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Testing time for the ulama

Posted: 16 Nov 2013 04:02 PM PST

A lot is resting on the contest for the PAS deputy president post because the outcome will reflect whether the ulama class still have clout and influence in the party.

The ulama normally do not like to campaign but this time around, the young Turks among the ulama have launched a very aggressive campaign on behalf of the ulama candidates. They are not only campaigning for Nik Amar who is an ulama, but also for more religious scholars to be in the 18-member central working committee.

Joceline Tan, The Star

THERE is often an air of serenity around Datuk Seri Hadi Awang even when things around him are turning topsy-turvy. The PAS president tries not to let worldly affairs impinge too much on his sensibilities and it is often hard to read what is on his mind.

But earlier this week, the serene veil lifted when Hadi was caught in a weird situation linking him to the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood.

An Egyptian newspaper had carried a front page report naming him as the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood's Ikhwan International, the organisation that the ousted Egyptian president, Morsi Mohamad belongs to. He has strenuously denied that he is the secretary-general of Ikhwan International.

Hadi is quite a big name among international Muslim groups and is invited to their forums and gatherings. He is regarded as a learned Muslim scholar who walks the straight path.

That is largely what is keeping him up there as president of PAS because when it comes to politics, Hadi is the captain of a football team that he has little control over. His players are running rings around him and some of them are even said to control him.

But no one blames him because they know he is a reluctant politician. He had wanted to sit out the general election but his party would not allow it.

Hadi, 66, is not as robust as he used to be and party members say he has diabetes and high blood pressure. He watches his diet these days although his favourite food is still ikan terubok, the milky-taste fish that is fraught with tiny bones.

Hadi has also stayed above the fray in the party's election campaign which has been the most intense ever. He has often said he can work with whoever is elected but the truth is that this intellectual-minded politician is not good at playing politics.

In 2011, it was said that he would have preferred Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man as his deputy but he accepted the eventual victor Mat Sabu, as Mohamad Sabu is known, with an open heart.

Hadi has also been hands-off about the ongoing contest for the No 2 post between Mat Sabu and Datuk Nik Amar Nik Abdullah.

But not so his fellow ulama who have made no secret about wanting Nik Amar over Mat Sabu who is associated with the Erdogan group, as the professionals and activists in the party are known.

The ulama normally do not like to campaign but this time around, the young Turks among the ulama have launched a very aggressive campaign on behalf of the ulama candidates. They are not only campaigning for Nik Amar who is an ulama, but also for more religious scholars to be in the 18-member central working committee.

They are not holding back, and a number of Facebook fan pages have popped up to promote the ulama candidates and also to criticise the "parasites," their label for the Erdogans whom they accuse of feeding on the party to promote an agenda that may not benefit PAS.

However, Nik Amar, when contacted a few days ago, said he is not campaigning.

"I have been in Kelantan all this time. People in the party know us, they can evaluate our strengths and weaknesses. I leave it to their maturity and wisdom," he said.

The recent announcement by the Kelantan Syariah chief judge Datuk Daud Muhammad that Kelantan is ready to implement hudud law should give a boost to Nik Amar.

Hudud law has always been an ultimate aim of PAS and if Kelantan is to be the first to go down the hudud road, it is only fitting that Nik Amar, who is from Kelantan, gets their endorsement.

One of the things said about Nik Amar is that he will be unable to bring something different from what Hadi already has.

Or as those who are pro-Mat Sabu put it: "If Hadi goes to the mosque, Nik Amar will also go to the mosque."

The implication is that Nik Amar will merely duplicate the role of Hadi whereas Mat Sabu can push the boundaries and bring PAS to a larger audience.

Nik Amar has also been described as basically a regional leader who is not ready for the big post but the same could have been said about Mat Sabu two years ago. The thing is that there are no hard and fast rules about being ready in politics.

What is clear though is that Nik Amar does not have a big and interesting personality like Mat Sabu. He does not push himself forward in a crowd and he is not a crowd puller.

But he is a persuasive and intelligent speaker compared to the run-of-the-mill speakers that populate the PAS ceramah stage. Reporters like him because he gives logical comments unlike most ulama who often beat around the bush.

One advantage he holds over Mat Sabu is that he is not controversial. Mat Sabu is fighting a perception war about having Syiah links.

This issue is not new and has been hovering over him like a dark cloud for years. It is believed that this was a contributing factor to his defeat in Pendang during the general election.

"Such allegations can be a killer issue. If he loses, it will be because his enemies played up the Syiah issue," said a close associate of his.

Events in recent months have not helped either. State governments all over the country are looking into enacting laws to enable the religious authorities to arrest and prosecute Syiah activities.

The shooting of the Pahang religious enforcement chief added to the situation because the deceased officer was actively going after the Tuhan Harun cult, Syiah groups and other vice activities in the state.

The Sunni Muslims in Malaysia are very conscious of preserving the purity of their beliefs and there is now a heightened sense that the Syiah practitioners have become a threat to the faith.

Some of Mat Sabu's supporters also imagine that the ulama group is using the mosque against him. They claimed that "suddenly, there are sermons warning about the dangers of Syiah."

Apparently, such sermons have taken place in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur and they think it is to undermine their man. But it could also be a case of mosque officials responding to the burning issue of the day.

"I have not detected anything in my dealings with him. What I know is that Mat has good friends in Iran. He likes the way Iran stands up against the west," said Kedah deputy commissioner Datuk Phahrolrazi Mohd Zawawi.

Mat Sabu, said former Wangsa Maju chief Dr Rayney Ali, will have to fall back on his track record as a PAS veteran who has helped build up the party to defend his post.

The leading Malay newspaper Utusan Malaysia had tried to support the ulama cause shortly after the campaign started. But the paper could again end up doing the ulama group a disservice.

In the last party polls, several leading ulama used Utusan to air their views about the election and it backfired spectacularly. PAS members do not like Utusan because of its Umno links and they were angry that the ulama turned to Utusan for publicity.

A total of 1,300 delegates will decide the new leadership line-up this Friday.

Basically, members want to see a more balanced dynamic in the party. The last 10 years have seen the Erdogans, mainly professionals and activists who streamed into PAS during the Reformasi years, gaining in dominance over the party's politics and direction.

This has made the ulama class very unhappy. They feel that their Islamic state goal has become unclear and the party is too subservient to DAP and PKR. They are worried about their standing among the Malays especially after Umno's general election seat count went from 70 to 89 whereas PAS' went down from 23 to 21.

In 2011, the delegates wanted to elect a deputy who could help them face the general election. This time, the feeling is that the deputy must be someone who can take over from Hadi in the event of an emergency.

Former Harakahdaily editor Zulkifli Sulong had written in a news portal that if Tuan Ibrahim and incumbent vice-president Datuk Husam Musa had agreed to contest the No 2 post, it would have been about choosing from the best. Instead, delegates now have to make do with second best.

But there are very few perfect people to be found in the imperfect world of politics and sometimes an election is not about choosing the best but a choice between the lesser of two evils.

This muktamar will test the clout and influence of the ulama. The election outcome will be a testimony of just how relevant the ulama still are in the party.

The alarm bells went off when Mat Sabu won in 2011. If he wins again, it is Code Blue for the religious scholars in PAS. The ulama prestige is at stake.


Pakatan’s stand on religious issues is a smart move, say political analysts

Posted: 16 Nov 2013 03:54 PM PST

Jayum, however, added that it would be beneficial for PR to come up with a broad policy on religion, so that they don't contradict each other later and save them the ordeal of having to repeatedly make statements on the same issues that keep cropping up over and over again.

Jennifer Gomez, The Malaysian Insider

With the many religious controversies taking place in the country now, political analysts described the stand taken by Pakatan Rakyat in reacting, rather than taking pro-active measures, as "smart".

They felt that by reacting to the issues, rather than coming out with a clear policy on religious issues, PR lawmakers have avoided walking into a Barisan Nasional trap.

Recently, the opposition lawmakers have been very vocal on the controversial Allah ruling, the slaughter of cows in schools and the demolition of the 101-year-old Sri Muneswarar Kaliyaman Hindu temple in the city centre.

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng, in dubbing it a "honeymoon period" for PR, explained there was no need for the opposition coalition to make a clear stand on religious issues.

"The main strategy for Pakatan now is not to make a stand on issues that touch on grey areas, especially religion, to avoid getting attacked by Umno.

"They have avoided this all along and it is clearly working," he said.

Universiti Putra Malaysia's Professor Dr Jayum Jawan agreed, adding that PR was playing "good politics".

He said that rather than come up with a stand for which they are bound to be attacked by their political opponents, this was a safer approach.

"Commenting on issues is better than coming up with a stand. They are also trying to avoid being attacked by their opponents, so they are playing good politics and this is expected of a political party," he explained.

Jayum, however, added that it would be beneficial for PR to come up with a broad policy on religion, so that they don't contradict each other later and save them the ordeal of having to repeatedly make statements on the same issues that keep cropping up over and over again.

"This way, the public would also be able to see that they are a united front."

But Khoo felt that PR could continue operating with their present strategy, given that there are no demands from the rakyat for them to make a stand.

"Pakatan is issue-centric, where they react to controversies created by BN, especially Umno. This is why they are popular.

"They are riding on this wave of harping on Umno's mistakes and flip-flops and it is clearly working," he said, adding that PR was benefitting from the perception and anger of the people towards BN by capitalising on Putrajaya's mistakes.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat vice-president N. Surendran agreed, pointing out that as long as PR did not hold federal power, its role was to pressure the government to change their conduct.

Surendran also said that the role of the opposition in Malaysia was "highly important" as it had to deal with a "highly corrupt and oppressive government".

According to Khoo, another reason why PR avoided making a stand on religious issues was because what works for one party may not go down well with another in the opposition pact.

"The Allah ruling is an easy one for them. But when it comes to Islamic state and implementing syariah laws or even local council guidelines for businesses in Kelantan, for example, it would be tough for them to agree," he pointed out.

He added that the only time PR would need to make a clear stand on religious issues is when they control Putrajaya.



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