My niece was just returning from school when my husband and I came to visit her in my hometown of Bandung, West Java.
“I just learned Tepuk Anak Saleh (Pious Child Handclap) at school. Wanna see?” the then 5 year-old, who studied in an Islamic kindergarten, asked us.
Sure, I said. I was expecting something like the Girl Scout clap we learned at school, but this one apparently has quite an ‘edgy’ ending.
It started out tame, with her clapping and chanting about how pious children must respect teachers, pray regularly, and all that jazz. All of a sudden, she threw punches in the air and shouted, “Cinta Islam sampai mati. Laa ilaaha illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah (Loving Islam to death. There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah).”
I was stunned. My husband, on the other hand, was very amused. “It’s like seeing a little jihadi,” he chuckled.
“Do it again, I’ll videotape you,” he told my niece, who happily obliged to my dismay.
That little performance left me disturbed. I had read with concern how radicalism has entered high school and university in the country through religious class and extracurricular activities, but not as early as kindergarten, surely? Or was the kindergarten that my niece went to an exception? Did I read too much into it?
But then I came across this article, and was even more shocked. It said that the Indonesian Commission for Children Protection (KPAI) had urged the government to contain the spread of religious radicalism in schools.
The Commission said that such indoctrination has started from kindergarten, where the children are taught that people of different faiths are the enemies that can be fought. The KPAI even received a complaint from a parent in Greater Jakarta area, who pulled his kid out of a kindergarten because the child went home and said that it was okay to kill people of different religion.
Similar troubling stories came from my friends. One decided to move her daughter from an elite school in South Jakarta because the Little Miss Sunshine has turned into Little Miss Bigot. Another friend had a long talk about religious tolerance with her son after the latter saw a photo of a church and said ‘yike.’
This doesn’t mean that the proliferative Islamic schools in the country are all teaching religious radicalism. Many are doing a great job in teaching morality and good behavior. But there are others that, while not as indoctrinating as the aforementioned, don’t seem to set their priorities right.
My husband and I were both amused and baffled seeing the report card of another niece, who goes to an Islamic pre-school. Yes, not even kindergarten yet. It has a really long checklist that includes “reciting a prayer before/after activities”, “listening solemnly to the call for prayers”, “answering the call for prayer,” “pray solemnly” and so on.
Moreover, there is a school trip to perform the haj pilgrimage ritual simulation, which costs quite a lot for the trip and the required outfit (my maid, who has a kid in kindergarten, complained that the costly trip made her son tired and cranky).
It seems that the religious teaching in school focuses more on the ceremonial side than the emphasis on good behavior, respect and other universal moral values. Why not teaching them good hygiene and sanitation, including throwing the thrash at the bin instead of on the street? Isn’t cleanliness part of the Islamic faith?
Or better yet, how about developing patience, humility, generosity, compassion, tolerance and other virtues, so that they grow up to be better people than the ones currently making up of our society, which is corroded by self-righteousness, greed, lack of empathy and a me-me-me attitude?
Meanwhile, my niece, the clapping pious kid, is currently a second grader in an Islamic elementary school. When I saw her recently, she showed off her brand new, shiny golden Quran.
“Where’s the translation?” I asked.
“No translation, just that,” she replied.
“Do you understand the words? Have you learned Arabic?”
“No. But I can read it.”
“Yes, but what’s the point? I’ll get you the one with the translation, OK? You have to understand the meaning,” I said, unleashing the bitchy childless aunt mode to a petulant 7 year-old whose bubble has just been burst.
But I couldn’t care less. I made a mental note to include books about tolerance along with the translated Holy Book to give to her.
About Innes Jarmes
Innes Jarmes is the Travoltified name of this writer. She’s a regular office employee who holds on to the principle that “religion is like a penis. It’s fine to have one and be proud of it, but please don't whip it out in public and start waving it around... and PLEASE don't try to shove it down my child's throat."