Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, Special Issue, 986-992
Published Online October 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
The Closer Bridge towards Islamic Studies in Higher Education
in Malaysia and Indonesia
Abd. Rachman Assegaf1, Abd. Razak Bin Zakaria2, Abdul Muhsein Sulaiman2
1State Islamic University (UIN) Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
2Faculty of Education, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Email: ,, muhsin.sulaiman@yah
Received June 25th, 2012; revised July 28th, 2012; accepted August 14th, 2012
The transformations of Islamic higher education in Indonesia have occurred since the establishment of
STI to PTAIN, then IAIN and UIN. It has tremendous impact on the implementation of models of Islamic
studies. At early stage of development, Islamic higher education in this country tends to follow a norma-
tive-idealistic approach of Islamic studies due to the huge influences of many Middle Eastern graduates.
However, changes of Islamic studies approach come to exist when the Western graduates bring non-
scriptualistic methodologies and multidisciplinary approach in Islamic studies. If compared to Malaysia,
the two poles of Eastern or Western and Islamic or non-Islamic higher education types have been inte-
grated with the paradigm of Islamization of knowledge. Recent development indicates that Malaysian and
Indonesian universities have intensified their mutual cooperation through U to U or G to G Memorandum
of Understanding. There are several ways of encounters, namely teacher (or lecturer) and student ex-
changes, literature line, bilateral cooperation, and informal factors. With the closer link between the two
people of these countries, the bonds between Islamic studies connecting the two countries have become
Keywords: Islamic Studies; Higher Education; Malaysia; Indonesia
Debates on international linkage for Islamic studies have ini-
tiated the academic problems whether it will expand the ideol-
ogy of transnational Islam or not. Most accusations are ad-
dressed to the Middle Eastern graduates who returned to their
home country with rigid and normative-idealistic approach on
practicing Islam, while western alumni are commonly branded
as having a rational and non-scriptualistic approach. The influ-
ences of Eastern or Western outlook on Islam apparently hap-
pen in Islamic higher education in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Tendencies towards integration of revealed knowledge and
modern sciences have drawn much attention from Muslim
scholars of both countries. Islamic studies in Malaysian univer-
sities which from inception decided to implement basic formu-
lations of the World Islamic Conference held in Makkah in
1977, have internalized Islamization of knowledge. On the
other hand, Islamic higher education in Indonesia takes a more
moderate stand on Islamic studies which stand for non-di-
chotomy of knowledge while developing Islamic values in real
life. The problems arose when Islamic studies in Malay sian and
Indonesian universities have become an alternative model. This
paper tries to elaborate further on the ways Islamic studies had
become institutionalized in higher education in Malaysia and
Indonesia and how the link between the two were built through
encountering factors.
Higher Education: Institutionalized Islamic
The rise of Islamic studies in higher education in Indonesia
may not be separated from the development of STI (Sekolah
Tinggi Islam or Islamic College) that was built before Indone-
sia’s Independence in 1945. From inception, some Muslim
scholars in Masyumi gave the name for this higher education
level as STI on 27 Rajab 1364 H or 8 July 1945. The inaugura-
tion ceremony was held in the Office Building of Immigration,
Gondangdia, Jakarta. The first rector was Prof. K. H. A. Kahar
Muzakkir (Djaelani, 1982) with M. Natsir as his secretary.
When the capital city of Jakarta was moved by the Govern-
ment of Republic of Indonesia to Yogyakarta, the STI that was
established not long before had to be moved also to Yogyakarta
on 10 April 1946. Many Muslim leaders agreed to develop and
extend the roles and functions of STI to university level. In
November 1947 the committee was built to establish the Indo-
nesia Islamic University (UII) with four faculties: Faculty of
Religion, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Economics, and Faculty of
Education (Departemen Agama, 2000).
In 1950, the Government enacted a Regulation on the estab-
lishment of those two Higher Education institutions, namely:
State Higher Education for Islamic Studies (PTAIN) and Gad-
jah Mada University (UGM). PTAIN was basically formed by
amalgamation of Faculty of Religion of UII based on State
Regulation Num.034/14 August 1950 and Academy of Reli-
gious Science (Akademi DinasIlmu Agama or ADIA) based on
Ministry of Religious Affairs Decree Num. 1 year 1957/1 Janu-
ary 1957 (Sumardi, 1976; Azra, 2011). Now, PTAIN consists
of three types of institutions: UIN (State Islamic University),
IAIN (State Institute of Islamic Studies), and STAIN (National
College of Islam), and Higher Islamic Education run by private
organizations such as NU and Muhammadiyah (PTAIS or Pri-
vate Islamic Higher Education).
PTAI (Perguruan Tinggi Agama Islam or Islamic Higher
Education) is the highest educational institution in Indonesia
and is controlled by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. It has
spread throughout the country and plays a decisive role as San-
tri’s major choice of higher education. According to recent
statistical data provided by the Ministry of Religious Affairs
(MORA), Islamic Higher Education has 6 UINs, 13 IAINs, 33
STAIs, and 541 PTAISs. It could be summarized that PTAIS
has strategic position and account for more than 80% of Islamic
higher education (, 2010). This huge transfor-
mation has led Islamic higher education to carry on their
shoulders two fundamental tasks: the advancement of Muslim
intellectual discourse and the betterment of Muslims’ under-
standing of their religious practices. In other words, Islamic
higher education has undertaken both academic roles, and so
Islamic studies become institutionalized.
In the case of UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, current de-
velopment indicates that this Islamic university is implementing
a new paradigm of three pillars of Islamic studies: civilization
of text (hadharah al-nash), civilization of science (hadharah
al-ilm), and civilization of philosophy and ethics (hadharah
al-falsafahwa al-akhlaq). The complete faculties of UIN Yog-
yakarta are the following: the Faculty of Tarbiyah and Teaching
Sciences; the Faculty of Syariah and Law; the Faculty of
Ushuluddin and Social Changes; the Faculty of Adaband Hu-
manities; the Faculty of Dakwa and Communication; the Fac-
ulty of Humanity and Social Sciences; and the Faculty of Sci-
ence and Technology. Subject materials taught in this univer-
sity consist of revealed knowledge such as Tafsir (Qur’anic
Exegesis), Hadith (Prophetic Tradition), ‘ilm al-Fiqh (Islamic
Law and Jurisprudence), ‘ilm al-Kalam (Islamic Theology),
Dakwah (Islamic Propagation), Tarikh (History of Islamic
Civilization), Arabic, besides modern knowledge such as soci-
ology, philosophy, education, research methods, and so forth.
What this university meant by civilization of text (hadlarah
al-nash) is represented by revealed knowledge or classical Is-
lamic studies, while modern sciences are used as basic materi-
als for shaping the civilization of science (hadlarah al-ilm) and
civilization of philosophy and ethics (hadlarah al-falsafahwal
al-akhlaq) (Abdullah, 2003). This paradigm is well-known as
integrative and interconnectivity between religious sciences and
modern or general sciences.
In running the university, this UIN has also three pillars:
autonomy, accountability and quality assurance. Based on that
paradigm, UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta works hard to do
many things:
1) Integration of epistemology of science to eradicate the ex-
isting dichotomy between modern sciences (al-ulum al-dunya)
and religious sciences (al-ulum al-din).
2) To give moral foundation for developing science and tech-
nology (Iptek, ilmu pengetahuan dan teknologi) and enlighten
faith and obedience (Imtaq, imandantaqwa), so that the two
will run side by side.
3) To articulate Islamic teaching professionally into social
life to bridge the gap between religious norms and social so-
4) Developing research, either quantitative or qualitative, and
contribute to enhancing the quality of life of the whole commu-
nity through professional duties.
5) To give moral and spiritual foundation for national devel-
opment and achieving optimum human recourses.
6) Increasing quality in all aspects of institutions, academic
activities, managerial and physical improvements.
PTAI was established through the dedication of Middle
Eastern graduates. The development of PTAI in Indonesia
could not have been achieved without the devotional efforts of
these graduates. At the time, the model for Islamic studies in
IAIN was the tradition of universities in the Middle East, par-
ticularly Al-Azhar University (Assegaf, 2005), which put more
emphasis on a normative-idealistic approach than on anything
else (Azra, 2011). However, Islamic higher education in Indo-
nesia, although formerly “institutionally al-Azharized” is not so
today. PTAI have dualistic tendencies; some regard al-Azhar
University as supreme and others regard al-Azhar as a strategic
resource. During the Soeharto Regime, under the influence of
existing policies and agenda, PTAI transformed its structure
from being dogmatically oriented to adopting approaches to-
wards western-oriented methodologies through the effort of
western graduates. Consequently, PTAI today has a non-scrip-
tualistic character; it features not only Islamic doctoral studies,
such as theology, law, and Arabic, but also subjects integrated
with a wide spectrum of learning, which can accommodate
modern Indonesian society with a religion-oriented methodol-
ogy (Ibid).
Along with the IAIN conversion into UIN, the emphasis on
normative-idealistic style of Islamic studies which were pro-
moted by Middle Eastern alumni merged cohesively with the
renewal of western-oriented and non-scriptualistic character. It
is evident now to find Arabic text books in libraries besides
English references. The establishment of International Desk and
mutual cooperation abroad in several UINs has broadened the
spectrum of Islamic studies at the home university. Many in-
ternational forums, such as seminars and conferences were held
at the faculty and university level to strengthen ties between
universities and countries. Recent MoU had been signed by
Faculty of Tarbiyah and Teaching Sciences through university
authorities with the Faculty of Education, University of Malaya
(UM), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It seems that the joint coop-
era ti on between universitie s had crossed the boundary of Eastern
or Western countries, but also neighboring countries. The gate
to closer ties towards Islamic studies at UIN and UM is opened.
Islamic Studies in Indonesia
Historically speaking, Islam came to the Indonesian archi-
pelago long before European visitors had landed in Indonesia as
early as the 14th century. Theories on the coming of Islam in
Indonesia could be summarized into two strands: Gujarat theory
which stated that Islam had been spread to Indonesia through
the Southern part of India, by traders from Gujarat, since the
13th century (Mudzhar, 1993). However, this theory was silen-
tin explaining the process of shaping Muslim communities in
SamuderaPasai, better known as Aceh today. Before Islam was
established amongst Indonesian communities, Muslim traders
had been present for several centuries. Ricklefs (1995) identi-
fied two overlapping processes by which the Islamization of
Indonesia occurred: Indonesians either came into contact with
Islam or converted, and/or foreign Muslim Asians (Indians,
Chinese, Arabs, etc.) settled in Indonesia and mixed with local
communities. This leads to the second theory, Arab theory,
which argued that Islam is thought to have been present in In-
donesia as early as the Islamic era from the time of the third
caliph of Islam, ‘Uthman (644-656 A.D.) From the time, Is-
lamic propagation, education and studies, had begun.
According to Mahmud Yunus (1992), Islam in Indonesia was
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 987
spread through Islamic institutions such as surau (small
Mosque), Mosque, pesantren (Islamic boarding school), ma-
drasah (Islamic school), public school, and then developed in
higher educational institutions (see also Steenbrink, 1994). In
the surau and Mosque, Muslim students study the basic tenets
of Islam by reciting and memorizing The Holy Qur’an from
chapter 30 (Juz 30) popularly known as turutan, to the entire
verses of Qur’an (Yunus, 1992). While pesantren was the eld-
est Islamic educational institution, nationally rooted, and part of
Islamic studies for Indonesian students. The Pesantren educa-
tion system originated from traditional Javanese pondokan
(dormitories) with the main aim to deepen knowledge of the
Holy Qur’an, particularly through the study of Arabic, exegesis
(tafsir), the Traditions of the Prophet (Hadith), Islamic law
(fiqh), and theology (‘ilmkalam) (See Dhofier, 1994). As social
institutions, pesantren have played a ma jor role over the centu-
ries. They emphasise cores values of sincerity, simplicity, indi-
vidual autonomy, solidarity and self-control. However, pesan-
tren grew slowly after Dutch colonialisation in the archipelago.
After the establishment of public schools by the Dutch au-
thority in Indonesia in the early 19th century, madrasahwere
built and known as an alternative model of Islamic educational
institution along with its counterparts since it offered an inte-
grative approach to Islamic studies and modern sciences.
Post-Independence Day in 1945, the Ministry of Religious Af-
fairs of the Republic of Indonesia paid more attention to devel-
oping madrasah as formal Islamic schools with 30% of Islamic
studies subjects and 70% of modern sciences (Assegaf, 2005).
If compared to public schools, Islamic studies included as
obligatory subject matter which comprise of only two tracks or
80 minutes for every week class meeting for students of ele-
mentary to senior high school. Beside, in public school, Islamic
studies are designed as broad-field subject matters combining
all sub-subjects such as Arabic, exegesis (tafsir), the Traditions
of the Prophet (Hadith), Islamic law (fiqh), theology (‘ilm-
kalam), and Islamic history and civilization (tarikh). At this
point, multiple problems arise both in madrasah and schools:
on one hand for madrasah students they have to bear double
burden with the heavy 30% weightage of Islamic studies, while
on the other hand, school students were unable to comprehend
Islamic studies except in the cognitive domain. These are
amongst the reasons for 60% of the students of Islamic higher
institutions coming from madrasah graduates.
Most of madrasah graduates preferred to continue their
studies in Islamic universities because of their provision in
Arabic and Islamic studies. Only small numbers, especially
those with higher marks try to compete and enroll in public or
national universities. Islamic studies higher education institu-
tions in Indonesia are basically liberal institutes that prepare
Muslim youths to work as teachers of not only Islamic instruc-
tion at madrasahs, pesantrens and public schools, but also of
English, so cial and NGO activists, journalists, political activists,
leaders of socio-religious organizations, as well as in the de-
velopment of other Islamic institutions such as Islamic courts,
Islamic banking and others (Azra, 2011). The culmination point
of the transformation of Islamic higher education is the conver-
sion of IAIN to UIN which took place formally since 2002.
According to Azra, it should be clear that the conversion is not
based on the idea of the “Islamization of knowledge”, because
it is to large extent questionable, since all knowledge and sci-
ences are already Islamic. The conversion also shifts Islamic
studies from the normative approach to the historical, socio-
logical, and empirical approach. The normative approach tends
to neglect human socio-historical realities and Muslims are
often trapped into “spiritual satisfaction” which in turn dis-
tances Muslims from empirical situations. On the other hand,
the historical and sociological approaches provide a wide range
of analysis for the study of Islam, bringing social-historical
realities into interaction with religious experience. The phi-
losophical standpoint behind IAIN’s conversion to UIN and
changes towards the new paradigm of Islamic studies with the
core idea of integrating normative approach with modern sci-
ences has brought new orientation in curriculum, programs,
administration, management and structure of knowledge.
However, after ten years of transformation, in spite of in-
creased public interest towards Islamic studies in several UINs,
the institution itself is seen as incapable to compete with already
established national universities due to dualistic organization run
by the Government. Islamic higher education is run by the
Ministry of Religious Affairs, while public or national universi-
ties are under the Ministry of National Education. How will it
be if the national universities open Islamic studies programs in
their faculties and program studies, as happen in Malaysia?
Malaysian Experience
Since the Independence Day of Malaysia in 1957, Islamic
studies were obliged to students and included in its curriculum
with duration of 120 minutes per week. However, the Govern-
ment does not impose Islamic education as an obligation for
students to pass the examination; and as a consequence, the
students pay little attention to Islamic studies. Until 1975, more
steps were taken by the Department of Education to strengthen
Islamic education. In 1982, Prime Minister Mahathir Moham-
mad decided to perform any policies to internalize Islamic val-
ues that caused more significant consideration amongst society
as seen in the establishment of Islamic Bank, Islamic Assurance,
International Islamic University, and so forth. A year after that
policy, the Department of Education stated that moral values
should be taught for non-Muslim students, while Islamic stud-
ies would be compulsory for Muslims (Balakrishnan, 2011).
In case of higher education, Islamic studies in Malaysian
history were first introduced in the University of Malaya, Kuala
Lumpur, with the formation of the Department of Isl amic Stud-
ies in 1959. Prof. Dr. Muhammad Abdul Rauf, a renowned
Islamic scholar from Egypt, was appointed as the first head of
this department. Later, in 1981, this university has expanded its
Islamic studies program from a departmental level into a fully
fledged faculty known as the Academy of Islamic Studies
(AkademiPengajian Islam) which until recent times comprises
of the following faculties: Shariah, Usul al-Din, and Islamic
Education (Muhd, 2011), Al-Qur’an and Hadith, Dakwah and
Human Development, Islamic History and Civilization, Si-
yasahSyariah, and Applied Sciences with Islamic Studies (see
website of Academy of Islamic Studies, UM, and Buku Panduan Akademi Islam Universiti Malaya,
2006). The Academy offers B.A., M.A., and PhD programs for
Islamic studies.
After that, the development of Islamic studies in Malaysian
higher education could be seen through the establishment of
faculties, departments, programs, and even university level.
One of the well-known institutions is the Faculty of Islamic
Studies at National University of Malaysia or Universiti Ke-
bangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in Selangor. This faculty is made up
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
of five departments, namely Usul al-Din, Philosophy, Syariah,
Arabic Studies and Islamic Civilization, Quran and Sunnah
Studies, Dakwah and Leadership Studies (see
my). This faculty had two principal objectives: to produce well-
trained graduates with skills in Islamic studies, and to create a
new generation whose understanding of Islam is sound and
comprehensive, who have a healthy way of thinking, commit-
ment, and sense of responsibility towards the nation and desire
to create a disciplined society in line with the principles of Is-
lam and its philosophy (Muhd, 2011). The UKM motto “Know-
ledge Leads” refers to the philosophy of integrating belief in
Allah and beneficial knowledge. The idea to establish UKM
had been initiated by Abdul KadirAdabi in 1920. Until the
1930s this idea was in discussion, and on 18 May 1970, this
university was formally inaugurated. It has a number of facul-
ties and departments, namely Faculty of Economy, Social Sci-
ences and Humanities, Physics and Applied Sciences, Tech-
niques, Medicine, Biology, Sciences, Education, Law, Com-
puter, and Islamic Studies (Assegaf, 2003).
Another significant development in Islamic studies programs
in Malaysia was the establishment of the International Islamic
University of Malaysia (IIUM) or Universiti Islam Antara-
bangsa (UIA) at Gombak. The last mentioned university is
quite similar wi th the State Islamic University (UIN) SunanKa-
lijaga in which Islam is studied in a modern mode, besides
having a different paradigm of integration of knowledge. IIUM
actualized Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences
whereas from its establishment in 1983 Islamic studies became
a core university subject; it is compulsory for all the students
from various faculties to study fundamental subjects in Islam,
such as: Quran, Hadith, Sirah, Islamic Theology, Shari’ah,
and Akhlaq (see The entire subject was
oriented towards the idea of the Islamization of knowledge,
which means that revealed knowledge must become the princi-
pal guidance for human sciences subject. This idea of the
Islamization of knowledge was also developed by a prominent
figure Prof. Syed Muhammad Naquib Alattas in the Institute of
Islamic Thought and Civilization better known as ISTAC
which plays a creative role in the restoration of Islamic thought
and civilization in its rightful place. The strong feature of IS-
TAC’s academic curriculum is reflected in its ability to provide
academics of high international reputation.
It is worth noting here that the establishment of IIUM was
inspired by the First World Conference on Islamic Education in
1977 at Makkah. This university strives for moral and intellec-
tual enforcement of Islamic society and for shaping Islamic
values for all human behavior. IIUM has trained students in
various disciplines and accepted representatives of 32 countries;
30% of its intake comprises international students. Various
degree programs offered include: Doctor of Philosophy of Law,
Master of Comparative Laws, Master of Arts in Islamic Re-
vealed Knowledge and Heritage, Master of Education, Master
in Library and Information Sciences, Master of Arts in Arabic,
Master of Arts in English, and Master of Economics.
A summary of the Mission of IIUM consists of Integration of
Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences in a positive
manner, Islamization of the ethics of Muslim academic and
administrative staff of IIUM, to exemplify an international
community of dedicated intellectuals, scholars, professionals,
officers and workers who are motivated by the Islamic
world-view and code of ethics as an integral part of their work
culture, and comprehensive excellence (see
The above mentioned explanations show us that Islamic
studies in Malaysia were enacted in various higher education,
and not limited to what Indonesian usually called Islamic
higher education (PTAI) and non-Islamic higher education
(PerguruanTinggiUmum, PTU). In Malaysia, there is no sepa-
ration between Islamic or non-Islamic higher education; both
types of higher institutions offer Islamic studies as well as mod-
ern sciences.
The Closer Bridge towards Islamic Studies of
Both Countries
Transnational linkage in Islamic studies of Indonesian stu-
dents with Arab countries, primarily Makkah in Saudi Arabia
and Al-Azharin Egypt had been established long before Indo-
nesian independence in 1945. Indonesian Muslim scholars were
connected with Makkah education through pilgrimage. Many
prominent Indonesian figures who became religious leaders
were graduated from this country after their long stay in Mak-
kah. Prominent figures such as K. H. Ahmad Dahlan, the foun-
der of Muhammadiyah, and K. H. Hasyim Asy’ari, the founder
of Nahdhatul Ulama, were amongst the alumni of Makkah
education. This period occurred until early 19th century before
the canal Suez striving to Egypt was opened.
After the navigation line connecting towards Egypt through
this canal were opened, the wave of transnational linkage for
Indonesian students to Al-Azhar influxes rapidly along with the
Governmental supports and the development of PTAI. The
development of PTAI in Indonesia could not have been
achieved without the devotional efforts of these graduates.
Mahmud Yunus was one of the alumni of Al-Azhar University
that contribute significantly to the establishment of the earliest
model of Islamic higher education in Indonesia. According to
statistical data from the Embassy of Indonesia in Cairo, the
number of Indonesian students at Al-Azhar at the end of De-
cember 2009 was approximately 5,000 students, and the alumni
have scattered into different Islamic educational institutions
such as madrasah, pesantren, a nd PTAI.
However, Islamic higher education in Indonesia is “institu-
tionally al-Azharized” but practically decreased nowadays.
PTAI have dualistic tendencies; some regard al-Azhar Univer-
sity as supreme and others regard al-Azharas a strategic re-
source. The impact of Al-Azhar towards Islamic studies could
be seen through the existing departments in PTAI which consist
of the same faculties between the two, such as Faculty of
Syariah (Islamic Law), Faculty of Ushuluddin (Islamic The-
ology), Faculty of Adab (Islamic Letters), and Faculty of
Dawah (Islamic Propagation). It is interesting to mention that
structure of knowledge, curriculum, subject matters, text-books
and literature of early model of PTAI was mostly similar with
what we found in Al-Azhar at the time. Arabic literature written
by Al-Azhar scholars were consumed as main references in the
PTAI syllabuses, curriculum, and text-books.
In relation to the transmission of Arabic literature into PTAI,
so many researches were conducted by PTAI lecturers and
students on Islamic studies based on Arabic literature, both in
classical as well as modern periods. In the classrooms, the
process of teaching and learning held by the lectures often used
Arabic literature as the main references. The university libraries
also supported this process as shown by many collections of
Arabic literature on Tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis), Hadith (the
Prophet Traditions), Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), Ilm al-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 989
Kalam (Islamic Theology), Adab (Islamic Letters), Tarikh
(History of Islamic civilization), LughahArabiyah (Arabic lan-
guage), DirasatIslamiyah (Islamic studies), and others. We also
easily find translations from Arabic literature into Bahasa In-
donesia in libraries and bookshops. Some publishers had pre-
ferred to translate Arabic literature for dissemination amongst
the students of PTAI than selling the original Arabic texts. If
compared to the huge number of PTAI institutions, lecturers
and students, as above mentioned, we could conclude that Ara-
bic literature have significant impact towards the mindset,
thoughts, behavior, and movements of students and Islamic
society in general. The Indonesian alumni of Al-Azhar and
Arab universities in the Middle East have systematic networks
and dominant roles in the development of PTAI in Indonesia.
However, along with the broader orientation of Islamic stud-
ies, with the instructions and programs of the Ministry of Reli-
gious Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, since the 1970s
numbers of PTAI’s lecturers had been sent to study Islam not
only to the Middle Eastern universities but also to the Western
and the European universities such as Chicago University in
USA, Leiden University in Netherlands, McGill University in
Canada, Melbourne University in Australia, and so forth. On
behalf of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Government had
sent the PTAI lecturers to study Islam in many universities
abroad since the mid-1970s to USA (UCLA, Columbia, Chi-
cago and Harvard University), Canada (McGill University),
Netherlands (Leiden University), Turkey (Ankara University)
and Australia (Monashand Flinders University). While Middle
Eastern universities consist of Saudi Arabia (Riyadh University)
and Egypt (Al-Azhar University) (Effendi, 1998; Jabali, 2002;
Sjadzali, 1993). Consequently, big changes had occurred in the
development of PTAI orientation in Indonesia. In addition, their
alumni had strategic position after their return from abroad to
their home universities. During the Soeharto regime, under the
influence of the policies and agenda, PTAI transformed its
structure from being dogmatically oriented to adopting ap-
proaches towards western-oriented methodologies through the
effort of western graduates. Consequently, PTAI today provides
non-scriptualistic characters; it features not only Islamic doc-
toral studies, such as theology, law, and Arabic, but also sub-
jects that are integrated with a wide spectrum of learning,
which can accommodate modern Indonesian society with a
religion-oriented methodology. At the same time, the Middle
Eastern linkage and networks had loosened for several years
until the Reform Era at the end of the 1990s under President
Abdurahman Wahid, when the gateway to the Middle Eastern
universities was intensified again.
Recent developments indicate that the transnational linkage
in Islamic studies inclined to become closer to neighboring
countries, especially Malaysia, while at the same time widening
the roles of PTAI. By this mutual cooperation the local students
could continue their studies in Malaysia as well as in their home
country with the same acknowled gment of being graduated fro m
international level universities. Geographically speaking, Ma-
laysia and Indonesia are quite close neighboring countries that
could be reached in a couple of hours by direct flight from
many cities in both countries. The two countries also share land
borders in Kalimantan facilitating connections between them.
As the Indonesian Embassy stated, the Straits of Melaka link
rather than divide people of the two countries (Kasim, 1987).
Furthermore, along with the development of modern commu-
nication devices and transportation facilities, the distance be-
tween the two countries had become even closer.
The collaboration in Islamic studies between both countries
could be attributed to several factors. Firstly, teacher (or lec-
turer) and student factor. Since 2000, the number of Indonesian
students in Malaysia has been increasing, and likewise the
number of Malaysian students in Indonesia has also increased.
In 2010, there were 13,627 Indonesian students in Malaysia out
of Indonesia’s 240 million populations, while 6086 Malaysian
students were in Indonesia out of Malaysia’s 28.5 million
populations ( Most Indonesian stu-
dents registered in Malaysian universities by their own inten-
tion after they were rejected in national leading universities.
Several students admitted that their choices here are due to ease
of administration and lower cost if compared to Indonesian
universities. However, they felt hardships to pass and graduate
after entrance, and many take much longer time to accomplish
their studies. Most Indonesian graduates lacked good command
of English and have no prominent abilities whenever they come
back to home universities. Indonesian university authorities
generally preferred Western or European alumni to be entrusted
with positions, rather than Malaysian university graduates,
because of their produc tiv ity in scienti fic publications .
Problems faced by Indonesian students varied according to
various factors. The accommodation system in KL with apart-
ments, flats, and condominiums not only entail higher expenses
for Indonesian students but also caused social segregation and
individualism not prevalent in the home country. Typically,
Indonesians were popular by their smile when they meet each
other in spite of that being their first meeting (Errington, 1999);
this is something that may not occur in KL lifestyles. It com-
monly happen, leaflets were put up at bus stops or somewhere,
for room or house to let or rent with special conditions such as
female only, Chinese only, Malays only, etc., with deposit
twice higher than monthly fees plus facilities.
However, exchange programs have led to increasing number
of Indonesian students and lecturers in Malaysia. At the end of
2011, there were 4000 Indonesian lecturers invited by Malay-
sian higher education institutes as visiting lecturers or senior
research fellows ( Many successful
Indonesian students in Malaysia were appointed as lecturers or
even offered as Permanent Resident (PR), and henceforth be-
come leading figures and occupy strategic positions in Malay-
sian universities. It seems that the authorities were looking for
talented Indonesian students to be appointed and listed as quali-
fied human resources.
Concerning Islamic studies, several Malaysian universities
have invited Indonesian scholars to become research fellows,
visiting lecturers or external examiners. The number is growing
much bigger in line with the intensifying joint-cooperation at
the University to University level. The interest to study Islam in
Malaysian universities is usually coming from Master or PhD
students, especially when they received fellowship from the
home university or on duty. Some can even afford to pay the
whole cost of study by themselves. The relations between stu-
dents and lecturers are fair whereas Malaysian lecturers have
more time to supervise and assist in academic development of
the students. In addition, there are no difficulties in language
because of the similarities in culture of both countries.
Secondly, literature line is a factor in Malaysian-Indonesian
cooperation. An interesting phenomenon could be cited here
that many Islamic publications from Indonesian writers, mainly
books, are able to be found easily in libraries or campus book-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
shops in Malaysia. The books written by a prominent scholar
Buya HAMKA were the most popular Islamic readings in many
campuses. We could find the books in bookstores and book
exhibitions. Even in TV channel broadcasts of Islamic teach-
ings by local Islamic scholars (ulama) they sometimes refer to
Buya HAMKA’s opinions on specific problems. Tafsir Al-
Azhar and Tasawuf Modern were amongst the benchmark lit-
erature for university students that were assumed to be the main
references. Likewise, Tafsir al-Mishbahby the contemporary
Indonesian expert on Qur’anic exegesis, Prof. QuraishShihab,
also entered campus libraries and bookshops. In occasions such
as international book fairs, many Indonesian publishers come to
participate and contribute their publications. E-books and
e-journals facilitated by the university authority also opened the
gate for easier access for searching Islamic software. In short,
the influx of Islamic literature could fill in the gap between the
two countries. Suraus and mosques were among the public
religious gatherings as well as places of worship used to trans-
mit the Islamic teachings and movements (Nagata, 1984)
Thirdly, formal joint-cooperation through sponsorship of the
Government or university which intensified nowadays has at-
tracted many lecturers and students to involve in programs
agreed upon. To name some, agreements to organize joint-
seminars, workshops or conferences between Universiti Malaya
(UM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Pen-
didikan Sultan Idris (UPSI), Universitas Islam Negeri (UIN),
Universitas Indonesia (UI), Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia
(UPI), Universitas Negeri Yogyakarta (UNY), and so forth
have intensified academic linkages. The demand for mutual
cooperation between higher education institutions had become
unavoidable for developing universities with global perspec-
tives. One of the realizations of joint-cooperation between the
two universities is the establishment of a research team of the
economic faculty of the Indonesian State University of Yogya-
karta and Malaysian Sultan Idris University of Education (UPSI)
which conducted a joint research on entrepreneurship education
in vocational high schools. The research is a comparative study
of entrepreneurship learning model in Indonesian and Malay-
sian vocational schools. It is carried out by monitoring the edu-
cation system’s curriculum, evaluation system and tradition
among the education units of the two countries (Antara- With State Islamic University (UIN) Sunan Kali-
jaga, Faculty of Education University of Malaya has conducted
a series of joint seminars on education since last year. The first
seminar was conducted at UIN under the theme: Global Educa-
tion Based on Local Wisdom, a pathway to promote further
cooperation and a hallmark of better understanding between the
two universities.
Besides university level collaboration, a regional effort to
expand knowledge of teachers and educators in Southeast Asia
has already begun with the establishment of SEAMO Center for
Excellence in Indonesia and Malaysia. Specifically, the series
of workshops aimed at sharing experiences in the endeavor to
set up new SEAMEO centers and establishing closer relation-
ship and networking between Indonesia and Malaysia. Presi-
dent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysian Prime Minis-
ter, Najib Razak agreed to increase the two countries’ coopera-
tion in the spirit of common welfare and progress.
Concluding Remarks
Malaysia and Indonesia are among the Islamic countries that
have majority Muslim population in the world. The issues of
religion are sensitive and need to be taken care of or handled
wisely. People from both countries see the significant roles of
Islam in their lives and social interactions. Institutions from the
basic school to university level always play a pivotal role to-
wards developing Islamic studies. In this context, the advance-
ment of Islamic studies in higher education may be considered
as the increasing influence of Islamic society. Malaysia and
Indonesia have similar outlook towards developing Islamic
studies but different approaches and nuances, whereas Malay-
sian universities have already narrowed the distinctive borders
between Islamic and non-Islamic higher education, and have
been promoting Islamization of knowledge. Indonesian univer-
sities are facing the dichotomist point of view in dealing with
Islamic and non-Islamic higher education, and also institution-
alized Islamic studies which are autonomously run by the Min-
istry of Religious Affairs. However, facilitative factors that lead
Indonesian students to come to Malaysian universities and vice
versa, in the long run, will fill in the gap and the bond between
both countries, especially in Islamic education, will become
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