Chinese worried Jawi may Islamise the non-Muslims

(Malaysiakini) – Amid rising tensions over Jawi lessons at vernacular schools, proponents Education Ministry and critics the United Chinese School Committees’ Association (Dong Zong) have come forth to explain their respective stances.

Admitting that learning Jawi back in school did not convert him to Islam, Dong Zong secretary-general Ng Chai Heng explained that there was significant fear among his members that the move would “Islamise” students.

“There is no fear of Jawi, that is wrong. It is actually the fear to be Islamised,” he said.

Ng elaborated that this fear and lack of trust in the ministry’s actions stemmed from a perceived notion that students at sekolah kebangsaan (national schools) would be “converted” to Islam.

“It is not what I saw but I was told. (Whether) it is true or not, I am not sure. But what I am trying to define here is why there is the fear factor,” he added.

Ng repeatedly stated that the Chinese educationist group was not opposed to Jawi but wanted school boards to be included in determining if Year Four students will be taught the three pages of Jawi as part of their Bahasa Malaysia syllabus starting next year.

The ministry’s present guidelines state that parents and Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) get the first say on the issue. School boards can only step in to decide at schools without PTAs, once parents have voted on the matter.

He also urged the ministry to be more forthcoming in communicating these issues with stakeholders.
Jawi is appreciation, not Islamisation.

Siti Kasim also opposed to Jawi

Responding to Dong Zong’s concerns, Education Ministry deputy director-general for Policy and Curriculum Habibah Abdul Rahim explained that Jawi was included in textbooks to encourage students to appreciate the traditional Malay script while they learned the mechanics of language.

Habibah stressed that the intention was not to Islamise students.

“I don’t think that if we learn Jawi or khat (Jawi calligraphy), it will change our religion, beliefs or principles. It is to learn another language through its script and to appreciate the artistry of writing in that language…

“(And) we are not going backwards, we just want to be aware that this has been our heritage – that we used to write (Malay) in Jawi,” she said.

Habibah also explained that the cabinet had decided to give parents the biggest say in deciding what their children would learn at school.

“We cannot have the PTA and school board in the same school making the decisions because not all PTAs work in close rapport with the school board.

“I think that is the truth and we don’t want any miscommunication (or) misunderstanding between these important people in the schools,” she said.

Ever since Dong Zong and other groups voiced their opposition to the new Bahasa Malaysia syllabus back in July, she noted that the ministry had communicated with them and subsequently amended the syllabus five times.
This includes halving Jawi lessons to three pages, making it non-examinable plus shifting the focus away from

Jawi vocabulary to recognising Jawi scripts in national and everyday objects.

However, she admitted that the ministry needed to improve its engagement with stakeholders.

Habibah hoped the ministry’s willingness to accommodate Jawi-related concerns would be recognised in discussions during Dong Zong’s upcoming Chinese Organisations Joint Conference.

“School is going to start after all and if we are still thinking about Jawi and our fear of Jawi, it has been so much reduced… I think we should think (about this) and move forward,” she added.

She shared that Jawi will be included in the revised Year Five and Year Six Bahasa Malaysia syllabi for vernacular schools. The former will roll out in 2021 while the latter will be implemented in 2022.

Impasse and interruptions

Ng and Habibah shared their perspectives at a public forum last night entitled “Jawi Forum: Understanding Each Other”.

Held at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) and organised by NGO Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia, the event was to clear the air ahead of Dong Zong’s conference tomorrow (Dec 28).

Perceiving as being “anti-Jawi”, the conference has hit a raw nerve among Malay nationalist groups. Some have threatened violence and called for Dong Zong to be banned should it proceed. The police are expected to be present at the scene.

Met afterwards, both Ng and Habibah did not appear to have budged from their stances.

Habibah maintained that the ministry’s latest decision on Jawi was final while Ng said that the conference would carry on. He remained hopeful that Education Minister Maszlee Malik would meet Dong Zong over the issue.

“I openly appeal that the minister will grant us the opportunity to meet him,” Ng said.

During the forum earlier, audience members who appeared dissatisfied with the dialogue attempted to throw questions and comments from the floor. Among those who spoke up was lawyer and activist Siti Kasim.

They were urged against interrupting the event by panellists, other audience members as well as moderator Nathaniel Tan.

Siti is part of Gabungan Seni Khat Action Team (Sekat), the NGO that is organising a separate congress on Dec 29, also to oppose the Jawi lessons.

Ng clarified that Sekat’s event was not related to Dong Zong.

“It is not organised by Dong Zong, but it is organised by people who are not satisfied. However, this is a different organisation,” he said during the forum.

Aside from Ng and Habibah, the other panellists were Tamil Foundation president K Arumugam, Ikram deputy president Badlishah Sham, Abim president Muhammad Faisal Abdul Aziz and KLSCAH exco member Isabella Pek.