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  • Datin Noor Azimah Abd Rahim, The Edge

Children should not be victims of unsafe and poorly managed tahfiz schools

We at Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia were pleasantly surprised that one of the recipients of the Maulidur Rasul Award was a non-Muslim, although it is not the first time this has happened.

He was none other than Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, who looked most dashing in his blue baju Melayu with matching sampin and songkok. Lee was presented the award for his commitment and passion in advocating and upholding the highest safety and health standards in every aspect.

He was with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for 27 years — 25 of them as chairman — until he retired recently. He says he will continue his work under the Alliance of Safe Community (Ikatan), which focuses on educating the community, despite the challenges, setbacks and disappointments.

In celebrating the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), it was only appropriate and timely that Lee should raise the issue of the safety of students in unregistered tahfiz schools, which have once again gained notoriety after the recent death of another student.

There are 519 tahfiz schools registered nationwide but many more are not, which is a matter of grave concern.

A seven-year-old student of an unregistered tahfiz school in Pahang was found weak and listless by the warden and died while receiving treatment for bruises at a health clinic. The school in Lanchang, Temerloh, had 14 students between seven and 13 years of age. Four of them, including the deceased, were staying in the dormitory.

It was a relief to read that the Pahang Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (MUIP) had ordered the school to close. This should set a precedent for other states to be more vigilant when it comes to these illegal schools. Once they have been identified, a grace period should be given to them to meet all the standards required for registration, including the quality and credibility of their teachers. If they fail to do so, they should be shut down. No more children should be made scapegoats for flawed business propositions.

It was just two years ago that 21 students and two teachers were killed in a fire that broke out at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz school in Kuala Lumpur. The school did not meet fire and safety standards set by the authorities. With the tragedy still fresh in people’s minds, the tahfiz school made the news again last month when a 13-year-old student had to be rushed to the nearby general hospital after he was bullied over several days. Among other things, he was scalded with hot water and punched in the face by his seniors.

What goes on in the minds of parents who are willing to leave their children with strangers at such a tender age? Minister of Islamic Affairs in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa said recently that parents who send their children to unregistered tahfiz centres will be subject to legal action, but is this the answer to a dire situation?

Considering why parents would want to send their children to such schools, a multi-pronged approach is necessary to resolve the matter.

For parents facing multiple challenges — such as struggling to make ends meet, dealing with an ill-disciplined child and having other children to care for — a tahfiz school may seem a God-sent option. Its proximity, affordability, being able to keep one’s child away from the influence of social ills, and most importantly, an apparently ideal place to hopefully learn to recite the Al-Quran and become an imam at the neighbourhood surau at the end of it all are persuasive arguments.

To these parents, even if a school is unregistered, it is of little concern. It is, after all, the school’s responsibility to do so, if not now, maybe later. The parents and children may also believe that by choosing a tahfiz school, they will go to heaven — and that is all that matters. But in reality, these parents need guidance and support to raise their children.

The fact that supposedly religious individuals are willing to invest and set up tahfiz schools by flouting the law from the start, with little intention of legalising their businesses, speaks volumes of their brand of Islam, which reeks of dishonesty, fraud and irresponsibility. The owner of the land on which the tahfiz schools stand should be taken to task too for supporting illegal businesses.

All state Islamic religious and Malay customary councils should be on alert for any attempt by such unscrupulous individuals to create mischief in this regard.

With Lee feeling more motivated than ever, NIOSH and the public should play a more important role in highlighting to the authorities the possibility of potential mishaps at such premises. The community, in coming together, may well save a child’s precious life before it is too late.



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