Will minorities have a place in PAS' Malaysia?

IF there is one thing that PAS has revealed itself to be in its recently concluded Muktamar is that it is a party that has problems co-existing in a multiethnic and multifaith country like Malaysia.

This is a party that has taken the dark and twisted road of self-preservation by suggesting to curtail the rights of minorities, even culling ethnic groups to fulfill its agenda of an Islamic state which, has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with politics and power.

It is a far cry from the days of leaders such as the late Ustaz Fadzil Nor and the late Tok Guru Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat who portrayed an all-embracing form of Islam that valued diversity. PAS then received support from the non-Muslims in Kelantan and Terengganu as well as in the West Coast of the Peninsular due to the party's leadership then and especially of Nik Aziz who stressed on the teachings of the Holy Prophet which included the responsibility to protect the welfare of non-Muslims.

The PAS Muktamar witnessed unprecedented Chinese-bashing with unsurprisingly, the DAP being made the bogeyman once again.

The sloganeering was louder this time around since the DAP is in the Federal Government for the first time and is apparently hell bent on making Malaysia a "Second Singapore", according to PAS central committee member Dr Halimah Ali.

Her comments came in the wake of women's wing vice-chief Salamiah Md Nor who in her address, rued the day that Mandarin becomes the country's second language.

She reasoned that vernacular schools did not promote unity and contended that a better way of doing so was to make Arabic – specifically the Quran and Sunnah as the second language.

Dr Halimah, however, had a refreshing perspective on vernacular schools, saying they should be emulated for their academic track record where even Malay parents are sending their children there.

On the other end of the spectrum, PAS Youth chief Khairil Nizam Khirudin in a refreshing winding up speech called for making the learning of Mandarin and Tamil compulsory in a bid to boost national unity.

But the muted response from delegates was a barometer of their enthusiasm in broadening the minds and linguistic skills of our children.

Perhaps Salamiah whose views many fear represent the majority of PAS members should ponder why national schools have largely failed to promote national unity. Could it be the perceived creeping in of Islamisation into national schools that have fueled the increase in the popularity of vernacular schools among non-Malays as well as many Malays?

For instance, of the 55 students in SJKC Sin Min in Lubok Cina, Alor Gajah, Melaka, only nine are Chinese while the rest are Malays.

According to the Education Ministry statistics, 18% of Chinese primary school population comprise of non-Chinese, mostly Malays.

While PAS is fixated on the hereafter, the fact remains that Mandarin is currently the most spoken language in the world due to the global native speakers of 1.1 billion as well as China's growing economic might.

No harm learning Arabic though, but if the intention is to dakwah, or expose non-Muslim children to Islam, then it will run into problems getting the support of non-Muslim parents who are largely suspicious of PAS and its use of religion for politics.

There was a time when PAS was sincere about national unity. Its leaders even held interfaith dialogues and visited churches and temples to foster ties.

These forward-thinking leaders have since left the party to join Parti Amanah Negara or Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. The likes of Khairil may also find that his forward views may not have a place in his party.

If PAS is serious about national unity, instead of talking about conversion and dakwah, why not moot instead for increased slots for Bahasa Malaysia in Chinese and Tamil schools? We have to acknowledge that the proficiency of Bahasa Malaysia is still not satisfactory among many non-Malays.

In another development, the PAS-led Kelantan Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (MAIK) had announced an ambitious plan to convert every single Orang Asli in the state to Islam by 2049.

This plan received a much-deserved rebuke from Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) director-general Dr Juli Edo who said it was wrong to take advantage of the Orang Asli communities.

Animism and their way of life and beliefs are the very essence of the Orang Asli identity. Any large scale attempt to make them abandon their beliefs in the name of "progress" is a subtle form of ethnic cleansing similar to the fate of indigenous peoples in Australia, Africa and Latin America who were converted and "saved" from their "sinful" way of life by Christian missionaries and government sponsored assimilation programmes.

To a lesser extent, it evokes memories of the "anak angkat" programmes of the mid-1980s which saw Christian secondary school students from Sabah and Sarawak being sent to hostels in Kelantan and Terengganu to complete their Form Six education.

While non-Muslims were valued stakeholders in the Kelantan administration lead by Nik Aziz, the present State Government's treatment of the Orang Asli have been atrocious. There is nothing Islamic to the degazetting of reserves and backing timber companies who bulldoze their way into ancestral land, as well as the lethargic response to alarming deaths of the Bateq tribe from an epidemic.

Despite assurances by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang that non-Muslims should not feel anxious over a PAS-Umno alliance that could give rise to a monoethnic government, one is not convinced. This alliance over the past one year have demonstrated an increasing intolerance to diversity because it is politically prudent to do so.

There seems to be some measure of success in their approach seeing that the more ethnically diverse Pakatan Harapan government keeps going on the back-foot on issues such as quotas, merit and open competition.

The downright refusal to extradite alleged hate preacher Zakir Naik to India, an important economic and strategic partner demonstrates an unnatural fear of losing Muslim support.

Today, PAS moots total annihilation of the Orang Asli culture and way of life in Kelantan. One wonders if they come to power, will it be made a policy to similarly target other vulnerable groups and minorities. Anything can be justified if it's in the name of religion.

> Terence is a media and stakeholder relations consultant.

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