DATUK Seri Hadi Awang attracts attention wherever he goes, partly because he is one of the most recognised faces in Malaysian politics and partly due to his trademark jubah-and-turban outfit.
But the last few weeks have seen the acting PAS president making the headlines in ways that he would surely not prefer.
First, there was the issue involving the use of zakat funds (tithe for the poor) to finance the overseas education of the children of several members of his state executive council in Terengganu. It was highly embarrassing for a government which had claimed the moral high ground.
The issue had barely subsided before a report on Islamic militancy in the region said that Hadi had attended a congress organised by radical Indonesian Islamists in Sulawesi more than two years ago.
The report could not have come at a worse time for the PAS leader.
Hadi has been on an image-remaking quest since he became Terengganu Mentri Besar and particularly after he took over the leadership of the party following the death of Datuk Fadzil Mohd Noor.
Those around him have been trying to downplay his decades-old reputation as a radical Islamist and an orator who breathed fire and brimstone. They have been trying to project him as a Muslim leader with a Malaysian outlook rather than narrowly doctrinal, reasonable rather than revolutionary, and basically, someone who should be accepted by Muslims and non-Muslims.
After years of preaching to a solely Malay-Muslim audience, Hadi had begun reaching out to non-Muslims and even Christian and Buddhist groups.
But the past has a way of catching up with one’s life, especially those whose lives are lived in the public arena. In that sense, the report of Hadi attending the Sulawesi meeting was but another instance of the past sneaking up on the burly PAS leader.
“He wants people to forget overnight his radical and uncompromising attitudes ? that’s not possible, you know,” said Datuk Idris Jusoh, the deputy Umno chief for Terengganu.
Umno politicians are determined to remind him of just how uncompromising he used to be.
In fact, Deputy Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin was among the boldest of accusers regarding the contradictions of PAS leaders, including Hadi.
Zainuddin, then parliamentary secretary to the Information Ministry, was the brains behind a controversial RTM documentary clip reminding Malaysians of the “Amanat Hadi.” It was a fatwa of sorts issued by Hadi around 1981, condemning those associated with the Barisan Nasional-led government as kafir, that is infidels.
Several months later, Zainuddin engineered another documentary directly linking the tragic Memali incident to the “Amanat Hadi.”
PAS leaders and supporters were incensed. They accused Zainuddin of twisting Hadi’s words but Zainuddin claimed interpretation on his part.
The truth is probably embedded somewhere in between but the point is that Hadi was into radical political Islam in his early political years. In fact, it was his radicalism that won him notice among the PAS crowd and saw him courted by PAS leaders.
After returning to Terengganu from his studies abroad, he began preaching from his Rusila base, stating right from the start the need to set up an Islamic state. To achieve this, he urged Muslims to rise and struggle against what he labelled as the un-Islamic and colonial practices of Umno. A death in the name of the Islamic struggle constituted martyrdom, he would emphasise.
Umno politicians suggest that the 1981 Amanat Hadi was the catalyst to the “kafir-mengkafir” phenomenon that followed between PAS and Umno supporters.
The phenomenon saw mosques led by two imam, PAS supporters refusing to attend the kenduri of Umno supporters and vise-versa, separate burial grounds for party believers and even of marriages on the rocks because of political differences. It was basically a carry-on from an earlier decade when PAS leaders accused Tunku Abdul Rahman of being un-Islamic because he had non-Muslims in his government.
The kafir-mengkafir phenomenon was probably a combination of many factors but it is undeniable that Hadi played a main role in it.
“At one stage, there was this kafir berikat (infidel by association) thing going on ? anyone associated with Umno was considered kafir,” said Juhaidi Yean Abdullah, an aide to Kelantan Umno chief Datuk Mustapa Mohamed.
The irony now is that PAS supporters are complaining that Hadi is being labelled as radical just because he attended the congress organised by Muslim radicals, that he is guilty by association.
Perhaps what PAS politicians have to remember is that the public perception of Hadi is based not just on his word and deed in the last couple of years. It is a perception built up over the years. And his years of radical political Islam continue to outweigh his efforts at moderation in recent years.
Thus, while PAS politicians are crying foul, Umno politicians think it is time that PAS leaders have a taste of their own medicine.
And there is certainly a lesson here for all politicians to weigh their words and actions in case they catch up with them when they get to the top.
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