Meet the Vanguard of Malaysian Islamist Politics

Meet the Vanguard of Malaysian Islamist Politics
Photographs above show Pemuda PAS security team (Unit Amal) members at the 2017 Muktamar, via the PAS Facebook page.
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In a political climate where most Islamist parties have chosen to prioritize political objectives over ideological ones, PAS has balked this trend and has become more conservative in its political posture.

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At the 63rd "Muktamar" (annual meeting) of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) the party’s youth wing Pemuda PAS, or PAS Youth, emerged as the vanguard of Islamist politics within the party. The Youth wing unanimously voted in favor of the party adopting two controversial motions, namely the rolling out of the proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act, also known as RUU355, and the political "divorce" from the People’s Justice Party (PKR). This move is aimed at ensuring that the party remained avowedly Islamist in its ideology.

In 1981, PAS Youth charted the way for the implementation of a new leadership structure known as "Kepimpinan Ulama" (leadership by religious scholars), which also saw the party moving closer to an Islamist register. Following the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim in 1997, the party saw a groundswell of support, especially among young Muslim professionals. Although the party shifted its politics to be more inclusive, PAS Youth remained the bulwark in defense of the party’s support for Islamic criminal laws and Kepimpinan Ulama. PAS Youth was instrumental in mobilizing against reformist leaders at the 2015 Muktamar. These leaders, including former PAS deputy president Mohamed Sabu, lost their posts in party elections, leading to their exodus to form the new Parti Amanah Nasional (Amanah). In the recently concluded party congress, PAS Youth was galvanized to move a motion for PAS to break its alliance with PKR.

The decision to break the alliance with PKR was accepted unanimously by all the PAS Youth delegates. Very much in line with its sturdy Islamic stance, PAS Youth alluded that breaking the coalition with PKR implied "talak tiga" (triple divorce, meaning an irrevocable separation). The main reasons quoted for the separation were the allegedly repeated attacks and allegation on Islam and PAS leaders. According to PAS Youth delegates, PKR members are not fully committed to strengthening Islam. PKR’s permission for Selena Gomez, a famous American singer, to stage a concert last year in Shah Alam was widely circulated as a telling example of PKR’s disregard for Islamic values since she was perceived as scantily dressed.

Another reason often cited as a justification for breaking ties with PKR was the corruption scandals PKR members are mired in. The PKR Youth leader Datuk Adam Rosli was arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was charged with corruption regarding a bungalow purchase. The strong anti-corruption stance was a leitmotif during this muktamar. In addition to PKR members, PAS Youth also denounced UMNO leaders for being involved in corruption scandals. In contrast, PAS Youth delegate Hishammuddin Abdul Karim cited the Kelantan state government as the quintessential example of a "clean government" and postulated that PAS is the sole political party in Malaysia whose leaders boast high levels of integrity.

The conservatism of PAS Youth must be understood in light of the sustained effort by PAS leaders to recruit and indoctrinate young Malaysian Muslims into supporting the party’s agenda. In 1987, PAS Youth enacted a plan to shape the thinking of Malaysian Muslim children to better understand the spirit and struggle of PAS for an Islamic state. Taking advantage of the increasing demand of Muslim parents to school their children in an Islamic environment, PAS Youth started a chain of kindergartens and childcare centers known as the Pusat Asuhan Tunas Islam (PASTI). Currently, there are more than 400 PASTI kindergartens throughout Malaysia and they are managed by members of the PAS Youth divisional committee. The PASTI network was used by PAS Youth to not only identify future cadres for the party but to build relations with parents of the children studying in these kindergartens. Upon graduation from the kindergartens, PAS Youth continues engaging through summer camps, part-time religious classes and holiday programs.

Since the 1980s, PAS Youth has formed numerous student groups in the different Malaysian universities to recruit university students to join the party. In the local universities, groups like the Gabungan Mahasiswa Islam Se-Malaysia (GAMIS) became important platforms for PAS to introduce its ideas and indoctrinate tertiary students with the ideology of the party. Likewise, PAS Youth has utilized several platforms including Al-Hizbi Islami in the United Kingdom, the Malay Association of Egypt and Malaysian Student Association of Pakistan and India (Masa Pakindo) to recruit both students from secular institutions in the West as well as students studying in Islamic institutions. Many of the current PAS Youth leaders such as its former head Nik Abduh Nik Aziz were involved in these organizations. Religious scholars from PAS Youth such as the late PAS assemblymen Abu Bakar Chik even lived in the United Kingdom to assist in the cadrerization process of new members of these front organizations. Regardless of whether they pursued a secular or religious education, current members of PAS Youth have been exposed to the party’s ideology for last three decades.

In a political climate where most Islamist parties have chosen to prioritize political objectives over ideological ones, PAS has balked this trend and has become more conservative in its political posture. This could largely be attributed to the role that is played by PAS Youth as bastions of the Islamist ideology. This commitment stems from a process of cadrerization and indoctrination that most members of PAS Youth have gone through. As such, PAS is likely to remain committed to its Islamist ideology if these indoctrination processes remain entrenched.

This article was first published at New Mandala ­– a specialist website on Southeast Asian affairs based at the Australian National University’s Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.

The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article. The original can be found here.

TNL Editor: Edward White

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