A gentle reminder to Malaysian educationists: A school is not an arena of proselytisation. It is a garden of liberal learning, of curious young minds, exploring. A school is not a "medan dakwah" (a platform for preaching) and "dakwah" is not a neutral word. It is a theocratically-charged term. One who studies linguistics knows the nature of language and social construction of reality.

In order for the modern Malay culture to move forward with better identity, pride, and dignity, cleanse Malay language of Arabic words, borrowed from Wahhabi ideology. Bring back the beauty of Sanskritised Malay and inject it with large doses of the language of science, strong liberalism, and altruistic post-modernity.

A school as "medan dakwah" is a madrassah. Not a public school wherein "child-centred philosophy celebrating diversity" reigns.

Forty years after the Islamisation Agenda of the Mahathir-Anwar Era, we are seeing language of theocracy colonising public schools. In fact, the process is intensifying.

Dakwah means Islamic preaching

The word "dakwah" is not neutral if one studies the connotation, denotation, discursive formation, and hegemonic foundation of it. A word is a concept, is an organic linguistic formation, and cannot be separated from its genealogy and dialectics of its usage.

From “dakwah” a constellation of words emerges: usrah, tarbiyyah, halaqah, harakah, qaeda, tabligh, shariah, ummah, and of course "jihad fisabilillah”. "Dakwah" is not a proper word to be used to denote and connote "teaching, learning, mental liberation" in a liberal multicultural nation.

Each word that comes to us has epistemology and ideology. Language can enable or disable cultures. Choose appropriate ones, for a public sphere as democratic as a school where young, curious minds reside - the young, who are at an impressionable age.

Malaysia's "Islamisation Agenda" during the 1980s Muslim Youth Movement (Abim)-PAS era saw the imperial march of Arabic words colonising the Malay mind. From word becomes flesh, becomes inscription of the mind, body, soul, and material spaces.

We must go back to the core of the Malay language, to bring back the Nusantara culture and its non-arrogant variegated meanings and manifestations. Lovely are the Sanskrit words such as anugeraha, jiwa, raga, sanubari, pekerti, budi, bakhti, et cetera lost in its current Malay usage. Arabised.

Language cannot be separated from culture. Because language is that. Therefore, we see Malays adopting Arab culture.
"Dakwah" cannot mean spreading Catholicism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, or Scientology. It must mean spreading Islam. That and only that. Ask Malaysia’s celebrated and well-protected Mumbai preacher. He would agree with what it means.

The speeches of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader with a PhD in Islamic Studies, are founded upon the language of "dakwah" and "Daulah Islamiyah". The word "Sembah Hyang", a Javanese Sanskrit word, was replaced with the Arabic word "solat”.

The mind frames "worship" differently. Replaced by the Arabic word, “sembahyang” lost its metaphysical feel and appeal. Consciousness was transported to the experience of praying in the land of Arabia. Think about this.

To do "dakwah" in schools, one would need the ideological apparatuses such as “pendakwah” and his or her “Islamic state" ethos and mission, vision, and operating principles. The concept of the Islamic “ummah”. Not a global community wherein transcultural philosophies reign. Pendakwahs work towards the goal of creating this Islamic state by whatever means necessary. Through coercion or consensus, through force, or through indoctrination.

Ultimately a teacher is not a "pendakwah" or "preacher". Good teaching is to be a "guide on the side," not "a sage on stage."

I hope the teachers and the leaders in the Education Ministry are reading Plato's Socrates before going into the classrooms. When I was little, my mother used the word "bukak posa" for breaking fast, today I hear the word "iftar". I said what is that?
Nobody knows what the language of paradise is. Perhaps Zoroastrian-Persian. Firdausi. Or Paradiso as in Dante's Divine Comedy.

At 10, I was a little star in my village "marhaban" group in Johor. I saw peace. I saw love. I saw hypocrisy as well. Religious teachers showing lust, openly. Then I started loving Sixties rock music and wanted to be a rock star!

I learnt a bit of Arabic words growing up, but mastered Gangsta JB Dialect and knew 100 slang words to be a good street kid. Growing up, I spoke English in school, Johor Malay at home, some Arabic in Ugama school, and Gangsta-JB language with friends.

"Guru" is a beautiful Sanskrit word meaning "darkness to light". "Sheikh" as in Sheikul Arqam, an Arabic word. Authoritarian.
Sastra, Seloka, Negara, Agama, Dosa, Pahala, Shurga, Neraka, Durjana, Indera, Panca, Puja… beautiful Sanskritised-Malay words. Arta, Dunia, Tapa, Mentera, Purnama, Rasa, Jiwa, Raga, Sangka Kala, Kala, Dewi, Adinda… beautiful Sanskritised-Malay words.

Laksamana, Betara, Takhta, laksana, sengketa, pancha, delima, karya, naga, suria... beautiful Sanskritised-Malay words. Capati, roti, dosa, tosei, kuey teow, chinchau, linchikang, chendol, roti John... delicious Malaysian words. Not dakwah words.
Semejid, semekut, samseng, sekel, sengal, sakat, senoneng, sial, songel, senyongyong… these are real “gangsta” Johor words.

Sorry I digressed. But still, on the beauty of Malay words.
Instead of ‘medan dakwah’

Use the gentle term “taman penyuburan ilmu di sekolah" (the garden that sows knowledge in school) rather than "medan dakwah". Less ideological. More Malaysian. Less jihadist. Have students think and use language of high tech and science of post-industrialism, infused with the spirit of discovery, inquiry, and inventive sensibility. We're not sending them to Yemen or Pakistan. Or even to Saudi Arabia, en masse.

Understandably, the word “school” as "arena for dakwah" is just a Freudian slip that came from the mind of an Islamist ideologue.

Today, while the people are hoping for a healthy democracy, the leaders are plagued with the illness of a feudal mentality. Malaysia lost 60 years of time to forge an intercultural-multicultural-liberal national mindset. It ended up in a great robbery!

Our politics breathes on racism. Education grows its seeds. Economy feeds us with it. Therefore, more violence manifests.
When I was in my primary school years in Johor Bahru, I went to English school in the morning, “ugama school” in the afternoon.

That was a great system. Separation of the worldviews. Malaysia doesn't need more dakwah teachers in schools. We need more of those well-versed in good teaching and intercultural skills.
Arabic is not a priority in Malaysian schools. English, Bahasa Melayu, and the language of scientific thinking and rationalism are.

No doubt, Arabic is a beautiful language like any other world language. But it is also today tied to modern ideology of failed theocratic and authoritarian states. Why emulate them?
We want to see Malaysian children be excellent scientific, liberal, and progressive thinkers. Not little mullahs and ayatollahs. Read the preamble of our Rukunegara.

Cultivate advanced scientific thinking

The language of cybernetics, space exploration, cryonics, genetics, robotics, blockchain technology, hyperloop, superconductivity, and C3I (Command-Control-Communications-Intelligence) is still English, rooted in Latin and perhaps some phases influenced by Islamic civilisation - the philosophical version.

The language advanced post-human science is not in Arabic or in Malay. Our schools must teach language that is vibrant, hybridising, and which opens minds. Not one that will turn you into clones of medieval tribes.

In Malaysia, you want to make the schools more religious but, in the government, even the religious rob the pilgrimage funds, the baitulmal, and money set aside for orphans.

More religion in school does not make a society more moral. More infusing of thinking skills and moral reasoning would probably do a better job. You will have a thinking and moral citizenry being developed.

Malaysia cannot afford to be turned into an Asian Turkey ruled by her version of the tyrannical Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdogan (photo). Monitor how our schools are run. We are approaching a failed state when it comes to schooling and race relations and technological advancement as well.

In 1969 I saw people in red headbands planning to run amok. They were chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). Today in 2019, I'll see the same thing. The chants of “Allahu Akbar” is louder, their presence in and out of cyberspace more viral.

Why have we not evolved? As long as our teachers are not trained in intercultural teaching and thinking, we will continue to produce racist citizens. Being a child of post-Merdeka who saw the horror of May 13, 1969 and was impacted by it in school, I am seeing today's education moving in the wrong way.

On a more humbling note of reminiscence, I am forever grateful to my teachers - Chinese, Indians, Americans too - who raised me as an educator aspiring to be worldwise. Had Tunku Abdul Rahman's, Onn Jaafar's and Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman's vision of Malaysia informed educational thinking, we would not have been in this mess.

We must make our U-turn for the sake of our children, away from Arabisation and Wahhabism.

We must radically revamp our curriculum and set straight our educational direction.

But first, our national schools are neither madrassahs, nor an Arabian desert of medan dakwah.

Opinion | Azly Rahman 
Published: 23 Dec 2018, 7:02 am

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