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The moon rises

(File pic of PAS flags by Danny Lim; moon by jcroatta /

IN the midst of the 2009 Perak constitutional coup, embattled Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin won many Malaysians over with his moral courage, steadfastness and calm. He became the face of Malaysians who opposed an absolute monarchy.

Nizar was even hailed as a possible successor of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim by some non-Muslim Malaysians. To my knowledge, he was perhaps the first ever PAS leader who gained such acceptance as premier material by Malaysians across ethnic and religious lines.

Does this acceptance of Nizar indicate that PAS has really changed? Is PAS genuine in reaching out to non-Muslims? Will the party revert to its old mould if it gets into federal power?

National appeal

There is a caveat here: Those who cheer for the likes of Nizar, Shah Alam Member of Parliament (MP) Khalid Samad and Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat appear to be mostly from West Malaysia. We have rarely heard of Sarawakians and Sabahans who support PAS.

To many easygoing East Malaysians, any religious party is simply too heavy for them. And PAS cannot be a national party until it can be accepted by Malaysians from both sides of the South China Sea.

Nizar (File pic courtesy of theSun)
Perhaps for this reason, the Sarawak United People’s Party thought it could dissuade Sibu voters from choosing the DAP by making them believe that PAS, the DAP’s ally, would threaten the beloved non-halal local dish, kampua mee.

Instead, the DAP brought Nizar to Sibu to help in the campaign. In one ceramah to a largely Christian audience, the audience laughed supportively when he said, “The largest sleeping Buddha in Southeast Asia lies in Kelantan where PAS has ruled since 1990. Have we awakened him or asked him to stand up?”

PAS is, indeed, more inclusive towards religious minorities now than many have imagined. However, one would not have been able to imagine the same PAS coming out so fearlessly to defend non-Muslim use of the word “Allah“, say, five years ago.

But if PAS has managed to establish its Christian-friendly credibility in the “Allah” row, its Hindu-friendly reputation was sealed even earlier in 2007. When the Hindraf movement took conversion and body-snatching issues head on, painting Hindus as victims of religious persecution, PAS initially labelled them “extreme”. But soon enough, PAS embraced Hindraf.

Siti Mariah Mahmud (Source:
That key decision sealed the victory for PAS in the 2008 elections in many mixed constituencies. For example, in the Kota Raja parliamentary seat, Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud won 68% of the popular vote — the highest for all PAS candidates — in a constituency with a 52% non-Malay Malaysian electorate.

Islamic state baggage

Even so, as late as 2001, PAS was still talking about establishing an Islamic state. In fact, this was the reason why the then opposition coalition, Barisan Alternatif, fell apart — the DAP couldn’t stomach PAS’s Islamist ambitions.

Up until its 2007 muktamar in Kota Baru, PAS still attacked Muslim groups that held different opinions as enemies of the faith. In the 2009 muktamar, the Shah Alam division demanded that Muslim feminist organisation Sisters in Islam be “investigated”. However, things seemed different this time, because the motion was quickly challenged by PAS leaders themselves, such as Siti Mariah and Titiwangsa MP Dr Lo’ Lo’ Mohamad Ghazali.

Even so, after the watershed March 2008 elections, talks of a possible Umno-PAS unity government grabbed headlines intermittently. It was in this context that I asked once in this column: Will PAS turn blue? In other words, would PAS go out of its comfort zone, abandon the red ocean competition of Malay-Muslim nationalist politics with Umno, and go for the blue ocean of inclusive politics?

To me, the answer lies much in electoral incentives for PAS. If PAS can see its future in multiethnic politics, then it will interpret political Islam in the most liberal — still a dirty word for many PAS leaders—  or inclusive way. This it has done on several occasions. It did so in the “Allah” row, risking the displeasure of nationalist Muslim groups. It did it again in the infamous cow-head protest in Shah Alam, with Khalid vowing to uphold justice for Hindus even if it were to cost him votes.

And so, it is interesting that in PAS’s upcoming muktamar, from 11 to 13 June 2010, non-Muslims will speak as leaders of the party’s newest wing. In fact, it is almost certain that PAS will field a few non-Muslim candidates in the next general election. After all, it already fielded an Indian Malaysian woman candidate for a state seat in Johor in 2008.

Can PAS lead?

And so, the question that many should ask regarding the upcoming muktamar is: Will an increasingly multiethnic PAS be qualified to lead the nation?

While some PAS leaders have denied any ambition to replace Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) as the leading party in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR), it is actually worth pondering on this possibility. After all, PKR is still suffering from two problems.

First, as a party that hoped to benefit from defections from the Barisan Nasional (BN), it is now losing its own elected representatives. Unlike PAS or the DAP, which denounced crossovers of elected representatives in principle, PKR still refuses to delegitimise such acts by insisting that its 16 Sept 2008 plot did not entail material incentives.

Khalid Ibrahim
Second, many of PKR’s leaders are still eyeing political appointments and government contracts. Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, who has been resisting such pressure so far, attracted the bulk of criticisms in the party’s recently concluded convention. For many, that’s a sign that PKR will likely become another Umno should it come to power.

A greater role for PAS in national politics may therefore be not only desirable but necessary should PKR lose to Umno in the defection game, or if it replaces Umno in the food chain of patronage.

PAS’s best bets

PAS would be silly if it thinks that setting up its Dewan Himpunan Penyokong PAS is sufficient. The fact is, non-Muslims in PAS are not full members and still cannot vote in party elections.

Possible obstacles from the Registrar of Societies aside, PAS is probably worried that allowing non-Muslims to vote would make it even more vulnerable to Umno’s accusations of “selling out Muslims“. But not doing more is not a viable option for PAS, especially as Malaysian politics keeps undergoing quantum speed transformation.

Therefore, there are two urgent issues that PAS should address in this muktamar.The first is its stand on bumiputeraism. After all, the Malay nationalism championed by Umno has two strands: the cultural strand emphasising the supremacy of Islam and the Malay language; and the economic strand that survives on bumiputeraism.

PAS has proven that it can counter the cultural strand when it wants to, but what about the economic strand? How can PAS convince poor Malay Malaysians that abandoning the asabiyah (communalism) mentality will benefit them? Would it be time to reaffirm the party’s appeal for a welfare state?

Second, is PAS willing to assure Malaysians that it will commit to multiparty democracy, and will not replace and replicate Umno even if it were to win the most seats in Parliament? If yes, as a starter, Malaysians need to know if and when PAS plans to introduce local elections and freedom of information enactments in Kelantan and Kedah, the two PR states it leads.

And until that happens, it’s left to be seen if a new moon will rise over PAS.

A political scientist by training and a journalism lecturer by trade, Wong Chin Huat loves the moon but is not lunatic about it.

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23 Responses to “The moon rises”

  1. thokiat says:

    PAS, DAP atau PKR sukar untuk mendapat undi majority sekiranya mereka bertanding sebagai parti berasingan. Mahu tak mahu, Pakatan perlu menyatukan kekuatan mereka untuk menguasai Putrajaya.

  2. Ellese A says:

    Interesting article but still superficial for a social lecturer. A few important points which Wong has not dealt with.

    You have misinterpreted the Allah issue among Muslims and particularly PAS members. There is much confusion in PAS on this issue. The revered Harun Din who is the Nik Aziz’s deputy spiritual head was against this stand. A lot of PAS members take refuge under Harun Din’s view and tutelage. It was spun in a way [to appear] that [opposing] the Allah [ban] is correct and acceptable in PAS.

    Wong has denied this point but it has serious ramifications in his writing. This group in my view is certainly against the view propounded by Khalid Samad. In fact, in the last muktamar, Khalid was clearly thrown out by the delegates. In other words they may be the majority. The fact that PAS cannot push non-Muslims to have basic voting rights should have elucidated this point. (See write up on this by the Pas youth head). [And] anyway what’s the value of non-voting members?)

    Had BN accepted all races as non-voting members, Wong would have dismissed this as utterly disdainful and useless. However with PAS he seems to be more forgiving, perhaps due to his partisanship. That is Wong’s prerogative but as a social lecturer he should at least acknowledge this group and do the research and write about them as they are influential.

    Otherwise we will face the same dilema as in the previous PAS muktamar where prior to that all the pro-Pakatan media portrayed Khalid Samad and other Anwaristas or Erdogans as the face of PAS when in, reality the muktamar kicked them out. It’s like syok sendiri. You potray someone you like as the face of PAS rather than what PAS members want. Then you yourself believe in it and forgot that it was you who created it. Malaysiakini and Malaysian insider did this then. Now Wong seems to have fallen in this trap by writing a superficial article like this.

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      What many readers do not realise is that the Malay-Muslim [Malaysians] – by and large – have a different value system, a different aspiration and a very different world-view – from the majority of the non-Muslim Malaysians. Whereas non-Muslim Malaysians are quite Westernised in their outlook, the Malay-Muslim [Malaysians] remain mostly Islamic conservatives. This divergence of goals, aims and views – is ripping apart the fabric of Malaysian society. Whether its PAS or PKR or BN – this very serious problem remains.

  3. Azizi Khan says:

    As I see it, one of the biggest challenges PAS would face is to accept non-Muslims as equals. Yes, PAS actually does quite a lot and they do honestly interact better now with non-Muslims mainly through the insight and wisdom of Tok Guru but can PAS actually handle the possibility of a non-Muslim calling the shots ?

    This is a very big thorn in the side for many Muslims. For a long (long) time, Malaysia has been running without considering the feelings of non-Muslims. Let’s be honest here, anyone can come out with a handful of examples of how this is so. A rational Muslim would know this itself is un-Islamic. But it’s the status quo in Malaysia.

    PAS must understand that these days its not that people dislike its policies. But rather, if PAS cannot treat citizens equally, its no better than Umno.

    Respectfully, PAS must understand whether they like it or not, non-Muslims make a large percentage of the community. And they need what every member of the community requires – recognition as a fair citizen of Malaysia.


  4. Rhan says:

    @Ellese A

    You have misinterpreted the Allah issue among Muslims and particularly PAS members.

    I don’t see any misinterpretation. Wong did not write in an absolute sense. He used terms like “more inclusive than”, “say five years ago”, “the same PAS”. He never said the entire PAS opposed the “Allah” ban. With regard to majority and minority, we are glad to see PAS uphold the spirit of democracy. There is nothing wrong if the members go against the wish of top leaders.

    Had BN accepted all races as non-voting members, Wong would have dismissed this as utterly disdainful.

    Why BN and not UMNO, MCA and MIC? Conflating apples and oranges is a bad habit.

    Now Wong seems to have fallen in this trap by writing a superficial article like this.

    Wong concludes his writing with a few questions and even mentions it’s left to be seen if a new moon will rise over PAS.


  5. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear readers,

    It does not matter whether its PAS or BN or PKR. Either way, Malaysia is still a Muslim country practicing Muslim laws and traditions. Do you honestly think that PAS or PKR will make changes to Islamic Syariah? What you must come to terms with – is the reality that Malaysia is a Muslim country.

  6. Farouq Omaro says:

    It was reported that PAS may contest in 15 seats in Sabah. This may not be a good thing for Pakatan Rakyat as many Sabahans fear PAS. Even a majority of Muslims in Sabah see PAS as an extremist party. It would be best for PAS to stay by the sidelines in the next Sabah state elections. The extremist colour painted on PAS has yet to fade in the eyes of many ordinary Sabahans. The demonstration against the Inul concert in Tawau recently only reinforces PAS’ radical image.

  7. syed says:

    No worries fellow friends, because Islam is simple, fair, just and all human beings should be treated equally.

  8. arah says:

    Malaysian have to understand the fundamentals of Islam. Europeans and Americans are embracing Islam but Malaysian are left behind. There are many other good Muslims beside the Malays or the Arabs. Quran:

    Surah 5:Ayat: 82-83 “And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection to those who believe (to be) those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not proud. When they listen to that which hath been revealed unto the messenger, thou seest their eyes overflow with tears because of their recognition of the Truth. They say: Our Lord, we believe. Inscribe us as among the witnesses”


    May Almighty God the Creator be pleased with all of you, for what you have done helping mankind and will Allah give you peace and happiness in this world and Jannah in the hereafter.


  9. Ellese A says:

    Dear Rhan,

    This is what Wong said in his article “One would not have been able to imagine the same PAS coming out so fearlessly to defend non-Muslim use of the word “Allah” and “PAS has managed to establish its Christian-friendly credibility in the “Allah” row”.

    What I question is, [which] PAS is Wong referring to [when he says] that there are huge disagreements within PAS on this issue. What happened is that the view of the Erdogans was highlighted by pro-Pakatan media. [The stand of those who took an opposing view within PAS, like the revered Harun Din, on the “Allah” issue was not highlighted]. I was suggesting [that Harun’s view] most probably reflects the view of the majority of PAS members.

    As written earlier you would have noticed that pro-opposition blogs mainly highlight views of Khalid Samad and his ilk as if he represents the PAS view. This is far from the truth as he was utterly rejected. Khalid faced extreme pressure at that point to justify his view within PAS. (read the writings in Harakah at that time) Even Hadi’s actual conditional stand on this Allah issue was not highlighted. Why must you be selective?

    Because of this selective covering to push for a self-serving agenda, one can easily misinterpret PAS’ stand on the Allah issue. But for Wong who is a social scientist to gloss over this I feel is shallow and superficial.

    I hope I have clarified my point.

  10. dav says:

    PAS’s uncertainty is now preferred to Umno’s arrogance.

  11. Anonymous Coward says:

    Dr. Syed Alwi, I challenge that view.

    Of course, it would be moronic not to acknowledge that the majority of the people residing in this country are Muslims, so let’s get that out of the way. What matters is that the founding fathers of this country never intended it to become an Islamic country. At least, not by the policies and standards set by subsequent administrations. From my understanding, the intent was to create a secular nation with a Muslim temperament. I feel that this is an important distinction.

    I am hesitant to agree with you, Dr. Syed, due to the practices and policies that have been adopted by past administrations that still continue to this day: Ketuanan Melayu obviously has no place in Islam for its discriminative policies and yet it continues to be espoused as the way to protect Muslim interests in this nation. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the identity of a Malay [Malaysian] is intricately related to [his or] her religion and vice-versa. One of the running jokes within my circle of friends is that were every Malaysian to convert to Islam, we would then end up with a nation of “Malays”.

    However, the most important thing that I would like to point out is that this is not a zero-sum game. To help and to maintain positive relations with non-Muslims does not mean that Muslims lose. To give more say to non-Muslims does not automatically mean that Muslim views will be discarded. In fact, I find it rather perplexing that many Muslim Malaysians have adopted this view. There is no siege being perpetrated against us.

    We need to remind ourselves that we — yes, we, the Muslims — are the ones with strength in this country. We have the strength to compromise, we can make concessions with dignity. The longer we stay in a siege mentality and the perception that we are weak victims, the more we lose sight of our own strength and will forever be scared of compromise.

    • Dr Syed Alwi says:

      Dear Anonymous Coward,

      The non-Muslim Malaysians have a completely different aspiration from the Malaysian Muslims. They prefer a more Westernised society but the Muslims prefer a more Islamic social climate. This is tearing the fabric of Malaysian society.

  12. bekays says:

    As a non-Muslim, I shall not pass any comment until I know and understand and qualify to do so.

  13. D Lim says:

    Do not underestimate PAS. It’s ability to cultivate future leaders like Nizar is an indication of its ‘ability to change’. It is also attracting a well educated younger generation. Rejuvenation is important in the survival of any political party. We cannot always depend on the older generation. PAS does not have the baggage of Umno who has ruled the country for decades and hence find change very difficult to accept. We are all creatures of habit. How do we know that PAS cannot govern economically if [it is not given a chance]?

    As a non-Muslim, if PAS can know the tenets of governance like justice and fairness and keep extreme religious hotheads under control, PAS can find acceptance within the non-Muslim community. We all need to live with each other and find a space within ourselves so that we can live well whilst respecting each other differences.

  14. Rhan says:

    @Ellese A
    Thanks for the response.

    “Even Hadi’s actual conditional stand on this Allah issue was not highlighted. Why must you be selective?”

    Okay, I refer to Harakah and would believe that it carries PAS’ official stand: “We would like to state that based on Islamic principles, the use of the word Allah by the people of the Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity and Judaism, is acceptable,” Hadi said. “PAS strongly objects to any aggressive and provocative approach that can lead to tension in society.”

    As Wong and I are not PAS members, there is no way we know what happens at the back, so we can’t be too presumptuous.

    “But for Wong who is a social scientist to gloss over this I feel it’s shallow and superficial.”

    I try not to put words into Wong mouth but if I am not wrong, he is giving his “opinion” as a columnist in TNG, and not fact reporting. I am not too sure if he is writing in the capacity of a social scientist or merely an advocate of a two party system. [Whichever] he is, I think “gloss over” is an exaggerated term to apply when in fact, like I said, he raises more question than answer.

    To each his own. Thank you.

  15. Ellese A says:

    Dear Rhan,

    If you do not want to read Hadi’s qualified statement on not misusing “Allah”, its up to you.
    If you don’t want to read [writer] Subky Latif’s writing on not adopting Tan Sri Pakiam’s stand, it’s up to you still.
    If you don’t want to read the denial by PAS that they agreed with the High Court decision, it is up to you again.
    If you don’t want to read or see the revered PAS Harun’s Din’s stand on the “Allah” issue, is also up to you.
    If you don’t want to read PAS’ Hadi’s and PKR’s Manuty’s statements that the use of “Allah” should not affect our nation’s harmony, it is totally up to you.

    But to hide behind the cloak that you don’t know this knowledge because you are not a PAS member shows utter ignorance and plain gullibility. It shows either you do selective readings or are simply lazy to read. What I have written is already public knowledge. Just read Jocelyn Tan’s article on this issue in The Star. If you’re going to tell me that you don’t read The star, there’s no point arguing with you because you are not a person who seeks the truth.

    That’s why for Wong as a social science lecturer to write such an article denying these public facts shows to me a lack of a analysis expected of his stature.

    [Editor’s note:
    Hi Ellese A,

    Could you do commenters here a favour and perhaps post some links on Hadi’s qualified statement and Dr Manuty’s statement? I did try to do a quick search for those but haven’t managed to find any. If you could share with us the links you have for those news reports/statements, it would benefit all readers here in terms of getting a larger view of this issue.

    Deborah Loh
    Assistant News Editor
    The Nut Graph]

  16. Rhan says:

    @Ellese A

    I find it bore to repeat what I have written, this is either a sign of my weak elaboration skills or something to do with readers’ intelligence level. I hope it is the former, and for you, I think I have no choice but to do so again.

    We must first recognise that there are always objections and differences of opinion in a democratic system, which PAS upholds and adheres to.

    Is your “If you do not bla bla bla….” substantive enough to rebut Wong’s statement that “However, one would not have been able to imagine the same PAS coming out so fearlessly to defend non-Muslim use of the word “Allah“, say, five years ago.”?

    My contentions are: 1) relatively speaking; 2) Nik Abdul Aziz’s stand; and, 3) PAS official stand.

    When I say I don’t know, it means I don’t know, I can’t come to a conclusion whose side the majority [is on] just by referring to your so called “public knowledge” which Deborah [is] having some difficulty tracing. Perhaps you can help her out with a more detailed search.

    You [say] “Just read Jocelyn Tan’s article on this issue in The Star. If you’re going to tell me that you don’t read The star, there’s no point arguing with you because you are not a person who seeks the truth.”

    [This] absolutely demonstrates your poor sense of logic and wisdom. I haven’t read The Star for the past five years and I’ve never read any article by Jocelyn Tan and have no intention of doing so in the next 5 years. [It’s] sad [that] you to believe that reading The Star has anything to do with seeking truth.

  17. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear readers,

    I think problems arise in contemporary Malaysia because of the ideological divide between the conservative Muslims on one hand, and the somewhat Westernised Non-Muslims on the other.

    Be it PAS or BN, you must understand that the majority of Malaysian Muslims aspire towards an Islamic Modernity in which the social climate is Islamic in nature. But the Non-Muslims prefer a Western Modernity based on a Western-style secular liberal democracy.

    There is only one way out – COMPROMISE. I put it to all of you that Pakatan will end up being just another type of BN government. It has to be. Because the only way Malaysia can be governed is via a racial compromise a-la BN. This despite all the loose talk.

    Thats the reality you have to live with….

  18. Rhan says:

    @ Dr Syed Alwi,

    What makes you think we are not compromising enough? Perhaps what we want is merely responsible governance with less corruption? We have a better chance to achieve this through a more balanced environment: two party system or multiple party system.

    Ideological differences exist everywhere, Muslim or non-Muslim and in all nations. As long as we respect the right to diversity (unity in diversity as claimed by you), and don’t impose our values on others, I think it is okay. And believe me, the liberal types, too, have the same habit to boost their greatness.

    Technocratic style is another option, but I suspect this has much to do with history and culture, [perhaps] something to do with Orientalism?

  19. Dr Syed Alwi says:

    Dear Rhan,

    I agree with you that a multi-party system is the best bet against corruption. In that sense – as long as Pakatan adheres to the 1957 social contract – then a two party system is the best bet in Malaysia. I’ts just that some people do not even accept Malaysia’s status as a Muslim country! That’s ridiculous!

  20. Ellese A says:

    Dear Deborah,

    Do a search on Harakah itself and the statements therein.

    Dear Rhan,

    As expected, you are just too partisan to be objective. I can’t do much if you don’t want to read or are lazy to read. But your pride in your ignorance is amazing and simply misguided. I can only pray that you can elevate yourself above all these perceptions and untruths so that people will not take advantage of your gullibility. Best of luck.

    Oh yes, on Joycelyn Tan, I rather Deborah or Jacqueline comment on her reputation since she is their comrade. I think you should not dismiss anyone before you do your own check. Since you are biased, it’s better that I don’t comment since you won’t believe me anyway.

  21. chinhuatw says:

    First of all, my apologies for not responding to the comments.

    I am fully aware of the debates within PAS on the matter. And I believe I understand how PAS managed to find a way out to reconcile the two views, as proposed by Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad, a key theorist in PAS ideological positioning.

    I did not mention about the debates with a link to Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad’s article was due to my wrong impression that my previous articles on Allah in TNG or elsewhere have touched on the matter and hence no point of repetition. In any case, such omission did not invalidate my key point in this article that PAS needs to do more despite progress.

    Elesse A accused me of “syiok sendiri” by portraying only the liberal faces in PAS, like what he accused Malaysiakini and Malaysia Insider of doing. That is not my intention. Read my column last year “will PAS turn blue” and you’ll see how I analyze factionalism in PAS. One may disagree with me on my analytical framework but to simply accuse me of propagating in writing – disregard my intellectual position – risks revealing one’s mentality.

    In hindsight, I thank Elesse A’s criticism that I should have mentioned about the Harun Din’s position in my article. I believe if I have done so, with a reference to Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad’s reconciliation, readers would have had a better understanding why I see PAS the way I see it.

    As for Dr Syed Alwi who likes to stress that Malaysia is a Muslim country, I think that fact is never questioned just like Ireland and Italy are Catholic countries.

    If he however believes a Muslim country must be one that is exclusivist in religious or even ethnic term, he may want to consider giving up his Singaporean citizenship to join the defenders of such an “assabiah” (communalist) Muslim country. We are not talking about Malaysia becoming the Islamic version of Scandinavia, but to be as open as Indonesia.

    Over the years, I come across more and more Muslims who believe all Malaysians “share the nation” (to borrow the title of the book by Norani Othman, Mavis Puthucheary and Clive Kessler).

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