A Muslim’s Education of Comparative Religion

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Reading what our PM Najib had to say on the issue of Muslims to learn to be more tolerant of other religions, made me have several flashbacks on my own early education on the appreciation of religions besides Islam.

As a boy, just like many others around my age, living around my neighbourhood, my parents sent me to the nearby mosque to attend afternoon classes on fardhu ain and fardhu kifayah; basically, teachings compulsory on all Muslims (e.g. prayers) and teachings that were an obligation to learn and be aware of (e.g. how to prepare the recently deceased for funeral).

Young, impressionable minds, about 6-10 years of age. 20-30 of us in the class.

There was one particular lesson that i’m reminded of, the day we were thought about the haram and halal of food.

During question and answer time, i asked:

“I’m half-Chinese, what happens when i go to my grandmother’s house for dinner?”

Ustaz answered, “Unless you bring your own pots and pans and food to cook, you can’t eat there. Even if you did, there is always the feeling of was-was (caution), so i advise you not to eat anything served there, or in any other non-Muslim home.”

In theory, this means, never having a meal at any non-Muslim home.

Chinese friend: “Hey, why don’t you come over for dinner at my place sometime? We can discuss multi-cultural issues, and embraces each other’s cultural diversity?”

Me: “Do you have “halal” pots and pans to cook with?”

Him: “No.”

Me: “Sorry, can’t come.”

It’s always interested me that while Islam professes religious tolerance and multi-culturalism, it does put up some pretty steep walls between “us” and “them”.

  • It teaches us that if you’re not a Muslim, you’ll burn in Hell for Eternity. It’s really painful down there, too bad if you’re not a Muslim.
  • It teaches us that you can’t “safely” have a meal in a friend’s house if they aren’t Muslims too. Why not go out to eat, you may ask. That’s besides the point: the fact that the “halal” barrier exists, creates a wall between cultures.
  • It teaches us that certain people can’t be trusted, no matter what. They-Are-The-Enemy. Hello, Mr Jew.

I don’t understand why religions, Islam included, have to put up these walls between us. There is an US and there is a THEM. And, by the way, US is better than THEM; they are dirty, pig-eating swine; this is not an exaggeration — this is how an ustaz in our national education system once described the Chinese to the class. While he may have been the exception (i sincerely hope he was), this is the impression that really exists and is perpetuated by educators who have access to our children who will be influenced, and therefore be equally distanced from the religious tolerance the PM is asking for.

The schools are the Key, Mr PM. Schools, the national education syllabus and the informal religious schooling network. Education is the key to changing the behaviour of Muslims for the tomorrow; the Muslims of today are doomed already. Don’t make it an offering of lip service. Take out the Hate, the Us vs Them, and the I’m-Better-Than-You — then perhaps you’ll have a chance to make things better.

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