PETALING JAYA: A prominent American expert on Islam has welcomed the appointment of Maszlee Malik as president of the International Islamic University (IIUM), amid criticism that it was a conflict of interest for the education minister to hold the top position in the university.
John L Esposito, an academic who has advised the US government on Islam and is author of more than 55 books, said Maszlee was “eminently qualified” to lead IIUM.
“A first-rate scholar and former lecturer and student at IIUM, his experiences will enable him to understand IIUM, its students, faculty and staff,” Esposito, who is familiar with Malaysian academic circles, including IIUM, said in a congratulatory note to Maszlee.
Esposito gave other examples of former students of top universities in the US who went on to helm their alma maters.
The announcement of Maszlee’s appointment as president of IIUM, replacing Rais Yatim whose contract ended this year, has been welcomed by university staff and management, but was met with criticisms from some politicians and a group of students who vowed to protest the decision.
Critics say Maszlee’s appointment goes against Pakatan Harapan’s pledge to end political intervention on campus.
Maszlee is the third education minister to hold the post since IIUM was established together with several member-states of the then Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).
Its first president was Hussein Onn, followed by Anwar Ibrahim, when he was the education minister in the 1980s. After Anwar’s ouster from the government in 1998, he was replaced by Najib Razak, then the education minister.
Maszlee who is also the Simpang Renggam MP, has since defended his appointment, saying IIUM was not bound by the controversial Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA).
He has also pledged to return the university to its former glory, adding that his appointment has the consent of IIUM’s constitutional head, Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang.