‘Civilisational studies’ makes sense when values are practised

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In a climate where race and religion have been exploited for political purposes, people are naturally suspicious of any attempt to subtly impose beliefs on them, observes Ronald Benjamin.

tamadun_islam titasThe controversy over making the Tamadun Islam and Tamadun Asia (Islamic and Asian Civilisation Studies) or Titas a compulsory subject in private universities has triggered various reactions.

There are those who believe that this subject was introduced with an ulterior motive on the part of the government with its creeping Islamic agenda.

NGOs such as Abim believe that teaching Islamic civilisation would prevent another case like that of Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee, who have been accused of insulting Islam.

Many students from private universities believe even if they study this subject it would be merely to pass exams, besides being an additional burden on their already heavy study load (The Star, 20 July 2013).

The question is will the study of civilisations undertaken in the abstract foster inter-ethnic harmony in the country? How does one create interest in such a subject where there is a tendency to impose an authoritarian kind of understanding of religion rather than being persuasive in highlighting the spiritual essence of a religion through the deeds of the present?

This is the core issue that has brought dissatisfaction among thinking Malaysians; in reality, they find it difficult to accept any authoritarian imposition of religious edicts and political rhetoric which tries to impose a win-lose situation that is simplistic rather than a win-win situation that would address complexity.

Rational Muslim and non-Muslims in the country are concerned that the essence of religion has been placed at the periphery with too much emphasis on ethno-religious glory, superiority, ideology and legality. It is in this context that one should analyse the resistance among non-Muslims to Titas being made compulsory in public and private universities.

READ MORE:  Today, they use corruption to go after Lim Guan Eng; 10 years ago, they used religion to target him!

The study of civilisations should be encouraged because learning of pass achievements and failures of civilisations can be a learning process to improve the present. There should be a genuine effort in the present to foster inter-ethnic understanding by gradually dismantling structural barriers of race and religion, which are reflected in the present-day political parties and institutions.

The unfortunate situation in Malaysia is that race and religion have been exploited to the maximum for political purposes, creating division among society through exclusivity. This creates a situation where people would naturally resist any attempt to subtlety impose beliefs on them.

Therefore the promotion of a proper understanding of civilisations through history ought to be followed by the deeds of the present so that people can relate to them and see that religion is not just about mere symbols, identity and institutions but based on a spirituality of love, justice, compassion and mercy of the present.

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Alif Ba Ta
31 Jul 2013 5.10pm

Its susah to surmise what this so-called civilizational studies course is all about. For one, without knowing the reality in practical course of school life and teaching, much of the values of any culture/civilization could/should have been covered in practical doses in the various stages at varying practical cognitive levels. Malaysian Govt zeal to embrace good values is amazing. First, they shot themselves in the foot, then cry out it’s nothing. At each state of the system, the curriculum modules are suspect: there aint no jobs for school or university leavers. So we spend more money putting them in Khidmat Nasional – more mind bending. Then of course somebody gets the dough which goes into bolstering the ruling parties. There are others that are repeatitive in intent though not in form. So what’s the problem? Frankly, I havent the faintest idea exactly but what’s certain is there is so much waste of national assets, its a shame to call anything civilizational; least of all a curriculum in purportedly values immersed program called “TITAS”. However, it has by an ironic nature, made more people sceptical though not… Read more »

Ed G
Ed G
27 Jul 2013 12.17am

I am skeptical that this new initiative of making compulsory the Islamic and Asian Civilisation Studies will bear any desired results much like the Moral Studies which is forced onto our school children from Std 1 up to Form 5 for which they will have to take an examination as a non-optional paper in the SPM. I also come to understand that the students have to memorize by rote 30 plus moral values and reproduce them word for word during the examination. After all the years of ‘moral indoctrination’ on God knows how many batches of students, we are still encountering rubbish being indiscriminately thrown everywhere, poor road manners, breaking of traffic rules, corruption etc. with no signs of improvement. So if the ‘indoctrination process’ of 11 years has failed on children at an impressionable age, what is the likelihood of success for young adults whose outlooks and opinions have already been formed? Unless of course, instead of adopting the same old ‘indoctrination method’, a whole new approach of allowing critical thinking and intelligent discourse is allowed. But is this approach politically feasible within the context… Read more »