Constructing an Islamic Model in Two Malaysian States: PAS Rule in Kelantan and Terengganu

By Stark, Jan | SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Constructing an Islamic Model in Two Malaysian States: PAS Rule in Kelantan and Terengganu


Stark, Jan, SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia


Since the fall of communism a new world order is emerging in which political Islam develops into one of the major players: Islam not only provides a new stimuli for the re-definition of political models as well as social and cultural identity but also constitutes a crucial part of globalization as one of its most outspoken critics. It does the latter by highlighting the uneven development inherent in Western concepts and challenging the social/moral impetus of a largely growth-oriented approach to capitalism. At the same time, Islam tries to present alternative social and cultural models that arise from its own perception of an all-compassing belief-system that in practice is heavily fragmented along social and cultural lines. The particularistic answers arising from various Islamic backgrounds, however, emerge from an increasingly global setting of policy-making that is similarly multi-faceted. In the case of Malaysia, these ambiguities of modernization have become more focused than in many other Islamic countries. As one of the most outstanding examples of rapid development, Malaysia provides a showcase of how a society can undergo both political and cultural change while trying to construct a non-Western modernity centring on Asian and specifically Islamic traditions and values. At the same time its political system provides for a relatively higher level of participation, at least compared with many other Islamic countries, thus enabling opposition parties to come up with alternative social models.

In this context, the Islamic Pard Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) provides an interesting example with its attempt at constructing and enforcing a system of "Islamic democracy" in the two east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu. PAS has governed these states since 1990 and 1999 respectively. Islamic governance in these states will be examined politically, economically, and socially by assessing PAS' background and development. It will be asked how PAS' Islamic administration differs from the Islamic mainstream policies proposed by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) (1) coalition and to what extent PAS is hampered by constitutional as well as political considerations in a multi-ethnic society.

Paradigm Shift within PAS

>From Nationalism to Islamic State

Burhanuddin al-Helmy, the founder of PAS, had already in the 1960s explicitly voiced the dilemma in which his party had been caught by incorporating two positions into its political programme that are hardly compatible: representing Malay nationalist interests while at the same time defending universal Islamic principles (Burhanuddin al-Helmy 1964). Unlike UMNO, the leading nationalist Malay party in the ruling BN, PAS has always defined itself through Islam and has therefore been in a permanent conflict between nationalism--condemned as assabiyah by Islamists (2)--and the universality of a religion defining itself by the total submission to divine principles. With the emergence of the dakwah movement in the late 1970s--the call to go back to the "roots" of Islam--and an ensuing Islamization of the public sphere, the nationalist-Islamic ambiguity has become even more apparent and has led to frictions within the party. Resistance particularly emerged after PAS joined the ruling coalition in 1974, which was seen as a betrayal of the Islamic cause by the ulama in the party who opposed the rather nationalist-inclined leadership under Mohamad Asri.

Its failure to function as a component within the BN government in late 1977 considerably changed the profile of PAS. Leaving nationalist Malay politics behind, the party openly confessed its Islamic identity. Several steps were taken to "Islamize" the outlook of the party: through establishing a Majlis Shura as the highest decision-making body within the party, the religious leadership of the ulama was secured. At the same time the PAS General Assembly in October 1982 decided to limit the influence of the party president in favour of the Islamic principle of musyawarah, which is based on common consensus (Pushpa 1984, pp. …

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