Islamist infiltrations in the educational systems of more and more Southeast Asian countries is a problem. Sarah L. Handang approves the government's policy of supervising what is taught in the country’s Islamic schools. This way radicalism and extremist ideologies will not be taught to children. Filipino Muslims are used to living together with Christians.
Zamboanga (AsiaNews) – Sarah L. Handang, a Muslim educator and activist for interfaith dialogue in Zamboanga (Mindanao), southern Philippines, wants to see greater control over what is taught in Islamic schools to "protect Muslim students and the state from extremism."
Ms Handang, who spoke to AsiaNews, is a senior education supervisor in the Department of Education (DepEd) in Zamboanga, where she heads the Madrasas Educational Programme (MEP). Madrasahs are Islamic schools.
The programme, funded by the Government of the Philippines, provides a basic education standard to teachers of Arabic language and Islamic values education (ALIVE) at public and private madrasahs.
Earlier this month, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced the government would extend this programme to the whole country.
Ms Handang welcomes Secretary Lorenzana’s statement. “The MEP will be implemented through a law of the Republic, approved by the Congress and ratified by the president,” she said. Thus, the Department of Education can oversee the education of Muslim children.
For the educator, “This programme offers a unified study plan, recognised by the government, which will be implemented in all the schools of the country, public and private, attended by Muslim students."
“By adopting the same study plan, schools will no longer contribute to radicalisation and the teaching of extremist ideologies to children. If they do not comply with the provisions, they will be closed immediately. Thus, the MEP is a tool to protect Muslim students and the state."
During the months that followed the seizure by Islamists of Marawi, many expressed concerns about the spread of extremist ideologies among the country’s minority Muslims (about 20 per cent of the Filipino population).
"This programme,” Ms Handang explains, “is partly a response to what happened in Marawi, which in the past had various traditional madrassas that did not adopt a specific programme, so they were free to teach anything that was imposed on them by certain groups."
In Mindanao, schools financed by Middle Eastern groups and movements are the source of most concerns. However, "Not all schools funded by foreign institutions are out of control. Most meet the requirements imposed by the authorities and the DepEd. Many foreign foundations have agreed with the government assistance programmes for children, especially the victims of the siege.”
"Even if there are organisations that are not transparent, one cannot generalise. This is why it is necessary to adopt the MEP as soon as possible, because it provides the authority and the tools necessary to counter extremism and ignorance."
"The programme,” Ms Handang notes, “is really useful and important for the development of the educational values of every Muslim child. There is no possibility that it will fail. With its implementation, we will be able to raise new generations who will respect Islamic teachings and be Filipino citizens."
More and more countries in Southeast Asia are subject to Islamist infiltration in the educational system. In Indonesia, the most populous Islamic nation in the world, the government is engaged in a difficult campaign against jihadism in institutions of higher learning.
For Ms Handang, however, this is not likely to happen in the Philippines. "Ours is a different culture. Our nation was colonised by the Spaniards for centuries. This allowed the Muslim minority to learn to coexist with our Christian brothers and sisters, without challenging their faith."
"I am convinced that the strong spirit of adaptation and patience of the Filipino people will protect the country. There are groups that intend to divide our society, but Filipino Muslims are accustomed to peaceful coexistence with other religions,” she added.
"Interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding are strong and will play an even more central role in our educational programmes.” (PF)