THERE has been some speculation among political observers that PAS is trying to purge the progressives from the party. One news analysis talked about the axeing of the “Erdogan” faction, referring to the removal of none other than the party’s Shah Alam Member of Parliament (MP), Khalid Samad, as deputy commissioner II of Selangor PAS.
Prior to that, in a 26 Oct issue of Mingguan Malaysia, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s Zulkifli Nordin accused Khalid of being too rigid in his party affiliations. Khalid apparently raised Zulkifli’s ire by not supporting his stand on Islam.
Add to this the fact that Khalid’s brother is Umno supreme council member and Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister, Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad, and you have quite an interesting political figure.
In the first part of this exclusive interview with The Nut Graph, Khalid reflects on PAS’ dynamics and future, responds to PKR’s Zulkifli, and talks about being an Umno politician’s younger brother.
TNG: The New Straits Times reported on 24 Nov that you have been axed as deputy commissioner II for Selangor PAS. Do you see this as an attempt within PAS to sideline more progressive voices? How far is it true that PAS is now divided between the conservatives and the progressives or the “kumpulan Erdogan”?
Khalid Samad: (Chuckles) Well, in Selangor, the chief is (Datuk Dr) Hassan Ali. I don’t think you would be able to classify him as a conservative. He’s not a graduate of a pondok or Islamic school or university or whatever.
There are three deputy commissioners, I am deputy number two. It was decided in a meeting where I also attended that it would be better if I give up that post and let somebody else take it who will be, how do you say, more in line with what Hassan Ali has in mind.
So I agreed. I have been critical of his leadership ever since we came into power in Selangor (after the 8 March elections). But he was able to tolerate me for eight long months, I think, and that’s credit to him (chuckles).
Can you give examples of the points you were critical of?
No need lah. Because that would be very biased, kan? I think what he feels he needs is somebody who can support him all the way and not second guess him on every turn. And I think he’s right.
So it is his prerogative. He should set up a team who can work with him. Then he can show his full potential.
You have said in your blog quite emphatically that PAS is not a race-based party. What are your views about accepting non-Muslims as members of PAS or perhaps creating a Dewan for non-Muslims?
I’m in full support because we had the initial attempt some time in the 80s when we formed the CCC, the Chinese Consultative Council. Members of Chinese society were willing to have discussions with us and support us in the elections. [They] were organised into the CCC, and that was in 1986.
The recent development is actually [from] a continuous effort lah, not something which just cropped up overnight.
Okay, as far as the Indian community is concerned…that came as a result of the policies that the BN [Barisan Nasional] were implementing which were to our advantage. It made the Indian community willing to consider an alternative. They weren’t too critical about DAP or PKR, but the idea of getting support from the Indian community was something which was quite alien.
But for the Chinese community, we’ve been working with them for some time. So I’m in full support of the party having a better relationship with the non-Muslims. I’m in full support of having the Kelab Penyokong PAS, and for that to then develop into a Dewan and be given Dewan status within the organisation.
[W]e want our members to be fully prepared as well, because whether we like it or not… the (BN) government has been inculcating us with fear of the other race, of the other religion, and not all of us are immune from that influence, right?
So it takes time and I think we are moving in the right direction. And I hope that by the next elections, we should be in a position to give membership to the non-Muslims. That is the objective.
“I hope that by the next elections, we should be in a position to give membership to the non-Muslims.”
PAS has been consistent in opposing the Internal Security Act (ISA). However, some of PAS’ own members disrupted the Bar Council forum on conversions on 9 Aug 2008, most notably the party’s youth leader, Salahuddin Ayub. The press widely reported Salahuddin as saying that the Sedition Act should be used against the Bar Council. How do you think PAS can reconcile its opposition to the ISA as well as the opposition of some PAS leaders towards such forums on freedom of religion?
I think it has to be corrected because I think that Salahuddin went there as the youth leader to make sure that nothing untoward occurred. He was aware that many of our youth members were going. He wanted to make sure they were not swayed by the emotional issues that were raised by some of the leaders of the groups opposing the forum. He didn’t go into the hall and stop or interrupt the forum. He stayed outside and kept most of our members under control.
Number two, with respect to the Sedition Act, what he was saying is that in the event the Bar Council has done something wrong, don’t use the ISA. Use whatever law that you have, probably the Sedition Act, [and] charge them in court if it is true that what they have done is wrong.
But of course when it came out in the papers it was different…
Ya, I read it in Utusan Malaysia.
(Chuckles) So you can understand. The third is that actually the Bar Council must also understand. I mean it has developed, whether wittingly or unwittingly, a reputation of taking up issues seemingly aimed at the sensitivities of Muslims. Even that forum, the way it was advertised — “Conversion to Islam”.
But actually the issue that they wanted to discuss was more about the problems that occurred when a couple who were originally non-Muslims, then one becomes a Muslim, the other remains as a non-Muslim, and they divorce, right? And there’s no legal procedure by which their divorce can be heard in the same court. The Muslim will be heard in the syariah court, the non-Muslim will be heard in the civil court.
[I]f the way the programme was advertised was not as provocative as it was, then maybe it would not have given the opportunity to some of these people who seek limelight by coming to the forefront, by supposedly championing “the cause of Islam”.
So I think the Bar Council itself is partly to blame, and it should be a bit more, how do you say, wise.
And actually I was under the impression that it had quite a good panel. And I think I did mention it in my blog as well, [and] if you read what Hanipa Maidin said about the programme, he was all in support of it. But he did say that the title was a bit provocative.
It’s interesting you should mention those who champion “the cause of Islam”. One of the forum protesters was none other than PKR’s Zulkifli Nordin. In his interview with Mingguan Malaysia, Zulkifli said that you should have supported his position on Islam when he brought it up in Parliament. Instead he says you made it seem like he was taking the same position as Umno. Therefore he said you were being too rigid in your affiliation with PAS. Would you like to respond to this?
I think he should ask first why I didn’t support his stand, because I don’t think that the stand that he portrayed is necessarily the best way to portray the issue. Thanks to Umno, we Muslims have developed a siege mentality, where we believe anybody who asks or talks about Islam, [or] is not a Muslim or comments about Islam, is out to get us. And that should not be the way.
“We Muslims have developed a siege mentality”
I mean if somebody complains and says that, “Look, the azan is too loud, can you please do something about it?” Then you just say okay lah, let’s see. Maybe it is loud, so let’s go and see. But don’t give this impression that Islam and the Muslims are so unapproachable and you can’t comment, you just have to accept what we do.
I mean even amongst Muslims, there are those who complain, you know, that it’s too loud. Why do you have to make it so loud? And it is not the intention of the azan to make noise or be a nuisance.
I was told that (DAP MP for Seputeh) Teresa (Kok) herself had a problem at one time, about two years ago [with the residents] of a condominium or apartment. There were many non-Muslims, and there were Muslim families living in the apartment and they had a surau on the ground floor. And in the fajar, Subuh prayers, the azan [was called] and then the non-Muslim residents complained and they wrote to her. And then what she did was she arranged for a meeting between the residents and the surau committee together with the director of Jawi (the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Affairs Department).
You don’t have to be like, “Oh, no comment. This is what we do, you like it or you don’t like it, that’s not our concern.” I don’t think that’s the face of Islam that we want to show to the public. So I don’t see why I should support him. Do you see any reason why I should support him?
(Chuckles) Back to the question of gaining broader support for PAS. It’s very clear there are many Muslim women in this country who do not wear the hijab and there are Muslim women who could be seen as tomboys and so on. These women could also be voters and could also be disenchanted with the current BN government. How does PAS propose to capture their support and their votes?
Well, I think what we have to understand is that we’re in a very different situation and environment compared to the Islamic state at the time of the Prophet, the rightly-guided caliphs, or the other caliphs, ya? We are in a position where people are generally confused about what Islam is actually all about.
So when we want to handle the situation we have to be able and willing to explain Islam in general terms that people understand, and we have to talk to people in a language they can understand and they can follow, right?
And I think that the top priority, as far as I am concerned, is that we want a clean government which serves the rakyat and does things which are good and gives Muslims, in particular, the ability to express the true teachings of Islam.
So I think what we have to do is that we have to move in a manner which is very inclusive, emphasising on areas of common interest and common concern.
And as far as these people who want to vote, what they have to realise is that we will abide by our promises. I mean, even in the time of the Prophet s.a.w., [in the treaty of] Hudaibiyah, even though it was very painful for him to allow Muslims to be dragged from Medina to Mecca, but because the agreement was such, he had to stand by his promise.
So, similarly, when PAS enters the election with a promise that this is what [we] are going to do, then we will hold on to that. And as we know we can’t govern alone, that is what’s important! We’re going to govern together, so [they need to see] what are the main features of our manifesto and whether what we say is in their interest or otherwise.
You are very well respected and regarded, and your brother, Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad, is also very respected as Umno supreme council member and Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister. What is it like sitting on the opposite side of Parliament from your brother?
(Chuckles) Well, personally we have no problems. We meet at our parents’ house or at functions, so it’s okay. Of course, being on the opposite side, sometimes it’s a bit awkward. But I think he understands that I have my views and that I am expected to voice it out irrespective of who is on the other side, right?
And well, you know, it’s not something that you want or wish for, but it is what it is, and as long as we all understand that it’s nothing personal, then I think it’s not going to be a problem.
So, [what would] a typical Hari Raya Aidilfitri be like?
We will all go to my parents’ house in the kampung in Janda Baik and we’ll all be there. And the rest of the brothers and sisters will also come. Then when they want to criticise the BN they talk to me, when they want to criticise Pakatan Rakyat they talk to him! (Chuckles) And he is the eldest boy, so he normally has his own open house and we also come. So, we don’t make it personal lah. As brothers, we are still brothers.
See also Part II: Understanding Islam