The seminar, on the implementation of Islamic laws in
Malaysia, was organised by the Johor state government and assisted by the
Malaysian Institute of Islamic Understanding.
His advice is timely as Umno competes with the orthodox PAS for the Muslim
votes. There has been some concern among many moderate Malaysians that Umno is
becoming more zealous in seeking to project an Islamic image to win back some
segments of disenchanted Malays.
Some have even said Umno is trying to seek one-upmanship on PAS, pointing out a
proposed Federal Bill on apostasy which gives sweeping powers to religious
officers to detain apostates for rehabilitation.
The proposed Bill is now back to the drawing board following protests from both
Muslims and non-Muslims.
Umno, the backbone of a ruling coalition since independence, has been able to
win every general election since 1957 because of its moderation. Its politics
of consensus and accommodation have been its selling point. Umno has a tested
record of its willingness to share power with the other ethnic groups.
In the general election last year, despite the combined opposition force, Malaysians
returned the Barisan Nasional to power because they believed only the coalition
could run the country.
Without doubt, the seminar on religion would enable government officers, young
professionals and Umno activists to counter some of the arguments on Islam put
up by PAS.
It's a good start and it shows that Umno is equally capable of clashing with
PAS ulamak (theologians) on religious issues and not merely on the politics of
Religion has always been a core matter within the community and it is vital for
Umno to address these concerns. But it is also important that Umno should not
allow itself to play into the hands of PAS.
Umno stands out as a beacon of hope against the fanatical pronouncements by
PAS. Malaysians, even those who criticise Umno, must surely be able to see the
manners in which PAS has been running Kelantan and Terengganu.
It has introduced controversial decisions such as separate counters for men and
women in supermarkets, banning women from taking part in Quran recitals and
blaming social problems on women.
PAS has also refused to field women candidates for general elections,
purportedly to protect them.
Last week, over 500 its supporters, mostly in robes and sarbans, protested
against the holding of a dinner simply because a woman pop singer was
It has a consistent bias against women and there is no reason for anyone to
deceive himself by believing that Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Nik Aziz Nik
Mat was deliberately misquoted by the press. In all these controversies, it is
sad that some politicians and activists, who talk about transparency and
justice, suddenly become mute simply because they are not prepared to offend
But Umno needs to address other issues besides religion. The rumblings on the
ground are over issues like democracy, accountability, cronyism and
Umno must be able to tackle these concerns swiftly, directly and convincingly
to regain the lost votes.
The Singapore Straits Times reported in a news analysis on Tuesday that Umno
seems to believe only political Islam can counter the rise of PAS although the
past has shown it may not necessarily be true.
It said that before falling to PAS, Terengganu was enforcing Islamic laws and
promoting religious activities aggressively during the late 1980s and
throughout the 1990s.
“But the people voted for fundamental PAS instead. The Islamic infrastructure
such as mosques, religious schools, Islamic pawn shops and other
religious-based institutions, which were set up by Umno, are being fully
utilised by the PAS-led state government today,'' it said.
In all fairness, it must be pointed out that Umno has taken its fight to other
areas besides religion. On Wednesday, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad launched
the Umno Civil Action bureau's service centre in Sungai Way, an area with over
35,000 factory workers, mostly Malays.
The centre is the first project of the bureau headed by Umno supreme council
member Azalina Othman Said. It is a good start and the choice of location is
commendable. The bureau is similar to the MCA Public Complaints and Service
Department led by Michael Chong.
The centres set up by the MCA in all states have led to strong community
interaction. Similarly, Umno should ensure the problems handed by its centre at
Sungai Way get sufficient press coverage to remind voters of the party's good
In fact, Umno should go one step further by setting up service centres in all
villages and housing estates, like what the PAP has done in Singapore.
Such grassroots projects would also erase the perception that Umno leaders have
become alienated from the working class and are in politics merely because of
What Umno needs to emphasise is not that PAS is bad but that Umno is better in
all areas, not just in the religious aspects.