Of ulamaks and professionals


As PAS party election goes, analysts, observers, the media, “love” to view it as a “ulamak versus professionals” battle. Despite the “complex situation”.

Mohsin Abdullah, fz.com 

WHEN Nasharuddin Mat Isa first contested the PAS deputy presidency in 2005 he was seen as a “modernist”, a “liberal intellect “. In other words a “professional” who went on to beat Ustaz Hassan Shukri – an ulamak.

But when he defended the deputy president post in 2009 his victory was hailed as a triumph for the ulamaks. Nasharuddin then had beaten Datuk Husam Musa and Mohamad Sabu, both “moderates” aka “professionals”. Nasharuddin “had become” or seen as an ulamak by then. Was he transformed within that short period from professional to ulamak? Or could it be just “people’s perception”?  

Anyway, in 2011 the “ulamak” Nasharuddin was defeated by the “moderate” Mohamad Sabu (popularly known as Mat Sabu). Interestingly, the contest had also featured Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, a well known ulamak. Meaning an ulamak had mounted a challenge against the incumbent ulamak.

As PAS party election goes, analysts, observers, the media, “love” to view it as a “ulamak versus professionals” battle. Despite the “complex situation”.

However in a way they are not wrong in making such a call. Although PAS has always been Islamist, the party has its share of ustaz and Islamic scholars as well as lawyers, doctors, engineers so on and so forth – the professionals.

But then there are Western trained English speaking professionals “who are inclined to the ulamaks of  “old” and “new” i.e. the graduates of Islamic studies from universities in Jordan and Egypt .

Likewise there are also ulamaks leaning towards the professionals. Tuan Ibrahim is a classic example. So too is Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, famously known as the PAS ulamak who “went to church” in reference to his effort in fostering multi-faith relations.  

Both groups are well versed in religion. Hence it is more the question of approach and “style”. It’s not a surprise that terms like “hardline” and “moderate” surfaced in PAS. Even for among ulamaks themselves.

A former PAS activist pointed this out: “During the days of Ustaz Fadhil it was mengulamakkan professional, memprofesionalkan ulamak (“ulamatisation” of the professionals and the professionalisation of the ulamaks). Both complement each other. No fireworks.

“But now it has become exclusive groups bent on beating each other with regards to power struggle, approach, ideology etc.”

The “Ustaz Fadhil” he was referring to was none other Datuk Fadhil Noor, the former PAS president who passed away in 2002.

The ulamaks’ main contention is that PAS’ slogan is “kepimpinan ulamak” or ulamak leadership. That to them is crystal clear as to who should lead PAS. In accordance to the slogan.

But a party insider opined: “It’s like the Executive and the Judiciary. We have the Dewan Ulamak. They are the Judiciary who can make sure the Executive, that is the leadership, toes the party line in carrying out the PAS struggle. There’s nothing that say you must be ulamak to lead the party.”

PAS is now bracing itself for party polls in November and, said a source closely linked to party headquarters, there are concerns if campaigning is carried out along factional lines – ulamak versus professionals.

“This will weaken the party and have an effect on the support of the rakyat of all communities for PAS,” said the source, while admitting that “obviously there’s a clash between the two groups”.

So what do the ulamaks want? To push their agenda, PAS’ GE13 results are being used. Needless to say, PAS’ performance was not good as compared to the results they got in 2008. To the ulamaks, the loss of many a Malay vote was the result of PAS “not being Islamic enough”.

PAS’ stand on the “Allah” issue for example was not to their liking. They see PAS, helmed by the professionals, too liberal and “straying from the Islamic principle of PAS “. To the ulamaks, that made Malays turn away from PAS in GE13.

Incidently, in the current campaign for the Sungai Limau by-election, Umno is “questioning PAS’ Islamic credentials”.  

Anyway, not too long ago, when the ulamaks made the call for PAS to “review its position in Pakatan Rakyat”, observers saw that as the ulamaks wanting PAS to leave Pakatan.

Of course the professionals have a totally different view. In a nutshell, to them, PAS has more to gain in Pakatan than fighting the political war on its own. In fact, to them, PAS has gained a lot by working with its Pakatan partners. Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad is among the strongest advocators of such a stand.

And in Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, a highly respected ulamak, the professionals have a very strong supporter. Nik Aziz, as we know, has made it clear PAS will not and must not leave Pakatan. Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang, who is set to be returned as PAS president, shares that stand. Need we be reminded that Abdul Hadi himself is an ulamak.

Still there are members in the party who are pro-ulamaks, who want to see the ‘unity government’ dream become a reality. At least wanting to see efforts towards that be pursued if not anything else.

Again Nik Aziz is in the way. Putting his feet down with a firm NO.

So in the event of the ulamak team gaining control via the November polls, will PAS leave Pakatan? Or pave the way for a unity government, or UG as it is called, with Umno?

PAS sources have this to say: “Even if they win, the UG thing is not easy to do.” That is being conservative about the matter. Tuan Ibrahim is all for Pakatan. So too is Ustaz Idris Ahmad. Both are ulamaks with a big following.

That leaves Datuk Harun Din and Datuk Harun Taib who are in favour of UG “in the name of Muslim unity “. The duo are also the ones who had called for PAS to review its role in Pakatan “.

The two Haruns however have not been nominated for any post in the central leadership. Chances are both will again feature only in the Dewan ulamak. If at all.

“PAS members will definitely reject any call for the party to leave Pakatan. The grassroots just do not want PAS to be pushovers in the pact. That’s all,” said the sources.

Today, those nominated are required to state if they are accepting the nominations. They have until Nov 8 to do so.

According to the “senarai calon” released a few days ago, incumbent deputy president Mat Sabu has been nominated again. Also nominated for the post are Tuan Ibrahim, Datuk Husam Musa , Datuk Nik Mohamad Amar Abdullah and Salahuddin Ayub.

Observers expect Nik Amar, an ulamak, to pull out and make a bid for the vice presidency. Husam is also expected to “beri peluang ” to Mat Sabu. And Tuan Ibrahim’s challenge can never been taken lightly.

Mat Sabu lost in GE13 but not having a seat in the parliament or state assembly wasn’t much of a hindrance to him in previous party elections. Put simply Mat Sabu had lost the general election but won party election before.

For the vice president posts, the incumbents – Husam, Salahudin and Datuk Mahfuz Omar – have been nominated. So too Mat Sabu. Husam and Salahuddin lost in GE13 but using the Mat Sabu experience GE defeats cannot be a yardstick for PAS elections.

Others nominated for VP are Datuk Abu Bakar Chik, Idris Ahmad, Nasruddn Hassan – all ulamaks. And of course there’s Tuan Ibrahim, Nik Amar and Mujahid.    

Something worth pondering is that Husam and Tuan Ibrahim, and even Mat Sabu, have been nominated for the deputy presidency as well as vice president posts. That could be taken to mean PAS members want all of them to continue with the party struggle. Regardless of positions in party. Regardless whether ulamaks or professionals.

Can this be labelled “inclusive” and “accommodative”?