For centuries, many Muslim communities have been living with Cambodian people in harmony in the Kingdom. But starting in the early 1970s and the Khmer Rouge regime, relations between the Buddhist and Muslim communities had been less compatible. In particular, in the field of education, there are not many Muslim students, particularly in higher education.
Seeing an opportunity in the late 1990s, a small group of Cambodian-Muslim students founded CMSA (Cambodian Muslim Student Association) aimed at helping their fellow Muslim students study at the higher level. And ever since, the number of Muslims studying at university has increased, Sos Fazy, deputy secretary-general of Cambodian Muslim Student Association said. Currently, some 300-400 Cambodian-Muslim students have been studying at universities in Phnom Penh and dozens more are winning scholarships to study abroad, he said.
After founding CMSA, there has also been cooperation between Muslim communities in Cambodia and Muslim-dominated countries such as Malaysia and Arab countries, he said, adding that the humanitarian fund Al Bukhory from Malaysia and scholarships from the government of Malacca have given a number of poor Cambodian-Muslim students the opportunity to continue their studies.
“Since academic year 2008 Al Bukhory has given scholarships to three or four students ar year to pursue their studies at higher education in the realm of science, agriculture, general techniques and Muslim religion,” Fazy said.
Meanwhile, a local organization of Malaysia, Al Manar NGO also provides scholarships to Cambodian-Muslim students studying at some 20 universities in Phnom Penh.
“For scholarships from Al Manar, they select students through our association and they pay the full amount of their fee for one year. Some are paid $400 to $500 per year while some more than $1,000, depending on the majors students choose,” Fazy said.
“These scholarships mean too much for poor Cambodian-Muslim students. Recently, another humanitarian charity born of Malaysian leader’s wife has given scholarships to 10 students for the academic year 2013 as well,” he said.
Besides giving scholarships to students aid, the Malaysian organization also provides short-term vocational training such as sewing courses for rural Cambodian-Muslims in order to improve their livelihood. At the end of the course those ladies will receive sewing machines as gifts, Fazy said.
“At the same time, providing educational scholarships, the association has created internships in Phnom Penh for 200 Cambodian-Muslim students from other provinces. The first internship is near Dubai International Muslim mosque in Boeung Kak commune and the second one is at Kolalom mosque in Chroy Changva commune,” he said.
In addition, there is one more orphanage in Prek Pra for 120 Cambodian-Muslim orphans to stay in and to study there. Both interns and orphanage would not be possible without Malaysian assistance.
“Assistance from Malaysia is not only for education but also contributes to many affairs in the society such as constructing two schools for studying the Koran in Kampong Cham province’s Kaang Meas district, and constructing 50 mosques around the country such as in Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Stung Treng, Kampot, Pailin and Phnom Penh as well,” he said.