What do you get when you plant a seed of spirituality in academic soil, and then add water?
At the “eco-Islamic” Idrissi International School, you get a Muslim who lives on Earth, aware that it all belongs to the Creator, so he’d better take care of it.
While this may not be the usual image of today’s Muslims, it should be; and this is what the English-medium school, based in Setia Alam, Shah Alam, Selangor, aims for.
How? By mixing the academic, Islamic and environmental into a cohesive education system that has one foot in this life and another in the hereafter.
As one of the school’s founders and House Director, Datin Paduka Zaliza Alias, said: “The purpose of education is to get the students ready not just for their future here (on Earth) but also to be ready for the hereafter. We do it full-heartedly; from the managers, the teachers, even the school guards.
“This is very important because in order for children to grow, they must be in the right environment. The environment they are in shapes them. This will reflect their relationship with people, with nature, and with God.”
Speaking of the environment, the school’s surroundings at Setia Alam (and the adjacent Setia Eco Park) is one of lush green landscaping with mini lakes.
Students at the primary school leave their shoes outside when they enter the building and walk/run around barefoot, just like home. And there’s a school garden, where students not only grow plants, but raise goats and chickens, too.
So Idrissi students learn how to plant?
“It is not about teaching them (just) to plant,” Zaliza explained. “It is about teaching them to appreciate plants, to know where our food comes from. Believe it or not, many children are not able to identify different types of vegetables. However, by learning to plant, they are able to do so. “Knowing where vegetables or food come from actually teaches the students that everything on Earth doesn’t just exist and that there is a Creator for everything. And He puts us here on Earth complete with tools, including the (precious) soil, for us to live and grow,” she said.
The school sends its students out on nature-related school trips every alternate month. “These trips basically allow students to experience nature first hand. We had one to Janda Baik (Pahang), and the students experienced river trekking, fishing, and outdoor cooking,” said Zaliza.
When they are not in the “wild”, students have more structured programmes, such as the compulsory “eco scouts” programme. They have certain expectations or targets to get awards and the environment-related activities include backwoods cooking, nature collection, photography, orienteering (finding your way in the outdoors), and recycling craft. There is also archery, batik printing and pottery.
Are they unrealistically immersed in idyllic theory?
Zaliza explained that teachers at the school are always updated on the current eco issues, not just via social media, but by getting first-hand information from and working with groups such as Pertubuhan Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka, which is the school’s “active learning partner”) as well as Urban Hijau and Biji-Biji.
Hand-in-hand with the school’s green mind is its Islamic heart. Zaliza said: “You cannot separate the environment from Islam. The reason why we live here is to be a khalifah (caliph, or care-taker) of Earth, and the guidelines are spelled out in the Quran.”
Being focused on the environment is a tangible way to build students’ characters.
“For example, if you say ‘Help each other in taking care of the environment’, we clean a river together, collect recyclables from there, and then we have discussions about it and come up with art products from the recyclables. Then we can see that we are really helping the Earth,” she clarified.
When the Idrissi Secondary School had its soft launch in mid October, the students were surprisingly in charge.
“We want to empower the students. We call them young adults, young ladies, young men. So they were in charge of the registration, the food, and the cleaning up,” said Zaliza. “People are focusing too much on academic scores. Learning should be when students are empowered and do things and interact.”
This doing and interacting is perhaps why they have that garden, field trips and eco scouts. And there are goats too, which the primary students feed, nurture, and watch grow.
“In learning anything, it has to be a way of life. It’s not just about ‘how will this appear on my exam paper or how much will I score?’,” said Zaliza. “Real life means seeing these processes happening every day.”
The school’s goats have been multiplying.
“Can you imagine what it was like for the students when they saw goats actually give birth? It was like a real-life National Geographic episode.”
Zaliza has an insight which may be appropriate for Muslims who might care little for the environment: “If you don’t take care of the rivers in this life, how can you expect to get a river in Jannah (Heaven)?”
What students and parents say
When met at the Idrissi Secondary School, some parents and children interviewed revealed what was cool about the school.
Muhammad Naquib, 13, said: “I find it more relaxed, more calm than other schools. They don’t stress out the students on academics. It’s very relaxed, chilled out. And the teachers are nice too. They’re not the typical teachers that you find in normal schools.
His sister, Nuryn Asilah, 9, said, “I like it because my friends are nice and it’s a nice school. I like the teachers,” adding that she likes growing her own plant – the primary school has a garden or yard in which the students grow vegetables and raise goats and chickens.
“I get to recycle stuff. Like paper, plastic and other recyclable stuff. The school trips were nice and fun.”
Naquib agrees: “I really love the school trips. You also learn a few things here and there. And then you get to know your friends a bit more than you normally do in school.”
Thirteen-year old Muhammad Danish Shah said that the inviting environment and atmosphere “makes me feel excited to come to school everyday”. Not surprising when you find out that Danish learned how to ride a bicycle and overcome his fear of heights here.
“The classroom lessons are never dull … There is something about Islam that we learn everytime, too,” he said.
His sister Shaza Nur Dania, 8, said, “I like it here because they make sure that the students are happy and understand why and what we do or learn at school,” adding that one of her favourite lessons are the Design & Tech and Archery lessons.
Another student, Muhammad Hakim, 12, says: “The way they teach is so different from government schools. It’s so different and much simpler,” explaining that they teach for students to understand. “But they give a lot of homework, to make sure you understand.”
And parents seem to have a satisfaction with Idrissi and its education system.
Zailan Ismail, who came to the school with his wife and children, said, “It is very homely.”
He said that it was the best of the Islamic schools that he looked at to send his son and daughter. “Even though in terms of size, it is small, in terms of objective, in terms of the perspective of Islam, it is huge.”
Another parent, Ainul Nadziha Hanafiah, said that “They have a wholesome approach. I heard of other schools that do academic, co-curriculum and music all in one.
“But Idrissi is a school where they learn how to live. It is wholesome in the sense they have the dunia (world) and the akhirat (after-life) sorted out for them.”
If you have any environmental news or info to share, please e-mail the Star’s environment section at firstname.lastname@example.org