Rise of leadership by ulama in PAS (Part 2)

The Majlis Syura Ulama (Consultative Council of Religious Scholars) in PAS was created in 1983 to give substance to newly-adopted policy of kepimpinan ulama (leadership by scholars).

Previously, the Dewan Ulama – established in the early years of PAS along with Dewan Pemuda and Dewan Muslimat (women’s wing) as a sub-unit of the party – was the main avenue for the scholars to influence policies.

The new body consisted of 15 members. The Central Committee and the Dewan Ulama respectively appoints four of its members to sit in the Majlis Syura. They in turn select the remaining seven members. The council elects from among its members a Musyidul ‘Am (spiritual leader) and his deputy.

Part of recent proposal by deputy Musyidul ‘Am Dr Haron Din is to reduce the representation of Dewan Ulama from four persons to two through the automatic inclusion of the president and deputy president. For some leaders who are frustrated with the conservative and patronising attitude of the Dewan Ulama, this may be an exit strategy.

In the reshuffle of the consultative council last August, party president Abdul Hadi Awang, Hassan Shukri, Azizan Abdul Razak and Haron represented the Central Committee.

The appointees of the Dewan Ulama were Harun Taib, Ahmad Awang, Dr Mahfuz Mohamad and Mohamad Daud. The remaining seven were Musyidul ‘Am Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, Idris Omar, Dr Sanusi Daeng Mariok, Yahya Othman, Ishak Baharom, Abdul Ghani Samsuddin dan Hashim Jasin.

Registrar’s unease
The consultative council is entrusted to interpret policies according to the Quran and fundamental tenets of Islam as stipulated by the party constitution:
1) To elaborate, explain and interpret policies and other constitutional provisions, to ascertain their meaning and purpose;

2) To issue directives and rulings to ensure policies and decisions (of the council) are adhered to and implemented, and to ensure that the policies and decisions, as well as the requirements, pertaining to the constitution are adhered to in party activities and administration.

It is also given the authority to appoint the members of the disciplinary committee and to screen the background of election candidates.

The consultative council and Musyidul’ Am are ranked higher than the Central Committee and the president in the hierarchy but their relationships are far from clear in practice.

For instance, when PAS decided to sever all ties with coalition partner Semangat 46 in 1996, it was the Majlis that made the decision on July 13, followed by the endorsement of the Central Committee the next day. On the other hand, Fadzil contemplated bypassing the Majlis when drafting the Islamic State blueprint.

The structure of the Majlis and the position of Musyidul ‘Am – both inspired by the Egyptian Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan’ul Muslimin) – are common features of many Islamic-inclined parties in the Middle East and Indonesia but alien to Malaysian politics.

The party constitutional amendment to facilitate such move was discussed at the 1983 Muktamar (general assembly) but only approved by the Registrar of Societies in 1987. The delay was partly due to the Registrar’s uneasiness with the extraordinary powers given to this non-elected institution, including the power to dismiss decisions made by the elected Central Committee.

After the approval in 1987, then president Yusoff Rawa held the position of Musyidul ‘Am concurrently until his retirement in 1989, succeeded by then head of the Dewan Ulama Nik Abdul Aziz.

To this day, the party is faced with problems of interpretation and implementation of the now sacred concept of kepimpinan ulama, which had a rather casual origin as a veiled political challenge against party leader Asri Muda, who was not among the ulama.

Subky Latif, a long-time member of PAS central committee and a biographer of Fadzil Noor, wrote: “The resolution (on kepimpinan ulama) caused controversies particularly among non-ulama groups. What were their roles in the party? It is something difficult for the public to comprehend. They could only link it to the Iranian revolution. Ustaz Fadzil himself found it difficult to explain the concept. It was not his idea. (The resolution) was not planned and the leadership had to crack their head to implement the decision of the Muktamar.”

Defining the ulama
The fear that Haron’s proposal would lead to a constitutional amendment that explicitly stated the persons who hold the office of president and deputy president should be from among the ulama is understandable as some seem to think that they have the natural right to lead the party.

I am of the opinion that while such a danger does exist, it is very much depends on how the party constitution is interpreted.

According to Clause 7 (4) (a), a member of the Majlis Syura Ulama shall:
•understand the fundamental problems (al-Usul) in syariah and laws;
•and/or able to refer these questions to Quran, as-Sunnah (Traditions of the Prophet), Ijma (consensus of religious opinions) and Qias (analogical deductions) with a clear understanding of their meanings;
•be a just person who has never committed a major sin nor continue to commit minor sins.
It did not explicitly say one has to be from among the ulama. There are at least two distinctive approaches in PAS, in determining who the ulama are.

The head of Dewan Ulama Harun Taib contends that the ulama are like the moon among the stars – they are different from and superior to their compatriots preoccupied by mundane affairs.

“The ulama have a high status in front of Allah,” he declared.

Fadzil saw it very differently. He stressed the importance of knowledge and suggested that the ulama should include not only those who have gone through formal Islamic education but also “those who do not go through religious education at the early stage but strive to acquire Islamic knowledge in their later life”.

Leadership succession
I would like to add that the effort to strengthen the institution of ulama within PAS may have been misplaced, especially at this challenging time for party in the aftermath of its poor showing in the 2004 general election. It is now more important for PAS to tap its talents, regardless of education background.

PAS’ leaders in the early years after its inception were mainly rural ulama who lived an ‘autonomous’ life outside the reach of state largesse. But massive urbanisation in the 1970s and the rise of the Malay middle class have resulted in an occupationally/educationally diversified ‘autonomous’ class.

Their mass participation in PAS after the humiliating sacking and controversial persecution of the former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim in September 1998 brought PAS in line with the social reality in Malaysia.

It is time for the party to heed the call of Mujahid Yusof Rawa, son of former president Yusof Rawa, who urged the party to define the principle of ulama leadership clearly. His proposal is that the party fulfils the requirement of the principle with the existence of Majlis Syura Ulama. There is no need to restrict other top party leadership positions to the ulama.

In part this suggestion reflects the internal conflict over party leadership. In addition, it also reflects a dire reality – where the party is facing serious problem of leadership succession if those positions are restricted to the ulama.

The way forward for PAS is not to reinforce the artificial barriers between the ulama and those who did not go through formal religious education, but to widen their choice to the pool of talent available.

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