This religious school was operating without a license, said the minister of Territories.
A Malaysian official says a wall that blocked students and teachers from an exit that might have saved them from a deadly fire "shouldn't have been there". Eleven more people were rescued, seven of whom were being treated in hospital.
Shahirman, 39, who lives nearby the tahfiz centre, said it was about 5am when he heard the students crying for help. The bodies, many severely burned, were being identified by DNA tests, he said.
The fire broke out near the only door to the boys' dormitory, trapping the victims, fire department senior official Abu Obaidat Mohamad Saithalimat said.
Forensic police officer investigates burnt windows at an Islamic religious school following a fire on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. "All of the bodies were found grouped together on each other", he added. "I saw their small hands through the grilled windows, but I couldn't help them". "The fire was too strong for me to do anything".
"The wall shouldn't have been there", he said.
Soiman said the school had submitted a request for fire safety approval but no new checks had been carried out as the request was still being processed.
There are 519 tahfiz schools - where children are sent to memorize the Koran - registered in Malaysia, however many more are believed to be unregistered, the Star Online reported. "Some specialists are taking care of them", he said.
Meanwhile, a 38-year-old cleaner who only wanted to be known as Maryani, called for prayers for her son Indera Kurniawan, 13, who is also among the survivors of the fire.
The latest tragedy was "the effect of the absence of enforcement, and the failure to abide by rules and regulations by the operators of the religious school", said Chandra Muzaffar, a political scientist who promotes Islamic reform.