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Politicising Islam in KT

BN poster on religious classes

THE use of religion is a given in any election campaign that involves the ruling Umno and the Islamist opposition, PAS.

It’s no different in the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election, where Islam is used as a selling point on the Malay-Muslim majority in the constituency, who comprise 88.13% of the electorate.

Who’s more Islamic?

Four days into the campaign period since nomination on 6 Jan, ceramahs by both sides never fail to explain how each is more Islamic than the other. PAS argues from a spiritual, intangible aspect, while Umno highlights the physical, involving modernity and development as a means to help Muslims fulfil their obligations.

Umno’s Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said has said that Barisan Nasional (BN) has helped Muslims be better believers through various government schemes that have increased their standard of living and enabled them to perform the haj.

He cited the Felda oil palm plantation settlement scheme, which he said had helped thousands of Felda settlers to go on pilgrimage. “We have helped more Muslims obtain pahala (rewards from God), but what has PAS done?”

Ahmad was referring to the statement by PAS spiritual leader Datuk Seri Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, that voters who choose the PAS candidate in the by-election would receive pahala.

“Barisan has also built roads, schools, and brought development. Isn’t this more worthy of rewards because we are uplifting the lives of Muslims?” Ahmad asked at a ceramah in the PAS stronghold of Wakaf Mempelam on 7 Jan.

Some observers note that unlike the BN campaign in the Permatang Pauh by-election in August 2008, Umno this time has brought religious teachers or ustaz to speak at its ceramah, especially in PAS strongholds. The ustaz too, follow the party line to talk about how the government’s provision of infrastructure projects makes the ruling party more sincere in serving Muslims.

PAS controls three out of four state seats in Kuala Terenganu: Batu Burok, Ladang, and Wakaf Mempelam, where its candidate Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut is the assemblyperson. The fourth state seat, the Chinese-majority Bandar, has been under the MCA for the last two terms.

Abdul Wahid is facing the BN’s Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh and independent candidate Azharudin Mamat @ Adam in this by-election.

In the PAS campaign so far, issues like the state’s oil royalty get mention alongside the building of the Taman Tamadun Islam (Islamic Civilisation Park) and its icon, the Crystal Mosque.

“True Muslims are against the building of this mosque which is not used for prayer but to attract tourists. It is a mockery,” said an ustaz at a PAS ceramah in Cabang Tiga on 8 Jan.

He went on to cite Medina as an example to Muslims, and as an assurance to non-Muslims, that racial and religious harmony is practised under Islam. There were a good number of Chinese at this ceramah.

Addressing non-Muslims’ concerns

When speaking to the Chinese audience, PAS speakers are careful to tailor their ceramah in a way that highlights fairness and equality under Islam.

Nizar, second from right

The multi-lingual Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin, from PAS, spoke at a Pakatan Rakyat ceramah in Kampung Cina, Bandar, on 5 Jan. He illustrated the state government’s practice of equality in the allocation of 1,000 hectares of land to private Chinese schools and sekolah agama rakyat (people’s religious schools), to build their own cooperatives.

“This is the Pakatan Rakyat state government’s policy, to be fair to all regardless of race and religion,” he added, switching effortlessly from Bahasa Malaysia to Mandarin to English.

The prickly issue of hudud, however, does not get public mention by either side in the campaign so far.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim talked about hudud, but only when asked about it in a press conference on 7 Jan when launching the PKR by-election operation’s room. He did not directly reject its implementation should Pakatan Rakyat come to federal power, and toed the PAS line that it would not affect non-Muslims.

In Umno-organised ceramah, hudud is not raised because it would be hard to speak against it with a Muslim audience.

But in MCA programmes, hudud is explained as a setback for the Chinese community, who will be affected by it despite PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang saying it is only meant for Muslims.

“Hudud will add further racial polarisation as it will separate Muslims from kafir. And if a non-Muslim gets raped by a Muslim, the victim will need four witnesses under Islamic law just because the suspect is Muslim. How can Hadi say we won’t be affected?” argues Terengganu MCA chairperson Toh Chin Yaw, who is also the Bandar assemblyperson.

The use of religion in this by-election is definitely more measured that the all-out mud-slinging and dares to swear on the Quran as seen in the Permatang Pauh by-election. In that event, swearing on the holy book was used so often as a challenge to prove one’s innocence that some people have expressed disgust with the way Islam was abused for politics.

But though milder, this campaign once again shows how religion can be tailored to suit anyone’s rhetoric.

See also:

Curtain up in Kuala Terengganu

Terengganu’s slippery oil royalty

KT’s odd man out

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