Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, a professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said students sent overseas could get easily influenced by hardline ideas because their early education in Malaysia did not prepare them to think critically.

“Because we fail in our education system to inculcate critical awareness and critical thinking, our students who go to some foreign countries follow everything they hear without any critical consideration for what is feasible, what is appropriate and what is good for back home,” he told FMT.

He said the inculcation of critical awareness could be done through the teaching of the social sciences, but he alleged that the education system did not encourage the study of such subjects as much as it encouraged the applied sciences.

“We don’t emphasise the social sciences because we have become too materialistic and we think that such subjects are not good for the future of our students.”

Citing a book entitled Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection Between Violent Extremism and Education by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, he said violent extremists, whether in religious or right-wing movements, were over-represented by those who were students of the applied sciences such as engineering and medicine.

“They are not people of the arts and humanities, or of the pure sciences,” he said. “The statistics are all there, based on empirical data.

“We’re not saying that one shouldn’t study the applied sciences, but it’s important to know that those who study these subjects, just like others, might one day be hit by the desire to follow the Islamic path. But the problem with them is that they have not been taught to think critically.”

In a recent news report, the chairman of the London-based Maqasid Institute, Jasser Auda, was quoted as saying that the practice of sending students to learn about Islam in the Middle East should be stopped because they might end up with their beliefs corrupted by the political culture there.

According to Fauzi, however, it is not important where a student studies as long as he knows which elements of the foreign culture are suitable for Malaysia and which are not.

“If we say that there is bad in the Middle East, there is also bad in the West,” he said.

“What smart students will do is to take all that is good from not only the education but also the culture. And whatever is bad or negative for Malaysian society, they can avoid bringing that back.

“For example, Middle Eastern countries are not plural. They are not multicultural. In many of them, almost 90% of the people are Muslim. The question of rights and responsibilities towards non-Muslims that we get from their understanding of Islam may be different from what is suitable for us.

“This is not to say that their sources or ulama are outdated. They base their interpretations on their own local conditions. It’s our responsibility to think about what’s suitable for us in our country. That is why critical thinking and critical introspection are important. And I think it is in the Islamic spirit to give this inductive examination of society.”-FMT

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