Arabic calligraphy

MALAYSIA The authorities backtrack: Arabic calligraphy becomes elective

Students in Tamil and Mandarin schools can choose to study khatt. The Ministry of Education wanted to make it compulsory in elementary schools. Critics had accused the government of trying to “Islamize” education. Identity politics play an important role in the country.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Malaysian authorities have backtracked Mandatory Khatt calligraphy in elementary schools. It will be an optional subject in Mandarin and Tamil schools.

Khatt is based on the Arabic alphabet and can be used to write the Malay language. Critics had accused the government of trying to “Islamise” education and the course would not help students improve their language skills.

After weeks of controversy, the Malaysian Ministry of Education yesterday announced its about-face. The matter will not be subject to “any form of examinations, tests or assessments”, Education Minister Maszlee Malk said.

In a statement, the ministry also expressed hope that Khat would no longer be “distorted” and confuse the public.

Khat is a calligraphic form of Jawi, an Arabic-based script that was once the standard for writing Malay, the national language. Its introduction prompted complaints about the “Islamization” of education.

In multi-ethnic Malaysia, Muslims make up more than 60% of the country’s population of nearly 32 million. Public primary schools teach in English and Malay, as well as Tamil and Mandarin. Children from the three largest ethnic groups in the country can thus learn in their mother tongue.

The boundaries between ethno-religious groups are firmly drawn and identity politics plays an important role in the decision-making process.

Christians have been the main critics of the introduction of Khatt in school curricula. For more than ten years, they have been at the center of a major controversy over the use of the word “Allah” refer to God.

Radical Muslims consider the term exclusive to Islam, and the issue has sparked violence, with targeted attacks on Christian churches and places of worship, as well as seizures and desecrations of sacred books.