Archive for August, 2012






I’m greatly heartened by the Prime Minister’s call to include English Literature in the school curriculum.

Being a firm believer in the adage “Reading maketh a man” and a long-time advocate of English language and literature, I truly hope that the Education Blueprint which will be revealed shortly will confirm the (re)introduction of  literature as a component of the English curriculum.

To allay the fears of students, teachers and parents who think that English Literature comprises only the classics of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Wordsworth and Lawrence,  perhaps what needs to be clarified is that the field is much wider than just these well-known authors, poets and playwrights.

Perhaps “Literature in English” or “Readings in English” are better terms to use, as they can be extended to include all kinds of writings in English be they by British, American, African, Chinese or Commonwealth authors and poets. There are many commendable works by writers and poets who are not British or Americans, including those from India and Malaysia.

Both classics and contemporary works can be included as well as the more modern genres like newspaper reports and feature articles. Both complete works or abridged editions can be used depending on the language proficiency of the students and the teachers who teach them.

What needs to be systematically done is to list and categorise the works in terms of their themes, subject matter and levels of linguistic complexity. Schools can be given a choice as to which novel, play or collection of poems and articles they prefer. At the lowest levels, fairy tales and Enid Blyton can be part of the collection.

I would like to suggest that rather than introduce Literature/ Readings in English as a stand-alone subject, it should be incorporated into the greater English Language curriculum. A practical approach would be to add two extra periods where teachers and students are exposed to a variety of narratives, writing styles and genres using a wide range of vocabulary.

Classroom methodology can include reading aloud, pronunciation drills, dictation, role play, writing summaries and book reports, identifying quotations and interesting idioms and turns of phrase. Films and recordings can be presented to motivate both the teachers and students and sustain their interest. Assessment of learning can be in the form of individual or group projects and/ or answering subjective questions in the relevant section of the English Language test/ examination paper.

Without being utterly boring and harping on the good old days when people of my generation learned and loved the English Language through English Literature, I would like to assert that any extra reading especially of good writings, will only enhance one’s capacity to use the language well and to communicate effectively whether passively (in reading and listening) or actively  (in writing and speaking).





Was it only just the fast began?
So full of promise the hate will end;
With festive joys fast drawing near
So full of forgiveness filled with cheer.

But not for long the dreams of peace
So full of hope the war will cease;
For human memory with so much space
So full of thought but little grace.

No wonder then we yearn for years
When there was time to stand and stare,
With space for castles in the air,
When life was bare but filled with care,
With friends for real and friendships fair.

No wonder then the tears and fears
The fast will end, the feast will cease;
For human thought so quick to change
So filled with transience, so full of range.
No wonder then we yearn for peace!

Halimah Mohd Said
18 August 2012





The state of


high heaven


MEDIA talk and internet postings in this month of abstinence inspire me to tread the realm of religion publicly, much against my better judgment and that of those holier than me. But then I thought – why not? I have as much right as anyone else to introspect my faith and beliefs in this holy month and at any other time.

Some of my thoughts are whimsical and heavenly; some pragmatic and practical; a few sceptical and cynical. Reflections upon reflections on faith and religion by a puny mortal.

Like most people, I would like to go to heaven when I die. I often think I will. I try to lead a decent and honest life, to be helpful and charitable, and avoid doing harm to others. I regularly say my prayers too, and seek the Almighty’s grace and mercy.

However, the heaven that I’m aspiring to is not the one described in the holy books as overflowing with milk and honey, and filled with beautiful maidens. The heaven I envisage is a spiritual space of perfect peace and quiet, far from the maddening crowd.

Strangely, in its state of eternal tranquillity, I think my spirit will look at the world and my loved ones and feel so sad. I think of my soul as a thinking and an emotional one, like the mind and body I would have left behind.

Religion is not an easy subject to grasp and no one can claim to know it absolutely. More so, if the holy book is in a foreign language and you struggle to understand its vicissitude of meanings. More so, if its stories are allegorical, its analogies historically contextual and its images contextually socio-cultural.

We can only take from the ancient scripts what we understand within the limits of our own mental, emotional, intellectual and even physical capacities. A lot of things escape us because we were not there to experience the experiences, and we have not reached the state of high heaven in the here and now.

While it has become fashionable to inject our daily language with the holy words of a foreign language, and our daily attire with the religious uniformity of another culture, there must be room for private space where believers are free to experience our own spirituality without being judged by those purportedly holier than us.

There must be room to imbibe the meanings at a level that we understand. There must be accommodation of one another’s levels of understanding without the element of judgment creeping in. The rituals of prayer, for instance, unite the spiritual at a physical level. Young children and the less literate learn to accept its discipline although its language and meanings escape them.

At the verbal level, if we use the words sembahyang (prayers) instead of solat, and buka puasa (break fast) instead of iftar, it should not imply that we are less spiritual in the performance of these activities, or vice versa.

The danger in the linguistic world, as in the spiritual, is that words and concepts become moribund or die out if we don’t use them regularly. The words in Malay will eventually be replaced by the Arabic words which are claimed to be more afdal (better). The same goes in the fashion arena, where Arabic fashion is touted to be holier.

Then I’m reminded of the concept of charity. In the month of fasting, charity becomes heavily associated with food and feeding – all quite logical in the development of religious obligations. Where there are orphans, widows and the poor, feeding them becomes a social obligation and charity becomes easily translatable into the physical gesture of giving food.

Thus, the word charity assumes a literal meaning and manifests itself in the continuous doling out of food to orphans and the poor by private and public sponsors – paradoxically contradicting the very principles of abstinence and frugality. Perhaps we should be urged to give them more of our time and attention.

I’m also intrigued by a TV show where the panel articulately discussed the concept of religion in the Federal Constitution, and eloquently distinguished between “official religion” and “religion of the Federation” in the context of the Malaysian nation state.

It was pointed out that no where is the word “secular state” or “official religion” used in the constitution, and that while democratic principles underscore the Malaysian system of government, no where is the word “democracy” actually used. All intriguing points to be researched for another time.

August 2012