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Raja Kamarul Bahrin: PAS, present and future

Posted: 05 Nov 2013 03:58 PM PST

"Whose fault is it if Muslims are converted out of Islam? Those responsible for governance have a duty to provide religious education. If people are lacking knowledge in fundamental tenants, then there is a definite flaw in our system."

Dina Murad, The Star

KUALA Terengganu MP Datuk Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad, who arrived for this lunch interview in an immaculate three-piece grey pinstripe suit, does not quite portray the conventional image of a PAS politician.

The dapper gentleman will definitely surprise those who believe that politicians from Islamist parties come equipped with kafiyyah (turbans) - although the man does sport a formidable salt-and-pepper goatee.

Raja Kamarul Baharin has courted controversy in the past, with allegations of child 'smuggling' and a collapsed stadium roof linked to him.

In 1992, he captured international attention when he smuggled his two children from Australia back to Malaysia by boat.

The Terengganu royal said he resorted to such drastic measures because his parental rights were being diminished by the Australian courts in favour of his ex-wife Jacqueline Gillespie.

Years later, he came under scrutiny again when the roof of the Sultan Mizan Zalnal Abidin stadium in Terengganu - a building which his architecture firm designed - collapsed.

He later clarified that the design and construction of the roof was conducted by a different company which was not under his control.

Now a keen player in the Terengganu conservation front, the affable architect-turned-politician is an avid campaigner against the demolition of Pasar Payang, a traditional market on heritage death row.

After a chat over Pasar Payang, Raja Kamarul Bahrin spared some time to answer a few questions concerning politics and faith.

"I joined PAS because the party tries its best to represent good governance and amanah (trust)," he said.

"These are values that are often lost in the hustle and bustle of politics," he added.

Protection of religion is a contentious topic when it comes to Malaysian affairs of state. The recent ban of the usage of the term "Allah" in Catholic weekly Herald is nothing more than a ploy to create disharmony, he observed.

According to Raja Kamarul Bahrin, it is clear that non-Muslims are entitled to the much sought-after word.

"Prophet Muhammad's father is named Abdullah, meaning Servant of Allah. He was not a Muslim. If people are misled, it is not by the word but by inadequate education.

"Whose fault is it if Muslims are converted out of Islam? Those responsible for governance have a duty to provide religious education. If people are lacking knowledge in fundamental tenants, then there is a definite flaw in our system."

Rather than blaming others, perhaps self-reflection is required in examining why Muslims convert out, he suggested.

"Take a look at the incredible mismanagement of zakat funds. The deserving poor are made to travel and fill in tedious forms in a lengthy process to receive money that is rightfully theirs. Why do we burden them with inconvenience?"

"While Muslims lag behind, other missionaries approach them with provisions of funds and education," he explained.

Regarding usage of the term "Allah" he believed that educating Malaysians was preferable to an outright ban.

"As long as the word is not maliciously employed to mislead Muslims, I do not see a problem with it," he said.

A round of politics

When it comes to eradicating poverty, Raja Kamarul Bahrin is a proponent of need-based policies.

"The approach should be to help the poor across the board, regardless of race or religion. If you give money to the poor based on needs, pure statistics decrees that Malays would still get a large chunk of the allocation because they command the majority.

"The New Economic Policy is not to help the Malays. It is for the benefit of Umno," he said.

When asked to share his thoughts on the new Umno line-up, he expressed some pessimism.

"Apart from the vice-president, nothing else has changed within the leadership. Worse still, Umno lost a lot of progressive candidates. Where is (Pulai MP) Nur Jazlan? Where is (former Temerloh MP) Saifuddin Abdullah? Everyone liked him. Even we (the Opposition) liked him.

On Pakatan Rakyat's side, he points to figures such as Zairil Khir Johari, Datuk Husam Musa and Rafizi Ramli, individuals which he is confident will bring positive changes to the coalition.

In the last general election, PAS gained many urban seats in Terengganu but lost its rural standing.

Raja Kamarul Bahrin attributed this to alleged fear-mongering amongst rural voters.

"They fear that essential public amenities like water and electricity may be disrupted if they vote 'wrongly'.

"They were told that if they vote for DAP, the Chinese will overtake the Malays," he said.

He explained that when access to media and information is limited as is the situation in many rural areas, scare tactics become more effective.

He also claimed to have witnessed first-hand the effect of these threats when campaigning in kampungs.

"We knocked on a door and when the owner opened it and saw our shirts and banners, she froze.

"The lady was speechless and looked absolutely terrified. I doubt it was because we looked particularly menacing," said the politician.

"For them, their most prized assets are their houses and resources such as water and electricity. They would not want to risk losing access to it," he said.

He claimed that although it may not be said directly, it was implied that development may not be forthcoming if the government of the day was voted out.

According to him, tacit punishment of voters was common practice in our nation.

Raja Kamarul Bahrin said that the East-Coast Highway, which stops at Terengganu, should rightly access Kelantan as well.

"The highway is the responsibility of the Federal Government but they did not see fit to link it to Kelantan, an Opposition state.

"You should never do this to your own people. They rightly fear having their electricity taken away, their duit raya, their roads.

"The rhetoric is to protect the people, tetapi kesian, Melayu diperbodohkan. (It is a pity that the Malays are treated like fools)," he said.

PAS-sing through the ages

PAS has remodelled itself through the years, now having included many professionals to its once ulama-controlled leadership.

"We should dispel the idea that PAS is equated to extreme Islamic regimes. Tuan Guru (PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul) Hadi Awang's views echo those of Tok Guru (party spiritual advisor and former Kelantan MB Datuk) Nik Aziz.

"They both support moderation in approach. The goal is not just to 'win' non-Muslim votes but to explain why we fight to upload Islamic values and principles," he said.

Raja Kamarul Bahrin attributed his win in Kuala Terengganu to a strong non-Muslim voter base.

"In Terengganu, many Chinese voters have been exposed to Islam and have good knowledge of it. There is no fear of extremism from PAS on their part," he said, crediting Nik Aziz's approach of persuasion and moderation for the increase of votes among the youth.

When prompted about a perception held among some that Kelantan's laws on Islamic attire and entertainment are excessive, Raja Kamarul Bahrin answered with an invitation to visit the PAS stronghold.

"I could say many things to dispute this and we could go on for ages, but don't just take my word for it.

"The best way to find out is to go to Kelantan and see for yourself," he concluded.


Kredit: www.malaysia-today.net

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