By Farish A. Noor
Just less than four years ago, on the eve of the 13th general election (GE13), DAP was preparing to use the white moon logo of PAS as our election symbol.
Tok Guru Nik Aziz whom Malaysians dearly miss and whose kind of leadership we desperately need in these challenging times, responded to our decision as a blessing which will eventually lead the opposition pact “to Putrajaya paving the way for a New Malaysia.”
I would have been a PAS candidate. I still keep the letter of authorization issued by PAS, as a reminder of how things could have been.
And then about a year ago, both parties parted ways in the worst manner possible. On the other hand, from being sworn nemesis, PAS leaders are now not shy to be seen flirting with UMNO. Recently, Najib Razak, Prime Minister and President of UMNO sat together like good friends with Tuan Guru Hadi Awang, President of PAS who in 1982 issued an edict against working with UMNO, the (in)famous, Amanat Hadi.
I think many Malaysians are curious about PAS.
How is it that a political party can embody so many different paradigms in the forefront almost all at once; on one hand conservative Islamists seeking state power with clear muslim-kafir demarcation, and on the other hand, Muslim democrats articulating universal values of social justice and welfare, and then sometimes ethnonationalists aiming to preserve Malay power and therefore, Malay unity.
What do we make of PAS?
Some quietly hope that by the next election PAS will just go away. Wishful thinking, in my opinion.
Some still harbour hope that another Tok Guru Nik Aziz or another Ustaz Fadzil Noor or even another Mat Sabu will rise within the party to restore the kind of inclusive PAS we see pre-GE13 once again. Maybe, who knows.
Whatever it is, there is no better time to understand PAS.
Yet to really understand a 65-year old political party with all its institutional complexity and turbulent history can be daunting indeed.
Which is why I find Farish’s book very helpful. Always the storyteller-historian, he narrated PAS’ long history in the different decades under different leaderships to provide insights into the crucial moments which infused the party with its characters we have all come to be familiar with today: the concoction of different values from conservative Islamists to Muslim democrats to Malay nationalists.
What is the dynamics between PAS and UMNO that both parties can be sworn enemies one day and sworn brothers the next?
Why did Tok Guru Nik Aziz and his cohort loathed any cooperation with UMNO so much so that he was reported to have said he will spit on the face of those who come to him to raise such suggestion?
Why is PAS insisting on Islamic state?
And what does PAS have in mind when the party speaks of an Islamic state in the various periods of its struggle?
Why does PAS look to Iran for inspiration of Islamist victory and yet hated Syiah to the point that when they wanted to demonise their former leader, Mat Sabu, they accused him of being Syiah?
How did PAS gain international prestige among global Islamists that its leaders such as Tuan Guru Hadi Awang was appointed Vice President of the Yusof Qardawi-led, International Union of Muslim Scholars?
And in narrating PAS’ story, Farish inevitably articulated parts of our country’s story as well. He showed how the religious interplay between UMNO and PAS through the long years somehow inadvertently led to PAS gaining strength due to the normalisation of Islam in governance and politics.
The Malays have a very romantic but almost tragic proverb, bagai pungguk rindukan bulan, like the owl yearning for the moon. I think this describes many of us reminiscing better times with PAS. As a young politician trying both at once to serve the people and also to make sense of whatever expediency to topple a regime, getting to know a fellow sojourner, if not friend, better is enlightening and will certainly help in my dealings with them.