Dear Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi,
Firstly, allow me to say how disappointed I am with your ‘Jerusalem Jubilee’ decision.
As deputy prime minister for all Malaysians, it is your duty to safeguard our interests. Instead, you caved in to PAS’ pressure when it is clear that they were trying to score political points. The organisers said their event had nothing to do with Zionism. It is their religion, we should take them at their word. Anyway…
Now you have said that ‘Quran Memorisers Can Be PM’. Of course, you have stipulated that these will also be professionals, i.e. doctors, lawyers, engineers. Well, before such a thing can happen, let me tell you that a total reform in these tahfiz schools (schools which produce the huffaz or memorisers of the Quran) need to be made.
First and foremost, as far as I understand, at present the schools do not engage in any critical thinking. As the name goes (tahfiz means to ‘guard’ implying ‘memorisation’), students are trained to memorise the Quran.
I think this is a great activity. Memorizing the Quran is what preserves it. Without the huffaz, the Quran would be open to changes (like the San’a manuscripts attempted to do).
So the huffaz perform a key role which is why the Quran calls them ahladh-dhikr (people of the remembrance). Preserving the Quran is an obvious first step but I believe the Quran can offer humankind infinite wisdom and guide us to higher states of evolution. However, to do that, we must understand it. Are the students trained to understand it? I don’t even know if they can translate it into Malay, let alone discuss various exegeses over centuries. If they cannot, then how will they be future leaders?
Secondly, in tahfiz or even religious schools, there is no culture to accommodate critical thinking. What we have is a didactic, top down approach. At this point, even docile and submissive students barely escape with their lives!
What about students who actually question what the teachers say? Yet this is what the Quran exhorts us to do – to question everything. Even faith isn’t a given, Zahid. So you must get the current tahfiz culture to change. The teaching staff and sadistic wardens need to feel the full force of the law if they are aggressive to students. Instead they must get the students to think.
Thirdly, these tahfiz schools must learn to connect the content of the Quran with what they are learning. The Quran can give us a coherent purpose in life but not if we only sing it. We must actually know what it says. When we do, whatever profession we have, we will be doing it serve God by bringing good to humanity. Do tahfiz schools currently discuss the Quran as a philosophical source? Merely singing it won’t help much.
The Quran’s real purpose
All in all, producing huffaz is not a bad move at all and I wish the government all the best. Just don’t let them be like the erstwhile Akademi Al-Quran, a reality TV show all about singing and pronunciation of the Quran without even a second spent to decoding its message. The Quran was sent as guidance and we should use it as such.
Farouk A Peru
Islamologist and author