The Malaysian Islamic Party PAS 1951-2013: Islamism in a Mottled Nation is a historical recount on the development of Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party PAS and how it rose to become the most prominent Islamist party in Southeast Asia. PAS happens to be one of the oldest and biggest political parties in Malaysia today, though not as well-known as the Jamaat-e Islami of Pakistan or the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. This is a work that recounts the constructed nature of PAS, as a party that has undergone several transformations—from a left-leaning anti-colonial party in the 1950s and 1960s, to a right-leaning communitarian party in the 1970s, to a party inspired by the Iranian revolution in the 1980s, to its present avatar as a pro-democracy party. It shows how PAS has evolved along a non-linear path, and was shaped by a host of internal and external variable factors that impacted upon Malaysia and its complex society.
The first four chapters of this book provide a historical account of PAS and are organized chronologically. The 62 years covered in this study are divided into four phases. The first phase covers the early days of PAS (1951-69). The author describes how the history of Islam inspired resistance even from the nineteenth century to the days of Burhanuddin al-Helmy, who was influenced by the developments in the Muslim world both inside and outside the Malay Archipelago. However, from 1970–82 PAS experienced a dark period, as the party turned inward from internationalism to communitarianism under the leadership and narrow worldview of Asri Muda, whose focus was confined to the Malay Archipelago. In the discussion of the party’s third phase (1982-99), the author focuses on changes that took place within PAS under Yusof Rawa, Fadzil Noor and Nik Aziz Nik Mat. This section also describes the party’s struggles to improve and freshen its image while responding to global Islamist movements. The fourth phase revolves around the story of PAS in the first thirteen years of the twenty-first century. The author interprets PAS’s performance by examining the results of general elections, which are classified and placed in the corresponding four phases mentioned above.
Indeed, PAS has been a formidable ideological force ever since its creation in November 1951. Carved out of the United Malay Nationalist Organisation (UMNO) by mainly dissenting ulamas and imams during a milieu of political transition, PAS’s political goal of state capture and remaking Malaysia into an Islamic state has been an alarming spectre and bogeyman to its detractors. For PAS, by contrast, an Islamic polity is the only way to redress an array of everyday socio-moral ills and structural economic malaise perceived to beset the country. This has not been merely an iconoclastic or a parochial project. From the beginning, the leadership of PAS, as did a number of prominent Malay-Muslim intellectuals who preceded them, partook of the cosmopolitanism of political Islam. But as only one of many competing political alternatives on offer then, the pioneering PAS leadership was not averse to forging tactical alliances with left-leaning secular political parties of the time.