Sunday, March 30, 2008

Wonderful Malaysia!

Over the Easter weekend I was very privileged to be invited to speak at two main venues in Kuala Lumpur. The first was for the Muslim Professionals Forum which actively provides a number of services for the wider Malaysian community, although it is only a very young organisation, albeit run by a very educated and committed group of Muslims.
The second venue was a fundraising dinner for the Khilafah Institute Project School. The Khilafah Institute was established by a committed group of Muslims who had studied under the late Prof. Muhammad Al Mahdi. His specialty was in child psychology and also in Physics. During the past 10 years or so of his life, Prof al Mahdi had established a concept of khalifat responsibility that he desired all Muslims to adopt. Amongst his numerous teachings, he outlined three simple steps to follow -

1)To make ourselves good
2) To help others to become good
3) To keep the physical world safe, clean and beautiful

While there I was also privileged to meet with a number of private schools in Malaysia. It seems that the Islamic private educational sector has only been established in the past 15 years or so, and is still developing towards the senior years. Many of these schools have been established by individuals or by foundations, and are in the process of achieving long term plans for facilities and resources. Some of the challenges that these schools are facing include – a need to network with each other, share resources, ideas and lobby more effectively for resources; no government funding for school recurrent or capital funding; low fees and comparatively low wages paid to staff – which results in a high turnover as young graduates obtain experience in the private Islamic sector, and then move to the better paying government schools; minimal resources – libraries are often quite small, numbering less than 5,000 books per school; teacher training – while some training is done through the public or government sector, many of the teachers are only subject trained, but not trained in the specialties and techniques of teaching strategies, pastoral care, behaviour management etc; shortage of policies and accountability – there are many areas where regulation is missing from the government which would ensure that schools have high accountability standards in finances, Occupational Health and Safety, discipline, policies throughout the school in all areas, and so on. These are areas where the more established schools in South Africa, Australia, America, England and so on should step in, in order to support their colleagues and prevent the unnecessary ‘reinvention of the wheel’ – redoing and redesigning much of what is already available in most schools elsewhere.

Of course, one of the greatest challenges to Muslim schools today – in every part of the world – is the overall development of the Muslim child. With an increasing focus on competitive entry to Universities and other educational sectors, there is a tendency to focus on the immediate and apparent success of our schools through high academic achievement. Occasionally there is time to encourage a few of our graduates to master memorisation of large sections of the Quran, but the overall development of a pious, knowledge seeking Muslim who has the manners and attitude of the Prophet s.a.w. has largely escaped all of us. How schools and teachers can achieve such piety and practice of the Sunnah, while successfully avoiding ambitious consumerism and love of the world - is still the golden elixir that we compete to discover.