KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 8 — Islamic schools should follow the lead of Christian missionary counterparts in opening their intakes to students of other religions, former Perlis Mufti Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin suggested.
Saying that Islam is the leading religion in multicultural Malaysia, Mohd Asri said it was pertinent for Islamic religious schools that are currently exclusive to Muslim students to open their doors — partially, at least — to non-Muslims.
“If Christian missionary schools can do it, why can’t we?” he wrote on his Facebook page yesterday.
“To lead in a multiracial and multifaith society, an individual must understand their differences and know the proper approach.”
Among the benefits that he foresaw from the bid included practical lessons for Muslims on how to interact with followers of other religions in the harmonious and tolerant manner advocated in Islam.
Mohd Asri said it would also help reduce religious misunderstandings in the country, and prevent those with religious qualifications from being “defensive” and instead open to mingling with those of other creeds.
The move could also be a platform to proselytise the religion to non-Muslims and for the group to more closely understand the lives of the Muslims faithful.
But the final point is the one that will likely see his suggestion gain little traction with the non-Muslim community, which has already baulked at what they perceive to be increasingly Islamic overtones in national schools.
Vernacular schools continue to grow in popularity here in Malaysia, with an increasing number of non-Malay parents preferring to send their children to Mandarin- and Tamil-language schools over the Malay-language national schools.
A former minister noted that the preference may not be due solely to language or communal preferences, and instead pointed to a creeping “Arabification” of national schools to explain the apparent aversion.
“Majority of Chinese will send children to national school if it’s national and not Arabic,” Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said on Twitter last year.
Malaysia is a country of diverse races and religions that portrays itself as a harmonious country.
But recent ethnic and religious tensions have belied peaceful, moderate and tolerant image that the country has sought to inculcate.