When I was in primary school (standard 4 or 5), an ustaz came into my class and told us that the Dettol logo was an “agenda jahat Yahudi untuk melemahkan umat Islam”. He also threw around a bunch of other stuff (such as there being a Malaysian black metal band named Sil Khannaz — and indeed there was) which emphasised to all us kids that everyone in the world was out to get us, even the Malays in Malaysia, so we weren’t safe. Even though it seems ridiculous now, at ten or eleven years old, I believed him. And I’m sure a lot of my classmates did too.
I grew out of that line of thinking eventually enough, because I’ve been fortunate and privileged enough to be able to learn from people who know better. My father was and is a very opinionated person, so I was exposed to reasoning through him from an early age. I’ve been fortunate as well to have had amazing lecturers while in teacher-training who developed my thinking and reasoning abilities. I’ve also been blessed to be given access to Youtube and all the awesome people that come with it like Phillip DeFranco, Ryan Higa, Suhaib Webb, Hamza Yusuf and the like. So it’s understandable that I was able to grow out of thinking that a cross would be able to weaken my faith.
The question that I want to pose is: how many of that ustaz’s students were not as fortunate as I was? I am aware of just how privileged I was/am to have grown with the surroundings and environment of learning that I did. I am also aware that a lot of people aren’t so privileged. A lot of people grow up at the same place and are surrounded by the same people from their childhood up to adulthood, never having the chance to expand their horizons, nor do they have any reason to do so. They can feed themselves doing what their parents did before them and watch/read/consume what the people around them consumed. With that kind of cycle, and with the belief that one or two teacher had instilled in them since they were young, did they have a chance to grow out of it?
Some might say, “la, kalau dah mengarut tu mestila dah taw mengarut!” but the thing is, schools rarely encourage students to question the authority of their teachers’ knowledge. What the teacher says is expected to be taken at face value and be accepted as gospel. Teachers frown upon students who ask too many questions, or even worse, catch them out on their bull. They are immediately labelled as “disrespectful” and “macam-macam”, brushed off as delinquents. Students respond to this and tone down their inquisition and eventually move towards becoming a person who swallows with ease. And these students grow up with accepting whatever the teacher says, taking on they teachers’ truths as their own.
This is the truest, I think, when it comes to religious matters. Society frowns upon those who a re critical towards their religion. When a person asks a question they don’t know how to answer, labels such as “sesat” and “kafir” are quick to be thrown around. So when a flyer with comic sans serif font says that “Pokemon” means “aku Yahudi”, we believe it. When a Whatsapp chain text says not to do the peace sign because that sign is the calling card for satan, we don’t do the peace sign anymore. When a book provides them with insights that are against the ones they’ve been brought up with, the book gets banned. Is it any wonder, then, that we are the way we are?
At the end of the day, in order to move forward, we have to have a sense of mutual respect for our fellow human being, whether they are of different race, religion, worldview, socio-economic status or even age. It’s about being open to being proven wrong. Not being afraid of being wrong, I have found, opens us up to so many new things in life, and for the most part, we learn so much from just admitting the fact that we might, in fact, be wrong.
But how many teachers are able to admit to their students that they might not actually know everything, and are humble about it? We learn through example, and kids are no exception. If we show to students how to be humble in our knowledge and in our awareness of our lack of knowledge, then they might pick up a thing or two from watching us be that way. Telling them to act in a certain way is one thing, actually living up to our words is an entirely different matter. It takes effort and awareness.