08/09/2019, 14.11
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Authorities backtrack: Arabic calligraphy becomes elective

Pupils in Tamil and Mandarin schools can choose to study Khatt. The Education Ministry wanted to make it compulsory in elementary schools. Critics had accused the government of trying to "Islamise" education. Identity policies play an important role in the country.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Malaysian authorities have backtracked on making Khatt calligraphy compulsory in elementary schools. It will be an elective 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, Malaysia’s Education Ministry announced its about-face yesterday. The matter will not be subject to “any form of exams, tests or assessments”, said Education Minister Maszlee Malk.

In a statement, the Ministry also expressed hope that Khatt would no longer be “misrepresented” and confuse the public.

Khatt is a calligraphic form of Jawi, an Arabic-based script that was formerly the standard for writing Malay, the national language. Its introduction was met with complaints about the "Islamisation" of education.

In multiethnic Malaysia, Muslims represent more than 60 per cent of the country’s population of almost 32 million people. Public primary schools teach in English and Malay, as well as Tamil and Mandarin. The children of the country’s three largest ethnic groups can thus learn in their mother tongue.

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

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

Radical Muslims consider the term to be exclusive to Islam, and the issue has triggered violence, with targeted attacks against Christian churches and places of worship, as well as seizures and profanations of sacred books.

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