Malaysia is to create a new Arabic centre in response to growing student interest in Islamic studies. The centre, which will be based at the University Kebangsaan Malaysia, will act as a feeder for the Arabic-medium Islamic university that the government plans to set up later this year.
Education minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak said the centre will be akin to a reestablished Kolej Islam Malaya, an Islamic institution of higher learning that closed in January 1971. Its functions were taken over by UKM's faculty of Islamic studies.
The number of students interested in pursuing Islamic studies with Arabic as a medium of instruction is constantly increasing. There are 10,000 Malaysian students in the Middle East: 5,000 are in Egypt, 3,000 in Jordan and others in Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Libya.
With this in mind, a group of former KIM graduates are proposing the college be reestablished as a matriculation centre. The ministry is studying the proposal and according to Dr Najib, will place it before the cabinet as soon as possible for a final decision.
"Once approved, we will work towards establishing the centre as a university college within the UKM campus next year," Dr Najib added.
Fifteen members of KIM's former graduates' association, led by its central committee chairman, Datuk Dr Abdul Hamid Othman, presented Dr Najib with a memorandum at the ministry recently, proposing the reestablishment of the college. Dr Hamid is also minister in the prime minister's department.
Dr Najib said: "Many problems can arise when our students go overseas, among them a large outflow of money." It will also help establish Malaysia as a centre of excellence in the field of Islamic studies, he added.
Dr Najib hopes the institution will produce ulemas, scholars of Islamic studies who are proficient in Arabic.
The Islamic studies concept is not exclusively geared to producing clergy - graduates can choose to be lawyers or doctors albeit ones who have a thorough grounding in religious matters.
Although students from overseas will also be admitted into the matriculation centre, the priority will be given for local students.