Fight Islam with materialism

Ibrahim M Ahmad, Free Malaysia Today

I was intrigued by your columnist’s recent piece, Why PAS cannot be defeated in the heartlands.

Indeed, PAS has over the last forty years slowly but surely achieved its goal of capturing the hearts of the Malays. In football terms, successive Umno leaders can claim an “assist”.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad used to openly challenge PAS’ interpretation of the religion and thought that the best way to beat PAS was to out-Islam it. He went head-to-head with the party to prove that Umno’s brand of Islam was better for the Malays.

Over time, an increasingly myopic Umno dug itself and the government even deeper into a trench. Abdullah Badawi’s more liberal approach was rejected.

Najib Razak’s moderate “1Malaysia” policy was met with such hostility within his own party, that he eventually had to toe the line and spout Malay superiority and religious rhetoric to consolidate his power base. He failed because he could not match up to PAS, while showing Umno up as hopelessly corrupt.

These days, it is the turn of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (once of Umno) to try to re-establish his Islamic credentials in a bid to stem the Green Wave.

Meanwhile, his deputy and current Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi spoke this week about preserving the government’s desire to protect Islam by drawing up some presumably flaky policy surrounding the use of the term “Allah”.

Unfortunately, both leaders have stigma attached to their political careers, making their religious chatter idle rhetoric and inherently unbelievable.

There is no doubt that PAS has gained a stranglehold on the direction of Islam in the country that is both unshakeable and frightening. The PKR-Umno-Amanah alliance must accept they will never be able to go toe-to-toe with the PAS ulama on the subject.

In truth, they should not need to. All they need to do is to shift the focus of the Malays in the north of the peninsula to something more real and tangible which they can achieve while still on earth.

Start by helping them get out of the cycle of poverty. Channel investments to the north, create businesses which will give the locals decent employment. After all, they deserve a decent pay packet, a comfortable home and small luxuries, things many are presently deprived of.

While they are employed, teach these northern Malays about the world around them. Open their eyes to new technologies, new ideas and new perspectives. Give them a real purpose in this life without compromising on their desire to attain happiness in the next.

At the same time, penetrate the schools. Improve their facilities. Employ teachers of all races to bring a wider perspective to students. Help our young ones acquire a proper command of English. Open the world up to them through language, interaction and the internet. Immerse them in the wonders of science and technology.

Occupy them with sports. Make champion athletes out of these children and expose them to new things through sports.

Chances are, in five years, we will already begin to see a change in the mindset of young adults with good jobs and school-going teenagers with a more rounded view of life. Use them to help you win over their parents and grandparents.

Focus your energies. Start with the states where the Green Wave is still new and reversible. Washed away into insignificance by a counterwave, even the diehards in Kelantan and Terengganu will have to follow so as not to be left behind.

Three master strategists are needed.

One to draw up a blueprint to kickstart the economy in “greening” states, another to reimagine the education system to cater to their needs, and a third to develop their sporting prowess.

Here is a helpful hint. None of them is in the present Cabinet.

Is our unity government up for the challenge?