Coming out of the ‘comfort zone’ – in conversation with Dzulkefly Ahmad

October 23, 2010

INTERVIEW Harakahdaily recently spoke to PAS’s Kuala Selangor member of parliament Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad on a variety of issues including the perception that the party has ‘changed’. Dr Dzulkefly however says it is only a natural process being an ‘Islamist party’, and coming out of the party’s ‘comfort zone’ of the Malay belt has been a welcome challenge.

 Q: We have seen great change in PAS in the last decade, particularly in the more open manner in which its top leaders have articulated the party’s stance against race-based socio-economic policies and Islamic perspectives on governing a multi-religious society. Is this a new approach by PAS?

Islam as a universal and complete way of life is a message espoused and advocated by PAS and its leadership from its inception. That’s almost five decades ago. So it is not new at all. But because PAS has always remained largely in the Malay belt states of the east coast – Kelantan, Terengganu and the northern states of Kedah and Perlis, it has never been challenged to engage and articulate a more broader, more multi-cultural-racial-religious constituencies and not known to be able to articulate such open and inclusive stance.

Hence PAS had remained within its ‘comfort zone’ of the ‘Malay Belt’ articulating the more familiar message of ‘Islamic faith’ (belief-system of ‘aqidah  and da’wah) largely directed at a Malay-Muslim constituency.

Although there existed efforts of engagement cutting across other ideological beliefs as early as the time of Dr Burhanuddin Hilmy right up to the effort of the Chinese Consultative Council (CCC) in the early 1990s, admittedly, it was during the day of Reformasi and especially after the 12th General Election, that PAS broke the barrier of engagement with a bigger constituency, cutting across the racial-religious-cultural divides.

It was [late PAS president] Ustaz Fadzil Nor who consciously positioned the party in the centre-stage of national politics and unambiguously expressed that PAS stood for ‘Justice for All’. While Islam remains a matter of faith to only the believers of the din [religion] of Islam, PAS advocates that within the realm of politics and governance. The Universal Justice of the systems of Islam is what PAS takes as our political advocacy.

In this sense our political message and advocacy cuts across all races, cultures and religions and we vehemently oppose racial-cultural-religious discrimination. We seek the support and mandate of all people (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) to enable us to enjoin the universal goodness and justice of Islam for all people through the democratic and legislative process and the ballot box.

So this approach by PAS that we hear now is not something new? But why do we hear about it only now?

Yes it is not new. But because PAS has been demonised by the BN-controlled media, we have always been painted as ‘extremist’, ‘narrow’ and ‘hardline’, we are now perceived as not being capable of engaging with the broader demographic make-up of the Malaysian society. So, with our already 10 years of intense constructive engagement away from our ‘comfort zone’, alhamdulillah, we are now better heard and seen and especially after the 12th General Election.

In that sense many perceived us to have changed. In fact we have not changed fundamentally not even structurally. Perhaps we are now better able to ‘contextualise’ with our many new constituencies.

Arguably that has posed a challenge to many, including the leadership as it placed them at times in a very uncomfortable position having to relate and interact and manage a bigger Malaysian crowd – not just Malay-Muslims but also non-Malay and non-Muslim segment of national politics.

What sort of changes do you hope for in PAS ten years from now?

I hope to see a more ‘mature’ and vibrant PAS and, in the words of Ustaz Fadzil Nor, a PAS which is ‘fundamentally principled, morally and spiritually vibrant’ and I hasten to add ‘creatively enterprising and intellectually superior’. Democracy allows for you to be innovating approaches in political advocacy. You may like to be reminded that we now have the Dewan Himpunan Penyokong PAS (PAS Supporters Congress, DHPP), a wing for our supporters’ club.

I would like to envision PAS as an Islamist Party that would always be capable of managing the mutually exclusive demands of a mixed demography of a plural society be it socio-political, religious-legal and moral-social challenges. I like the challenge and you will see why Islam is versatile and capable of meeting up with new realities and challenges, as it is the final revealed religion, as a away of life to the end of time, from our perspective anyway.

I would like to see PAS positioning herself well in the centre-stage of national politics and assume a critical active role in nation-rebuilding together with the good elements and political entities of the society. I like to see PAS engaging in the entire aspect of life mundane, not just in the usual domain of moral and religious issues, but also in aspects of governance, economics and finance.

PAS must understand that for all the good things, visions and ideals it espouses for society at large, we must achieve it through political advocacy in the public sphere and through the democratic process and the parliamentary debate the state legislative assembly. That’s the defining criterion of an Islamist political party. I would like to see PAS equal to and in fact better than the AK Party of Tayyib Erdogan of Turkey.

There are some out there who do not appreciate the role of Islam in PAS’s embrace of ‘justice for all’. They think PAS is moving away from Islam and becoming more ‘liberal’ so to speak. How does PAS explain itself to these people?

PAS must make it clear to all that Islam is our reason of existence – raison d’etre. PAS must be allowed to advocate Islam just like others have the right to advocate their ideologies and commitments. When we advocate ‘Justice for All’ we really meant that there’s something about Islam i.e. its systems and governance, that we want to share with others. It’s not about just da’wah or proselytizing Islam. It is to advocate the principles of Islamic Justice in the realm of economic, social and political justice. After all you have already tasted the aspect of Islamic banking and finance. You don’t have to be a Muslim to support us, but you must believe that we have a role to play in national politics.

What about PAS’s ‘hardline’ stand on entertainment as well as on some recent controversies about foreign artists who are morally questionable being allowed to perform for Malaysian youth?

Let me say this in very clear terms without mincing my words. Islam stands for life-fulfillment and not life denial. Islam doesn’t deny entertainment but arranges it to bring out the best of the good values of the performing arts in the broader meaning of culture. It includes music, songs and the theatre. It doesn’t make us less Islamic to be engaged in these pursuit of entertainment for as long as it done with good intention and within certain bounds and norms. Of course not the hedonistic and destructive ones that goes beyond decency. For example, Good Morning America rejected and sanctioned the performance of Adam Lambert on stage for obvious reasons. Should we allow for that? The answer is yours.

So if PAS is indeed all for justice and shares its ideals with Pakatan Rakyat component parties, specifically PKR, why not just disband PAS?

Pakatan Rakyat is a coalition politics – a second learning curve after the Barisan Alternatif. Coalition politics requires that all participating component parties understand and abide to the common policy framework. You do not dissolve yourselves as a political party because each party has an ideological commitment and conviction of her own. But you are together for a reason i.e. to achieve the common objective and strategic targets in accordance to the Common Policy Framework (CPF)

It may not be forever to Day of Judgment, hence again you cannot disband yourselves. But for as long as the coalition is for the betterment of the nation we must stick together in a two-party system of the New Politics. But the dynamics may change. And let us cross the bridge when we come to it. Is this political expediency? No, we have clear evidences from Prophetic Traditions on Tahaluf Siyasi or Coalition Politics. That warrants another discourse.

How should PAS play its Islamic role in a PR government? After all, let’s face it, some have argued it has not been able to do much about massage parlours and entertainment centres in Selangor, where it is part of the state government.

Why just talk of massage parlours and entertainment centres? Because you think we are interested in only ‘moral policing’. That’s where you are wrong. Going by Prophetic Traditions, the Prophet faced a Makkan society steeped in alcoholism and adultery. But Islam is just not about dos and don’ts of life. 

The Prophet firstly expounded on the position of man on this earthly life. Islam provides the worldview and explains man’s position as a vicegerent of God on earth. Man must be made to understand his/her position in regards to the vertical relationship with his Creator and the horizontal relationship with his fellow-man. While he obeys his Creator, he shouldn’t tyrannise his fellow men. The supreme purpose of Islamic Law is Justice. The choice of believing or not believing in God is the freedom accorded to man by his Creator. But he cannot compromise on Justice as that will usurp the rights of others.

Hence our role in Pakatan (at the federal level) is primarily to ensure that justice prevails in the entire gamut of public life. We will actively partake in the running of the nation and will assume our roles in the various capacities where we are assigned. We are not senior nor junior partner to anyone. In Pakatan we are on equal-footing. Policies get passed through consensus-building.

Our basis of relationship is on trust and profound understanding of each other’s basic conviction. We manage our differences and we fully leverage on our common values and goals. We are not without problems, but our Pakatan states speak for themselves insofar as realising our common goals. That’s why UMNO/BN is envious. They cannot do likewise because they are too ethnic-based. Besides they practice racial and religious bigotry as well.

We have guiding principles of our CPF to comply to and abide by. The Federal Constitution (FC) of Article 3, Article 152 and 153 remain our bedrock of common policy framework. UMNO/BN could neither frighten the Malays nor scare the Chinese, through ‘divide and rule’ bogey-men tactics. It’s too outdated and antiquated. We do not deconstruct the FC but reform appropriately the various sins of the BN’s omissions and commissions for the last five decades.


2 thoughts on “Coming out of the ‘comfort zone’ – in conversation with Dzulkefly Ahmad

  1. YB Dr. Dzulkefly,
    Thank you very much for your clear explanation on the dynamics of PAS. I hope that more people will read this article and come to a clear understanding of PAS, its dreams, goals and aspirations.

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