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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Hadi, lead by example, not threats

Last week, PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang asked in an open letter:
"How can non-Muslims here fight to uphold ideologies created by Western thinkers such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and others not of the same religion and race as themselves?
"Why can they not try the Islamic approach in political, economic and social affairs, without being forced to leave their own religions?"
Before we get to the heart of this question, this last part about “not forcing non-Muslims to leave their own religions” is mentioned multiple times in the letter.
The way Hadi speaks about it, it is almost as if he expects non-Muslims to fall on their knees and thank PAS that they haven’t been forced at gunpoint to convert to Islam.
A more generous interpretation is that Hadi believes that the only reason non-Muslims do not like PAS is because they think PAS intends to conduct mass forced conversions.
Either way, what these statements and this open letter in general indicate is Hadi’s considerable misunderstanding of, or lack of concern for, non-Muslims in Malaysia. They also indicate an extremely poor choice of strategy.
A poor understanding of non-Muslims
The two thinkers Hadi mentioned are associated with quite different ideologies, and it might be an interesting academic discussion to explore how they do not necessarily conflict with Islamic ideology, but I doubt it was Hadi’s intent to over-intellectualise.
In this at least, I shall follow his example, and focus more on the second question he asked above.
Two things to mention at the outset: First, there is some ambiguity as to how sincerely Hadi is asking what might be a rhetorical question.
Second, on the balance of probabilities, Hadi’s open letter is more likely addressed to Muslims rather than non-Muslims, thus making a reply by a non-Muslim such as myself not particularly relevant.
All that said, perhaps there is the tiniest chance that Hadi is really curious and asked this question sincerely. So, for what little it is worth, I shall attempt to offer an answer.
Relevant or not, I should also state that it has long been one of my most ardent hopes that PAS would remain united with the rest of the opposition in Malaysia.
Not for any reason inherent to PAS, but because such unity would in many ways represent a bridging of the gaps between some of the largest and most divided communities in Malaysia.
I suppose that hope will remain unfulfilled.
So, why is it non-Muslims don’t seem to want to try an Islamic approach to governance?
I can only speak for myself when I say: I’d be happy to try such an approach if it were a government informed by genuine Islamic principles, but not if the man leading this Islamic government has an attitude like Hadi’s.
Said attitude is strongly visible in Hadi’s letter. I read in it strong undertones of fear-mongering, black-and-white thinking, and us-versus-them rhetoric.
In this letter, Hadi follows in the worst traditions of Malaysian politics: constantly portraying your constituent community as being under vicious attack, and demonising political opponents as slaves, cheats, thugs, and vilifiers who are out to destroy the core of your identity (in this case, Islam).
I didn’t make up these terms. Hadi’s letter states:
“There are those who race to (Putrajaya so desperately) such that they are willing to become a slave to anyone at all, including the enemies of Islam who monopolise the vote of one ethnicity in a multi-ethnic society, want to cheat Muslims and belittle Islam.
“They choose Muslims who are willing to offer up any service, including being a slave, a thug, a vilifier, becoming a sweeper or cleaner of dirtiness, as long as Putrajaya is reached.”
The politics of hate
I remember a dinner I had with an editor of a mainstream newspaper, quite a long time ago.
He talked to me about how he was starting to feel that more and more, politics in Malaysia was becoming the politics of hate.
Lately, I have been reflecting on how much of this toxicity is permeating every level of every party.
It is right to criticise and fight against corruption and injustice; this we must do tirelessly. It is also the right of every citizen to advocate for the political movement, and the principles that inform said movement, of his or her choice.
Do we really need to do all of the above with such hate though?
Is the example we want to set for our children really one where those we disagree with us are demonised at every turn?
I’m not saying that Hadi’s opponents can’t ever be found guilty of the same, but isn’t there some irony and hypocrisy in the way that Hadi accuses others of “memaki hamun” (vilification)?
Let’s look at another standout quote from the open letter:
“By upholding Islam, all will be safe; without Islam, there will be no safety.”
Such a statement lends itself to a veritable plethora of interpretations. He could mean so many things.
As a Muslim, surely it is correct to believe that one’s soul is not safe unless one embraces Islam and upholds its principles. This is perfectly fair. Many Christians, for example, similarly believe that there is no salvation without Christ.
Hadi’s letter, however, is titled “Untukmu Rakyat Malaysia” (“For you, Malaysian citizens”) and speaks primarily about politics. 
Surely we can be forgiven if we wonder whether “selamat” (“safe”) has other connotations. Does Hadi mean that Malaysians will not be safe unless we vote for PAS?
He can dance around what he meant by the word “selamat”, but any experienced politician surely knows that its usage here can be seen as a veiled threat, intended or not.
Lead by example
I think I can still believe that PAS has a positive role to play in the future of Malaysia.
However, with every passing day, it seems like I believe less and less that this can be achieved with Hadi at the party’s helm.
Perhaps he does not mean any serious ill; but his choice of words, and his approach in general, fall far short of the statesmanship we need.
The late, great Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat did not speak in such threatening terms. He chose instead to live and lead by example, embodying the principles that he hoped would become the basis of good governance.
This is how one attracts others to the idea of a government infused with genuine Islamic principles; not by creating bogeymen in every corner, and persecuting made-up vilifiers by means of vilification.
We do not know for sure if Hadi and PAS do in fact actually care about non-Malay or non-Muslim votes.

If they do, they only need to look back to 2013 to see that if PAS embraces sincere inclusivity and prioritises what unites instead of what divides, they will indeed find widespread acceptance by a large swath of Malaysians.
If they don’t, then a PAS-Umno alliance or pact is all but inevitable, and PAS will most likely experience the same thing it has every single time it has tried to ally with Umno. Tok Guru understood this well. Does Hadi?

NATHANIEL TAN respects your religion. - Mkini

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