Dewan Ulama chief Datuk Harun Taib (centre) discussed an array of subjects yesterday, ranging from Karpal Singh to Muslim liberalism to the future of PAS, particularly its role in the opposition coalition. – The Malaysian Insider pic, November 22, 2013. Amid all the talk about the PAS ulama wing or Dewan Ulama calling for a review of the Islamist party's cooperation in Pakatan Rakyat (PR) – and whether that will lead it to leave the coalition – there was a persistent theme of unity running through its deliberations.
Unity not just among PAS members, be they conservatives or moderates, religious scholars or engineers. It was about everyone in Malaysia unifying under the umbrella of a benevolent so-called Islamic state administered by PAS.
Dewan Ulama chief Datuk Harun Taib repeatedly went back to this theme went he talked of diverse subjects from Karpal Singh to Muslim liberalism to the future of PAS and especially the PR cooperation. This call for unity reflects the crossroads at which PAS finds itself.
The party has become a mainstream presence in Malaysia’s political and social landscape and has gained support among non-Muslims in ways it could not have imagined 10 years ago.
Though it lost the Kedah state administration, PAS won eight more seats in Selangor than it did in 2008 and made inroads into Pahang.
Yet the Dewan Ulama and its conservative supporters believe this has come at the cost of it tempering its original struggle of wanting to set up an Islamic state in Malaysia.
More than that, in order to make those inroads into Malaysian society and to work with its allies the DAP and PKR, the Dewan Ulama feels that it was done at the expense of talking up its plans to implement hudud, or Islamic criminal law.
“When we were at war during the general elections, we had a common enemy (Barisan Nasional). So we swept our differences (between Pakatan parties) under the carpet,” says a Dewan Ulama delegate from Terengganu who requested anonymity.
During the elections, Pakatan parties largely held to a promise to campaign on a common platform which was the “Manifesto Rakyat: Pakatan Harapan Rakyat”.
PAS rarely mentioned its struggle for an Islamic state or its intention to implement hudud in places which it had won.
“But after the elections, we felt that it was time to review things especially on where we (PAS) stand and how we cooperate,” said the Terengganu delegate.
Harun and the conservatives want PAS to return to its original of aim of setting up an Islamic state which includes hudud, and they want it to be expressed clearly to the public and its Pakatan partners.
“If we do not implement Islam then there is no meaning in our struggle. PAS should not be afraid to talk about Islam,” said Harun in his opening remarks at the start of the assembly.
“There should not be members who say that if we talk about Islam, we cannot win (votes).”
This was echoed by Dewan Ulama secretary Khairuddin Azman Razali who felt that it was time PAS members got back on message about the Islamic state and hudud even if it makes its allies uncomfortable.
“It may sound bitter but the truth has to be said,” Khairuddin said when met on the sidelines of the assembly.
That would make things difficult not just for PR cooperation but also for the party’s newly hard won support among non-Muslims and Malay Muslim moderates.
Political scientist Dr Farish Noor feels that it is unfair to expect PAS to abandon its struggle for an Islamic state as that has been an aim of the party since its founding in 1951.
“But PAS also has to realise that Malaysia is an open, civil and plural society and that this is not going to go away. The challenge for PAS is to adapt to this reality.
“You cannot expect them to change their stance on certain things like consuming pork and alcohol but they have to accept that others do so.”
If PAS tries to push for a hardline Islamic state, it has to expect to lose support from non-Muslim and moderate Malay Muslims, said Farish.
“But you cannot expect PAS to abandon its ideals. At the same time it has to deal with the reality that in a plural society you cannot just gain power from one community, but from all.”
And it will be up to Harun to prove to his party at its 59th assembly today whether he can indeed unite all Malaysians under the PAS Islamist banner. – November 22, 2013.