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The Origins of Parti Islam Se Malaysia*

  • N.J. Funston (a1)


Prior to entering a coalition with the ruling Alliance party at the beginning of 1973, and incorporation in the broader National Front coalition in June 1974 Parti Islam Se Malaysia (usually abbreviated to Party Islam or PAS, though until recently widely known as the Pan Malayan Islamic Party) had long been established as Malaysia's leading opposition party; within the National Front its position is second only to that of the Alliance. Nonetheless political scientists and historians have devoted little attention to this party, though they have almost uniformly condemned it for an alleged association with a most reactionary form of Malay communalism. Not surprisingly the picture that has emerged is partial and rather obscure. For example, we know little of the events surrounding the party's origins and its initial formative years: virtually all accounts of PAS begin with its successes in the 1959 national and state elections, and the few statements hazarded on its earlier history have been incomplete and factually wrong. In this article I want to clarify some of the factual confusion relating to these events, and to offer an interpretation of the various ideological forces that gave rise to the formation of this party.



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page 58 note 1 Perceptions of PAS have been well documented by Kessler, C. S.“Islam, Society and Political Behaviour: Some Comparative Implications of the Malay Case”, British Journal of Sociology Vol. XXIII no. 1 (March 1970) pp. 4142.

page 58 note 2 Three leading textbooks on Malaysian politics—Ratnam, K. J.Communalism and the Political Process in Malaya (Singapore, 1967), University of Malaya Press, Singapore, 1967 reprint; Milne, R. S.Government and Politics in Malaysia, (Boston, 1967); and Simandjuntak, B., Malayan Federalism 19451963:A Study of Federal Problems in a Plural Society, (London, 1969)—make no mention at all about the party's origins. G. P. Means limits his discussion to a statement that the party was a reorganisation of the Malayan Muslim Party launched at a meeting of the Majlis Agama Tertinggi (Supreme Islamic Council) in early 1948 (Malaysian Politics, London, 1970 p. 226), an interpretation also adopted by Allen, R. (Malaysia, Prospect and Retrospect, London, 1968, p. 113.) Roff, M. E. however, writes that the party emerged from the ranks of the United Malays National Organisation in 1958 (sic.) (“UMNO — The First Twenty Years” in Australian Outlook, Vol. 20, No. 2, 1966, p. 168). In fact, as will be shown shortly, the party emerged from the ranks of UMNO in 1951; Means is partly correct in linking its origins with the earlier Malayan Muslim Party, but the usefulness of this observation is small without further elaboration.

page 59 note 3 See Soenarno, Radin“Malay Nationalism 1900–1945,” Journal of Southeast Asian History, Vol. 1, No. 1 (March 1960) and the more detailed account by Roff, W. R.The Origins of Malay Nationalism (Kuala Lumpur, 1967).

page 59 note 4 According to W. R. Roff, reformism in Malaysia aimed at cleansing Islam of impurities and doctrines inimical to progress, particularly through the modernisation of education; encouraging each individual to investigate for himself the truths of the Koran and Hadith by a process of informed independent judgement (itjihad); and criticism of those upholding the traditional Islamic order, open in the case of the village ulama (clergy) but muted where this was directed against the rulers and traditional leaders, (op. cit., chapter 3 passim). There are close parallels between this and the differences between modernists and conservatives noted by C. Geertz in the case of Java, where the former were distinguished from the latter by belief in a ‘self-determined’ life rather than a ‘fated’ one; a ‘totalistic’ view of religion rather than a ‘narrowed’ one; a ‘pure’ form of Islam rather than a ‘syncretic’ one; an emphasis on ‘the instrumental aspect of religion’ rather than ‘religious experience’; and justification of practices by the ‘spirit of the Koran and Hadith’ in general, and ‘pragmatically’, rather than by ‘custom’ and ‘scholastic learning’. (Geertz, C.The Religion of Java, New York, 1964, chapter 12). The following discussion of Islamic reformism is based on these definitions.

page 60 note 5 These figures, derived from estimates of journalists, are mentioned in Thompson, V. and Adloff, R.The Left Wing in Southeast Asia, (New York, 1950), p. 144. The MNP itself claimed a membership of 150,000. (Putera-AMCJA, The People's Constitutional Proposals for Malaya (Singapore? 1947, p. 3). T. A. Silcock and Ungku Abdul Aziz reject the estimate of 60,000100,000 members as absurdly optimistic, representing no more than a generous estimate of the total number of people attending rallies sponsored by MNP and its affiliates, but give no evidence for this observation. (“Nationalism in Malaya” in Holland, W. L. (ed.), Asian Nationalism and the West, New York, 1953 p. 144).

page 60 note 6 Terms as ‘left-wing’ and ‘conservative’ refer of course to the ideology of the respective party leadership. At the grass roots level the position was more complex. In the case of UMNO, for instance, members at the branch level often manifest a markedly ‘left-wing’ form of peasant radicalism. It should be recalled that peasants provided the mass base for both parties, and it is characteristic of peasant movements that radicalism and conservatism are but two sides of the same coin.

page 60 note 7 UMNO/SG Files, No. 74 in 14/1947. All UMNO/SG Files referred to are located in the Malaysian National Archives. I have rechecked this source since Mohamed Noordin Sopiee, who also used UMNO Files (though without being specific), has written that in 1947 UMNO had a paid-up membership of 54,000 (From Malayan Union to Singapore Separation Kuala Lumpur, 1947, p. 32, footnote 14). Additionally it should be noted that there is a contradiction between this and the writer's later claim that in 1947 $27,433 was collected in subscriptions (Ibid., p. 54), since UMNO subscriptions were then $1 per person. The latter figure seems much more probable and does not significantly diverge from my figures for mid-1947.

page 60 note 8 See Malaya Tribune, January 25, 1947.

page 61 note 9 In this, as in other respects, the MNP Youth wing, API, was rather more radical than its parent body. The constitution of MNP makes two promises relating to economics: to uplift the economic position of the Malay race by means of developing industry, trade and agriculture while at the same time improving Malay living conditions generally; and, that to ensure the right of farming, farmers will be freed from the payment of rent and will be free to market their own produce. (Party Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (Sic), “Rang Undang-Undang” In UMNO/ SG Files, No. 4 in 196/1946). API, on the other hand, promised full state control of the economy. (Boestaman, AhmadTestament Politik A.P.I., (Malacca, 1946?) pp. 910).

page 61 note 10 Elhulaimy, BurhanuddinAsas Falsafah Kebangsaan Melayu (Djakarta, 1963).

page 61 note 11 Putera-AMCJA, op. cit., p. 4.

page 61 note 12 In a booklet published at the time of MNP's first anniversary Dr. Burhanuddin, by innuendo and a series of rhetorical questions, strongly criticized the aristocracy in general and the Sultans in particular. Nonetheless this account ends with a call to the aristocracy to “lead our race”. See Al-Helmy, BurhanuddinPerjuangan Kita (Singapore, 1946?).

page 61 note 13 Putera-AMCJA, op. cit., passim.

page 61 note 14 This is also criticized by K. J. Ratnam, op. cit., p. 83.

page 62 note 15 See, for instance, Ibid., p. 150 and G. P. Means, op. cit., p. 85.

page 62 note 16 Putera-AMCJA, op. cit., pp. 19–20.

page 62 note 17 Straits Times, October 15, 1947.

page 62 note 18 Party Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya, op. cit.

page 62 note 19 Burhanuddin Al-Helmy, op. cit.

page 62 note 20 Straits Times, April 8, 1964.

page 63 note 21 There seems a close parallel here with Soekarno's view that God created a world of rationally laid out nation states, corresponding to the existence of clearly denned races. See , Soekarno “The Birth of Pantja Sila” in Tilman, R. O. (ed.), Man, State, and Society in Contemporary Southeast Asia (New York, 1969), p. 273. It is of interest that this view was also prevalent in the Malay literature of this time. See Ahmad, Ali b.Tema Sajak2 Melayu, 1933–1969 (Unpublished M.A. thesis, Universiti Malaya, 1970), p. 92.

page 63 note 22 At this point there is some ambiguity since, contrary to the claim that a Melayu nationality would not discriminate on the basis of religion, terms such as “djadi Melayu” and “masok Melayu” are generally considered synonmous with becoming a Muslim. As such ambiguity does not elsewhere arise it seems inappropriate to read anything into this other than a carelessness, characteristic of nationalist leaders, in the use of historical analogy.

page 63 note 23 This emphasis on the eventual formation of such a Malay nation is probably the only significant deviance from the earlier Constitutional Proposals.

page 63 note 24 Interestingly, the nearest Dr. Burhanuddin conies to advocating socialism.

page 64 note 25 For a detailed account of PAS ideology see N. J. Funston, op. cit., chp. IV.

page 64 note 26 Hj. Abu Bakar Al-Bakir b. Md. Said, “Gerakan-Gerakan Politik Yang Berunsur atau Berkaitan Dengan Ugama Islam Di Malaysia” (A working paper presented to History honours students at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in the 1973/74 academic session, as part of the course “Tokoh-Tokoh Malaysia"), p. 6.

page 65 note 27 For details of events surrounding this meeting see Nabir b. Hj. Abdullah, Maahad II Ihya Assyariff Gunong Semanggol, 1934–1959 (Graduation exercise, Department of History, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 1973/74), pp. 145-155. This graduation exercise is an excellent source on Al-Ehya Asshariff and the religio-political movement centred around this school.

page 64 note 28 Sunday News, 30 March 1947.

page 65 note 29 Nabir b. Hj. Abdullah, op. cit., p. 195.

page 65 note 30 Roff, W.R., op. cit., p. 80.

page 65 note 31 Nabir b. Hj. Abdullah, op. cit., p. 170.

page 65 note 32 Utusan Melayu, 21 June 1947.

page 65 note 33 Abdullah, AnwarDato Onn (Petaling Jaya, 1971), p. 172.

page 65 note 34 Utusan Melayu, 26 April 1948 mentions most of the participants. The participation of G. DeCruz is noted by Dato Onn, as reported in Utusan Melayu, 26 April 1948.

page 66 note 35 Nabir b. Hj. Abdullah, op. cit., pp. 211 –214.

page 66 note 36 Straits Echo, 20 March 1948.

page 66 note 37 Based on a report by the secretary to the party president (i.e. Mohammed Asri (later Dato) b. Hj. Muda) appearing in Utusan Melayu, 27 March 1948.

page 66 note 38 Nabir b. Hj. Abdullah, op. cit., p. 222. This is also mentioned by Hj. Abu Bakar Al-Bakir b. Md. Said, op. cit., though he notes (it seems wrongly) that this dispute arose after the conference.

page 66 note 39 Utusan Melayu, 27 March 1948.

page 66 note 40 Habir b. Hj. Abdullah, op. cit., p. 257.

page 67 note 41 Actually appointed a member of Hizbul Muslimin's executive committee in April 1948 (Ibid., p. 242), however he does not appear to have played an active role in the party.

page 67 note 42 Hj. Abu Bakar Al-Bakir b. Md. Said, op. cit., p. 9.

page 67 note 43 The arrests were made, it seems, not on the basis of alleged communist affiliations, but for more general activities which the government claimed hindered its prosecution of the Emergency. Hizbul Muslimin leaders believed that senior members of UMNO played a part in framing these charges. See Nabir b. Hj. Abdullah, op. cit., p. 260, footnote 168 and 170.

page 67 note 44 Funston, N.J., op. cit. chp. IV.

page 67 note 45 Ustaz Othman Hamzah is now full-time secretary to the PAS Ulama section, and assistant Secretary-General; Ustaz Baharuddin Latif has held many executive posts in PAS and is now in charge of Information; Hj. Khadhir Khatib has been an excutive committee member and was for many years political secretary to the Kelantan Mentri Besar; Ustaz Yunos Hj. Yatimi, until his resignation some two years ago, was full-time secretary to the party Youth movement.

page 68 note 46 A very useful source on PMU is a working paper dealing with this party presented to an UMNO executive committee meeting in early 1951. See UMNO/SG Files, 10/1950.

page 68 note 47 G. P. Means, op. cit., p. 147.

page 68 note 48 Majlis, September 2, 1955 (Based on a report in the Federation of Malaya Daily Press Summary, hereafter FMDPS).

page 68 note 49 Party Raayat has not, to date, succeeded in making a very substantial impact on the political scene. For a useful account of this party see Vasil, R. K.Politics in a Plural Society (London, 1971), Chapter IV. Party Raayat left The Second All-Malayan Malay Congress shortly after its commencement, allegedly because it had discovered that not all Malays were represented and that the assembly was not actually meeting to formulate an entirely new constitution. Fikiran Raayat, 10 May 1957 (FMDPS).

page 69 note 50 UMNO/SG Files, no. 1 in 43/1948.

page 69 note 51 Ibid., no. 5 in 7/1947.

page 69 note 52 Ibid., no. 7 in 43/1948 and 274/1950.

page 69 note 53 Straits Times, 22 August 1951.

page 69 note 54 Credit for initiating this meeting has been given to Ustaz Mohammad Salleh Awang from Trengganu. For a brief biography see Berita Harian, 12 June 1970.

page 69 note 55 Utusan Melayu, 22 February 1950.

page 69 note 56 In retrospect UMNO declared the object of this meeting as being to urge the Sultans to concede much of their powers over Islamic affairs, and to arrange and unify such matters as religious education, religious taxes and the time for commencement and ending of the fasting month. (UMNO, UMNO 10 Tahun, Penang, 1956, p. 60). However this may represent the wisdom gained by hindsight.

page 70 note 57 Times of Malaya/Straits Echo (Penang, Ipoh) 25 February 1950.

page 70 note 58 Dato Onn delivered them a stern rjbuke over their failure to establish a liaison council for the unification of Islam. Straits Times, 24 August 1951.

page 70 note 59 UMNO, op. cit., p. 61.

page 70 note 60 Utusan Melayu, 24 August 1951.

page 70 note 61 Shortly thereafter changed to Persatuan Islam Sa-Tanah Melayu. ‘Tanah Melayu’ is often used as the Malay term for Malaya, though literally it means “The land of the Malays". Only in 1973 was the title changed to Parti Islam Se Malaysia.

page 70 note 62 Utusan Melayu, 29 November 1951. I am indebted to Paridah Hj. Ali for drawing my attention to this source.

page 70 note 63 Utusan Melayu, 23 August 1951.

page 70 note 64 This probably refers partly to Dato Onn's attempt to secure full membership for nonMalays in UMNO, and also a decision taken in March 1951 that UMNO would start a lottery. The religious section made clear its opposition to the latter proposal. Straits Times, 25 April 1951.

page 71 note 65 An interview with this person, 3 September 1970.

page 71 note 66 Interview with Ustaz Othman Abdullah, PAS founder member and strongman until his exit in 1962, 3 September 1970.

page 71 note 67 Ismail Hussein, “Pengarang2 Melayu Di Singapura Selepas Perang Dunia II.” Bahasa, no. 7, 1965, p. 11. Note that in this case the works of Edrus are examined under his pen name, Ahmad Lutfi.

page 71 note 68 Suggested in interviews with several UMNO members holding top positions within the ‘at this time.

page 71 note 69 Straits Times, 28 September 1953.

page 71 note 70 Utusan Melayu, 14 August 1954.

page 71 note 71 UMNO/SG Files, no. 96 in 35/1953.

page 71 note 72 A senior PAS figure in Kedah, Enche Ahmad Shukri, stated in an interview (PAS Kedah headquarters, August 19, 1970) that when he joined the party in 1952 there were no more than 50 party members in the state. The first branch in Kelantan was formed only in 1953. See Al-Ahmadi, AbdulRahman “Notes Towards a History of Malay Periodicals in Kelantan”, in Roff, W. R. (ed.), Kelantan: Religion, Society and Politics in a Malay State (Kuala Lumpur, 1974), p. 183, footnote 39.

page 72 note 73 Straits Times, 5 February 1954.

page 72 note 74 Reported in Utusan Melayu, 14 August 1954.

page 72 note 75 Related by Ustaz Othman Abdullah in Berita Harian, 9 July 1962.

page 72 note 76 This prompted the Straits Times to wrongly declare that the organisation had rejected a proposal to establish an Islamic State in Malaya. Straits Times, 17 August 1954.

page 72 note 77 Leading, for instance, to claims of a 300 per cent membership increase a few months later. Malay Mail, 28 February 1956.

page 72 note 78 Utusan Melayu, 29 December 1955 (FMDPS).

page 72 note 79 Officially Dr. Hj. Abas b. Hj. Alias occupied the presidency. However in an interview, 23 July 1970, Dr. Hj. Abas revealed that he had at no time played an active part in PAS and had but a faint interest in politics generally. He speculated that the reason for his appointment may have been his widespread popularity achieved through holding prominent positions on numerous sporting bodies.

page 73 note 80 This data is compiled from a list of PAS executive committee members up till 1968 made available to me by party headquarters, and information dealing with the political backgrounds of such committee members contained in Appendix I of my thesis. See N. J. Funston, op. cit.

page 73 note 81 Loc. cit.

* This article is a shortened and slightly revised version of a paper entitled “The Origins of Partai Islam Sa-Malaysia, With Special Reference to Ideology” presented to the International Association of Historians of Asia, Sixth Congress, Yogyakarta, 26–30 August, 1974. It is also substantially based on work included in my MA thesis, “Malay Politics in Malaysia, 1945–1969: A Case Study of the United Malays National Organisation and the Pan Malayan Islamic Party” (Monash University, Australia, 1973). I am indebted to Professors William Roff and Michael Swift for their comments on an earlier draft.

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