Secular Subjects within a Religious Framework: Integrated Islamic Schools in Indonesia

Analysis, posted 10.18.2011, from Indonesia, in:
Secular Subjects within a Religious Framework: Integrated Islamic Schools in Indonesia (Photo: Qantara.de)

Integrated Islamic schools are one of the fastest growing trends in Islamic education in post-Suharto Indonesia. As a result of expanded religious freedoms and local fervour for the global revival of Islam, a new market for Islamic schooling – largely among the middle and upper-middle classes – has emerged. It is estimated that there are now over 1000 of these primary and secondary integrated Islamic schools in Indonesia and nearly as many integrated preschools and kindergartens. The majority of these schools have been established in the last fifteen years.

In the past, Muslim parents of higher socio-economic status generally sent their children to the top public schools, international schools, or even Catholic schools that maintained high academic standards. But integrated Islamic schools now are among the top performing schools in their communities. These integrated schools provide academic excellence – perceived to be generally lacking in other kinds of Islamic schools such as pesantren, madrasah and Muhammadiyah schools – and robust religious instruction, which is legally restricted in state-run general schools.

They aim to provide students with the Islamic character and intellectual skills needed to navigate the modern world, equipping them to participate successfully in the global economy while avoiding the perceived pitfalls of western culture.

The name, 'Integrated Islamic Schools' highlights the movement's driving ideology, namely to address what the movement believes is an unnatural separation of secular and religious knowledge. Secular subjects are taught within an Islamic framework and the Qur'an is used as the ultimate source of knowledge.

For example, in science class the theory of evolution is taught according to the national curriculum and then the creation of Adam and Eve, as related in the Qur'an, is presented as the true genesis of humankind. Arabic and reading of the Qur'an are taught in addition to general religious instruction classes. Students are expected to not only understand but also internalise Islamic values, becoming pious and committed Muslims. Islam is extolled as a way of life, not simply a subject to study or a set of rituals and practices.

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By Karen Bryner

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