I am a mother of seven children, five boys and two girls. Two of my children are huffaz, which means that they have completed memorization of the entire Qur’an and one is in progress of memorization. My three youngest children are being trained in Raudhatul Huffaz, a non-governmental tahfiz and tuition organization I founded in 2014. Raudhatul Huffaz currently has 53 branches nationwide including rural Sabah and Sarawak, catering to more than 987 primary level students per year. 50% of the total students are funded by the surplus income of Raudhatul Huffaz.
Raudhatul Huffaz was set up with the objective of producing future leaders inculcated with the culture of excellence and love for the Noble Qur’an. We aim to inspire children to achieve high standards, emulating the intellectual giants of the Islamic Golden Age such as Ibn Sina, Ibn Haitham and Ibn Firnas. We place great importance on both worldly and spiritual knowledge. As is evident in today’s world, an education model stressing on only one but not the other is grossly deficient and found wanting.
Tahfiz schools are very much in demand as more and more parents witness the deficiencies of a purely worldly education. This is not just a phenomenon amongst rural, ‘kampung’ folk. Many highly educated professionals today are also placing importance on Qur’an memorization and spiritual knowledge for their children. However, not everyone has access to excellent tahfiz schools. Students with poor results in primary level academics whose parents are not financially able will resort to ‘any kind of tahfiz available in the market’, totally disregarding the background of the school, without any due diligence at all. It is also well known that there are irresponsible parents with problematic children who dump their children in tahfiz schools in the hope that some ‘miracle’ will happen and their children will somehow attain model behavior.
In view of this, I am highly disturbed by the news of 3 incidences of molestation of children by the staff of tahfiz schools this year. There have been many knee-jerk reactions calling for the closure of tahfiz schools due to these incidents, overlooking the fact that there are many tahfiz schools doing valuable work for the community.
At the same time, it is crucial that we take a serious view of what has happened to these children and strive to make sure this never happens again.
In my view, the problems are manifold and can be organized in 4 levels:
- Microsystem: focusing on the child
- The safety of the child must be placed as a top priority, over-riding all other issues in this discussion. This is in line with the maqasid shariah principle of ‘preservation of life’.
- The child should be assessed on their preparedness and suitability for the hifz
- All children, regardless of what school they go to, should be taught on the concepts of safe and unsafe touch and should be briefed on what action to take should something happen to them or should they hear or witness something inappropriate happening to another child.
- Parents must take seriously any complaints or hints that something inappropriate is going on. They must never belittle what their children are reporting.
- Mesosystem: encapsulating immediate family, schools, religious institutions, peers and healthcare services.
- It is crucial that the parents of children going to tahfiz schools should have open communication channels with them, remaining as close confidantes and close friends. Parents must take detailed interest in the set up of the school, the qualifications and previous records of the teachers, and safety features of the school.
- These schools should be visited regularly by social services to check on the well being of these children in terms of physical and emotional aspects.
- These schools should also be visited regularly by fire department inspectors to ensure compliance with fire and safety regulations.
- Exosystem: involving the mass media, social welfare services, legal services and community representatives.
- At a state or federal level, we must insist on registration of all tahfiz There must no longer be any excuses as the safety of our children is paramount. A registered tahfiz school must comply with all parameters related to safety and standards.
- Tahfiz schools that do not comply with safety regulations cannot be registered and must not admit students until they do. A grace period can be set to give time for all these schools to comply. A budget should also be allocated to help make the modifications needed to meet compliance. Schools operating without registration must be reported to the authorities, for the sake of the greater good.
- A sexual offenders registry needs to be established and made public to ensure that no schools unknowingly employ staff with a history of sexual offences.
- Victims of trauma from molestation must not be left to recover without professional help. They must be monitored and counseled very closely up till adulthood and beyond to ensure that they do not fall into the vicious cycle where a former victim becomes a future perpetrator.
- Macrosystem: attitudes and ideologies of culture.
- Parents need to understand that tahfiz schools are not a rehabilitation center for bad parenting. Parents need to buck up and take parenting and discipline seriously. Tahfiz schools cannot be used as a dumping ground for parents who are at wits end about what to do with their badly behaved children.
- In the current era of rank hypersexuality with globalised unrestricted internet pornography and the rising numbers of paedophiles, tahfiz institutions, or in fact anyone involved in the care of children for that matter, need to be more aware and much better trained to screen and monitor staff as well as students. Although it is easier said than done, serious efforts need to be made to clamp down on pornography, which is causing unprecedented levels of disruption in the family institution affecting society at large. We must recognize pornography for the vile disease that it is and take drastic measures to remove this abhorrence from our society.
The hard reality is that tahfiz schools are in very high demand and mushrooming as a result. There are many excellent tahfiz institutions dedicated to raising the bar of quality education not provided by other schools. An official list of certified and registered tahfiz institutions made available to the public is much sought after. The hifz endeavor is here to stay and that, in and of itself is a blessing to our society. Rather than call for the collective closure of tahfiz institutions, serious effort needs to be made to regulate the quality and safety of this worthy struggle.
HAJAH ASRAL WIDAD AHMAD ASNAWI
Founder of Raudhatul Huffaz
Bandar Baru Bangi, Selangor