Irman Azfar who had attended a tahfiz (Quran recitation) school throughout his secondary schooling years vividly recalls the punishment meted out.
He revealed to Malaysian Digest that he was once caned 17 times on the arm to a point his skin was cut open.
“My ustad commanded my friend to cane me five times on the arm, while he counts. But the unfair bit is the fact that if the whips were not up to his satisfaction, he would disregard it. So in the end, I was caned for 17 times (in total),” he revealed.
He sought to put the incident in perspective today, saying that he took comfort in the fact that his other teachers took sympathy over his ordeal.
But he still feels irked when he discovered that the ustad in question was not penalised for his action.
The death of tahfiz school pupil Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi had put the spotlight on such schools which surprisingly does not come under any official regulatory body at present.
Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid had recently announced that all tahfiz schools will be registered under the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM), as part of the National Tahfiz Education Policy (DPTN) which was proposed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, New Straits Times reported.
Meanwhile, Federation of National Associations of Al-Quran Tahfiz Institutions (PINTA) President Zahid Mahmood also made a public statement that under DPTN, a database will be set up to streamline staff, curriculum, co-curriculum, pupils’ living conditions, safety standards, religious leanings and sources of funding of tahfiz schools, The Malaysian Insight reported.
At present, tahfiz schools fall under the jurisdiction of respective state religious department, but surveys have unearthed that approximately half of the 1,200 school are either privately run or unregistered.
Malaysian Digest could not help but wonder as to why such incidences could have occurred within a religious establishment – especially one that is built on love and compassion.
We asked Irman to share with our readers his time spent studying in a tahfiz school.
“Piety Does Not Equate To Righteousness," Says Former Tahfiz School Student
Irman says he is not surprised by furor over tahfiz schools after the tragic death Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi whereby it was reported that the victim had reportedly been warned by school authorities against informing his parents of his ordeal.
He also highlighted that verbal taunts projected by some of the ustad and ustazah is not breaking news.
“What’s worst is the fact that assuming that you have parents or siblings who appear to not be pious, they will hold it against the students – punishing the students, rather than guiding the students to be better Muslims,” he emphasised.
“Piety does not equate to righteousness. Some people project a holier than thou demeanour as they assume that the knowledge they have accumulated confirms that they are better than certain demographics – and unfortunately, not all ustad and ustazah escaped this spiral vortex or religious sanctimonious attitude.”
Certainly, he doesn't deny the benefits derived from immersing himself in religious studies during his schooling years.
"Acquiring and seeking knowledge is regarded as a mandatory obligation in Islam.
"So my friends and I were exposed to various kitab (religious books) that’s at par with varsity level, and co-ed mingling during tahfiz (Quran recital) was strictly prohibited in our school – unless it was important,” 22-year-old Irman recounted.
“The school that my friends and I attended throughout our secondary education emphasised more on Islamic teachings such as Arabic Language, Sira’ (the history of Islam), Tawhid (monotheism in Islam), Tadabbur Al-Quran (exegeses of the Quran), Hadith (the Prophet’s way of life) which is then followed by the normal KBSM subject that makes up SPM.”
Irman, who is currently pursuing a Bachelor Degree in Islamic Banking and Finance, highlighted that corporal punishment is common practice amongst tahfiz schools, however does not dismiss the fact that some teachers abuse their power and justified their action as ‘disciplining’ the students.
“Before punishment can be executed, evidence of mischief or disobedience must be presented and if found guilty, the student will then be caned between five and 10 times or clean the restrooms every afternoon for two weeks.
“But there are some ustad and ustazah who abuse their power in the name of ‘discipline’,” Irman revealed.
Like all Malaysians, Irman strongly condemns the tragedy that befell upon Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi and opined that the event should jolt society to be more concern of every child’s well-being at school.
“It doesn’t matter which school you send your child to, because time and time again have we heard students from all sorts of schools being abused by teachers and most of them go unreported.
"Isn’t it high-time we put an end to the cycle?” he asked.
The oft-repeated reaction to Mohamad Thaqif's abuse is that strict discipline and punishment are part and parcel of a religious school education.
But where do we draw the line?
“Honestly, Tahfiz Schools Have Had A Bad Reputation Long Before The Death Of Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi”
Former information minister Tan Sri Zainuddin Maidin had gone so far as to call for a ban on all private religious schools and even alleged that the rapid increase of tahfiz schools throughout the nation has left a negative impact on Malay children.
“Many children are no longer enrolled for formal education that would guarantee them a brighter future,” Zainuddin warned, FMTreported.
“This development is happening because of parents’ narrow understanding of the religion. They are convinced that if their children become a ‘hafiz’ (person who has memorised the Quran), then they can escape hell, especially those parents who have sinned greatly.”
In fact, tahfiz schools are fast becoming a popular choice amongst parents of the 21st century.
35-year-old Sue shared with Malaysian Digest that she sends two of her children to a private tahfiz school to ensure that her children are endowed with the (proper) Islamic teachings that is severely lacking in public schools.
“Pendidikan Islam and PAFA in public schools merely touch the surface; hence why my husband and I opt for a private tahfiz school for our children. But we – the parents – also attend religious classes to understand Islam better, and then practise what we’ve learnt at home.
“In doing so, it ensures that we’re able to guide our children (better), on top of allowing us to exchange notes with our children. Parents should acknowledge that our children are smart and times have vastly evolved. So it will come to no surprise that our children might acquire additional knowledge; what’s the harm of learning from our children too?”
Sue shared with Malaysian Digest that her children have not encountered any physical harm thus far, as the school practices community service and extra-curricular activities as a form of punishment.
“I love this – the school comprehends that generation Z’s do not respond well to corporal punishment, but instead adopt a more humanised approach in their conquest to discipline naughty children.
“Be that as it may, it has little impact on the students if parents refuse to play their role (at home) or have the tendency to excessively pamper their children,” she opined and added that most parents deem tahfiz schools as a dumping ground for busy parents due to schools’ long hours.
“Honestly, tahfiz schools have had a bad reputation long before the death of Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi, and it is not the fault of a singular party:”
She went on to list out a detailed account of why tahfiz schools have increasingly gained a negative reputation among many parents today.
Teachers should be humble enough to acknowledge that they are not all-knowing, hence lower your ego and guide students to be better Muslim and better people;
Teachers should question themselves why they became educators in the first place, as without sincerity, that is how teachers become abusive;
Parents should be assertive enough to check-up on their children’s well-being and progress, but trusting enough to not micromanage the teachers;
Parents should not regard any schools as a dumping ground for their children
“I remember I was told that in Islam, the correct way to cane your child is to ensure that you do not raise your armpit and your elbow touches your body – you cane your child as a mean to educate, not to punish.
“But unfortunately, there are those who abuse this right and mistranslate it completely – they confuse educating with punishment, and thus triggering a cycle of abuse that is practised from generation to generation,” she lamented.
As Sue highlighted that Islam is a religion that teaches love and compassion, she urged every tahfiz schools throughout Malaysia to rethink their method of punishment and reminded parents to instil sincere intention in sending their children to any religious schools.
“I must confess that I am not an exemplary Muslim; but I do acknowledge that what I project will indirectly reflect my religion and I acknowledge that the only perfect Muslim to have ever existed is our beloved Prophet Muhammad SAW.
“So I think we all should take a step back and ask ourselves: is this the right Islamic way? Will Allah and Prophet Muhammad be happy of my decisions and actions?,” she reminded.
PAGE Highlights That Public Caning Is No Longer Conducted In Nat'l Schools, Urge For Proper Guidelines In Tahfiz Schools
Malaysian Digest also sought the views of renowed education activist and expert on issues related to our national education system to put the punishment meted out in tahfiz schools in perspective of what our nation aspires to achieve in its education policies going forward.
Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, Chairman of the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), relayed to Malaysian Digest that PAGE strongly condemn the actions of the assistant warden who was caught on CCTV to have taken a hose to beat the sole of the student albeit only once.
However, Noor Azimah reminded that there is always two sides of the story and justice must be served as well as emphasised that it is important that there is a public outcry where a death of a child has taken place as a result of what appears to be negligence on several counts by several parties.
Asking Noor Azimah as to why most schools continue to practice corporal punishment, as she opined “that these adults believe that they benefitted from being publicly caned.
“But we also do not hear of adults who were caned and did not benefit from it. These are the ones who may have turned into wife and child beaters and of course are ashamed to admit it and continue to be in denial,” she highlights.
Research and studies in the past have often highlighted how the cycle of abuse is perpetrated in this way.
“Corporal punishment that still takes place today is probably conducted by adults who were caned before and have no qualms about doing the same to others; in fact, they may even enjoy it.”
Pointing out that the topic of corporal punishment has been discussed many times over, Noor Azimah highlighted that the nation has progressed in that public caning is no longer conducted in schools with female students being exempted whilst the boys may still be caned in private.
“In the event that the boys are to be caned, conditions are specifically contained in the school circular and which must be strictly adhered to. While we like to see the end of any form of caning, there may still be instances where private caning of boys is justified for cases of hardcore indiscipline which requires such punishment.
“Nonetheless no matter how hardcore the incidents maybe a psychological approach and one that is structured and consistent is best taken to ensure the end of repeat mischief and thus offences,” she relayed.
Following the demise and tragedy of Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi, Noor Azimah advised society to not take children for granted.
Adults often forget that children too need love and understanding yet at the same time, need protection – especially from abusive adults – as not all adults are to be trusted around children and mostly behind closed doors.
“As for the matter of improving (caning) regulations, I feel that we (ministry, authorities, schools and parents) have to take a step back and review the history of the child as the child was growing up.
“Not all children will react positively to harsh punishment as some will even withdraw and that must be avoided.
“This takes time but time worth spent. Children are not naturally naughty; they are naughty for a reason, and once that reason or motive can be ascertained then only can the appropriate action be taken,” she concluded.
Disciplining a child is essential in growing up, but let’s all be reminded that there’s an immense difference between disciplining and abusing.
But above all, our methods of discipline should also evolve with the passing of time as the fourth Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib once said, “Do not raise your children the way your parents raised you, they were born for a different time.”