The Practicality of Tahfiz Schools

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

I am never good at speculating things and my speculations are seldom correct. But events in the past weeks have got me guessing. Are we destined to undergo this or is it merely our damn luck? Is God testing our resolve or has he unleashed his fury upon us? Not a day passes without some tragedy or something uncanny, bordering on the incredible, happening on our social landscape.

The most unfortunate, of course, was the fiery death of 21 students and two teachers of a religious school, Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah, at Kampong Datuk Keramat Kuala Lumpur in a dawn fire on Thursday, September 14. Arson was suspected and seven teenagers are presently being investigated by the Police for their involvement in the tragedy.

Based on statistics there are over 200 fires involving religious schools over the past years and, till today, no clear guidelines are available as to their establishment. In short, you and I can start a tahfiz school anywhere at whim without much prodding and lobbying, as with other business ventures.

It is no idle boast as I have seen this happening within my circle. A piece of land belonging to a relative in Kampong Manjoi, Ipoh was sold to one influential ustaz who wasted no time to build a religious school on it. His popularity and fame helped overcome obstacles and soon his school was oversubscribed. But fate dealt an untimely blow, the operations of the institution have been put on hold due to a sexual abuse case involving a student and a staff member.

That brings me to one pertinent question. Why are such schools so popular with the Malay Muslim community?  I’ll offer an answer, it has much to do with religion. It is the wish of every Muslim parent to instil as much religious value as possible to their offspring. And they do not bother how it is being done.

A religious man or woman is being looked upon with awe and he or she is highly respected in society. What more if he or she runs a tahfiz school where religious training is provided pro bono or with a nominal fee. After all, God beckons all his subjects to Heaven, so long as they perform their obligations without question. In Islam if you question a religious dictate you are immediately branded a munafiq (disbeliever). So simple.

This was drummed into me when I was young, but having enrolled in a mission school, I was spared the inconvenience. However, my two sons were less fortunate  as they underwent some ugly experiences with their guru agama (religious teacher) in school and at Quranic classes. After having their bottoms and bellies pinched blue black and their knuckles thwacked senselessly, they quit for good. Till today we never questioned their decision for leaving. It was a blessing in disguise.

I have always insisted that religion is personal. It is in your heart. You need not go out of your way to demonstrate your reverence and fear for God. But that is what is happening today and it cuts across all religions. I shall leave it at that so as not to elicit unwarranted comments. I am, by reckoning, a liberal Muslim, so be it.

While on the subject of religion I allude to another ballyhoo. This is about the banning of Better Beer Fest 2017, the largest craft beer festival scheduled for on October 6 and 7 at Publika Mall, Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur. It is an upscale shopping mall specifically designed for the expatriate community staying in the locality. As a rule of thumb, the fest is to coincide with the much-anticipated Oktoberfest celebrated annually in Munich, Germany and all over the world. The beer festival normally begins in mid or late September ending on the first weekend in October.

The two-day event at Publika Mall, I believe, will be a tame version of the many I have attended abroad, the last was at Sang Kuriang Club up in the Bandung highlands, Indonesia. Some 250 brands of beer from 43 independent breweries, across 12 countries, will be available for tasting at the Publika Mall do.

But this will not happen as KL City Hall has withdrawn the permit citing a possible militant attack. According to newly-minted Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun, the Police had received intelligence that “a few parties planned to cause trouble during the event and it might turn into a serious security matter”. In fact, the one who strongly opposed the holding of the social function was Pas, the Islamist party that has gained traction with Barisan Nasional of late. We lose out on tourist dollars, what a tragedy?

Thafiz schools and free beer aside, Ipoh was buzzed with news of dead dogs around Lembah Perpaduan Permai on the morning of Thursday, September 14. Residents of this peripheral housing estate, close to the Haven Resort Hotel, were up in arms over stray dogs causing a ruckus in their neighbourhood.  Failing to get a response from Ipoh City Hall they decided to take matters in their own hands and resorted to poisoning the poor animals. When the dust settled down, ten pitiful God-created creatures paid the ultimate price for being what they were – strays.

Humans can be cruel at times. Empathy and compassion, the inherent qualities of any God-fearing man, go out of the window when anger takes control of one’s mental faculty. It is sad and at the same time, cruel. There are many strays in my taman too but if you treat them humanely they will repay you in kind. That is the mantra. Their incessant barking warns residents of an impending danger. You cannot beat these disenfranchised mongrels at their own game. Period.

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