IT is understandably very easy to demonise PAS for its Islamic state agenda. After all, the party leadership seems quite adept at declaring its intentions to implement some features of an Islamic state, such as hudud, at the most inopportune moments.
In a global climate of Islamophobia and because of Muslims acting out of a siege mentality, including in Malaysia, Islam’s poster men and women are unfortunately irrational bigots. Or terrorists. Or barbaric and autocratic regimes such as the Taliban. Hence, PAS’s recent repeat about implementing hudud in multiracial Malaysia can only further fuel some people’s distrust of the world’s second largest, and fastest-growing religion.
But it is way too easy to be blindsided by prejudices against Islam, and against a self-avowed Islamist party such as PAS. Hence, even more so, we should rigorously test the assumptions and query the public rhetoric surrounding PAS and the Islamic state it wants for Malaysia. This is the question we need to ask as Malaysians: Is PAS really the only political party that has an Islamic state agenda in Malaysia?
When PAS vice-president Datuk Husam Musa declared in December 2008 that the party would have implemented hudud had the Pakatan Rakyat taken over government on 16 Sept 2008, he wasn’t the only one supporting an Islamic penal code. He was speaking at an open debate with Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin. When prodded, Khairy himself seemed to indicate he would support an Islamic penal code if he became Umno Youth chief in the upcoming March 2009 party elections.
After publication of the report that described this incident, however, a YouTube video has been posted that challenges the description of what happened. Instead, what Khairy is clearly heard saying is, “Secara jelas, kita teruskan apa yang ada. Itu dasar kerajaan Barisan Nasional (BN).”
But what policy is this that Khairy stands by, and how much better is it, in the context of a secular democracy, compared with what PAS is projecting?
We need to remind ourselves that Umno, and the current policies being perpetuated by an Umno-led BN, has just as much of an Islamic state agenda as PAS does. For example, no less than former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad declared in September 2001 that “Malaysia is already an Islamic state”. In July 2007, even prime-minister-in-waiting Datuk Seri Najib Razak declared that Malaysia was an Islamic state. “We have never been a secular state,” he was widely reported to have said.
Alarmingly, right after this statement, the government, under Najib’s helm because Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was on holiday in Australia, issued a media ban on all discussions about the matter. This is something I personally experienced as assistant news editor at theSun.
In Islam’s name
In the run-up to the 8 March 2008 general election, one of the most effective pro-opposition SMSes that flew like pollen in the wind was this one that was attributed to blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin: “Umno is more Islamic & dangerous than PAS. Who breaks ur temples? Who put 5 in ISA? Who declare M’sia Islamic country? Who snatch dead bodies? Who kill in police custody? Who create bumiputra? Who break family using syariah law?…Who use khalwat to spy on people? Who implement Islamic policy in schools? It is BN. For 50 yrs they brainwashed us to think that they are moderate. They are the extremists.”
To that list, I might add that it is also under the current administration that Muslims are denied the religious freedom to choose another faith. Under this same administration, the Catholic Herald and all other non-Muslim groups are banned from using the word “Allah”.
Malaysians signing a petition against the Islamic Family Law amendment, January 2006 (Pic courtesy of Ezrena)
Additionally, it was the BN government that, in late 2005, passed amendments to the Islamic Family Law that were not only grossly unjust to Muslim women but were also un-Islamic. And today, it is the BN government that is making it mandatory for Muslims to undergo flawed pre-marital HIV testing, which may even be extended to non-Muslims.
So, yes, PAS needs to be taken to task for not giving up its Islamic state agenda for a nation that was founded as a secular democracy. But, so should Umno, which, perhaps more cleverly, is less transparent about its attempts to infuse certain kinds of Islamic laws and teachings into public policy. And when these laws and teachings are contested, what’s worse is that public discussion is curtailed through silencing and fear. Or sometimes, by telling concerned non-Muslims not to worry because it doesn’t affect them. We should bear in mind that this is an oft-used argument both BN leaders and Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim are guilty of.
Umno may not be promoting hudud. For now. But more importantly, what is clear is that they haven’t publicly opposed it, either. And, from the examples above, the Umno-led BN clearly has aspirations for an Islamic state of sorts. And I mean in a prejudiced way that perverts the more inclusive and just interpretations of all discourses “Islamic”. Because I believe that Islam promotes justice, fairness and compassion as exhorted by notable Muslim organisations such as Sisters in Islam, and Muslim scholars such imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
Should PAS be questioned about its Islamic state agenda? Yes, I think it should. Should we also hold Umno accountable for its own Islamic agenda? Yes, again. If PAS’s only outrageous statement was about implementing hudud law, Umno, by far, definitely has more to answer for in the name of Islam.
Jacqueline Ann Surin is not fearful of Islam. She’s afraid of those in power who act in the name of Islam to perpetuate fear, distrust, injustice, bigotry and a lack of thinking and questioning.
Hudud and democracy