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Malaysia: 'Imam Al-Nawawi's 40 Hadith' to Curb Extremism

Photo by Sangga Rima Roman Selia / Unsplash

Controversy has arisen in Malaysia regarding the inclusion of the "Imam Al-Nawawi's 40 Hadith" module in the curriculum of public schools. This dispute primarily revolves around concerns raised by non-Muslim groups, particularly the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism (MCCBCHST).

They contend that this module promotes a comprehensive Islamic way of life, potentially conflicting with the principles of religious freedom. In contrast, the Malaysian government defends the inclusion of this module, asserting that it will exclusively target Muslim students and serve as a tool to combat extremism.

Fadhlina Sidek, the Education Minister, has emphasized the educational value of the module, highlighting its role in fostering an understanding of the 40 Hadith collection among both teachers and students. Nevertheless, the Malaysian interfaith body has questioned the constitutionality of introducing this module in national schools. To address these concerns, the Deputy Education Minister Lim Hui Ying has clarified that the module will solely involve Muslim students. The ongoing debate has spurred calls for the government to provide further clarification on how the module will be implemented in schools.

Non-muslims woes

Non-Muslims in Malaysia have articulated several apprehensions regarding the introduction of the "Imam Al-Nawawi's 40 Hadith" module into public schools. These concerns can be summarized as follows:

Promotion of a Comprehensive Islamic Way of Life: Non-Muslim groups worry that the module promotes an all-encompassing Islamic lifestyle, potentially infringing upon the principle of religious freedom. They argue that public schools should be neutral and respect the diversity of religious beliefs in the country.

Constitutional Questions: There are concerns about the constitutionality of teaching this module in national schools. Non-Muslims argue that public education should not favor one religion over others, and the inclusion of this module might be perceived as a breach of the constitutional commitment to uphold religious diversity.

Need for Government Clarification: Given the controversy surrounding the module, there is a growing demand for the government to provide clear guidelines on how it will be incorporated into the curriculum and the extent to which it will be exclusively limited to Muslim students.

However, the Malaysian government has attempted to assuage these concerns by reiterating that the "Imam Al-Nawawi's 40 Hadith" module will be exclusively taught to Muslim students and will not involve non-Muslim students. Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek has also emphasized the module's potential to enhance understanding among both educators and students regarding this collection of 40 Hadith, viewing it as a tool to combat extremism.

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Hadiths - be open minded

In response to the controversy, Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr. Teo Kok Seong, a senior fellow at the National Professors Council (MPN), has called on non-Muslims to adopt a more open-minded perspective regarding the module's inclusion in Malaysian public schools. He argues that the module's focus is explicitly on Muslim students and teachers and will not disrupt or challenge the understanding of non-Muslim students. He further emphasizes that the module consists of teachings from the Quran conveyed by Prophet Muhammad, rather than being a set of arbitrarily created additional teachings.

The response of Muslim organizations to the implementation of the "Imam Al-Nawawi's 40 Hadith" module in Malaysia remains unclear from available information. Nevertheless, the Malaysian government has robustly defended the module, underscoring its exclusivity to Muslim students and its potential to counter extremism. Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek has reiterated that the module aims to foster a deeper appreciation for the 40 Hadith collection among teachers and students alike.

While criticism has been voiced by the think tank Iman Research, suggesting that concerns persist even when the module is limited to Muslim students, the debate continues. However, Professor Teo Kok Seong's call for open-mindedness among non-Muslims underscores the importance of engaging in constructive dialogue to address misunderstandings and misconceptions surrounding the module's intent and implementation in Malaysian public schools.

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