kita dengan orang-orang yang dilahirkan dalam agama lain? Kita pun hanya mengikut agama nenek moyang juga kan (it just so happens yang agama nenek moyang kita Islam)…. sedangkan belum tentu kita betul-betul percaya.
Allah tests us until we can find Him. So regardless of what religion you were born with, you are not given a free ticket to Paradise. You WILL BE TESTED as a proof TO YOURSELF whether or not you have put in the effort to come to real faith. You yourself will know whether or not you truly believe or if you are simply following the tide of societal pressure! You will know what is in your own heart and you are accountable for it! Allah says in Surah Al-Ankabut: 2-3 “Do the people think that they will be left to say “we believe” and they will not be tried? But we have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful and He will surely make evident the liars.”
I guess the verse is asking… Adakah kamu berfikir kamu hanya akan dibiarkan menyatakan “Aku orang Islam” sedangkan belum tentu hati kamu betul-betul percaya? Sebab kamu tak pernah jawab apa yang bermain di fikiran kamu! You brushed off your doubts! And you think everyone is supposed to blindly believe like you?
Jadi semua ujian yang datang dalam hidup kita adalah untuk TRIGGER kita bermuhasabah dan menjawab the important questions in our lives! Please take the opportunity to answer those questions!
There is NO PLACE for blind belief in Islam! We are asked to do inductive reasoning when we are learning the religion! This is Quranic method in pondering the questions of faith! Al-Quran encourages us to question stuff! So jangan kau pula pandai-pandai nak menghalang orang lain bertanya kalau kau sendiri tak pandai jawab! Siap nak label orang yang bertanya tak kuat iman!
So, how do we know that Islam is the right religion? Well, by studying comparative religion! Of course! There is always a course of Comparative Religion / World Religion/ Theology in any university, even in the Western countries! If you can spend YEARS studying to become a doctor to complete your dunya, can’t you spend one semester of learning comparative religion for your akhirat? Sometimes, you can even do it informally by reading books on world religion during your free time. Tak payah pun nak masuk formal class bagai. Learn about other religions and compare between them! Sheikh Ahmed Deedat had done such a splendid job when it comes to comparing Islam and Christianity! In fact, that was how I had come to be convinced of Islam as the religion intended by God for his slaves. I read The Choice by Ahmed Deedat when I was 18 years old.
You yourself must go through this journey of discovery. No one could do it for you. Every one of us has their own unique journey in discovering faith and spirituality. This is why one of my favourite YOU TUBE videos are conversion stories. My personal favourite was the conversion story of Yusha Evans and I recommend it to all my readers.
Now ask yourself: could any ustazah/ustaz in your previous school tell you in details regarding why Islam is the right religion compared to Christianity? Were you convinced? Or did the ustaz or ustazah never really answer your question? Or perhaps, you yourself never question it? Again… this is BASIC CREED. Kalau benda tu pun tak settle, no wonder lah kita asyik takut anak-anak kita murtad. Isu penggunaan nama Allah di kalangan Kristian di Sabah/Sarawak jadi havoc sampai pecah alam. Padahal memang kat Middle East orang Kristian guna nama Allah juga. Kita kat sini sibuk-sibuk nak halang orang Kristian guna nama Allah…sebab takut anak-anak kita cepat keliru!
Macam mana SEBELAS TAHUN belajar akidah di sekolah, masih boleh keliru? Allah itu satu VS Allah itu tiga! Beza kan?? Apa yang nak kelirunya?? Yang kelirunya adalah sebab ORANG DEWASA pun keliru tak reti nak ajaq anak-anak depa! Tu pasallah takut sangat! In fact, kita sepatutnya fikir yang orang Kristianlah yang keliru! The WHOLE WORLD associates the word ‘Allah’ with Islam… orang Kristian di Malaysia la yang patut lebih keliru bila nama Tuhan mereka adalah sama macam Tuhan orang Islam.
Bila kita lokek ilmu dan lokek hujah, kita akan sentiasa rasa takut dan terancam! Dan bila kita lokek ilmu dan lokek hujah, semua pertanyaan tiada jawapan. Alih-alih suruh orang lain jangan tanya dan tuduh orang yang bertanya tak kuat iman! *facepalm*
Did you know that in the Quran, we are taught to do inductive reasoning? Allah always asks us to look at specific examples in order to reach a conclusion. He asks us to look at the moon. Look at the sun! Look at the mountains and the seas. Look at the signs in the human embryology.
Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) did inductive reasoning before concluding that his GOD was NOT the sun, the moon or the stars. He had explored one option after another and then another before he finally arrived to his conclusion. Just like our revert brothers and sisters had to go through one religion after another and then another before arriving to Islam.
“Those who listen to all statements, and then follow the best of it. These are the ones whom God has guided, and these are the ones possessed of minds.” (39:18)
Question #3: Why Is Quran Considered As A Miracle?
This question was one of my struggles in understanding the religion.
Your ustaz or ustazah would ask you to memorize a few ‘skema jawapan’ talking about language style of the Quran which ‘proves’ that Quran is a miracle.
And in my mind, I was like “Kat mana yang hebat sangat bahasa Quran ni sampai jadi miracle dan mukjizat? Boleh tak bagi contoh? Ayat mana dalam Al-Quran yang miracle sangat ni sampai penyair-penyair Qurays boleh terpaku dan speechless? Awat aku tak rasa apa pun? Boleh tak elaborate dan bagi contoh?! Convince me, please!”
Your ustaz would also teach you to write “Al-Quran ini mukjizat kerana ia tidak boleh ditiru. Ramai orang yang tidak berjaya menandingi gaya bahasa Al-Quran walaupun telah dicabar untuk melakukannya.” And then, the answer stops there. Adoi!!
I was like, “Okay…. boleh tak bagi contoh siapa orangnya yang cuba attempt nak bertanding dengan gaya bahasa Al-Quran? Is it Ka’ab Bin Malik? Abdullah Bin Rawahah? Both of them were great poets, right? Apa ayat yang diorang produce? Kat celah mana yang diorang kalah? What is the criteria yang diorang kalah tu bila dibandingkan dengan Al-Quran? Ada hakim ke yang dilantik untuk judge gaya bahasa siapa yang menang?”
Faham tak? Look at how I overthink stuff? hahha. Jadi adakah aku akan puas hati dengan jawapan-jawapan one-liners yang superficial macam tu? Sedangkan banyak lagi soalan tak terjawab dalam kepala otak aku ni. Hahha.
Do you get it? There is just NO DEPTH!! in our learning of the religion! I was a student who DID NOT UNDERSTAND in which part of the Quran yang kau cakap gaya bahasa hebat sangat ni? Aku baca translation of the Quran dan aku rasa macam biasa saja. (I have since come to know how difficult it is for translations to convey the beauty of a text’s original language. For example, can anyone translate a Malay pantun into English while maintaining all the rhymes and the rhythms? No, right? The beauty of any language will be lost in translation. The language miracle of the Quran can only be appreciated in its original Arabic language. But there are other aspects of miracles in the Quran. For example, there are medical and scientific aspects of the Quran too!)
As a student at that time, pelajaran agama adalah pelajaran SURE DAPAT GRED A punyalah! Because so simplistic punya skema jawapan, anyone can get an A in it! We students devoted MORE TIME for Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Add Math because they were more complicated and interesting dan belum tentu dapat A. Hahha.
But with pelajaran agama, hafal sikit-sikit, pakai common sense sikit-sikit… terus dapat A. Mudah macam makan kacang! When the fact is, learning arts (including religion/theology, history, political science and philosophy) requires inductive and exploratory reasoning involving the understanding of contexts, nuances and depth! BUKAN simple one liners!
But after years of learning to brush off my doubts, I followed the tide of peer pressure by simply burying my questions deep inside my mind!
So when did I FINALLY find the answer?
Well, I found the answer regarding why Quran is a miracle at the age of 20+ when I was listening to the lecture of Nouman Ali Khan in You Tube about The Miracles of The Quran. The video clip only lasted for two hours! Two hours! And that was enough to answer YEARS of wondering to myself about the miracles of the Quran! Below, is one of the examples of the video produced by Nouman Ali Khan’s team regarding the language miracles of the Quran. If you have time, you can watch the lecture yourself. It is very good, (better than the one I listened to years ago) because this one is illustrated.
I also learned about the Quran from books like Medical Miracles of The Quran written by Dr. Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal.
So, can you see HOW PATHETIC is the Islamic syllabus in our formal education?? How unhelpful the syllabus was in perfecting my aqeedah and my understanding of basic Islamic principles!
Perfect the Aqeedah FIRST! Simultaneously, you can also learn the technical stuff of ibadah, muammalat, munakahat, syariah etc etc. But the Aqeedah is always a priority!
Look, there’s a reason why the Prophet PBUH spent 13 years perfecting the Aqeedah alone in Makkah! Because that is the most important thing! Only in Madinah did the Prophet proceeded with the teaching of the Syariah! Once your aqeedah is settled, the rest would be easy!
Question #4: All the questions I had about illogical Israilyat stories that were told to me.
I had talked about this so many times in the past! About the fake story of Hassan Al-Basri & A Beautiful Woman and also about the bogus tale of Siti Mutiah! Hahha. So, I am just not going to elaborate on this further. But it highlights my point that MOST ustaz/ustazah are not equipped with enough knowledge to soothe our thirst for real conviction. They do not address our confusion and our sense of incredulousness.
If you are going to be ‘guru agama yang mengajar budak-budak aliran sains’, you better know how to present your content! Science students are taught to QUESTION stuff!
If you are passionate teachers, your target SHOULD NOT be to finish the syllabus cincai bocai! Your target is to make sure your students understand and are convinced by your presentation. (Tu pun kalau kau memang nak jadi a great teacher lah! Otherwise, no use for me to elaborate further). You must encourage questions among your students and you must equip yourself with knowledge too! Teach beyond the syllabus! Read stuff! Relate your religious contents with current issues and scientific phenomenas! Buatlah homework sikit…. you are teaching the religion! How much pahala will you get if because of YOU, your students attain real faith that goes beyond getting an A in Pendidikan Islam!
So, below are my ideas of how religious syllabus should be revised.
1)Ask students to do a critical essay on any topic of aqeedah. An essay! A CRITICAL ESSAY! NOT simple one liners!
2)Give them reading tasks that requires them to summarize, review and state their own opinion.
-suggested topics for their reading tasks include comparative religion, theory of evolution, Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion.
2) Review You Tube videos of comparative religion and encourage voicing out of questions and doubts.
3) Invite doctors, engineers, professors and physicists to talk about verses in the Quran that relate to their respective specialty! Show the students that religion is NOT SEPARATE from the practical aspects of worldly life! Show your students that religion is RELEVANT and PRACTICAL!
Examples of exam questions and assignments at the secondary school level could be something like these:
It has been a widely popularized propaganda that Islam was spread through the edge of the sword. By using your knowledge of the Quran, your knowledge of the world history and the Islamic History, write a CONVINCING commentary to dispute this preposterous libel. (Not less than 2000 words)
-this question requires the student not only to know the Quran alone, or the history alone. It requires the student to know BOTH; and then to integrate those different knowledge and connect them together to produce a good essay. They must provide evidence and quotes by historians and ulama as well to get an A.
By using your knowledge of The Quran, The Bible and the History of Pre- and Post- Council of Nicaea, discuss the concept of trinity in Christianity.
-The question makes it clear that the students need to know some basic knowledge regarding what trinity is all about; what the Quran says about Trinity (this requires the student to know specific Quranic verses that talk about trinity); what the Bible says about Trinity (that means the student must memorize some biblical quotations allegedly alluding to trinity); and what happened during Council of Nicaea.
-After knowing the basic knowledge, the students then need to apply those knowledge and try to connect them together and arrange them into points of natural sequence so that the essay would look good and professional.
-In short, it requires application of knowledge and critical thinking! KBAT at its best! Not simply memorize and vomit the memory into paper. Takkan matematik dan sains saja nak KBAT! Adakah pelajaran agama tak penting untuk KBAT??
An Atheist came to you and declared his conviction that there is no life after death. How do you convince this atheist to the contrary? You are allowed to use your knowledge of The Evolution Theory, your knowledge of biological science and your knowledge of philosophy to produce your argument in not less than 1000 words.
-Whoa. Imagine if religion is being taught this way at school! The ustaz/ustazah will give you this question for homework with next week as a deadline. So, students are required to do proper research into Evolution, other aspects of biology as well as philosophy….and the challenge is how to connect all these knowledge into a religious article. The students actually have to put serious hard work and energy in researching and then thinking about these topics in order to produce a good essay.
-The ustazah can discuss the answers to this essay in a very interesting lesson. For example, she may invite the school biology teacher or a philosophy lecturer from outside to sit in the class and discuss all the points together.
-How INTERACTIVE and INTERESTING Pendidikan Islam would be if it is being taught this way, can you imagine?
We have to revolutionize our education system of memorizing without thinking. It is imperative for Muslims to recognize that we should change and it has to be done from NOW, starting from the teaching of our youngsters at school.
After going to Australia and experiencing a dramatic change in how knowledge is supposed to be taught, I must admit that I became HYPERCRITICAL at our education system and I have a tendency to always question first whatever is being told to me if it sounds dodgy to me. I have promised myself many years ago that I will NEVER AGAIN believe in something that sounds weird regardless of who says it until I do my own research. Which is kind of why, even in learning psychiatry, I prefer to explore knowledge by myself rather than going through the master system. It might be harder, it might take longer, I might have to spend some of my own hard-earned money…. but I still prefer it that way. (I was asked by one of my colleagues while discussing psychiatry “Afiza, kau kena psychoanalyze kenapa kau tak suka psychodynamic.” I didn’t answer anything but in my mind I was like…. aku tak perlu nak psychoanalyze kenapa aku tak suka psychodynamic. Aku dah tau kenapa aku tak suka. Because some of the dodgy-sounding stuff in Freud’s psychodydnamic REMINDS me of the same dodgy stuff I had to swallow as a child because I was told it was part of the religion and part of being a good Muslim. And then it turned out that actually, they were wrong! And now you are trying to sell to me that accepting some of the ridiculous theories in psychodynamic is part of being a good psychiatrist?! Come on! Don’t kid yourself! There are MANY psychiatrists who DO NOT BELIEVE in psychodynamic, themselves. In fact, Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, the President of American Association of Psychiatry from 2013-2014 had written a SCATHINGLY CRITICAL analysis of the history of psychodynamic in America in his book “Shrink: The Untold Story of Psychiatry”. He wrote about how the theories WERE FORCED UPON THEM by their previous seniors and anyone who even attempted to question psychodynamic at that time was being bullied into submission rather than being given a proper well-thought out answers! Sebiji macam apa yang berlaku dalam pelajaran agama di sekolah! So, aku tak payah pun nak psychoanalyze kenapa aku tak suka psychodynamic! Aku dah tau pun! Hahah. One day, in a separate post, I will Insya-Allah write further regarding how I developed transference reaction towards psychodynamic. Hahah)
It’s time we begin a much-needed paradigm shift.
And I hope Dr. Maszlee and the National Education Advisory Council will deliver an exciting change in the teaching of Islamic Education in Malaysian schools. May Allah guide us all.
I leave you guys with a very famous video of Muslim spoken words regarding the meaning of life. Another one of my all-time favourite You Tube videos. I especially love the final part of the video that says, “If you disbelieve, READ!” I myself found real conviction through reading the books that I had mentioned above. This is why I always advocate for people to READ! In fact, I find it VERY LOGICAL that the first verse of the Quran that was revealed to the Prophet PBUH was Iqra’! Read! This is one aspect of the Quran that is so appealing to a reader like me.
So, enjoy the video, guys! Until next time. Much love and may Allah bless all of us.
P/S: I just had a phone conversation with my Kak Long about this particular issue. She told me that just a few days ago, Aayra, my 5 year old niece had asked her the exact same question of who creates Allah! Kind of proves my point that this question is a natural progression of a growing mind and it will come to every one of us, sooner or later. My Kak Long tried to answer the question to Aayra’s satisfaction but she could see that Aayra was not convinced even though Aayra did not ask further. One day, I will lend my Kak Long the book Timelessness And The Reality of Fate. And her task is to simplify the answer to Aayra in a way that would make Aayra understand.