While listening to Chris Seiple of the IGE focus our attention on the role that religion can play in helping communities grow stronger in a rapidly modernizing and globalizing world or its role to create societal instability, I could not help but think of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s forthcoming State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday. What will PNoy announce on the peace processes that affect Mindanao? What will he announce as part of the agenda to reform the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, now that he has approved the law postponing the ARMM elections?
Certainly, many groups espousing a variety of issues are expecting the President to mention their advocacies. And typical of post-SONA discourses, some sectors will probably criticize the President’s speech for lack of details and specific plans.
For Muslims in the Philippines, there is an expectation that the SONA will go beyond the obligatory call for peace and development in Mindanao. To my mind, investment in education is clearly required to lay a strong foundation for peace and development in Mindanao, especially Muslim Mindanao. For instance, why isn’t government investing more in literacy for adults? If a mother is illiterate, can you expect her to raise educated children? The Magbassa Kita Foundation Inc. (MKFI) supported by the USAID is implementing the Literacy for Peace and Development (LIPAD) to help our communities find their wings to fly out of an oppressive situation. No-brainers.
Islamic Education and Peace
However, let me devote this column to an aspect of education not as well discussed or supported by government’s policymakers: the role of the madrasah or Islamic schools. First, Muslims thank the Aquino administration and the Department of Education for releasing over P250 million last week to pay for the salaries and strengthening of the madrasah and the Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) program of the public schools in Muslim communities.
It is estimated that there are between 600 and 1,000 madaris (plural of madrasah) in Mindanao with a total student population of between 60,000 and 100,000. Aside from the madaris, the DepEd has 459 public schools nationwide now offering ALIVE to Muslim students as part of their civic education.
A lot has been written about the conflict in Mindanao and how to bring about peace and development to the millions of Muslims, Christians, and Lumads who continue to suffer from poverty and powerlessness. For conflict-affected communities, the centerpiece of any administration’s strategy has been, and continues to be, the formal peace process. It is an attempt to bring about a politically negotiated settlement to the conflict in Mindanao.
We, at the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), continue to support the peace talks. We are, in fact, one of the local civil society organizations that are involved with the International Contact Group. But based on our experience, we know that there are complementary initiatives that can potentially bring about peace in Mindanao without waiting for the signing of a peace agreement. For instance, the strengthening of madrasah education is one of the ways to ensure that a culture of peace can be established that can support the gains of the peace process.
Education in the traditional madrasah focuses on Islamic values, Islamic religion, and the Arabic language. The madrasah system is a highly valued tradition that is instrumental in the preservation of Islamic religion and culture. The madrasah tradition is considered vital for the Muslim community. It is both an educational and socio-political institution that has, since its founding, kept the Muslim community united in their faith.
Its significance is highlighted by the fact that the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) guaranteed state support for Islamic education.
There are several types of madaris. Traditional or Weekend Madrasah refers to classes that are held on weekends (Saturdays and Sundays) only or on days agreed upon by the teachers and students. There is no formal curriculum, hence it is non-graded and may have multi-age groupings. The students in this type of madrasah are also likely the students enrolled in public schools.
The formal madrasah offers hierarchically structured education and sequential learning generally attuned with the formal education system and offers kindergarten, primary, and secondary education. As former Education Undersecretary Monaros Boransing noted, most traditional and formal madaris are not recognized by the Department of Education (DepEd) if their curriculum is not compliant with the government’s national educational system. As such they are outside the formal system of national education, and not subject to government supervision and control.
Thankfully, government (national and ARMM) and the madaris administrators have been collaborating on the development of the Integrated Madrasah, which offers the public school curriculum as add-on to Islamic religious subjects and Arabic.
Despite the initial steps taken to encourage development of the madrasah system in the country, many challenges remain. The madaris continue to grapple with poor curriculum and quality of instruction, inadequate facilities and inadequate funding. Financial support for the madaris has been largely non-existent and there is also minimal coordination and networking among the different groups involved in madrasah projects. Better linking between and among the different groups would avoid duplication of projects and allow organizations to build on the success of others. This has the potential of maximizing the impact of the various programs and focusing efforts, not to mention resources, on areas that require greater support.
Apart from upgrading its capabilities so that it can become part of the national education system, the madrasah can also become the heart of the community and be the center for community outreach. PCID has been working since 2004 with Muslim religious leaders to this end. We are working on capacity building for the aleemat of the Noorus Salam (Light of Peace) who teach in the madrasah to provide services to the community: health, literacy, livelihood training, peace education, civic education and interfaith dialogue.
We have worked with our aleemat to utilize the Islamic peace education module we had developed, which draws on the Qur’an and the hadith to teach about peace and rights, and responsibilities. (If a religious school does not teach about peace and responsibilities and rights, who can?)
The initiative of the PCID to engage the Muslim religious leaders allows us to build their capacity and the madrasah to help our Muslim communities find the will and the ability to deal with the many problems that confront us, to include poverty, marginalization, armed conflict, and the lure of lawlessness.
And so as President Aquino III enters the second year of his presidency, we hope that his administration can support the development and institutionalization of Madrasah education. (Under the previous administration, there was a DepEd Road Map for Upgrading Muslim Basic Education: A Comprehensive Program for the Educational Development of Filipino Muslims.)
We believe that this is an important part of any efforts to bring peace in Mindanao. It is a program that respects the cultural and religious identity of the Muslims and provides a platform for the development of a culture of peace in the region.