A few years ago, when my son was still studying at a secondary school in Kuala Lumpur, I received a letter from the school informing me about “Kem Kepimpinan Pelajar Islam” (leadership camp for Islamic students) which was scheduled once a week, for several weeks, after school hours.
The letter, however, did not seek my consent as a parent and guardian to send the student under my care to the after school programme. Instead, it was more of an acknowledgement.
Knowing very well what takes place in such after school hours religious programmes, I wrote a letter to the school informing them that my son will not attend the programme and had assumed that since the school has been informed, my son would be excused from attending it. But I was wrong.
A couple of hours before school ended on the first day of the “kem kepimpinan”, my son called me from his school’s public telephone booth. He informed me that the school has rejected letters from parents who did not give their consent for their children to be held back for the religious programme.
I advised my son to pack his bags after school hours and make his way to the school gate with other non-Muslim students. I convinced him that no one can stop him if he wanted to leave after school, and I would be waiting for him outside the school like I always do.
When I arrived at my son’s school at 1.25pm, the main gate was shut. Only the side door next to the main gate was open, and I saw non-Muslim students walking out through it. I decided to wait for my son.
A few minutes later, I received another phone call from my son.
“Ma, I cannot come out. They have locked the main gate and informed the guard not to allow Muslim students to leave the school. I tried to leave, but the guard stopped me. I guess I don’t have a choice, I’ll see you after the programme ends at 4pm.”
I was furious. I stepped out of my car and went to the school’s main gate which was shut tight. I tried pushing it, but it wouldn’t open.
I knocked on the side door and called for the guard: “Why is the main gate closed? I was supposed to fetch my son after school, why was he not allowed to leave school?”
“Principal’s orders. All Muslim students cannot go back. There is a school programme for them. They must attend,” he replied.
“I am a parent. And I want to take my son home. The school cannot force any students to participate in a programme without the consent of the parent!” I was fuming with anger.
“Sorry, but I am just doing my job,” the guard was apologetic.
I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down before asking the guard to allow me to enter the school premises.
“I want to see what the programme is about,” I told him.
“It is a leadership programme,” he said.
“It’s a religious programme,” I corrected him.
The guard then asked me to wait outside while he contacted the school office and informed the teachers on duty about me. A few minutes later I was allowed to enter the school premises.
“Go straight to the office. Please. You can tell the teacher that you want to take your son home,” the guard reminded me a couple of times.
At the school office, I informed the clerk of my intention and was advised to wait for a teacher. After waiting for quite some time, a teacher walks in and asked me what the matter was about.
I informed him about my letter to the school.
“But the programme is good, Puan. Your son will learn all about wuduk (ritual purification), solat (prayers) and other religious practices,” he explained.
“My son is now in secondary school. He has been learning about wuduk and solat since Standard One, what else is there to learn?”
The teacher then excused himself and said I would be attended by another teacher who has the authority to release my son from school.
A while later, another teacher walks in, “Are you the one who wishes to take the student home?”
“May I know the reason?” she asked.
“Well, first of all, I did not consent my son attending the programme in the first place,” I replied.
“But it’s good for him.”
I reminded myself to keep calm and repeated myself like an old recorder: “I am sure it is. But my son already knows the basic of wuduk, solat and other practices.”
“The students don’t only learn the basics, they learn more. Like I said, the programme is good for Muslim students.”
“Look, I don’t want my son to learn more. The basics are good enough. If I want my son to learn more about religion, I will send him to sekolah agama (religious school). Now, can I take my son out of the programme?” I asked.
The teacher then turned to the clerk and asked her to provide me with a form.
“Please fill up this form. Your son will be sent to the office and then you can take him home,” said the teacher before leaving.
Quite bitter with the process of taking my own son out of an after school programme, I filled out the form and gave it to the clerk. She then had to run down, get the teacher on duty to sign the form and then start looking for my son.
After almost half an hour sitting in the office being stared at by other teachers, my son appeared at the office with his school bag.
Since that day, every time there was a religious after school programme, I would be sitting in the school office, filling up the same form before school was over.
On the month of Ramadhan when these religious programmes took precedence and Muslim students were made to leave their Science, Mathematics and English classes and assemble in the school surau, my son would end up doing his revisions at home.
For many years before May 9, 2018, religion was brought into our schools and Muslim students were forced to swallow these religious teachings with or without parents’ consent.
Today, after we have been promised with the hope of a new future under New Malaysia, religion is still creeping its way into our educational institutions.
After years of trying to rescue my son from the religious indoctrination in school, my son who is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science ended up being forced to attend Islamic classes in his university as part of his academic course. This time around, I am unable to do anything about it.
While listening to my son grumble about his Islamic classes in university, I continue to hear similar grumbles from friends whose children are in our public schools.
Stories about ustazs and ustazahs punishing Muslim students who admitted to not praying at home; advising Muslim students not to be friends with the non-Muslims or face the risk of having their faiths shaken; and forcing Muslim female students to substitute pinafores with baju kurung and head scarves – the stories just never ends.
We may have voted our old government out, but our new government is filled with the products of our old government. How do we change a system when the people we entrust to change the system are the same people who are already indoctrinated by the old system?
How do we change an education system which is tainted by religious indoctrination, especially since the indoctrination was spearheaded under the same leaders back then that we have now?
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Can we just leave?” he pleaded.