The loudest concern came from the party’s grassroot leaders in the conservative-dominated Youth and Ulama wings during their respective muktamar debates on Thursday.
The fact that PAS’ goal of an ‘Islamic state’ has become a ‘welfare state’ and not a single mention of the word ‘hudud’ by either party president Abdul Hadi Awang and Youth chief Nasrudin Hassan’s (left) lengthy policy speeches only fuelled that worry.
At the main muktamar which began on Friday, central delegates who debated the president’s speech too were silent on hudud but only one sought to raise the undercurrent of discomfort.
“The issue of hudud is akin to a high fever for a moment and cold at the next, what more it is made into a polemic by our partners in DAP, especially (its chairperson) Karpal Singh,” said Zahari Arip, who represented Federal Territories PAS.
“I am not concerned about the small number who question hudud, they are unqualified to speak about it but I am saddened when some Islamic scholars, including some of our leaders, say hudud law is not suitable or the environment is not yet conducive for it,” he added.
Zahari's speech clearly resonated with party delegates, particularly among the ulamas, judging by the swarm of well-wishers who approached him later.
“No one else raised this issue, so I let loose a bomb,” he told Malaysiakini on the sidelines of the Pusat Islam Tarbiyah Kelantan hall which played host to a total of 1,116 delegates.
Speaking on the sidelines, PAS supporters wing chief Hu Pang Chaw acknowledged that hudud was viewed as a religious issue above all others by the ulama, but noted that the general election was looming.
“We cannot run away from current issues, we need to tackle them,” he said.
Hu and PAS supporters wing secretary K Deepakaran (right) had both addressed the muktamar, where the delegates were almost exclusively Muslims.
Hu and Deepakaran, non-Muslims in an Islamic party, represent the rapidly changing face of PAS to become more inclusive and may be the source of discomfort for some conservative old guards, but the worry also stems from the party’s scarred history.
Under the leadership of former PAS president Asri Muda, a non-ulama, the party was set on an ethno-nationalist path by bringing PAS into BN in 1973, a move that led to the disintegration of the party’s support, until it exited the ruling coalition in 1978.
The concept of ‘ulama leadership’ was introduced in 1982 when Asri was ousted in a bid to ensure the same mistake would never happen again.
In the present day, with PAS joining Pakatan Rakyat on the quest to capture Putrajaya and non-ulamas dominating all three vice-presidential positions as well as the deputy presidency, it appears frighteningly familiar to some old guards.
Sensing this, PAS’ highest authority, the syura council comprising of ulamas, released a carefully crafted statement, declaring PAS’ concept of a welfare state and its cooperation with Pakatan as being consistent with its original struggle.
Responding to delegates’ concerns yesterday, PAS vice-president Husam Musa (left) related how an ulama had reacted to Asri’s ousting in 1982, quoting him as saying: “Whoever supports PAS because of Asri, Asri has left; Whoever supports PAS because of Allah and Prophet Muhammad, Allah and Prophet Muhammad remain with us.”
Such words of wisdom, Husam said, inspired confidence in the leadership of ulamas.
PAS vice-president Mahfuz Omar, too, reassured delegates that the concept of ulama leadership will prevail and is protected by the syura council, while its Youth wing sought to project unity by breaking tradition with a ‘duet’ for its speech at the muktamar - an economist in the form of Syahir Sulaiman and an ustaz in the form of Afnan Hamimi Taib Azamuddin.
Even PAS president Abdul Hadi took pains to explain that that its concept of ‘welfare state’ differed from that of the west, indicating that it was a form of political Islam.
This appear to have soothed the anxiety of the delegates as the discussion and mood on the last day of its muktamar shifted to bashing the party’s arch-rival Umno.
“I’m satisfied, of course I’m satisfied,” Mariam Abdul Rasid, a delegate from the Selangor Muslimat wing and an ustazah told Malaysiakini along the sidelines.
So, who’s PM now?
But as the situation begin to look like a mere storm in a teacup, the Dewan Ulama threw another surprise by voicing their support for Abdul Hadi, a renowned cleric, to be PAS’ candidate for prime minister.
The Dewan Muslimat shot back, pointing out that PAS had the least seats in Pakatan and should only make such demands if it can win the majority of seat among the coalition.
Abdul Hadi, however, attempted to stay above the fray, stating that this would only be discussed if and when the opposition emerges victorious.
This stance, however, will likely provide renewed ammunition to the ruling coalition which had in the past accused the party of incoherence as it had no clear candidate for premier.
Pakatan had largely escaped this line of attack as PKR and DAP had bandied opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister in waiting.
However, when queried, Abdul Hadi played down the matter, stating Pakatan was more concerned about a clear agenda rather than a clear candidate for premier.
Eyes set on Putrajaya
Getting down to specifics, PAS appear to be methodologically serious about the polls, with detailed discussion from both leaders and delegates on the Malay, Felda and army votes - critical vote banks that the party must capture.
From having the Kelantan Chinese Assembly Hall grace its muktamar for the first time to a green lion dance greeting party president Abdul Hadi, and from the youthful PAS music videos that was played at intervals during the muktamar to its very own concert last night - PAS also sought to walk its ‘PAS for all’ talk, especially for the Chinese and youth vote.
The take from the PAS leadership was best reflected in Abdul Hadi’s parting poem to delegates in his winding-up speech:
PAS bersama Pakatan Rakyat,
Membujur lalu melintang pagar,
Terus berjuang Islam daulat,
Jangan melenting jangan melatah.
Without becoming lost in translation, regardless of the hurdles - be it internal inertia or disagreements with allies - PAS is determined to press on with Pakatan.
Its idea of “upholding Islam” though, like in the poem and at the muktamar, lacked specifics and will likely test the coalition to its limits if it captures federal power.
Notably, Abdul Hadi had reaffirmed the party’s right to lobby for hudud - with a caveat of going through the democratic process - at a press conference after the muktamar, but had avoided doing so before party delegates.
For now, with eyes set on Putrajaya and the groundwork meticulously laid down, PAS is in no mood for hudud polemics, especially among its grassroots.