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Friday, 17 June 2011

Malaysia's PAS makes cosmetic changes to Islamic State, a Mission Impossible


Recent developments in PAS are aimed at winning support from non-Muslims but the party's ultimate Islamic agenda still remains.

The latest changes in PAS are therefore in-keeping with its long-term goals - to win acceptance from Middle Malaysia and to eventually Islamise the country.

SOMETHING has happened to PAS in the space of a short time and it has to do with transforming itself for a general election that is widely expected by late this year or early 2012.

First, Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang, speaking at the party's 57th Muktamar, dropped the sacred goal of the party since its founding 60 years ago the Islamic state concept.

It would instead pursue a welfare state. Abdul Hadi in announcing PAS' new direction said that in Islam, an Islamic state and a welfare state were one and the same.

In the blink of an eye, the party had dropped the reason for its existence and conceded to all the non-Muslims in the country, who had feared the party's long term goals, that it is no longer pursuing an Islamic state.

It has also given the DAP, which had long opposed an Islamic state, an avenue to argue to the non-Muslims that PAS is no longer to be feared.

DAP chairman Karpal Singh can sleep easy now that the party has dropped the Islamic state agenda. He does not have to say “over my dead body” to defend a secular state, as what Malaysia is.

To top it all, moderate Mohamed Sabu managed to win the deputy president's post although by just 20 votes.

The ulama faction in PAS had tried very hard to stop the popular Pakatan Rakyat grassroots leader by putting up an ulama candidate Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man but Mat Sabu still managed to defeat him and another candidate, Nasharuddin Mat Isa, who had enjoyed incumbency.

Mat Sabu's defeat of his opponents lends credence to the new image of the party, as progressive and acceptable by all and led by non-ulamas and professionals.

Also winning as vice-president were Datuk Husam Musa, the Kelantan state exco member and incumbents Salahuddin Ayob and Mahfuz Omar.

All of these lends credence to the theme that the ulamas are in retreat and that the professional and non-ulama group is ascendant.

Mat Sabu also wasted no time and in the first week of his victory granted an interview to Malaysiakini in which he ruffled the ulama's features and stated that Kelantan and Kedah should emulate Penang and urged the PAS rank and file to fight corruption and abuse of authority.

In the series of articles, he also sought to rewrite the seat allocation formula between PKR, DAP and PAS in which DAP contests the Chinese majority seats, PAS the Malay majority and PKR in the mixed seats.

By saying he would like to stand in Bukit Bintang, a Chinese majority seat that the DAP holds through Fong Kui Lun, Mat Sabu who lost in Kepala Batas (1982), Kuala Kedah (2004) and Kuala Terengganu (2008) is giving notice of PAS' intention not to accept the seat allocation rules.

Then on Saturday the party made another change that is sure to bring smiles to the DAP and the non-Malays it dropped Datuk Dr Hassan Ali as the PAS commissioner for Selangor, replacing him with Dr Abdul Rani Osman.

Dr Hassan had been at loggerheads with the DAP's Ronnie Liu over the sale of alcoholic drinks in Malay-majority areas in Shah Alam. He had wanted 7-Eleven stores to stop the sale of beer, a move strongly opposed by the DAP.

Another person also dropped was the state's ulama wing chief Datuk Harun Taib, whose post has been taken over by Abdul Wahid Endut.

Abdul Hadi also announced that a book would be published on the welfare state and he specifically said the DAP was agreeable to the new concept the party was pursuing.

All these changes from dropping the Islamic state agenda, showing the door to Dr Hassan and allowing Mat Sabu to pontificate show that the moderate image of the party is actively advertised as opposed to the intolerant ulama image known to all.

The speed of changes in PAS has even taken Umno leaders by surprise with one leader urging PAS to drop “Islam” from its name and others slamming the party for its decision to drop the Islamic state label in favour of the welfare state and for sacking Dr Hassan.

While the changes would help PAS better prepare for the next general election to win non-Malay votes, the party has not abandoned any of its core principles.

The Islamic state, defending the sanctity of Islam, making Islam the guide to politics and statehood and upholding Islam in all fields (including governance and administration, economics, society, learning and education) these are all very much the party's core aims and are in the party's constitution.

What PAS has achieved in a short space of time are really cosmetic changes to better prepare for the next general election by capturing the moderate votes of all races the Middle Malaysia of Malays, Chinese and Indian and others who had supported Barisan Nasional.

PAS is aware that the next step in the political transformation of the country is acceptance of the party by “Middle Malaysia” if it is to expand on its Islamic agenda.

It must pursue this goal in a gradual manner to win acceptance from “Middle Malaysia”.

The fact that a party based on religion would eventually lean towards religious dogma to rule because of the make-up of its members thus fades from the voters' minds.

The latest changes in PAS are therefore in keeping with its long-term goals to win acceptance from Middle Malaysia and to eventually Islamise the country.

Mission impossible


The quest for an Islamic State has been so fundamental to PAS' struggle all these years and yet, there is no Islamic State in the Quran.

PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang has just discovered that there is no “Islamic State” in the Quran.

And yet since its inception in 1951, PAS has espoused the cause of an Islamic State. It is the ideological foundation of the party. On a number of occasions, especially since 1982, when the party leadership proclaimed “the rule of the ulama”, the goal of an Islamic State has been bandied about to show the people that it is PAS that occupies the moral high ground compared to Umno which PAS often condemns as a secular party.

If the quest for an Islamic State has been so fundamental to PAS' struggle all these years, is Hadi's recent discovery an open admission that the party was wrong in its understanding and interpretation of the Quran?
Is Hadi and also Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz, PAS' spiritual adviser guilty of misleading Muslims and non-Muslims alike, perhaps unwittingly?

It is, of course, true that there is no Islamic State in the Quran if by that, one means a description and explanation of how power and authority are derived, organised, exercised and relinquished in the religion; for these are some of the essential attributes of a state.

What the Quran offers is guidance in relation to the values and principles that are vital for good governance. It is not just in relation to governance or welfare which PAS now enunciates as its mission that the Quran is a book of guidance. It embodies universal values and principles pertinent to all aspects of human life and death.

The idea of an Islamic state emerged to a large extent as a reaction of sorts to Western colonialism that had conquered most Muslim countries by the beginning of the 20th century. It was reinforced by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.

Various concepts of an Islamic State were subsequently popularised through the writings of men like Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin (the Muslim Brotherhood), and Sayyid Qutb, one of its leading ideologues, both Egyptians, and Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat Islami in Pakistan.

There was also a rigid, puritanical version of the Islamic State associated with the teachings of an 18th century preacher, Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahhab, that became the ideological basis of Saudi Arabia.

Much later, in 1979, a Shia-oriented Islamic state was established, the product of a people's revolution in Iran.

However different the theories and practices associated with the Islamic State project from Afghanistan under the Taliban to Saudi Arabia to Sudan to Iran there are certain broad similarities that seem to define both the idea and its implementation.

Invariably, the State determines how Islam should be interpreted, understood and practised. Other approaches to the religion are sidelined and often suppressed. This leads to religious-cum-political authoritarianism which, in almost every Islamic state, has resulted in the stifling of legitimate dissent and the incarceration of dissenters.

Given this perspective on state power, it is not surprising that the implementation of syariah in every instance has bestowed primacy upon hudud, the Islamic criminal code. It is this emphasis that has created a 2P punish and prohibit culture in those societies that claim to be Islamic. In a genuine Islamic ethos, it is the 2E educate and enlighten approach that would prevail.

While the roles prescribed for the non-Muslim citizenry are often observed, it is also true that their subordinate status is a norm in these so-called Islamic states. Similarly, concessions may be made to women in the public sphere but the privileging of the male is both legally sanctioned and socially legitimised.

In all Islamic states, there is a preoccupation with protecting and perpetuating a religiously moulded popular culture which tends to negate the finer attributes of individual creativity. This is partly because preserving Islamic identity as defined by the elite is so central to the Islamic State project.

To a greater or lesser degree, PAS' outlook and orientation mirror these characteristics associated with the Islamic State project. It may have dropped the label but the content remains.

Has PAS, like the Islamic reform movements in Indonesia and Turkey, gone beyond hudud and fiqh (jurisprudence) to articulate values and principles that distinguish the contextual from the universal in text and tradition? Has the party like the Nahda (Renaissance Party) in Tunisia evolved a theory of shared citizenship rooted in the Quranic vision of a common humanity that transcends religious affiliation? Why has PAS not done what the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin in Egypt did recently? The new party it has established in preparation for the coming national election, the Freedom and Justice Party, has not only allowed Christians to be full and equal members but has also appointed a Christian as the party's vice-president.

Though a PAS leader, the late Zuikifli Muhammad, first raised the question of allowing non-Muslims to become associate members of the party in the early 1960s, PAS has made no move in that direction. All that it has done is to establish a non-Muslim supporters club which has no membership rights!

This is why it is wrong to describe PAS, in the wake of its recent election, as a party which is now spearheaded by “reformers” and “progressives”. While there are some individuals who are reform-minded in the party hierarchy, PAS as a whole remains a hudud-oriented, Islamic State-inclined party.

What makes the present leadership different from its predecessors is the dominance of individuals who are willing to forge tactical alliances and engage in strategic manoeuvres to attain power to capture Putrajaya even if it means setting aside for the time being their decades' old dream of establishing an Islamic State.

Seizing power through the ballot box is their primary goal. This is why PAS is prepared to adjust to the agendas of its Pakatan Rakyat partners the DAP and PKR in order to maximise non-Muslim/non-Malay support in the coming general election. Its motto is simple: power first, dogma afterwards.

Is there any wonder that the PAS president has now come to the realisation that there is no Islamic State in the Quran?

Dr Chandra Muzaffar is a political scientist who has written extensively on Muslim societies since the late 1970s. His latest book is titled Muslims Today: Changes Within; Challenges Without' (Islamabad: Iqbal Institute, International Islamic University, 2011).