Islamic education is perceived by many, often in ignorance, as narrowly traditionalist and even reactionary. What is ignored is that, over the past century, traditional Islamic schools have responded to modernizing influences in many positive ways. This is shown in Indonesia where such changes are of enormous consequence—Indonesia is not only the world’s largest Muslim country, it is one where over fifty thousand Islamic schools are a major stream of the national educational system.
A sterling example of a modern, socially-innovative Islamic school is Nurul Haramain Putri Narmada in West Lombok, a peripheral region where a conservative Islam is dominant and deforestation and poverty are a major challenge. A pesantren, the oldest type of school in Indonesia, Nurul Haramain was established in 1996 by a young, progressive Muslim cleric named HASANAIN JUAINI. The son of a religious teacher who ran a pesantren for boys, HASANAIN opened his own pesantren after completing his university studies.
Against a tradition that reserves education for boys, HASANAIN decided to open a girls’ school. Starting with fifty girls, he evolved a learner-centered program aimed at developing each student’s full potential. Now a pesantren of five hundred students and sixty teachers (half of them women), HASANAIN’s school offers a government-accredited five-year secondary education program. It is the first in Lombok to achieve 100 percent computer-based learning, where students are provided with personal computers and teaching assistants, even at night. While religion is at the core of its program, as in the traditional pesantren, the school is pluralist in orientation and stresses secular subjects like the sciences. Students are exposed to diverse learning opportunities, encouraged to think critically, and motivated to pursue higher studies. It is not surprising that the school ranks No. 9 nationwide in university entrance examinations. Yet HASANAIN says, “To be No. 9 is not the target, but how we have developed all the capabilities of the student.”
It is not just academic excellence that makes HASANAIN’s school a different kind of school. Responding to criticism that boarding schools are “ivory towers” isolated from society, HASANAIN has deliberately integrated school learning into the life of the community. While the pesantren is traditionally controlled by a single teacher, HASANAIN has built a model of community ownership through a membership system. Moreover, he has turned his school into an axis for community development. His integrated approach to education gets students and teachers involved in issues of environmental quality, livelihood enhancement, and good governance.
He initiated a social forestry project that involves the community in conserving the environment while increasing their household incomes. The project has successfully reforested a once-barren thirty-one hectare tract through a scheme in which families, motivated by a grant of livestock for short-term needs, are allotted a hectare each for them to plant, nurture, and eventually harvest trees according to a clear business plan. HASANAIN further believes that schools have a role in promoting citizen participation in local governance. Thus, he organized representatives from 130 pesantrens in his district into a Coalition of Pesantrens against Corruption, to lobby for reforms and hold public officials accountable. He has himself been a vocal advocate on issues pertaining to elections and the management of public funds. In his combined roles as cleric, teacher, community worker, and social entrepreneur, HASANAIN is a living example of the kind of education he preaches.
His modernizing innovations have been criticized by some. But for HASANAIN, there is no divide between teaching religion and calling public officials to account, or between running a school and getting the community to plant trees. One who teaches by his work and not just by his words, HASANAIN speaks of what he does in terms homely but wise: “Everything starts with a seed.” “Those who take must give. It’s a big sin if you take and not give.”
In electing HASANAIN JUAINI to receive the 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes his holistic, community-based approach to pesantren education in Indonesia, creatively promoting values of gender equality, religious harmony, environmental preservation, individual achievement, and civic engagement among young students and their communities.
Upon learning that I was selected for the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the first response that came to my mind was, “Oh, God! You just want me to work harder! Oh my God! I thought I have already reached the limit of what I could have contributed.”
But after seeing that other Magsaysay awardees—previous and present—have done much greater work to deserve this honor, I feel myself to be way behind them. The gap could be as far as the distance between the earth and the sky. Again, I asked myself, “What could this be?” Deep in my mind, I sincerely think that the late President Ramon Magsaysay, through the Award that he has inspired to exist, wants me to contribute more—following his footsteps in his patriotic struggles for the people of the world.
When at last the results of the Awards selection were to be officially announced, yet another question emerged: “Am I ready to accept this award?” My gratitude to Allah that I have not reached the point of insanity to refuse the award, even though I think I do not deserve it. By the way, I am thankful that this is a sweet “mistake.” I promise that I will work harder to reach, in the future, that level of contribution expected of a Magsaysay awardee.
The future promises new opportunities and requires renewed vigor. This award has strengthened and energized me to reach my goals. Together let us unite and mutually extend our help to the people of the world so that in this era of globalization, we will live in a spirit of brotherhood.
With this opportunity, I am urging everyone to set President Magsaysay’s dedication to the world as our example. To me, he is now present and whispering to me, “If I, after my death, can still do this noble work, why shouldn’t you—who are still alive—be able to do better?”
To my children in Pondok Pesantren Nurul Haramain Putri (Nurul Haramain Girls’ Islamic Boarding School) in Narmada as well as all female students in Indonesia, this award is for all of you. Keep struggling and prove to the world that without the contributions of women, the pillars of the world will collapse.