Thursday, March 21

Retraining ustazs into nation-builders

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ALTHOUGH the nations of Sabah and Sarawak have Muslims not in the majority like the ones in Semenanjung, it is important to make sure that these Muslims are correctly educated in a brand of Islam that would develop and not destroy the concept of nation building.

The ustaz or male teacher is the single most important individual in the education of not only the children of Muslims but also the adult population of Muslims themselves that frequent mosques and suraus.

The ustazs in the Semenajung, in my opinion, are the single most important factor of nation destroyer not because of an evil intention on their part but mostly because of a narrow attitude of social development in the global and civilisational human construct.

The nations of Sabah and Sarawak must implement a retraining education programme that would make these teachers important and indispensable elements of nation building via the values of Islam. Towards this end, I propose that these ustazs go through a course in Master’s in Islam and Civilisational Studies at an institute I would name as CICS (pronounced as ‘sis’) or Centre for Islam and Civilisational Studies.

The candidates for the Master’s course will be fully funded for two years. The main thrust of the programme is to create an awareness of the thoughts and beliefs of other cultures and faith throughout the history of humankind and how Islam fits into such a larger framework of existence.

The candidates will firstly be introduced in the first semester to the various civilisational studies of non-Muslim cultures. Next, in the second semester, the candidates will be asked to choose a culture and he will be instructed in the language, history and culture of that particular group.

In the third semester, the candidates will be asked to immerse fully in the chosen culture for six months and observe and record all the important rituals, events, values and belief of that culture.

In the final semester, the candidates will write their thesis, of which 50 per cent of the writing shall be about the important points concerning the culture he was immersed in and the second part of the thesis will be his own ideas on how to explain and communicate the teachings of Islam to the said culture.

At the moment, the entry requirement for this fully sponsored programme are candidates who have a degree in Islamic Studies, can speak Arabic, can comprehend English well and must be male. Females are disallowed because of the six-month Cultural Immersion part.

 

The course outline for this programme would be something as follows:

 

Master’s in Islam and Civilisational Studies (Two years)

Semester 1

• Subject 1 – History of Western and Eastern Ideas on Society

• Subject 2 – Concepts of Religions and Beliefs

• Subject 3 – History of Scientific Ideas

• Subject 4 – Methods in Anthropological Research

 

Semester 2

• Subject 5 – Chosen Language

• Subject 6 – History and Culture of ‘Chosen’ Language

• Subject 7 – Sustainable Environment and the City

• Subject 8 – History of the Visual Arts

 

Semester 3

• Subject 8 – Six-Month Participation in Chosen Culture

 

Semester 4

• Subject 9 – Thesis Writing

• Subject 10 – Contemporary Issues of Islam in Modern Societies

 

In the first semester, the candidates will be opened to the world of ideas from Greek thinkers like Aristotle and Plato through Western modern philosophers like Hegel and Kant to Eastern philosophers like Confucius and Lao Tzu as they grapple with the question of what is reality and how humanity should look at itself within that reality.

The candidates will also have a glance at the great traditions of religions of the world and will visit temples, monasteries, and churches while interacting cordially with the members of each congregation.

I think it is absolutely critical that the candidates must attend visual arts performances to readdress issues of Islam and the creative industry.

I have also introduced a rudimentary knowledge of how architecture and city planning works within the environment in order to expose them to the new thoughts of sustainable existence.

The candidates will also be exposed to the important roles of art in forming the minds of society. All these courses will be taught by professors of the greatest calibre and great communicators.

The level of knowledge will be introductory in order to create the idea that the world of human civilisation is much, much bigger than the four walls of the madrasa.

Finally, the candidate will be exposed to the anthropological concepts of society as well as the participant observation methodology in order to comprehend at close hand the host society.

In the second semester, the candidate will be asked to choose or will be assigned a cultural focus.

Let’s say that the candidate chooses Chinese culture; then he will be instructed in the language and dialect of the intended area as well as the history and cultural norms of the locality.

If he chooses Malaysian Indian culture, then he will be instructed in the popular dialect of the Indians as well as their historical, religious, and cultural background.

Thus, in the third semester, the candidate will be sent to the chosen locality and immerse himself with the culture by participating in the communal activities while being a guest of a selected family.

The selected family will be compensated with the appropriate honorarium to cover his room and board. The candidate will be immersed in the private family culture as well as the socioeconomic culture of the chosen locality.

In the final semester, the candidate will embark on a six-month thesis writing period of roughly 30,000 words.

The thesis shall comprise of two parts; the first part is the candidate’s description of the important aspects of the society that he was a part of and the second part is how Islam can be communicated, explained within the cultural framework of the society itself.

Graduates of this course can find employment as lecturers on Civilisational or Malaysian Studies. The graduates are also needed on the diplomatic side, the local authorities, the teachers of schools, academics at universities, and special assistants to politicians.

Most importantly, they would give lectures at mosques about a more open, tolerant, and compassionate Islam.

Unless and until Malaysia, the Muslim countries, and Muslims in non-Muslim countries act to retrain their religious teachers, the perception of Islam will forever be ‘Islam against the world’ attitude and the radical group IS can easily manipulate sentiments on the world stage.

The ustaz is a most important element of educating future Muslims that would be a tremendous asset to any nation. However, these ustazs must be trained in a manner that would complete their own education as a nation-builder and not just as a parochial lecturer.

The nations of Sabah and Sarawak must invest in their retraining and it is only in this way that the extremist form of Islam characterised by many in Semenanjung can be averted.

 

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