Storm in a teacup

The writer is baffled over the resistance to the move to make Titas a compulsory subject. Titas was already mandatory for Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia students more than 30 years ago and it has, he feels, fostered better understanding of different civilisations among the different races.

Wong Chun Wai, The Star

THE move to make Islamic and Asian Civilisation Studies (Titas) compulsory for university students in private institutions from Sept 1 has kicked up a storm.

But for many graduates of local universities, particularly Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, it has certainly not raised an eyebrow.

Thirty years ago when I was studying at UKM, it was already mandatory for us to pass the Islamic Civilisation course.

It did not matter what we studied; we all had to pass the paper if we wanted to get our scroll at the end of our studies. No one, even Muslims, was exempted and often there were non-Muslims who were top scorers.

As I can recall, none of my friends was converted into Islam, and certainly this writer did not become a Muslim. We didn’t complain about the requirement to pass the ZI course, as it was code-named, as we already knew about the condition when we picked UKM as our choice.

Certainly, taking the course has given me a better understanding of Islam. Like it or not, Islam is the religion of the majority of Malaysians.

The course at UKM was simply an introduction to Islam and it has helped me in the course of my work as a journalist.

As I had sat for Islamic History and Malay Literature in my Sixth Form examination, the ZI course was pretty easy for me. That arrogance and complacency, however, proved to be costly as I did not score as well in ZI as I had expected. The others who did not have that academic background studied harder and performed better in the end.

I still passed the test but it was lectures by the late Datuk Fadzil Noor, who went on to join politics and become a PAS president, and Datuk Dr Haron Din, with his profound story telling of jins and spirits, that caught my interest.

I have continued to collect books on Islam, improving my understanding of the subject, and building up a decent private collection.

Certainly, reading plenty of books on this subject and my ZI classes have benefited me in many ways, particularly in my interaction with friends, colleagues and other acquaintances who are Muslims. I am glad I took the ZI course in UKM.

But I also believe that studying and appreciating the other main religions, especially Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, will also benefit all of us.

The idea is not to belittle any religion or to extol one’s belief as more superior, but rather to emphasise the commonalities such as compassion, tolerance, love, sharing and peace.

We all call God by different names and we practise our beliefs in different ways but there will always be many common values and areas because we all believe in the importance of goodness and respect for each other.

In fact, students of Islam in UKM, like in other institutions in the Middle East, are also required to study other religions including Judaism and Christianity.

Likewise, students who want to become Catholic priests and Protestant pastors will need to study Islam at their seminaries.

I have been lucky growing up in Penang and later working in Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling, previously Pitt Street. It was always a joy to walk past, or at least drive through, the road which has a mosque, a Hindu temple, a Taoist temple and a church located next to each other.

As a child who grew up in the Chulia Street area, where my grandmother’s home was located, it was common for me to walk through the Kapitan Keling mosque to take a short cut.

Today, two paintings by the late Penang artist Tan Choon Ghee hang on the wall of my home in memory of my childhood days. There is no religious hang-up of having drawings of a mosque in my home.

In Singapore, schools regularly organise visits to places of worship as part of their extra-curricular activities.

We shouldn’t be afraid of learning the religions of all communities. It should not be restricted to just one religion.

Non-Muslims should learn about Islam and at the same time, there is no reason why Muslim students in universities, both public and private, should not study other religions which have been here for centuries.

It should be made compulsory for everyone to study each other’s religion in order to have a better understanding of each other.

In this period of Ramadan, breaking fast with our Muslim friends and colleagues is certainly encouraged. It will be a good way to understand each other’s faith.