KOTA BARU: They may wear turbans, skull caps and flowing robes which make them stand out in an urbanised setting. However, one should not underestimate these PAS members just because they do not sport the modern look.
Beneath this dour exterior are cunning political animals armed with the belief that Islamic tenets, and not race, are the cure to many of the world’s social and economic ills.
After decades in the rural wilderness, PAS has today emerged as a political force to be reckoned with, and based on its latest “muktamar” (assembly) proceedings, it is likely to be around for years to come.
The party has rubbished former Umno secretary-general Sanusi Junid’s infamous quip that “as long there is a padi field, there is PAS”.
The PAS of 2010 is one which has successfully forged technocrats, ulamas (clerics) and blue-collar workers into a dedicated political force, united in Islam.
But will PAS ever consider working with its arch rival Umno in a “national unity” government? Rumours had it that there is a movement within the party which is willing to try out this formula.
But based on the progress of the muktamar assemblies of its Youth, Ulama and Muslimat (women) in Kelantan, the idea is not catching on.
‘Pakatan the way forward’
The revered PAS spiritual adviser Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat has set the tone, saying PAS message of “Islam for all” is adequate for the party to progress towards the13th general election.
He is confident that the people’s mood is with Pakatan Rakyat, the loosely-formed alliance with PKR and DAP.
Umno, the architect of Barisan Nasional, is hoping that PKR may be distracted with its spate of defections and the sodomy trial of supremo Anwar Ibrahim, but PAS thinks otherwise.
In Nik Aziz’s view, Pakatan is the way forward and if PAS keeps its discipline and adjusts to the political landscape, the alliance would be occupying Putrajaya by the next election.
However, as seasoned political pundicts would say, in “politics, there are no black or white definitions, only grey”.
A greying PAS leadership, however, has to sincerely address the voices of discontent among its grassroots members and the young, particularly those who have grouses about governance and policy issues in Pakatan-ruled states.
It also have to come clean on speculations that the so-called movement within its ranks is game for a national unity government.
Still about politics
PAS, although branded more an Islamic movement than a political entity, is essentially still about politics. Like any other party, it has different schools of thoughts.
At this muktamar, PAS must convince all that it is on the right track while trying to appease its grassroots members, many of whom feel they have been deprived of their rights to take part in governance and policy-making decisions in the Pakatan states of Kedah, Penang and Selangor.
Nik Aziz is convinced that the formula of Islam for all can now be translated for the entire country and not only for Kelantan, where non-Muslims comprise fewer than 10% of its population.
PAS must sincerely address the simmerings beneath or it may go the way of other political parties in the country where decades of discontent eventually erupted like a volcano.
Already one shot was fired by a Terengganu ulama delegate who asked why the photograph of deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa was not featured in the banners adorning Kelantan to mark the annual muktamar here.
Its Youth wing, meanwhile, has raised a hot issue: it wants Pakatan governments to ban all forms of gambling. Would states such as Selangor and Penang, with their big non-Muslim population base, feel comfortable?
One striking change in this muktamar is the stance of the ulama leadership, led by ailing Terengganu leader Harun Taib. To the surprise of many observers, the ulamas have been liberal in their thinking.
Gone are the hardline statements about the totality of Islam; instead, the PAS leadership wants to engage non-Muslims in its discourse. They are even holding Mandarin and Tamil language classes for its ulama so that they can convince non-Muslims about the goodwill of Islam.
In other words, Islam for all is shaping up to be the battle cry for the Islamist party.
However, at the same time, PAS needs to convince its critics that it can also implement its vision as ultimately “actions speak louder than words”.-FMT