Friday, June 3, 2011

Pas evolves but ulama still dominate

Pas evolves but ulama still dominate

By Zubaidah Abu Bakar

The face of Pas today (from left) Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who heads the Majlis Syura Ulama; Pas Youth chief Nasrudin Hassan, who is considered a conservative; and Kuala Selangor member of parliament Dr Dzulkifly Ahmad, a moderate.
While friction between ulama-backed conservatives and more liberal-minded
reformists exists in Pas, there is no denying the superior role of the ulama, writes ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR
FOR many years, Pas has tolerated outsiders portraying its leaders as divided between ulama and professionals.

The ulama label refers to conservative alim (persons knowledgeable in religion) and the so-called "professionals" describe the reformists, who are adept at other fields, and include the academics, doctors, architects and engineers.

But Pas leaders always insist there is no dichotomy among the membership. "We are one team, the Pas team," they say.

Pas Youth chief Nasrudin Hassan, regarded as in the ulama camp, recently posted on his blog: "Our cause is one, that is to fight for Islam."

Labelled by the media as ultra-conservative, the turbaned and robed Nasrudin was returned unopposed for a second term as Youth chief yesterday.

He retained the post he won in 2009 after three other eligible contenders, including two non-ulama, one of them an engineer with a master's degree, withdrew in a show of support for him despite criticism from outside the party.

Most Pas leaders view the tension between ulama and professionals as a case of the two groups trying to find ways to accommodate their differing opinions.

The differences have so far been manageable. The election of Pas' "general election team" of office-bearers today is unlikely to provoke a split. The "ulama vs professional" clash can cause minor bruising but it usually heals quickly.

Pas may have two prominent schools of thoughts but their opposing stands are unlikely to divide the party, according to academic Mohammad Agus Yusoff.

"The special thing about Pas is that leaders will accept whatever the delegates decide without making much noise as they all respect the party's common ideology," he said.

The pervasive influence of the ulama in Pas and their pivotal roles in charting the party's political journey are undeniable. This is recognised and unchallenged by Pas' million-strong membership, making it the biggest opposition party in the country.

The ulama's ascendency came about at the 28th Pas general assembly in 1982, which saw the rise of a group of young preachers and the subsequent establishment of the Majlis Syura Ulama or consultative council of religious scholars a year later.

Since Pas' inception in 1951, the party's guidance has been provided by ulama and, since the adoption of kepimpinan ulama, the Majlis Syura Ulama has been its leading light.

As stipulated by the party constitution, the council interprets policies according to Islamic tenets. Its role is to:

- elaborate, explain and interpret policies and constitutional provisions, to ascertain their meaning and purpose;

- issue directives and rulings to ensure policies and decisions are adhered to and implemented; and,

- ensure that policies and decisions, as well as constitutional provisions, are adhered to in party activities and administration.

Kuala Selangor member of parliament Dr Dzulkifly Ahmad has said that non-ulama like him were not out to replace or displace the ulama but to play complementary roles in taking Pas forward.

"They are an institution in themselves. They are the pillars of the party," he was quoted as saying.

Pas icon Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who heads the Majlis Syura Ulama, in an interview with the New Straits Times some years ago, said the backgrounds of Pas leaders showed they were both ulama and professionals.

"I don't see why there is a fuss over this so-called clash between the ulama and professionals. These days, our ulama are also professionals, while our professionals are also ulama," he said.

A convergence of the two groups has been achieved to some extent and is reflected in the party membership and leadership at the grassroots, state and national levels.

As Pas evolves, many hybrid figures have joined the party and moved up the ranks to hold key posts. Slowly, the party is shedding its orthodox and militant image. Even party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, known as a hardliner in his younger days, has mellowed to embrace new political realities.

Many of the professionals who joined Pas after the sacking of former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in 1998 may be without formal religious education but they, as described by Nik Aziz, understand Islam and abide by its teachings.

Many Western-educated professionals coexist with the ulama to soften the Islamist party's image, enabling Pas to become more inclusive today.

Nevertheless, friction between the traditionalists and more liberal-minded reformists occurs now and then, such as during party elections, to strain the party's vaunted unity and discipline.

So far, the problems have been resolved, evaporating as quickly as they appear.

Pas delegates had decided to maintain the status quo of the 2007 and 2005 party elections in 2009, that is, having equal representation from both groups, reaffirming the party's desire for change, albeit with reservations.

They still want the ulama and professionals to continue complementing each other in pursuing Pas' dream of becoming the dominant opposition party after the next general election, which must be held by 2013.

More importantly, delegates at previous muktamar had stuck to the unwritten rule that only candidates who abide by and are pledged to the teachings of Islam, whether as ulama or professional, are fit to become leaders.

They understand that they, as party members, are obligated to act in line with the concept of kepimpinan ulama that the party upholds.

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