Lessons from tahfiz fires, no compromise on safety

29 Sep 2023 09:07am
Photo for illustrative purposes only. FILE PIX
Photo for illustrative purposes only. FILE PIX
A
A
A

KUALA LUMPUR - Drawing lessons from past fires at tahfiz centres, experts said they are often forgotten with the passage of time.

Last July, a hostel of a tahfiz school which was occupied by 20 male students in Kampung Medan, Teluk Panglima Garang in Kuala Langat, was destroyed in a fire. Although the tahfiz school is registered with the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS), such incidents have once again occurred.

Experts said strengthening the governance of private tahfiz centres, which had been mushrooming across the nation over the years, is crucial especially in this age of digital transformation.

It is estimated that 1,000 of private tahfiz centres are unregistered nationwide, while in Selangor alone, 800 are also not registered, causing Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah to direct all tahfiz schools in the state to be registered through a ‘whitening’ programme of tahfiz institutions.

But what’s worrying is that the state continues to be plagued with the growing number of unregistered tahfiz centres despite various initiatives to improve the registration guidelines under the programme.

Since 2019, the state government had taken proactive measures through the whitening programme guidelines which were approved at the Selangor State Planning Committee Meeting in December 2020.

The guidelines for tahfiz schools in Selangor were enforced on Jan 1, 2021 to ensure the safety and well-being of the students and staff, in light of the fire at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz Centre in Kampung Datuk Keramat here that claimed 23 lives in 2017.

However, there appears to be no end in sight to resolving the unregistered tahfiz issue, said experts interviewed by Bernama, noting that the guidelines, which were considered ‘stringent’ by the owners, should be further fine-tuned.

Related Articles:

SIMPLIFYING REGISTRATION PROCESS

A Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Quranic and Sunnah Studies, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM) Dr Zainora Daud told Bernama, the terms, standards and guidelines stipulated may be difficult for the owners to register their premises.

"For example, the costs of obtaining approval for planning and development plans that are endorsed by the PBT (local authority) are high; how are they able to register as most private tahfiz centres were set up on an individual’s initiative or based on community funds, hence, their financial resources are not solid.

"As such, the relevant parties’ engagement in addressing the issue is crucial. For example, in Selangor, tahfiz centres in Selangor are far more active than other states, including their associations, and as such, this whitening (registration) process should be simplified,” she added.

Persatuan Institusi Tahfiz Al-Quran Negeri Selangor (Pitas) chairman Muhamad Hafiz Muhamad Haneefa also stressed on the importance of improving the guidelines under the tahfiz whitening programme to ensure the survival of existing tahfiz or private religious schools in Selangor.

At present, several parties including JAIS and PBTs are in the process of simplifying the existing guidelines for the owners to register their premises.

Among the improvements, tahfiz centres are required to have at least basic safety features including ladders as well as fire extinguishers that are easily accessible and highly visible.

"The guidelines (for the improved whitening programme on registration) are now being finalised and are expected to be submitted to the state government the latest by early next year.

"We hope that starting next year, all tahfiz centres can start registering their premises,” he said, noting that PITAS is also directly involved in the whitening programme.

EMPOWERING TAHFIZ INSTITUTIONS

Commenting on the issue, the state executive councillor (exco) for Islamic Affairs, halal industry, infrastructure, science, technology and innovation, Dr Mohammad Fahmi Ngah, told Bernama, the state government remains committed in efforts to helping private religious institutions register and continue to operate in the state.

In fact, he gave his assurance that the state government will continue with the whitening process of tahfiz centres to ensure they comply with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) as well as the terms provided for to protect the students’ lives.

At the same time, parents should be cautious and not put their children at risk by ensuring the tahfiz centres are registered with JAIS to avoid any untoward incident from taking place.

"We will ensure all these institutions are registered to facilitate monitoring and channelling of funds. If they are not registered, problems could arise and we understand the concept of doing business, low on cost but quick on returns,” said Mohammad Fahmi, who was appointed on Aug 21 after winning the Seri Setia state seat in the Selangor state election recently.

The whitening process should be viewed in a positive light to empower tahfiz institutions in Malaysia as they are not meant to curb dakwah activities or to close down any tahfiz centres as alleged by certain quarters.

Earlier, speculations were rife that 200 tahfiz schools in the state were being ordered to close, but they were denied by the state government, describing the claims as baseless, adding that the Selangor Sultan wanted all tahfiz schools to provide a safe learning environment for the students.

According to Zainora, the effort should be in line with the National Tahfiz Education Policy, which requires the involvement of all parties in addressing the issue as well as the current challenges related to tahfiz education given that safety has been identified as crucial in addressing the unregistered tahfiz issue.

"Given that safety is among the key issues. We want tahfiz owners to be responsible by providing a comfortable and safe environment at their premises as most of them operate at shophouses, agro sites or remote areas,” said Zainora, noting that tahfiz students should not be taken advantage of by any party for collecting donations.

DUMPING GROUND FOR PROBLEMATIC STUDENTS

Meanwhile, Secretary General of the Muslim Students Association of Selangor (PEPIAS) Nabil Nur Akmal said, besides focusing on tahfiz whitening programme, a guideline on the intake of students in tahfiz or private religious schools should be drawn up.

This, he said, is to change people’s negative perception towards such institutions as a place for problematic students alone.

"Among the components that can be used as guidelines are intellectual potential, physical wellbeing and behaviour of students, in line with the National Education Philosophy which is still being referred to till today.

"The state government should also call on private tahfiz centres and religious schools to apply for accreditation for their teachers, while the authorities should also monitor the syllabus to prevent from aqidah (faith) deviation,” he said. - BERNAMA