Malaysia: New Islamic Module in Public Schools Contested

September 06, 2023

An inter-religious organization, the Malaysian Advisory Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism, has denounced the implementation of a new module by the Ministry of Education, which recommends the teachings of hadith in public schools across the country. The Council denounced this measure as unconstitutional.

In a statement, the organization said that the application of the module on “the 40 hadiths of Imam Al Nawawi” violates the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, because it espouses the Islamic way of life, according to the Malay Mail.

Imam Al Nawawi (1230-1277), religious dignitary, jurist, and Islamic scholar of Syrian origin, is the author of several works on the hadiths or collections of words and deeds from the Muslim oral tradition, which are read and practiced in many Islamic countries.

“Hadith is clearly part of the Islamic religion. There appears to be nothing in our Federal Constitution that allows such Islamic teachings in public schools. This can very well be implemented in Islamic religious schools,” the Council pointed out.

For the Council, the Federal Constitution authorizes each person to practice his own religion, and prevents him from being forced to take part in any worship or religious act other than his own. The implementation of the module on the 40 hadiths would transmit not only the values of Islamic teachings but also “the religious fundamentals” of Islam.

The Council noted that Article 3(1) of the Constitution states that “Islam is the religion of the federation,” while clarifying that this is only in reference to Islamic rituals and ceremonies. “It does not concern Islam seen as a universal concept, because it is generally understood as an integral system of life,” the interfaith organization continued.

The group also pointed out that Article 12 (2) of the Constitution specifies that “every religious group has the right to establish and maintain institutions for the education of children according to its own religion: the 40 hadiths can be taught in Islamic schools, but in public schools it would be unconstitutional,” the Council insisted.

Furthermore, Article 12 (3) says that “no person may be compelled to receive instructions or to take part in any act of worship or in any ceremony of a religion other than his own.” Thus, the Constitution “protects persons, including students, against any religious instruction other than their own.”

The Council concluded that the government and the Minister of Education must act in accordance with the Federal Constitution: “a national school must be a place where unity is fostered, and not to introduce policies that create division.”

Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country of 34 million people. Muslims make up nearly 63.5% of the population, with 18.7% Buddhists, 9.1% Christians, 6.1% Hindus and about 9% other religious groups (animists, Confucians, Taoists , Sikhs, Baha'is, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons).

In recent times, extremist groups and Islamist political parties have increasingly pushed for the imposition of a strong Islamic identity in the country. Thus, the Malaysian Islamic Party, a conservative Islamist party, became a major political force after the 2022 elections and the 2023 parliamentary elections.