A contest between PAS and UMNO within conservative Malay settings is more likely than not a race to the bottom. It inevitably degenerates into a deplorable inquiry regarding which between the two political parties is more Islamic than the other. While doing so, PAS effectively resorts to exclusive politics that is clearly inconsistent to its assertion that PAS is for all. If the Islamist party is really for all, it needs to adopt a more inclusive approach in engaging UMNO.

In the past, the question of who could enter heaven became a campaign material. Back in January 2009 during the Kuala Terengganu by election, the implementation of hudud gained currency as an election issue.
The most recent example of exclusive politics happened when the top leader of the party, Nik Aziz Nik Mat labelled Islam as practiced by UMNO as plastic.

UMNO did employ the same tactic of inclusive politics with respect to Islam. When PAS finally gathered its weight to say no to the idea of both sides cooperating with each other, UMNO accused PAS of doing a great disservice to the Muslim community.

In the beer controversy in Selangor, UMNO ridiculed PAS for kowtowing to DAP and while doing so, questioned the Islamic credential of PAS.

The ugly debate is an exercise at exclusive politics because it prevents non-Muslims as well as secular Malays from relating to PAS, and UMNO for that matter. While the mudslinging between PAS and UMNO on their Islamic credential can be hilarious at times, it is ultimately damaging to both.

Previously when information could be contained, exclusive politics worked. A party could appeal to local electorates and ignore the rest. Messages could be tailored to be inclusive at one time and exclusives at others. Inconsistency was not much of a great concern, especially so for UMNO since they controlled the media.

These days however, as the common wisdom goes, information flows freely. As a result, any entity with national aspiration does not have the luxury of playing to such exclusive politics. Continuous emphasis on Islamic credential as it is happening has the potential of eroding the possibility of realising national aspiration, which, for PAS, ultimately leads to becoming part of the federal government.

It terribly mocks the slogan ”˜PAS for all’ that it campaigned on earlier and in many cases, as the liberal elements in PAS try to project to wider Malaysian audience.

The truth is that this emphasis on Islamic credential, at the manner at it is done, with apologies to Nik Aziz Nik Mat, is plastic. The punches and counterpunches on Islamic credential are all about form and less about substance.

It is plastic — empty, worthless — because beyond that rhetoric lie no concrete solutions to problems besetting Malaysian society. It does not address the economy, crime, corruption, health and a gamut of other factors that affect the life of Malaysians.

Worse, that debate, as we are witnessing through the press — traditional or online, establishment or otherwise — is more often than not an attempt at negative campaigning. That creates a victim and that victim is Islam itself. Unfair as the association may be, it is hard for the common masses to not to generalise when individuals who claim to represent the religion, on both sides of the fence, failed to be mindful of their words, even as they enter the month of Ramadan.

The route that should be preferred by both sides is one that contains inclusive messages with substance.

PAS should really concentrate on matters that everybody, regardless of religious or irreligious beliefs, can relate to without much consternation. Such matters can be about good governance coupled with concrete policies that can benefit all that it wishes to pursue while being part of the Penang state government.

Surely, good policies that incorporate such universal values and its implementation come far closer to realising whatever ideals Islam promotes than the act of claiming to be a better Muslim and deriding others while at it. Universal concepts and values such as justice and trustworthiness better fit for the idea ”˜PAS for all’. These universal values are present in Islam and PAS can capitalize on it.

PAS already has a working formula. The liberal element in PAS — liberal in a sense more liberal than the rest in PAS and not liberal in classical terms — for instance has focused on the concept of justice rather than harp on the divisive controversial issue of Islamic state. They realised that the idea of Islamic state is only a mean with non-exclusive and non-exhaustive form, while equality and justice is an end and a substance.

That, as some would argue, is the essence of ”˜PAS for all’.

PAS should consult its liberal element on that.

It should not be confused between means and ends. To confuse the two is to confuse between form and substance, and doing so, engaging in exclusive and plastic politics that is all about appearance.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

First published in The Malaysian Insider on August 24 2009.

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