Western scholars of Islam -- those often referred to as ‘orientalists’ and sometimes as ‘Islam apologists’ -- say that Islam is the misunderstood religion. In a way that is partly true. And in that same spirit we could probably also say that PAS is the misunderstood Islamic party.
Back in 1999 when the idea of a four-party opposition coalition between PKN (now called PKR), DAP, PAS and PRM (now merged with PKR) was mooted, it was extremely difficult to get PAS to agree to a common platform. PKN, DAP and PRM wanted to build Barisan Alternatif, what the coalition was to be called, on a secular platform but PAS insisted that their Islamic agenda be retained and not dropped.
There was also a squabble over seat allocations and each party wanted the lion’s share of seats. There were many ‘overlapping’ seats and even as close to one month before the November 1999 general election there was talk that the coalition idea would be dropped and each party would contest on its own.
It was only during the eleventh hour that PAS finally relented and agreed to play ball. And that was because of the late Ustaz Fadzil Noor, who had a good relationship with Anwar Ibrahim. If it was left to Ustaz Abdul Hadi Awang, who detested Anwar, PAS would have gone into three- or four-corner fights (or more) with Barisan Nasional, DAP, PKN and PRM.
PAS was told that it should be less a dakwah or missionary movement and more a political party. Hence, as a political party, it should focus on winning the general elections. Many in PAS, however, especially the ulama’ faction, felt that winning the elections is not as important as propagating Islam, which is what they want to do.
“We are not concerned about winning elections,” said Mustafa Ali. “We want to serve Islam.”
Others argued that PAS should first win the elections and then after it is in power it can focus on propagating Islam. With power, PAS can do many things for Islam that it cannot do if it is not in power. Take power first and then serve Islam.
With that game plan in mind PAS agreed to focus on winning the elections and to put its Islamic agenda on the backburner (KIV) until the day they had enough power to do what they planned to do. And that was why soon after PAS took power in Terengganu in 1999 they tried to implement Hudud in that state, like what they tried to do nine years earlier soon after they took power in Kelantan in 1990.
PAS’s stubbornness in pursuing its Islamic agenda resulted in the breakup of Barisan Alternatif soon after 1999. But PAS did not care about that. Islam comes first and even if this results in the loss of political power that did not matter as long as Kelantan and Terengganu, the two states in the Malay heartland, can be Islamised.
PAS could have easily backtracked or withdrawn its Hudud bill in the Terengganu State Assembly and save the coalition but PAS did not. Islam must not be compromised for any other gains, even for the sake of political power.
The 2004 general election was a disaster for the opposition. In the 2008 general election the opposition bounced back under a new coalition called Pakatan Rakyat. In the 2013 general election they continued to do well and Umno and Barisan Nasional is perceived to be at its weakest since 1969.
So now it is time for PAS to revive its Islamic agenda.
Many in PAS feel that the party has deviated from the cause of Islam and has forgotten its Islamic agenda. Many complain that PAS is too focused on political power and not focused enough on Islam. They argue that PAS is becoming more like a secular party and less of an Islamic party.
And this is why we are seeing the current developments and disagreements in Pakatan Rakyat. While DAP and PKR want to continue with it secular agenda, the ulama’ faction wants PAS to return to its Islamic roots.
The current disagreements in Pakatan Rakyat, especially those involving PAS, are merely a tug-of-war between the fundamentalists and the liberalists. Coincidentally, the liberalists also happen to be the Anwarists. So when the ulama’ faction or fundamentalists oppose Anwar, it is really to send a message to the liberalists that is it is the ulama’ who have the final say.