Academic group urges stricter vetting for compulsory varsity exams after Zakir Naik storm

Danial Dzulkifly
Dr Zakir Naik has been barred from preaching publicly here after triggering protests from non-Muslims over his racially-tinted remarks during a sermon in Kota Baru, Kelantan a few months ago. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 ― Universities should review their examination vetting processes to ensure test questions do not strain Malaysia’s interracial ties, especially compulsory papers aimed to promote ethnic harmony, the Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak) said today.

The group said the latest public debate over a question on controversial Islamic preacher Dr Zakir Naik by Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) in its recent examination on the compulsory Ethnic Relations module has opened a can of worms that runs counter to the purpose of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025.

“The Ethnic Relations module, undertaken as a compulsory module, by all undergraduates, irrespective of ethnicity and religion, must be properly and sensitively handled, in line with the objectives of the 2012 revision and, more importantly, the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025,” it said in a statement.

Mumbai-born Malaysian permanent resident Dr Zakir who is wanted by India on money laundering and terror-related charges is seen as a divisive figure by Malaysians and has been barred from preaching publicly here after triggering protests from non-Muslims over his racially-tinted remarks during a sermon in Kota Baru, Kelantan a few months ago.

Gerak noted that public and private universities have autonomy and called for responsible management of courses.

It also raised more questions after the spotlight on Dr Zakir’s inclusion in the test paper and the limited and lopsided options in the multiple choice answers provided by the examiner.

“Indeed, more unfortunate questions from the paper are now allegedly being unearthed and circulated; questions which appear to be derogatory in nature, going totally against the spirit and overall aims of the module.

“Where was the vetting system in this case? Also is this an isolated incident or are other public universities also running their modules in such an unfortunate and counterproductive manner?” Gerak asked.

It said the way the question was structured, along with its “narrow answers” clearly indicate the subjective and extremely biased view of the examiner.

The examination question at UniMAP read: “Zakir Naik is one of the icons of the Islamic world, he is very active in spreading true Islam and following the Quran and Sunnah of Rasulullah SAW. He is able to reason and to answer every question that is asked to him. However, in Malaysia, he is no longer allowed to deliver his preaching. In your opinion, as a Malaysian, why does it happen?”

The answers provided were: (1) Malaysians do not bother; (2) Sensitive Malaysians feel threatened for no reason; (3) Malaysians are normally submissive without any reason; (4) Malaysians are ignorant about their own religions.

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