As punishment for starting a fire at the Kampong Siglap Mosque, a Singapore juvenile court sent a fourteen year Muslim boy to a religious welfare home for two years. While the incident is an aberration in an otherwise calm Singapore, a few facts about the case deserve further exploration.
What prompts a civil juvenile court to send the boy to a religious welfare home, the Muhammidiyah Welfare Home? Surely, judges must take a practical view while determining sentences. Reform, when achievable, not punishment is the objective of the judicial system. One can appreciate that the boy is Muslim by birth and the Malay community wishes to resolve the matter 'internally.'
However, it seems that the culprit requires psychological treatment more than religious lectures.
For someone to burn a mosque, or any establishment for that matter, requires great animosity. Arson is not normal behaviour.
According to the Straits Times, the parents of the teenager are both religious teachers. Additionally, the teen has a below-average IQ of 50. The article states, "The next day, frustrated with how his father had berated him for being stupid and unable to memorize the Quran, he ... set two books on fire [in the mosque] with a cigarette lighter."
Unfortunately, Islamic education obsesses with rote memorization of the Koran. Memorization is standard fare at madressas. A 'Hafiz,' or an individual who can recite the entire Koran from memory, are highly revered Muslims.
Undoubtedly, memorizing the Koran is a noble undertaking. However, it makes more sense to understand the content and message of the Koran rather than memorizing misunderstood (or not understood at all) verses.
The Koran is in Arabic. Non-Arabic speakers cannot get closer to the Koran's message by committing the sounds of an alien language to memory. The idea is to create enlightened Muslims, not merely individuals who can recite the Koran on demand (in a foreign language).
An Islamic Madressa in Aurangabad, India
We are all humans, but one naturally expects higher standards from religious teachers; especially in a religion where the concept of 'Sabr' is an integral part of the faith. Muslims endeavour to make Sabr or patience an essential part of their character.
Thus, when a religious teacher scolds his mentally challenged son harshly something is amiss. Obviously, the resentment created by the severe reprimand was enough to motivate the boy to burn a mosque a day later.
Legal systems the world over have historically evolved from religious values. Religion provides a moral foundation for society. Religious education is as serious a matter as physics or mathematics. Degrading religious education to rote memorization insults both the religion and the student.
NB – My views are based solely on publicly available information about the incident. In case the punishment includes professional psychological counselling in addition to religious, moral education, then I stand corrected.