For as long as I can remember, I was born a Madrasah student. I spent my entire school years as a young girl in a system that revolved around the etiquette of Islam.
In this country, Madrasah students spark controversy. Previously known to the locals a a ‘dump’ for those who were unable to grasp academic studies (which I find is BS), Madrasah students wear distinct uniforms, highlighting the significance of Islam in our attire. On average, each Madrasah student will juggle at least 8 subjects: the conventional academic subjects and our religious studies.
Needless to say, we are ought to be a lot different than most government funded institutions. And there are a few slightly humourous things almost all Madrasah students can relate to:
1) Exam season is the pimple-inducing, binge-eating, amok-driving season for all of us.
IT IS THE WORST. Want to spot a Madrasah student? When exams are going on, try looking out for the girl or guy who’s death gripping a book written with weird foreign alphabets (It’s Arabic) on the MRT. Is he/she half crying half mouthing words you cannot even begin to decipher? Does she look like she could use an entire year of sleep? Does she look like she needs a big fat hug and bucket of cookies to drown in? Does he look WHOLEHEARTEDLYmiserable?
Most definitely a madrasah student.
2) Selective public transport partners
I don’t know what this is about, but you will never see a male madrasah student sitting next to a female madrasah student, or vice versa. This most probably relates back to how we are the constant reminder to the public of Islam. So since Islam doesn’t encourage the whole opposite sex intimacy thing, maybe we think sitting next to a madrasah girl is on a whole other level of intimacy. Sure.
The irony is, most of us don’t even care if it’s an nose-digging apek who sits next to us. It doesn’t make sense.
3) Knowing everyone from other madrasahs
Because the community is way too small, everyone knows everyone. It’s horrible most of the time because I, for one, am not one to socialise. I barely know the people from my own school, let alone the cute boy from the other Madrasah or the girl with the annoyingly ostetentatious shiny backpack that goes on the 6. 15 am Joo Koon MRT every morning. I even have a classmate who knows every person who has ever studied in a madrasah. No kidding, give her a name and she’ll drop you information you weren’t sure you wanted to know. I’m talking what his/her favourite socks are or if he/she had myspace. She is seriously creepy. And knowing that it is possible to know that much about practically everyone in a Madrasah, proves to show how tiny our little Madrasah World is.
4) Condescending looks from the public
I cannot begin to describe the amount of times I’ve been spoken to as if I were the most stupid person on earth. Once, a woman stopped me and asked for directions. I am normally buried in a book when I’m outside, so when she approached me, I was in a daze and was diligently trying to bring my brain back to the present. So instead of courteously letting me think of how I should answer her question without accidentally blurting out why I want to kill the antagonist of the story, she began flailing her arms in sign language and switching from English to Malay. Because you know, apparently I’m English illiterate and can only speak in my mother tongue.
No, dear woman, I didn’t spend an entire semester dedicated to Shakespeare while being illiterate.
5) Accused of being part of a secret society (and other ludicrous things)
I was in the debate team in school, so a lot of opportunities were offered to me whilst I was a debator. I was invited to inter-school camps, public speaking courses and finales of international debates. And I’ve been asked a lot of weird questions when I tell them I’m from a Madrasah.
“What do you study? Do you even… study?”
“Is it true you learn how to be part of Al-Qaeda in Madrasah?
“Do you know what exams are?”
And of course, the female favourite, the ever so ridiculous, “Do you shower with that on? *prods my hijaab ominously*”
To answer your very humourous though very ignorant questions: I do not shower with my headscarf on, I study about 14 subjects, No I don’t know anyone who’s from Al-Qaeda and I am highly judicious when it comes to studying and reading because I HAVE to. (see no.1). Please for the Love of God, do the same.
Sidenote: I also take the same national exams and no, my papers aren’t of lower standard than the foundation paper. God bless.
6) Most of us do not possess the typical accent
Instead of speaking with additional suffixes that have been dubbed the national slang of the country, we speak full on proper English. Well, most of the time. The odd ‘lah’ or ‘ya’ is quite a normality, though other infamous curse words are not very regularly used in Madrasah.
7) We have tiny schools
Seriously though, this one has been a hot topic for as long as I can remember. We have the tiniest schools. It’s fairly ridiculous to see a Madrasah student’s reaction to a normal government school. I bet you, 99 percent of the time I step in to a public school, I admire the place like it’s the inside of Hagia Sophia. My school doesn’t have it’s own hall for crying out loud. We have our morning assembly in front of the teachers’ room. But if there’s one thing this limited space has taught us Madrasah students is that simplicity, moderation, and gratefulness breeds success like no other. Alhamdulillah.
8) Our school is our pride
I am not one with attachment issues. I move on inconveniently quick. But the one thing I know I will feel attached to
till the day I die is my school. The amount of genuinely redundant and (most of the time) ineffective rules I have endured in a Madrasah isboundless. But the love I have for the people in it is infinite. There are my teachers, my asatizah, who never fail to show up day after day to see my disinterested face and tell me to study hard in order to help the community. My seniors who send us cute motivational texts before our exams, and my principal who almost every week tells us that boys are toxic and to never. fall. in. love.
9) FAQ from relatives who find out we’re in a Madrasah
Say I’m at a relative’s house, and the next thing I know I’m interrogated by a curious makcik/pakcik with questions that start with “Which Madrasah are you in?” and end with “Oh, so you want to be a religious teacher when you grow up!”
Nice one Pakcik.
Now not only am I going to mentally decapitate you, but my Biology finals will be clouded with the vision of you and your ‘self assumed aspiring ustazah’ comment.
Listen up folks, being in a Madrasah means my parents wanted me to excel in both worlds, they wanted me to have the widest array of choices possible. I don’t bury myself in an Add Math textbook while memorising my Tafseer to be left with one career path.
So you see Pakcik, I could be your Doctor, your Textile Designer, your local Museum Curator but you know, maybe I’ll think about being a religious educator since people like you still exist.
10) We are normal
The most common testimony you hear the public saying is that Madrasah students are angels and are immune to mistakes because Islam is what they carry in their hearts and the Quran is the content of their soul. Don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of Madrasah peers who try very hard to be this. To be the perfect example of a good muslim/muslimah. But that’s it, we are all trying. Not just us madrasah students, but I believe every believer struggles with their Imaan. Iman An-Naas Yazid wa Yanqus. Every man’s imaan increases and decreases.
So next time you see a Madrasah student doing something that doesn’t live up to your vision of a perfect muslim, be kind. He is struggling just as much as you are. We all are diamonds in the rough.