COMMENT | The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) has followed the debate on the khat calligraphy issue.
We note that the Education Ministry plans to introduce khat as part of the Year Four Bahasa Malaysia subject syllabus next year in 2020.
At the moment, khat comprises six out of 164 pages. It is also proposed to be introduced in the vernacular schools. The MCCBCHST also notes the concerns raised by various stakeholders, some of which are clearly legitimate.
The MCCBCHST therefore calls upon the Education Ministry to postpone the scheduled implementation of khat until all concerns raised are addressed.
Bahasa Malaysia is a compulsory paper for students. It is in the Romanised script.
Thus, it is uncertain how the ministry has given assurance that khat will not be an examination paper, since Bahasa Malaysia is a compulsory paper.
Moreover, assurances, however well, will remain assurances unless there is a law passed to cover them.
What is khat?
Khat is Arabic calligraphy which is closely tied with Islam and the Holy Al-Quran.
“Seni khat atau kaligrafi merupakan sejenis Seni Islam yang banyak mempengaruhi kesenian Melayu. Kesenian Khat merupakan kesenian yang paling rapat dengan citarasa keislaman kerana seni Khat mengunakan ayat-ayat Al-Quran atau hadis-hadis Nabi bagi membuat ukuran atau tulisannya”. (The art of khat, or calligraphy, is a type of Islamic art that has strongly influenced Malay art. Khat is an art form that is most close to Islamic tastes, because khat uses Quranic sentences or the prophet’s hadiths to make measurements and for its writings.)
- Ismail Hamid, Masyarakat dan Budaya Melayu (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur 1988).
“Calligraphy is one of the most prominent arts since that time (that is advent of Islam) and it is considered to be part and parcel of the Quran. Therefore, the Islamic calligraphy is used to decorate mosques as well as other sacred places such as palaces, shrines, schools and other Islamic buildings…”
- Ahmed Abdulkhadim Crimsh, in his thesis paper for degree of Master of Arts under the heading “Analysis of the calligraphy”.
Thus, khat is Arabic calligraphy and Islamic in nature. It is not part of the Bahasa Malaysia language per se. For khat to be taught in the Bahasa Malaysia subject, the medium will have to be Jawi script.
Khat as part of Bahasa Malaysia?
The Education Ministry is proposing including khat in the compulsory Bahasa Malaysia paper. Khat is not language. Thus, its inclusion in the Bahasa Malaysia paper raises questions about motive.
Further, khat will have to be taught using the Jawi script. We also know that our national language is Bahasa Malaysia and not Jawi, and thus it again raises question of motive.
The Education Ministry’s argument that khat has been an integral part of Malaysia’s identity is not supported by history. Bahasa Malaysia is an integral part of Malaysia’s identity, but not the Jawi script, which has not been in the mainstream even for Malays for at least the last 50 years.
The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Religious Affairs Mujahid Yusof Rawa was reported by Malaysiakini on Aug 3 under the heading “Let's support Jawi for the sake of our nation”, as saying:
“After all what is learning khat Jawi if by learning it, we learn our culture, our heritage, history and our pride as Malaysians?” Thus, the minister tacitly admits that khat resonates with Jawi.
Malaysia had adopted Bahasa Malaysia in the Romanised version as the national language. It is now a concern to many that Jawi is being advanced as being part of an integral part of Malaysia.
Khat as an Arts subject
The argument of the Education Ministry that khat is an integral part of Malaysia’s identity has been shown to be inaccurate. Khat is Arabic calligraphy and has never been part of Malaysia’s identity but is an Islamic identity.
Amongst the Rukunegara objectives is “untuk membentuk satu sikap yang liberal terhadap tradisi kebudayaan yang kaya dan berbagai-bagai corak” (to shape a liberal approach towards rich and diverse cultural traditions). Thus, the recognition of diverse cultures is specifically mentioned in it.
In view of the above, it will be more prudent to include khat calligraphy in the Arts subject. Here it can be taught as an art which is what it is, and other calligraphy of other races included.
The Education Ministry’s further argument that khat calligraphy appears on stamps, et cetera, is irrelevant. No one has ever objected to it and it is a different issue altogether.
Does khat contravene Article 12(3)?
It has been shown above that Khat is Arabic calligraphy. It is closely related to Islam and uses “ayat-ayat Al-Quran atau hadis-hadis Nabi bagi membuat ukuran atas tulisannya” (uses Quranic sentences or the prophet’s hadiths to make measurements and for its writings).
This means that khat calligraphy will use holy verses from the Al-Quran in its teaching. This may mean receiving instruction in a religion other than the students’ own. Article 12(3) of the Federal Constitution provides:
“(3) No person shall be required to receive instruction in or take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion other than his own”. Therefore, teaching of khat in the form now proposed may contravene Article 12(3).
The MCCBCHST is of the view that:
- Khat is Arabic calligraphy and not suitable to be included in the Bahasa Malaysia paper. It should not be made compulsory for all.
- It can be taught as an Arts subject in schools.
- Khat can be made compulsory in the Bahasa Agama paper for the Muslims.
- Khat, if included in Bahasa Malaysia paper, may infringe on the constitutional rights of non-Muslims under Article 12(3) in exposing them to another religion.
In conclusion, we call on the Education Ministry to draw up programmes that will unite Malaysians and not divide them.
At this critical juncture, there are more important issues to be tackled. We should be preparing students for the 21st century, which will be very competitive. Science and technology will play an important role.
Our neighbouring countries are introducing computer programming language to their young children, and we should raise the standard of Bahasa Malaysia while not forgetting at the same time the importance of English. This is the type of change the Harapan manifesto had promised and which should be initiated.
The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) is a non-profit interfaith organisation formed in 1983.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.