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Friday September 9, 2005

Taking PAS into the future


DATUK Kamaruddin Jaafar has risen steadily through the ranks of PAS since switching from Umno to the Islamist party 1999. The Tumpat MP was elected into the party central committee with the third highest number of votes in 2003, and in this year's elections, secured the second highest number of votes. The soft spoken and mild mannered 54-year-old former Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political science lecturer is now the party's secretary-general. In an interview with NICK LEONG and IZATUN SHARI, , Kamaruddin touched on a variety of issues confronting PAS since it lost badly in the 2004 general election. Kamaruddin also gave his frank opinions on the issues of Islam state, hudud law, non-Muslims, policies on gender, entertainment and tudung and how the party was coping with controversial statements by PAS' spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang. 

Question: PAS delegates voted in many new faces in the last muktamar. What is the significance? 

Answer: It is significant to me because the last time the party had that kind of change was in the early 1980s when Datuk Asri Muda resigned and was replaced by the late Yusuf Rawa; and the late Fadzil Nor became the deputy president. If you view the early 1980s and the transition from Datuk Asri to Yusuf Rawa as a significant transition from the old style of PAS to a new one under the slogan of Leadership by the Ulamas (religious scholars), then the recent changes in the party can also be seen as more suited to the changes that the last two decades had seen.  

Q: What does the current leadership represent? 

A: The current view is to retain the ulama leadership concept but further refine the meaning. We have the Majlis Syura Ulamak (Ulama Consultative Council) headed by the mursyidul am (religious adviser), showing that the concept of leadership by the ulama has been retained and is not affected. As such, the delegates thought they were not that bound to vote for ulamas, especially at the vice-president level. The election of three non-ulamas as vice-presidents, is not a rejection of the leadership by the ulamas concept. 

Q: Do you see the non-election of ulamas as a sign by delegates that perhaps the ulamas have not benefited the party? 

A: I won’t go that far. I won’t go into critical analysis of the performance of ulamas as a whole. I think the party delegates are now looking not on the basis of an ulama or non-ulama in a leader. They are looking for leaders with proven performance.  

I am very sure of that because at the last party elections, there was no contest for the post of president. The deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa is technically an ulama

At the vice-president level, there were at least three or four ulamas who stood, but none won because delegates were critically analysing them on the basis of their individual performances rather than whether they were ulamas or not.  

Q: Do you think the new set of PAS leaders will do a better job in attracting more support for the party? 

A: Yes. I think it is because the new leaders have got the benefit of the experience of the elder leaders. With the new leadership, their educational background, their exposure, inside and outside Malaysia, they are more likely to bring changes that will benefit everybody. Therefore we are not dealing with people that we have built-in prejudices against. 

Q: Some people think that PAS will not change. Are the changes made during the party elections only a mere change of face? 

A: You can say that if you accept the fact that PAS will always remain Islamic. Therefore this, the ulama face of Islamism, is the professional face of Islamism. But again, what are the core Islamic values that will be projected by PAS leaders?  

If people can accept that PAS is an Islamic party, and therefore whether they are ulamas or professionals they will portray something Islamic, then it is true that we are just faces. The challenges of today need to be confronted by accepting the reality of the 21st century and of how to confront and handle the issues. Of course the religion provides the basic guidance but the actual manifestation is how each of us interprets and carries out our parts.  

Q: Do you think changes will be slow to come by because the president and deputy president are ulamas

A: No. The party, from my observation, has been moving in a way that is not clouded by the need to project a ulama or non-ulama image any longer. For Instance, our mursyidul aam Nik Aziz, led the way, by announcing his inclination to have a woman leader holding one of the vice-president posts. He led that kind of thinking. He was not insisting or made no mention that ulamas must hold one or two vice-president posts. The party has been moving without the burden of wishing to appear to be ulama-oriented. 

Q: Is PAS a party that is personality driven because Nik Aziz and, to a certain extent, PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang, wield so much influence in the party? 

A: Of course, but this does not just come about instantly or automatically. Nik Aziz, has been a party leader since the mid-1960s and has been working for the party in various positions before achieving the kind of stature he now has.  

I don’t think being personality driven mean the personality got it easy, because he is an ulama for instance. Another example is non-ulama leader Mat Sabu. 

Of course he is a personality and he was elected a vice-president. But he has been delivering ceramahs (political talks) almost every night for the last 10 years.  

So it is personality driven, but the personalities are not created overnight. You have to earn your personality status in the party.  

 

On non-Muslims, syariah laws, women and the DAP

Q: PAS leaders like Nik Aziz and Hadi have often made controversial statements about non-Muslims. Are they assets or liabilities to the party? 

A: We recognise the possibility and the fact that that has happened a few times in the past. We have tried to impress on our leaders, especially the ulamas, that the media is not on our side, generally speaking, and we therefore have to be extra careful with our messages and statements – in fact every word that we utter – so that these are not misconstrued or taken advantage of by anyone. 

I think the probable reason some of these statements are viewed negatively is that our ulama leaders are sometimes not fully sensitive to the implications of their statements, especially to the non-Muslims. But I would say that their intentions are not anti-non-Muslim or anti-anybody. Sometimes their intention is meant to correct.  

For instance, Nik Aziz has always been quoted as saying that the cause of rape is because women do not dress decently. He is giving an assessment of a social and human event that he views strictly from a religious point of view. I would support him when he says we wish women would be decently dressed, not provocatively dressed.  

That I can personally agree with him, but when he is portrayed as saying that that is the cause of rape, he is also giving us a sociological analysis of why the crime of rape happens. 

I think that is when difficulties and confusion arise. He is making a statement from Islam’s point of view that that is the correct mode of dress, the correct religious practice or ethics to observe, but I think he is combining that with trying to explain why a certain crime happens.  

That, sociologically, may not explain fully why the crime happens, and he is therefore, viewed to be too simplistic. 

Q: Some statements were admittedly simplistic explanations to complex social issues, but what about PAS policies on the Islamic state, and hudud? These were not statements uttered in passing, but policies articulated by PAS leaders; and they scare the daylights out of non-Muslims. 

A: On this matter, on hudud (Islamic syariah law) and even Negara Islam, I would rather go back to the statement made by former president the late Fadzil Nor in an interview with Berita Harian, that PAS will only implement this kind of policy if and when it is agreed by PAS and other component parties in the alternative government.  

I think we should take out the fear or worry or concern that PAS will unilaterally implement and impose any of these policies as long as it is part of a government that works with other political parties.  

This is number one. Number two is, the PAS leadership is currently actively re-looking how to handle issues that you mentioned, how to internally study them for possible implementation, possible presentation and how to reduce misunderstanding, and confusion and even misinterpretation by the public, friendly parties or opponent political parties.  

The leadership has viewed this very seriously. I can’t guarantee that there won’t be a recurrence, but the party is aware and sensitive to the way we understand issues, and the way we present our policies and ourselves.  

There is the admission that maybe we should completely understand within us the policies that we want to push for so it won’t be as dramatic or as crude as we have seen being done in the past. 

Q: The DAP has said that one of the main stumbling blocks of working with PAS is the party’s insistence on a Islamic state. The DAP says the Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land and drawn in spirit and writing that Malaysia is a secular state with Islam as the official religion. How do you reconcile with the DAP? 

A: We do not want to get bogged down by branding whether it is secular or Negara Islam. We want to not get entangled in confusion or argument connected to terms as such. Secondly, I want to recognise the fact that the DAP immediately after the 1999 elections, especially its leader Lim Kit Siang, gave a lot of thought to, and issued many statements on, the Negara Islam concept.  

My observation is that, at the earlier stages, he was very open minded and prepared to give his understanding to PAS’ policies, even on Negara Islam. Not that he agreed from the beginning, but he was prepared to concede and to offer alternatives that PAS could pursue instead of the insisting on Negara Islam

But unfortunately, it was overtaken by the Sept 11, 2001 incident. 

Also in September 2001, the DAP was contesting in the Sarawak state election. The pressure of Sept 11 and the pressure the DAP was facing to present its own image in the Sarawak state elections, which is crucial for them, forced the party to decide there and then to withdraw from the BA and that sort of abruptly ended the discussions. If it had not ended that way, we might have come to a better understanding of each other. 

But that has ended and the DAP felt it has left and don’t need to comply with coalition ethics. It is openly attacking PAS on the Negara Islam issue. But then it got clouded again because in September 2001, too, Dr Mahathir announced that Malaysia was already a Negara Islam.  

That virtually put all political parties in a difficult position. Of course, the BN parties had to support Dr Mahathir’s Negara Islam. The DAP was pushing for both the non-Malay parties in BN and PAS to deny the Negara Islam development 

I think PAS has decided to leave that kind of arguments over terminologies and to go into a more detailed effort of presenting our views. This is the new committee’s decision – on what is PAS’ stand on economic issues, what is PAS’ stand on criminal law, and what is PAS’ stand on gender issues.  

That is our intention in the future instead of being bogged down by the DAP or Umno about whether this is Negara Islam or not, whether the future lies in Negara Islam or not.  

We would rather set that aside and try to engage whoever in terms of specific policy matters. We recognise that there are still a lot of things that we need to refine ourselves, on gender issues, on education, on law and so on. 

Q: In the absence of clearly defined policies, non-Pas supporters will have to look at the actions or speeches of PAS leaders. Can we hold them to their promises for the next 10 or 20 years?  

A: We hope to express our policies through the states where we are in power. Kelantan, for instance, is a model or ground for PAS leaders to express themselves.  

Terengganu was also so for four years. Despite the negative image of Terenganu, Hadi was on record as the Mentri Besar, announcing pig farming was allowed in Terengganu.  

Whether it happened or not, he was on record of publicly announcing that there was no ban on pig farming. That would be the more effective way to portray the right image. We made mistakes but we learn from those mistakes.  

Like, now Kelantan is inviting Mawi to the state. We hope there will be another challenge or another test for PAS to indicate its policy on entertainment and youth. 

Q: But these liberties that you mentioned are what non-Muslims already enjoy in the country. Farming of pigs, eating pork, consuming alcohol, for example, are rights, and not privileges for non-Muslims. 

A: Fine, but that goes a long way, at least, towards cooling the view that PAS is anti-non-Malay, anti-non-Muslim, and the moment it gets power, it will deprive non-Muslims of the rights and practices that you already have in the country.  

So that goes someway, if not the whole way, towards alleviating the fear inculcated by the BN that the moment PAS comes to power, we are done, we are finished. 

Q: Are you saying PAS will adopt a practical instead of a dogmatic view of putting the cart in front of the horse? 

A: I can also add that PAS recognises the fact that people do not any longer dispute that PAS is an Islamic group. So we don’t need remind the public 99% of the time that we are Islamic.  

People want to know that when you say you are Islamic, what does it mean in the field of education, what does it mean in the field of entertainment, what does it mean in the field of law? 

So we feel the challenge we are facing now is to spell out as much as possible to the public that this is what we intend to do when it comes to this issue or that issue.  

We need not overly stress on that, people recognise that Nik Aziz is different from Dr Mahathir or other Umno leaders. 

Q: Do you think this will alienate the party’s core supporters? 

A: We recognise the possibility. That is why we need to handle this very sensitively. We have to engage our members very actively but we also need to have encouragement. The fact that those elected recently are leaders whom delegates expect to see changes happening is an indication that a transformation is taking place. It should not be a shock to the members.  

What changes are taking place and at what pace the changes are going to happen will be dealt with internally and outside the party. 

 

On Muslims and Islam Hadhari

Q: What are the differences between the previous prime minister and the present prime minister? 

A: Dr Mahathir would come out almost every other week with this statement or that, all kinds of things. PAS could live on Dr Mahathir’s acts and statements alone. We could hold ceramah every day by plucking one of his statements here, another of his statements there, and another of his actions somewhere. 

Dr Mahathir was a very active PM, with very regular policy speeches, to openly announce his views on Islam, on ulama, on anything. Dr Mahathir was enough for PAS to use for its political purposes over the last 20 years whereas the present prime minister has so far not come out with the kind of statements or strong personal views.  

Q: How has Islam Hadhari impacted PAS? 

A: We hold the view that if we were to attack Islam Hadhari, it would be easy for us. But we decided not to pursue that fully because then you are bogged down again with terminologies, just like the Negara Islam concept.  

We recognised Islam Hadhari was good for a while when it was first introduced for the 2004 elections but we also know that Islam Hadhari now will not have the pulling power or influence it started off with.  

So we don’t view Islam Hadhari as a major issue. In fact, if we want to explore things we can, there are a lot of things ... the Prime Minister and the Government on that issue ... but again we don’t want to get bogged down on that issue. 

Q: Is it true that PAS is trying to be more sensitive towards moderate Muslims? 

A: We are. 

Q: What do you mean by moderate Muslims? 

A: Again, I don’t want to get bogged down by terms like moderate because PAS is sometimes viewed as moderate ... sometimes. 

Q: Who are the targeted groups? 

A: We want to approach virtually every sector of society. We recognise the fact that if we want to gain political power in the country, we definitely need the majority of Malay votes, and also a substantial proportion of non-Malay votes.  

We recognise our difficulty, we are realistic enough not to think we can win the non-Malay votes easily because of all the historical relationships. 

Q: How did this ‘moderate’ term come about? 

A: It is not a term used by PAS. It is the media, the newspapers. 

Q: So you are referring to the majority of Muslims in Malaysia? 

A: Yes, the moderate, conservative, fundamental or whatever. 

Q: Does that mean that policies on entertainment such as reality shows, will they be reviewed by PAS ? 

A: I would say yes. PAS is sensitive to how the media and entertainment industry conducts themselves but precisely how we are going to handle them depends on the situation when we are in power.  

Of course, we have the extreme, pornography or whatever, which the West has, and I don’t think the public here will say PAS is wrong if we ban it. The whole spectrum between the extremely unacceptable and religious programmes ... we must find somewhere in the middle that does not offend the public sense of decency and proper entertainment.  

We want to follow a certain level of moral standard but exactly how it is going to be done, I am not sure. All I can say is a moral standard is very subjective. 

Q: You say PAS has tackled certain issues in a crude manner. How is it going to be different now? 

A: It is not enough to give a general or blanket statement that this is right or this is bad. We recognise the fact the public wants to see PAS offering meaningful practical alternatives to whatever we criticise, that is what we recognise. The party leadership recognises that we cannot just criticise the Government all the time; we need to offer solutions that are realistic, and practical. 

Q: How do you plan to engage the majority of Muslims? 

A: Again we come back to Kelantan’s plan to bring in Mawi (Akademi Fantasia 3 winner Asmawi Ani), for example. That is one way to deliver a signal and message that we are not cutting ourselves from people who like music. We also have serious intentions to play our role in the draft issue. That is one big reason why Kelantan leaders chose Mawi. 

Q: How do you tackle people who fear discrimination if you impose policies on them, such as those in the entertainment industry, which is a big industry? How do you alleviate the fear? 

A: The party has assigned PAS Youth to engage the group. They are working on this but precisely how far they have gone I do not know. Q: Do you recognise that there is a fear of discrimination among some people if PAS is in power? 

A: Yes, in fact after the 2004 election, the post-mortem committee called in focus groups. They criticised us, but there is no denying we need to hear from other people, their views. I don’t want to say we have succeeded, but we are trying to understand where we can meet again.  

It might be called a compromise but where PAS feels it can concede, where we feel the artistes' group can agree with us, precisely, where the meeting point is, I’m not able to say. The moral guideline is important. We hold the view that Muslims must abide by the Islamic code. 

Q: How about people who fear that PAS would invade their privacy through moral policing? Is PAS looking at banning certain policies on entertainment, like nightclubs, for Muslims?  

A: We hold the view that moral guidelines are important. It may be my personal view, it is not as if we are going to spy on people’s private activities but, in practice, when these religious raids happen, it normally arises from people reporting them.  

It is not like the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department has patrol cars, people in disguise looking around where maksiat (immoral activities) take place. It is normally coming from people calling, or reporting or insisting we take action. 

Q: What about the PAS policy on gender issues, particularly the segregation of men and women? 

A: This is an area which has not been spelt out very clearly, but I don’t think we are going to impose that kind of thing. I would like to say that at the pasar (wet market) in Kota Baru in Kelantan women dominate. 

Q: How can PAS use Kelantan as an example when even a KFC restaurant is being categorised as an entertainment outlet? 

A: If we are given the mandate to rule the country, I think not everything that happens in Kelantan will happen nationwide, because Kelantan as a state and Malaysia as a country are quite different. The scenario everybody is talking about is if we arrive at that stage, it will be a coalition government, and as PAS is committed to a coalition government, it will be coalition policies.  

Q: Do you think many Malays fear PAS because they are not sure of the party’s policies? 

A: My view is we have to realistically consider the situation of the whole country. I appreciate the fact that the public must see an image of PAS that they are comfortable with. We are trying, at the leadership level, to create that awareness, that whatever we do, whatever dress our leaders wear, whatever words we utter will always be viewed and projected into the future. 

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