This article is my answer to my own children who asked me the question: Who is PAS? What really they stand for? I guess the same question is being asked by many other young Malaysians in their 20’s and 30’s; who just comes of age in the world of Malaysian politics. I guess we owe them some explanations.
Rather than going through the detail history of PAS (“Parti Islam Se-Malaysia” written in Jawi scripts “Paa Alif Sin”), which is rather tedious and quite lengthy, I would like to summarise them into an article that can be read in less than five minutes [note that research shows that the current generation “reading attention span” or “watching anything that are of serious nature” is NOT more than 5 minutes]. So let’s go at it without wasting much more time.
FIRST: The ideology of PAS is the Formation of the Islamic State
PAS ideology is “PAN ISLAMISM” for the Malays in Malaysia. What it means is PAS want’s the Malays in Malaysia to be united under one banner of an Islamic State. And they want to achieve this goal through the Malaysian democratic process of elections of members of Parliament and formation of government through Parliament. Therefore, PAS’s ideology and methodology is in full compliance with our Federal Constitution as it stood now.
But the question is: “what do PAS means by “Islamic State”? We will come to this later.
SECOND: The meaning of PAS’s “PAN ISLAMISM”
An “Ism” means “system of beliefs” that are to be practised, and “Islamism” means the “Islamic system of beliefs” to be practised. Therefore, PAS’s Islamism means the implementation of “the set of Islamic beliefs” that PAS, “as the unified carrier of the banner of Islam” in Malaysia to be carried out. So what is this “set of Islamic beliefs” that PAS promotes? As we all know, there are so many version of “Islam” out there; hence could we identify PAS’s Islam more distinctly? The answer is: No. In fact PAS had always been hazy, blurred, non-committal, to any described form of Islamic beliefs. They had always been lacking in details and specifics.
Why that is so? We will come to this later.
THIRD: PAS’s “Kepimpinan Ulama”
Let us come to the third fundamental point about PAS, namely “Kepimpinan Ulama”. This is one of the main tenets of PAS that political leadership is to be “guided and served by the Ulama”. This functions in two ways within PAS; namely, one, that the parties’ highest decision making body with full authority and legitimacy is the Dewan Ulama; and two, that if this is to be applied to the country (or state), then the Ulama themselves should be the person standing for election and be members of Parliament or State assemblies. This matter is deeply entrenched within PAS organisation and members.
The main question is how PAS defines Ulama? We will come to this issue below.
I will summarise the answer to all the three questions that I have raised above in the following statement:
“PAS struggle is for the establishment of an Islamic State in Malaysia; and their model of Islamic state is where the country is being led by the Ulama, which in turns would be the authority to define the Islam and how it could be practised in such Islamic State of Malaysia”.
In short, PAS definition of Islamic State is when the country is being ruled by the Ulama. Whatever the “Islamic content” of that Islamic State is not important (at least for now); it only will “become clear” and “self-evident” once we hand over to the country to the Ulama to rule. The Ulama will define the Islam for us.
What is important is that “it is imperative and obligatory for Malays (and Malaysia) to accept and announce Islam as their identity”. This is the overriding issue. Once we identify ourselves as an Islamic State, then we have achieved the paramount objective. However, one side issue that need to be addressed: who are these Ulama? In theory it meant the “ahlul-hill-wal-‘aqd” as the Islamic Shari’ah (or Siyasah Syari’ah”) had ordained. Which means the people whose Islamic Scholarship is accepted by the public at large and among the Islamic people of knowledge (i.e. ‘Aliim). In the absence of such reality however, alludes to the practical meaning of them to be the Ustazs. The Ustazs could further be defined as “people who got some qualifications in religious studies and at the same time, profess as an Islamic preacher”. (See my article “THE RISE OF THE USTAZS”posted on December 14, 2015).
How I support my arguments as said above?
My readings of PAS history: PAS emanates from the “Kaum Muda” movement of the Islamic leaders in the recent history of Malaysia – which rooted in the thoughts of Jamaludin Afghani and Muhammad Abduh (of early 1900s) which called for the independence of Muslim nations from the colonialist, and to return to the “true” Islamic State political systems. The “siyasah syar’iah” (or Islamic political systems) that PAS is favouring is opposed to “the failed caliphate system” by returning back to the “original version of Islam” of the Islamic Madinah. Under these system Ulama are the rightful and qualified rulers of the Islamic state.
My interactions with PAS: since student days I had direct discussions and participated with many PAS leaders and friends. I still consider them as friends till today. My conclusions that I made above, is off course a generalisation to the describe PAS as an organisation. As in any case of any organisation, not all people accepts everything fully as it is; in fact there will be divisions and factions within any organisation. But the fundamental fact is, organisations have its founding core and principles. Therefore, we would find various people, within PAS and supporters of PAS, who do not exactly fit my descriptions, and yet the above description of PAS as an organisation is still true.
My analysis of the current issues: take for example, the so-called “Hudud Bill” and the case of PAS rule of Kelantan. Is it important to PAS in terms of what are the contents of the so-called “Hudud Bill”?, Or what is the content “Islamic State of Kelantan”? No, its NOT important. What important is that PAS “IDENTIFY” itself with ISLAM. Which is the essence of the classical issue of Islamic Ideology of “al-wala’ wal barra’”. In this concept of Al-Wala’ (or “loyalty to Islam”), Muslim must support Islam; and arguments against it, is argument against Islam. To be more specific, the loyalty of the Muslim (hence the Malays in Malaysia), must be to the “identity of Islam”. PAS’s Islam, is about identifying with Islam. Content is secondary. (See my article on “ISLAM AS IDENTITY, NOT FAITH”).
Hence, PAS is clearly distinct from UMNO. UMNO is to identify oneself with the Malay nationalism ( or “kebangsaan Melayu”). Whatever the rhetoric’s is, PAS and UMNO could never be together, unless UMNO also identifies itself with Islam; as far as nationalism is concerned, for PAS it remains to be as “Assabiah”, which is un-Islamic.
Therefore is no place for non-Ustazs in PAS. This has been true since long time. Only Ustaz can rise in PAS organisation and leadership. Technocrats (as they called, the non Ustazs), can’t be top leaders inside PAS. They are always the “second class” within PAS (regardless of their Islamic knowledge, practice and virtues). Therefore people like Dr. Zulkily Ahmad, YB Khalid Samad, YB Sa’ari Sungib, Dr. Hatta Ramli – could never last in PAS. Others of similar background would discover the same fate – because however hard they work for PAS, they will never become an Ulama, within PAS’s system of beliefs.
To summarise my answer for the question: Who is PAS?
“PAS is a political party that wants the Malays (Muslim in Malaysia), to identify themselves with Islam. And the way to identify with Islam, is to vote and support PAS, which are represented by the Ustazs, who are the true representatives of the Islam as they see it.”
What’s the Future of PAS?
PAS survives and thrives on the pockets of Malays who belief that the proper identity of the Malays is Islam. The hardcore supporters of PAS are the people who ascribe to such belief. There will always be such hardcore group of Malays; because the overall trend is to associate Islamic revival with Islamic identity (e.g. wearing “tudung” is a classic example of Islamic identity). History of mankind informed us the numbers of such people could never be more than 10 to 15% of the (Malays) population. However such people are die-hard and will continue to exists and be relevant. They will not go away.
So the future of PAS would be that of a significant “small” party in Malaysia thriving on the Islamic labels and identity. They would never get any strong foothold in Sabah and Sarawak (since the Islamic identity issues are of less concerns for them, compared to “Sabahan” or “Sarawakian” identities, which matters more). PAS could never reconcile with DAP, for the exact basic reason that DAP and PAS are opposite extremes. DAP is the exact equivalent of PAS, except that, their identifying factor is as the Malaysian Chinese. PAS and PKR could work together at times and depart at times, in the same way PAS could work together with UMNO at times and depart at times; most of the times though, PAS would have to go alone.
What we see today (in the current by-elections) is testimony to that. The only thing left to be confirmed, is my statement that for whatever PAS stood for, there are between 10% to 15% Malays that will support them. Let us see whether this numbers are true.