January 22, 2020

Transcript for BFM Talk – AMANAH’s Political Identity Crisis

Dato Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, Chairman and Director of Islamic Renaissance Front, and an academic researcher with the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine & Health Sciences at Monash University Malaysia.

What is Amanah’s political ideology as an Islamic part, and how do they stand apart from PAS? We explore their narrative and whether they should do more to embrace the role of Islamic reformers.

Produced by: Tasha Fusil
Presented by: Kelvin Yee, Aiman Rashad
Transcribed by: Imran Mohd Rasid



Kelvin: It is 6.36 and you are with Kelvin and Aiman on Evening edition. Right now, we are moving on to our next story and that is about Pas and Amanah, or more so about Amanah actually (Parti Amanah Negara) and their place as an Islamic party in the government. This comes after comments by Islamic Renaissance Front’s founder and executive director, Dr. Farouk Musa, who will be speaking to us in a moment, in which he had said that Amanah should declare that it is a post-Islamist party to distinguish its ideology from Pas.

Kevin: In explaining what Post-Islamism is, Dr Farouk says that it reconciles Liberal Democracy with Islam, or in other words, it is the understanding or recognition that while religion may provide salvation in the afterlife, politics is what provides welfare for this one. According to him, there are a few benefits for Amanah if they were to declare their position as a post-Islamist party. For example, this will help them assure the separation of powers, reject religious or gender based discrimination and voice out for pluralism and equality between men and women.

Aiman: I can see the benefits of it. There are pros and cons of course in terms of declaring yourself as a post-Islamist party. In terms of the pros of it, as you mentioned just now Kelvin, it really sets you apart from PAS. You can be a party that promotes pluralism, acceptance of other people from other religions and other races and all that, and it is important as an Islamic party to delineate yourself from PAS. PAS has set such a low bar in terms of reflecting what a possible Malaysia as an Islamic state would look like. Therefore, by delineating yourself or differentiating yourself from PAS by declaring yourself as a post-Islamist party you can project this image that ‘we are an Islamic Party but we’re better than PAS because we accept everyone’. But in terms of the whole landscape of Malaysian politics, to identify as post- Islamist party can be counter-productive as well in terms of gaining votes. I guess the idea of separating religion from politics can be interpreted as against the central tenet which declares that Islam is the right way to govern a country, or Islam is the best way to govern over people. So accepting that the religion should be separated from politics can be seen as an acceptance that the religion is flawed and not the way forward. So if you do identify yourself as a post-Islamist party that may backfire in terms of getting the voters from PAS because these are those who believe in PAS’ ideology; that Islam is THE WAY. In this case, if you were to separate yourself from that it may be detrimental in terms of convincing them to join your side and to indicate that your version of Islamic governance and politics is better.

Kelvin: Yeah. I think for me it’s just the fact that Amanah is a relatively new party compared to the other contenders who have had a lot of years and time to form their identity and to have a say in where they stand what they believe in and who they are meaning to represent. Now on the other hand, because they haven’t quite figured it out yet and the obvious comparison, as when we were talking a few days ago about DAP and MCA, the obvious comparison is of course PAS of which looks like the shadow or vice versa. And I think for a lot of voters perhaps they are also trying to figure out what the party stands for, or who do they stand for. If you don’t have that strong branding you don’t quite know where they’re going to align themselves because party ties and party identification, and people who choose to identify with the party; these will impact a lot of their lives because it ends up giving them the information they need to choose and know about a certain matter and how they should align themselves to a certain political issue. For example, it can influence their participation in elections. If a political party asks you not to vote, you might be inclined to listen to that political leader because you trust where they stand. At the same time, you are also able, through having a strong branding, and especially now in the time where we are about to see the next general election whereby 18-year olds be able to vote, this means because people do form political opinions or rather start forming a political opinion at such a young age. In other words, you do have to start getting into that process very early, that is to engage grassroots. This you cannot do if you don’t necessarily have a strong message behind what your political party is.

Aiman: Yeah exactly. It is the communication the political messaging side of things that will be very important for Amanah when it comes to differentiating themselves from Pas. It is basically two Islamic parties so how are you different from the old one matters. Being in the Pakatan Harapan government and sort of promoting the Rahmatan Lil Ālamin concept, which is a compassion for all; that in a way can be used to deliver a message that Amanah is an Islamic party but still works for all Malaysians. So it’s important for them to figure out who exactly they are, what is the identity that they are holding to or fighting for. Only then once you have figured out who they really are then can they communicate better, or conduct the political messaging better in order to garner the votes and perhaps siphon some of the votes that would have going to PAS.

Kevin: After this, we will be going to the source of the story, Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa, who is the Founder and Director of the Islamic Renaissance Front. So make sure you stay tuned for that. This is the evening edition BFM 89.9…..It is 6.43PM and you are listening to the evening edition with Kelvin and Aiman, and we are talking about Parti Amanah Negara and the necessity of rebranding themselves as a post Islamist party. That suggestion came from Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa (Islamic Renaissance Front) and we are joined by him right now. Thank you so much for being on the show with.

Farouk Musa: Hi, and you’re welcome.

Aiman: So as Islamic parties what narratives do PAS and Amanah portray at the moment?

Farouk Musa: Well, I guess based on their history we know that PAS has always intended for the formation of an Islamic state in Malaysia, which means that the Sharia’ is to be implemented in Malaysia. Now the debate has been whether it should be implemented to all citizens irrespectively of whether they are Muslims or not, or whether it should only be to the Muslims. I think we understand from that they do want to implement sets of laws, and wanted to amputate hands of thieves and so on and so forth. But Amanah was basically a kind of a splinter party. If you look at their history we knew that they were ousted from PAS because of their agenda. This includes, people like Dr Dzulkfily Ahmad who wrote a lot about Post-Islamism as well. He was being labelled with so many labels. Finally, these groups decided to leave PAS and formed Amanah. But it is still unclear until today about what exactly Amanah’s position. I wrote way back in 2013 in the New Mandala, an online portal of the Australian National University, and in the article I’ve said that that the progressives in PAS should think about their position; whether they should toe the line of the hardliners in PAS or should quit and form a new party that embraces post-Islamism. My arguments came from looking back into the history of political Islam itself. For example, if you look at the history in Turkey the Islamist movements already accepted the idea of having parliamentary democracy and embracing Western concepts of liberal democracy. This started way back in the 18th and 19th century. It was during the Caliphate times that young scholars were sent to Europe to study and these scholars later were known as the Young Ottomans. When they came back they realised in order to revolutionise the system they have to embrace political democracy, which is Western democracy. But of course unfortunately you have Sultan Abdul Hamid II at that time decided to dissolve the parliament and that marked the end of the Young Ottomans. What comes after that was the rise of the Young Turks. We all are more familiar with the Young Turks as compared to the Young Ottomans. These Young Turks were led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who led to the abolishment of the caliphate in 1924. Muslims all over the world had very bitter experiences and many of them saw this as the problem with secularism. The word secularism is now vilified and Muslims everywhere saw it as a being irreligious. In other words, being a secular means that you are areligious, and that entails that you do not have any religious values in yourself. To me, that is the main problem. As I put forth in the 2013 article in the New Mandala, we have to really rethink about this whole idea of secularism…We have to inform the public about this idea and we have to educate them about post-Islamism as both concept is essentially not anti-religion.. And I think that it is important for them to understand that there is need to resecularise religion, which is marked by a limit to the political role of religion itself…What is needed to be emphasized instead is to fuse religiosity with rights, Faith and Freedom, Islam with civil liberties, and focuses on the rights instead of duties, and plurality instead of singular authority, historicity rather than a fixed and rigid interpretation of the scriptures, and the future rather than the past The Muslims in PAS always use the term al-Islam huwa al-hal (Arabic term) which translates as ‘Islam is the solution to all problems’. But we have to understand that that is not the situation. The reality is that Islam only provides values and principles that we could apply today in the 21st century. Values such as being amanah or being trustworthy, or bringing in good values in governing the society in a manner that is compatible with the responsibility of being a Caliphate of God on this earth. That is what is lacking among Muslims nowadays. Unfortunately, the Muslim nations are the most corrupt nations on earth as we can see it everywhere today.

Aiman: But considering these sort of complex reality, especially the voter interests, how would Amanah benefit from defining itself as the post- Islamist party?

Farouk Musa: It’s a tricky question because, as you can see, Amanah did not manage to make a breakthrough in the east coast. They have lost miserably in Kelantan and Terengganu. They have only won on the West Coast. Given this reality there is a need for them to reformulate their idea and educate the public, especially the kampung people about their ideas. Surely it’s not going to be easy. Last time I wrote an article in Harakahdaily – the English version was quite liberal then – and it was published with a title ‘The two faces of Literal Islam’. I was looking at the political Islam in PAS which is based on the thinking that is so simple. According to PAS’ logic, if you establish Hudud laws in Malaysia, it will solve everything. It was a simple explanation and people understood this. They simply said “who are we to question God’s laws”. It is our duty then to re-educate the people and tell them it is not as simple as that. You know you need to use your rationality and you need to embrace a form of passive secularism. Or in other words, as said by Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda in Tunisia, we should embrace a degree of secularism. In fact, it is not against our religion to do so because honestly, the Prophet himself did not try to teach a system or how to govern a state. It only requires our intellect and our rational faculty to do it. In essence, that’s the meaning of the word secularism itself. (Ghannouchi said, it is not the duty of religion to teach us…governing techniques, because reason is qualified to teach these truths through the accumulation of experiences. Religion, however, is supposed to provide us with a system of values and principles that would guide our thinking, behaviours, and the regulations of the state to which we aspire).

Kelvin: But you know that the idea of Post-Islamism is predicated on Islamic reform, so is this concept of Islamic reform is something that Malaysian Muslims can get behind.

Farouk Musa: It is going to be tough as I do not see that the we will have an immediate effect. If they’re thinking only about winning the next election, then the answer is in the negative. But if you look at the long term, and if you want to see a future generation in 20 years-time to change their idea and understanding of Islam as well as how to govern this state according to the Islamic principles, that is an Islam without  sharia being implemented (Muslim politics without an Islamic State), then my answer is yes. We can achieve that but not in a short term.

Aiman: So what can Amanah do then to promote an image that can be better understood by the public?

Farouk Musa: To me Amanah has to organize and hold talks and discussion and ceramahs like PAS. They have to go to ground and talk to them in simple language. Not in a highly intellectual kind of dialogue with them but basically to explain to them in simple terms. More importantly, they need to have a think tank that could translate articles in English and in Arabic into Malay to be disseminated among the people. For example, there are so many good articles of Rached Ghannouchi that makes a good read. There are many Muslim scholars in the West that articulate these ideas too. Amanah should invest in getting scholars to translate these manuscripts to teach the masses about this new idea of Post-Islamism.

Kelvin: Do you think they’re ready and willing to accept a change in Islamic political thinking.

Kelvin: Well, it’s a difficult question. My personal feeling is that they need to put in more work, as what IRF has been doing all these while, trying via publication of books and trying to disseminate new ideas. They must continue to engage in this effort. Dr Dzulkefly wanted to set up this kind of thing when he left PAS. But now that he’s a Minister I do not think he will do all this, so someone else should carry the task to articulate these ideas in Malay so that people could understand what they’re talking about. Another problem is, I think not all the leaders in Amanah embrace the idea of Post-Islamism. Did you remember this one case involving these two girls being flogged in public in Terengganu? Based on the report it seems that Amanah Youth supported this whole idea. This is really alarming and this gives a bad precedence to people as they see this as the kind of thinking of Amanah. Here, they are no different from PAS that glorified such a brutal punishment. This is not Islamic.

Aiman: What it sounds to me is that for them to even start to change the general public’s mindset, there is a requirement to start that changes of mindset internally within the party well.

Farouk Musa: Correct. You have to start for them from among their leaders. They need to have a convention to debate these idea. The idea of Post-Islamism is not new. Asef Bayat promoted it more than 10 years ago. And if we look at the AKP in Turkey and Ennahda in Tunisia, they are Post-Islamist parties. So if we really want to be a Post-Islamist party we have to learn from them, especially on how they formed themselves and transformed themselves from an Islamist party to become a Post- Islamist party.

Kelvin: Thank you so much for weighing in today. .

Aiman: That was Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa, founder and director of the Islamic Renaissance Front talking to us about how Parti Amanah Negara should brand themselves as post Islamist. If you have any thoughts or any questions you can send that to us on WhatsApp at 018-789-8899, or you can also tweet us at BFM radio. You’re listening to the evening edition BFM 89.9.


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