Monday, October 21

Controversy over khat in vernacular schools triggers petitions’ race

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File photo for illustration purposes

KUCHING: The row over the introduction of khat or Jawi calligraphy in vernacular primary schools next year has sparked a contest of petitions that could divide Malaysians further.

The first to launch a petition on the issue was United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong).

Announcing the move on Saturday, its chairman Tan Tai Kim said their petition has the support of several Chinese associations, education boards, parent-teacher associations, alumni groups and also Tamil education groups, against the Malay-Arabic calligraphy.

“We made this decision based on research done by scholars, that khat is actually a stylistic writing which promoted Quran and spread Islamic teachings,” he said in a Malay Mail report, pointing out however that it valued Islamic culture and art and backed integration.

Tan said the introduction of khat in schools was not only unacceptable among the non-Muslims, it was also in violation of Article 12 (3) of the Federal Constitution which reads, “No person shall be required to receive instruction in or to take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion other than his own”.

Dong Zong’s petition demands that the Education Ministry revoke its decision for khat to be taught in national primary schools and retain the introduction of khat alongside Chinese and Tamil writings for the Standard Five Bahasa Malaysia syllabus.

The group’s actions have led to it being called “racist” by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad yesterday.

Following Dong Zong’s petition, a Malay rights movement Gerakan Pengundi Sedar initiated a petition urging the government to proceed as planned with teaching khat to Year Four pupils.

It was reported by Malay Mail this morning that the group had gathered close to 65,000 signatures with 50,000 of them signed within the last nine hours.

The movement accused Dong Zong of stoking racial resentment by exploiting the khat issue to rally ethnic Chinese and Indians against the policy.

“The government had compromised by making khat optional and reduced the lesson to just three pages,” the online petition read.

“But still dissatisfied with the compromise, they started to play on religious sentiment by linking khat and jawi to Islamisation attempt on minorities. Now they have started a petition This is defamation of the entire country, particularly the Muslim community.”

This morning, the youth wing of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, where Dr Mahathir is chairman, launched a petition calling for support to ban Dong Zong.

Youth exco Muzzammil Ismail was quoted in a MalaysiaKini report as branding Dong Zong as an “extremist” out to undermine racial unity over its latest claims that the government’s move to introduce khat in schools was a form of “Islamisation”.

“In the past they had led the calls to pressure the government, particularly Education Minister Maszlee Malik, to recognise UEC.

“Today Dong Zong continue to pressure the government using various demands,” said Muzzammil in reference to Dong Zong’s latest petition against the teaching of Jawi calligraphy to Standard Four pupils.

“Launching a petition to protest Jawi is a calculated and despicable act to undermine Malaysia’s heritage…,” he said.

The controversy over the government’s move to introduce khat in Year 4 of vernacular schools is showing no sign of slowing down even after Education Minister Maszlee Malik’s announcement last week that the lesson will be “optional” and the pages in the Bahasa Malaysia textbook on the subject is reduced from six to three.

Yesterday, Finance MInister Lim Guan Eng, who had earlier urged Malaysians to move forward following Maszlee’s announcement, said he would urge the Cabinet to review its unanimous decision on the subject during its meeting tomorrow.