Mahathir Takes Aim At Religious Students

IAN STEWART in Kuala Lumpur

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has provided more ammunition for his critics among the nation's religious leaders by condemning Malay students for spending too much time studying religion.

He also said their achievements were below those of non-Malays.

At the same time, he announced federal government plans to take over state-run religious schools to improve the academic achievements of their students.

This move is aimed mainly at religious schools in opposition-controlled Kelantan, where "children are taught to hate" the federal Government and the Prime Minister, according to Dr Mahathir.

The state's Parti Islam se-Malaysia Government said it would resist the move.

Conservative religious leaders who oppose Dr Mahathir's moderate approach to Islam are likely to have been similarly displeased by his remarks about Malay students whom, he said, failed their examinations because they were more interested in "religion, protests and politics" than seeking professional knowledge.

Many Malay students joined demonstrations supporting the jailed former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, earlier this year.

"We see non-Malay students achieving success because they actually learnt, while the only learning the Malay students did was to tell the Government how to run the country," he said, replying to questions after opening a meeting of the Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He said Malay students preferred Malay and religious studies, neglecting the professional courses.

"I am not anti-religion but not everyone needs to study religion in such depth," he said.  "And when these students cannot find employment later, they join the opposition and start criticising the Government."

        Published in the South China Morning Post. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.