Muhammad Syukri Salleh[2]
Universiti Sains Malaysia


Of late, Islamic revivalism in Malaysia has shown a new trend. Initially in the seventies and eighties, it emerged as a radical movement, adopting more of a vocal, critical and confrontational approach. But then, at least before the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from the government on 2 September 1998[3], it mellows down to a more tolerant and compromising trend. Such is observable especially in the two previously radical and vocal Muslim Youth Movement (ABIM) and Islamic Representative Council (IRC). Throwing their radical image aside, both ABIM and IRC (now registered as Pertubuhan Jamaah Islah Malaysia, JIM) adopted a relatively non-confrontational approach, nearing, if not totally, being absorbed into the mainstream Islam that is dominated by the government. The sole opposition
Pan-Islamic Party PAS is also observed to have relatively toned down its radicalism, especially since under the ulamak
leadership in 1983.

If there are still elements of confrontational tone, they could be found not from the Islamic movements anymore, but from
freelance Islamic missionaries, widely termed as pendakwah bebas. They are critical of the establishment and operate on
individual basis, but are able to disseminate their messages beyond the confines of Islamic movements. Their messages are not only echoed across the board of Islamic movements, but more importantly, also penetrate the grassroots, shaping
quite efficiently the opinion of the masses[4]. This is a recent phenomenon, which, to some extent, not only seems to be
supported quite strongly by the Pan-Islamic Party PAS, but also helps to re-stimulate the party’s radicalism.
But after Anwar’s episode, the elements of radicalism appear to have regained its momentum quite drastically. Viewing
the sacking and the treatment on Anwar as unfair and full of injustice, the Islamic movements particularly PAS, ABIM and JIM, work hand in hand with opposition political parties and NGO’s, to launch severe criticisms and actions against the establishment. However, as it is a broad-based multi-racial and multi-religious struggle, which strives for a universal value, namely justice, its Islamicity is very vague. Whether the new emerging trend could be viewed as a new form of Islamic revivalism is intriguing indeed. A detailed analysis on this necessitates a separate treatment, and this is done in a separate

In the present paper, the focus would be on the trends of Islamic revivalism before the sacking of Anwar, though
wherever necessary, Anwar’s issue may be touched briefly. Specifically, this paper attempts, firstly, to understand the
state of the trend before the Anwar Ibrahim’s episode; secondly, to analyse the factors and reasons that culminate in the
changing of the approach, from confrontational to non-confrontational; and thirdly, to seek answers to some vital
questions relating to the form of Islamic revivalism in the country moulded by this trend. Since the paper is based on an
on-going research[6], the arguments embodied in this paper are rather preliminary.


As global Islamic revivalism swept the world in the late sixties and early seventies, there emerged at least five main
Islamic movements in Malaysia. They are Jamaat Tabligh, PAS, Darul Arqam, ABIM and JIM. Jamaat Tabligh and
PAS were actually established in 1952 and 1955 respectively, but their activities were seen to be rejuvenating and intensifying during this resurgence. The other three emerged later; Darul Arqam in 1968, ABIM in 1971 and JIM in
1991, that is during the time of the Islamic revivalism itself. Though JIM seems to be a latecomer, its roots could be
traced back to theestablishment of the Islamic Representative Council (IRC) in the United Kingdom in 1974. Then very critical of the Malaysian secular government, IRC was established by Malaysian Malay-Muslim students studying in the country. After returning home, IRC members led the establishment of JIM with the support of and joined by other
former overseas students previously studying in especially Egypt and the United States of America[7].

Of the five movements, only PAS, ABIM and JIM are registered with the Malaysian Registrar of Societies. PAS is
registered as a political party, ABIM as a youth movement and JIM as an Islamic NGO. Darul Arqam and Jamaat
Tabligh, on the other hand, operate as unregistered dakwah movements. The former considers itself as a study group at
mosques and suraus while the later as an informal missionary group without a clear organisational structure. These
naturally exclude themselves from the nature of an organisation that necessitates a registration with the Malaysian
Registrar of Societies.

All the five in one way or another was accused of being extremists, especially during the earlier part of the Islamic
revivalism. However, it is the three registered groups, that is ABIM, IRC (now JIM) and PAS, that seem to be related
more with radicalism. By radicalism we mean anti-establishment, critical of the government and confrontational, but not to
the extent of militancy and violence. Seen from this perspective, the aim of all the five Islamic movements could basically
be considered as radical indeed. Their aim, that is to change their lifestyle and the prevailing secular systems into an
Islamic one, clearly fulfills the characteristics of the radicalism we define above. But, in this present article, it is the
methods in accomplishing this aim and their accomplishments that become the measurement of their radicalism. ABIM
and IRC were considered radicals because they were unequivocally vocal and critical of the government, adopting a
confrontational approach and becoming dynamic Islamic pressure groups that seemed to be anti-establishment. PAS,
moreover, was radical because it was not only vocal and critical of the government, but also, as a political party,
adopted campaigning methods that were sometimes considered as offensive by the government. But Jamaat Tabligh
and Darul Arqam did not fall into the radical category as they were seen as apolitical and interested only in improving
their inner-selves. Ironically, however, it was Darul Arqam, the movement regarded as apolitical that was the only
Islamic movement in Malaysia so far to have been outlawed by the government. The reason for the banning was said to haverelated basically to its spiritual practice, but many observers argued that the banning was actually a political decision[8].Unlike the other movements which were inclined more to Islamic rhetoric and indulged in radical methods of
accomplishing their aim, Darul Arqam practically changed the worldview and lifestyle of its members and established
Islamic systems in almost all aspects of life, at least within the domain of its movement[9]. In this sense, though its method
of achieving its aim was non-confrontational for it avoided vocality and vociferousness, Darul Arqam could be viewed as
the most radical of all from the perspective of its accomplishments, hence the banning.

While Darul Arqam was forced to its demise and Jamaat Tabligh continues to remain as an apolitical movement, the
three supposedly radical movements - PAS, ABIM and IRC-dominated JIM - since about the mid-eighties have also becomeless aggressive. In fact it is observed that both ABIM and JIM are co-opting themselves, or perhaps being co-opted andabsorbed, into the Malaysian mainstream Islam. Unlike before, they are more tolerant, accommodative
and even compromising, with lesser dissenting voices. Even PAS, though still struggling from outside the mainstream and continues to be critical of the government, also appears to be mellowing down its radicalism. Dissatisfaction against the authorities on issues like blasphemy, the visit of the Israel cricket team and Israeli students to Malaysia, the
corporatisation of higher learning institutions and the nepotism and cronyism among the ruling elites has been launched in more professional and mature ways. The previous usual method, which involves, among other things, mere blunt allegations against members of the ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) party on issues such as infidelity
is already a history. Irrespective of whether the mellowing down of radicalism among the three movements indicates their maturity or otherwise, consequently, for sure, the Islamic revivalism in Malaysia now has taken a different shape as of before. It is with lesser conflict, more harmonised and systematic, culminating in what appears to be a stronger and peaceful Islam defined, of course, by the state. But this does not mean that the Malaysian government is free of criticism relating to Islam, though not much anymore from the Islamic movements like ABIM and JIM. The dissenting voice now seems to come from a handful of emerging freelance missionaries who, without associating themselves with any movement, actively disseminate their teachings and unfavourable analyses of the government’s treatment of Islam
among the Malaysian public at the grassroots level[10]. This development appears to serve as a seed for another round
of radicalism, which seems to have gained support from and re-stimulate PAS very much.


The trends of Islamic revivalism in Malaysia could be said to have been attributable to at least four factors. Firstly, to the
favourable response of the Malaysian government. Secondly, to the entrance of the former ABIM leader Anwar Ibrahim
into UMNO hence the Malaysian ruling establishment. Thirdly, to the establishment of Pertubuhan Jamaah Islah Malaysia
(JIM) and its homeostatis approach. And fourthly, to the changing of PAS leadership from Islamic-nationalist to ulamak

With regard to the first factor, Islamic endeavours of the Islamic movements were observed to have decreased and the
overall struggle for Islam is relaxed when the government changed its response from the initially unfavourable to a
favourable attitude. The government, especially under the leadership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, announced its
commitment for Islam and subsequently formulated various Islamic policies such as in the fields of education, economy
and administration. In this process termed as Islamisation, Islamic movements were directly or indirectly encouraged to
participate, but of course within the framework designed, and Islam defined, by the government. Such endeavours
appear to have been intensified with the joining of ABIM’s President Anwar Ibrahim into UMNO in 1982.
Consequently, the Malaysian people witnessed the emergence of the Islamic banking and financial system, Islamic university and colleges, Islamic administration system, et cetera. Now part of what the Islamic movements initially strove for and envisaged is being realised by the government. Naturally it lightens the burden initially shouldered by the movements. It is partly for these reasons that the movements like ABIM and JIM have relaxed their critical sense and changed their strategy to operate from within the mainstream.

It could not be ruled out that, in this process, Anwar’s co-optation into UMNO has played a significant role in
mellowing down radicalism among the Islamic movements, in particular ABIM. This mellowing down is interpreted by some observers as a decline in ABIM’s visibility (Lee 1986), a decline in ABIM’s strength (von der Mehden 1986) and
a weakening of the movement as a result of members’ migration to either UMNO or PAS (Muzaffar 1987). However,
there are also observers who notice the good side of the development. Mehmet (1990) for example insists that even with
Anwar’s co-optation, ABIM’s dynamism continue to flourish especially among university students. Muhammad Kamal
Hassan (1984) also sees the development as a genuine and a maturing process, reflected by ABIM’s characteristics
which are realist and practical, problem solving, and its ability to present a concrete formula and programme based on
Malaysian realities.

ABIM, understandably, strongly agrees with Mehmet and Muhammad Kamal Hassan. It adds that Anwar’s co-optation
reflects at least two realities: firstly, that ABIM is an organisation which is independent of the personal strength of a
particular leader, hence the absence of a `personality cult’ syndrome; and secondly, subsequent to the loss of
membership to UMNO and PAS, that it naturally filters the purely loyal members to now strengthening the movement by translating the long-held idealism into practice (Mohd Anuar Tahir 1993:4-5). As contained in the Keynote Address of the then ABIM’s President Siddiq Fadil (Anwar’s successor) at ABIM’s 12th Annual Meeting in 1983, ABIM now is looking forward to put aside its normal rhetoric and concentrate more on realising them into practice (lisanu ‘l-hal)
(Siddiq Fadil 1989:45-66). ABIM’s approach is claimed to have taken into consideration the contemporary atmosphere and needs, adjusting with the ability and compatibility of the local socio-culture (ibid:19). And it is time, said the
President, for ABIM to leave the stage of “umumiyyat” and philosophical framework and move ahead towards concrete details and practical implementation (Siddiq Fadil 1989:56).

In consequence, ABIM, among other things, has been seen to have shifted its focus and emphasis, from local issues to
international issues, as well as mellowing down critical and vocal statements. For instance, of 56 press statements made
by ABIM between 1992 and 1993 (as published in Mohd Anuar Tahir 1983:35-149), 35 were related to international
issues while only 21 to local issues. Of the 21 local issues, only one could be considered as directly critical of the
government, namely the introduction of sex education in Malaysian schools. The remaining either agreed with the
government such as the abolition of the Ruler’s immunity, or reacted negatively to a particular group such as to the
Association of Malaysian Ulama’ on its Conference on Sunni and Shia’h and to the Bar Council on its unIslamic dinner
occasion, and to social ills such as white collar crimes, the selling of illegitimate infants and the changing of religion among
the Malay Muslim in London.

Such an increasing concentration on international issues, especially in the 1980’s and 1990’s, has been admitted by
ABIM itself (Mohd Anuar Tahir 1983:22). So is the mellowing down of vocality and vociferousness, for now ABIM is
admittedly aware that vocality and vociferousness are not actually a reflection of strength (ibid 1983:6). But one
interestingdirect question to ask is: is ABIM actually supporting the government in which Anwar is?

The present and fourth President of ABIM, Ahmad Azam Abdul Rahman in 1997, fifteen years after Anwar’s
co-optation into UMNO, answers the question unequivocally. To him, Anwar’s co-optation is a matter of strategy and
so is the deradicalisation of ABIM. Though there are still radical voices in ABIM, especially among junior members who are in favour of the previous vocal and critical approach, the President feels that ABIM must remain as it is now and a strong support must be extended to Anwar, hence to the government. Then Anwar’s strategy is seen to be workable (though with the sacking of Anwar from the government it has proven to be otherwise). The President’s argument is
based on Anwar’s success in rising to the position of the Deputy Prime Minister. For the President, Anwar must be
given further opportunity to rise to number one and realise his Islamic idealism. If he is already in full power but acts otherwise, says the President, ABIM will then reconsider its strategy and approach[11].

If it could be concluded that ABIM’s reduction in its confrontational approach is due to Anwar’s co-optation and its
belief that Anwar’s struggle for Islam from within the government must be helped, JIM has a different interesting reason.
To JIM, in uplifting Islam in Malaysia, it has to begin from what is available to the Muslims in the country. One valuable
asset is the Malay supremacy (ketuanan Melayu), reflected, among many other things, in the Malays’ (majority of who
are Muslims) political and administrative power. This power must not be disturbed but instead maintained and
strengthened, especially by increasing the Islamic commitment among the Malay-Muslim leaders. This would become the
basis and an important means for the full implementation of Islamic law in the country.

As such, the transformation process, from the current situation to an Islamic one, is believed to have happened in a
harmonious way, without disturbing the stability of the status quo (Saari Sungib 1995). Such a process is termed by JIM
as homeostasis, a process that originated from the French scientist Claude Bernard to mean, in the social reformation
domain, a transformation process that does not change the fundamental strength in the system (Saari Sungib
1997:28)[12]. To us, it means struggling from within the existing socio-economic and political framework. But JIM
insists that by adopting the homeostasis approach, it means struggling along the Malaysian mainstream based on what it terms asislah (reformation) and tadrij (stages). By islah it means launching reformation programmes at all levels, be it at
the national, institutional or infrastructural levels and systems. It involves the continuing education process and the involvementin raising the consciousness and practice of the Malaysian society in activities related to Islamic principles
and values that fulfil the objective of the social reformation. By tadrij it means endeavouring a change in Acts and the Federal Constitution as well as the enforcement of civil law towards absolute justice, which naturally will eventually
move towards the law of Shari’ah (Saari Sungib 1995). JIM firmly believes that through such an approach, Malaysia
will become an Islamic state in 2010 at the latest, that is ten years earlier than the government’s target for a developed, industrial nation as envisaged in the nation’s Vision 2020[13].

For the above reasons, JIM is not keen in transforming Malaysia into an Islamic state[14]. To JIM, as long as the country
is being ruled and administered by the Malay supremacy that respects Islam, the question of establishing an Islamic state
is no more important. It is from `respecting Islam’, JIM believes, that reformation and improvement towards `upholding
Islam’ will happen. Thus, if the Malays are already having a strong influence in leadership and governance, it must not be
disturbed and challenged (Saari Sungib 1996:45), hence JIM’s non-confrontational approach.

JIM’s stance obviously differs from their previous struggle, in particular during their IRC and overseas era. It also
definitely differs from PAS, which strongly believes that an all-embracing Islamic system is possible only when an Islamic
state is established. From the outset of its establishment, PAS strongly holds to the belief that realisation of a
comprehensive Islamic way of life could not be attained unless one has the political power, hence the establishment of an
Islamic state. The PAS Constitution, particularly in Section 5, states such a belief. The very first of its two objectives
mentioned in the Section relates clearly to this belief. It says that the objective of the PAS struggle is to strive for "a
society and government in which Islamic values and precepts are implemented towards the attainment of the pleasure of
Allah" (Pejabat Agung PAS Pusat 1990:2).

Such an objective is elaborated in a more direct and clear form in a separate writing by the PAS Information Department
as below:
"What needs to be understood is that the aim of the PAS struggle through political party is to establish an Islamic state in
Malaysia...The PAS struggle for power to govern is not merely for power itself, but as a means to establish an Islamic
state which is able to realise the laws of Allah completely. The purification of Islam and the sacredness of the shari'ah of
Allah could not be maintained unless under the umbrella of an Islamic government adhering to al-Qur'an, al-Sunnah and
other shari'ah sources as well as with the leadership attitude which really conforms to the shari'ah of Allah" (Jabatan
Penerangan PAS Pusat n.d.:2).

Elsewhere in the similar writing, it strengthens the above arguments with the statements below:
"Implementing the laws of Allah in the form of ibadah (worship) such as fasting, praying, paying zakat, performing
pilgrimage and so on is relatively easy but to implement other laws of Allah such as laws, economic, political and social
systems and so on is not easy, unless by establishing an Islamic `government'. Based on this fact, it is a reality that power
is the main condition in implementing the laws of Allah. For this reason, the struggle for governing power, to PAS, is a
must for every Muslims. And it is this governing power that is called the political power. It is such a political power that
has been the struggle of PAS for so long. The political power is a means of implementing the laws of Allah. The laws of
Islam could not be implemented automatically unless through a governing institution. Only the government that strives for
the laws of Islam that could guarantee an implementation of the laws of Allah. It is based on this fact that PAS has chosen
the struggle through political party which is based on Islam as policy towards an Islamic rule. Therefore, what is strove
for by PAS must be supported by the society, especially by the Muslims in this country" (Jabatan Penerangan PAS Pusat

The above quotations clearly show that the main prerequisite of an Islamic state for PAS is political power. Indeed,
according to one PAS leader, attaining Islamic governing power is a collective obligation (fard kifayah), similar to the
case of jihad (struggling for the Islamic cause) (Harun bin Taib 1981:23). According to a PAS sympathiser, establishing
an Islamic state is an individual obligation (fard ain) (Wan Abdul Rahman Wan Abdul Latif 1991:19). While the political
power is a means to the establishment of an Islamic state, the Islamic state itself is viewed as a means to the
implementation of a complete Islamic way of life. Without political power, not only an establishment of an Islamic state is
impossible, but the execution of the laws of Allah that binds the complete Islamic way of life would also be unachievable.
In other words, the complete Islamic way of life, through the execution of the laws of Allah, is believed to be completely
realised, at state level and from above, by the initiation of the Islamic government established through the taking over of
political power. Although political power undoubtedly must initially involve a mobilisation of masses from below, an
Islamic state must be established from above.

As PAS equals the implementation of a complete Islamic way of life with a comprehensive execution of the laws of Allah,
the establishment of an Islamic state, therefore, does not only mean a change of political power and leadership, but also
subsequently the replacement of the state's Constitution. To PAS this is inevitable because it is not the state that gives
birth to Islam but instead Islam that gives birth to a state. In other words, as according to one of the PAS' leaders, an Islamic state is born by laws outlined by al-Qur'an and as-Sunnah (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad), and not otherwise (Harun bin Taib 1981:9). It explains why PAS has been so insistent in persuading the Barisan Nasional Federal
government to amend the Federal Constitution according to Islamic tenets so that out of it, Malaysia would emerge as an
Islamic state. It is moreover self-explanatory that in the state of Kelantan, the PAS-led government is very serious in
attempting to change the Constitution of the state from conventional to hudud laws. It could be easily implied that
Kelantan believes itself to be unable to be a complete Islamic state unless the Constitution is changed[15].
In brief, PAS views an Islamic state as a geographical entity, with power and Islamic socio-economic and political
systems prevailing in it. It must be achieved through an electoral process necessitating a change of political power hence
leadership, from what they regard as unIslamic secular power and leadership to Islamic power and leadership. Naturally
such a belief would involve a confrontational approach and a direct political threat to the Malaysian government.
Previously, the confrontation between PAS and the government, especially with UMNO members at the grassroots level,
was tense. For example, PAS went to the extent of accusing UMNO members as infidels while the government went
further beyond, by attacking and killing PAS members in Memali, Kedah.

But of late, especially since the beginning of the ulamak leadership in 1983 - that is a year after Anwar’s co-optation into
UMNO, such a confrontation is done in a relatively mellowed approach, though PAS continues to be critical of the
government. The ulamak leadership refers to a leadership which identifies itself as pewaris al-anbiya' (literally, inheritors
of Prophets). Among its characteristics are respectable features of the previous pious Muslims such as high commitment
to the Islamic cause, sincerity (ikhlas) and piety (taqwa) in leadership, steadfast practice of Islamic lifestyles and mode of
thinking and having an image of self-sacrifice (Wan Abdul Rahman Wan Abdul Latif 1991:35). The emergence of such a
leadership is attributed to the urge for a more Islamic leadership and Islamic methods of struggle. Such an urge originated
particularly from the PAS Youth of Bukit Mertajam in Penang during its Muktamar (General Meeting), after having
traced the unIslamic nature of the then prevailing Malay-Islamic nationalist leadership of the party. The ulamak leadership
era came into actualisation on 1 May 1983 by the leadership of Haji Yusuf Rawa and the establishment of Majlis Syura
Ulamak (Ulamak Consultative Council), after PAS President Datuk Asri and his 13 supporters, alleged as Malay-Islamic
nationalists, became outcasts. Haji Yusuf Rawa then was closely aided by Islamic scholars such as the present PAS
President Fadhil Nor, the present Deputy President Haji Abdul Hadi Awang and the present PAS
Murshidul-Am-cum-Chief Minister of Kelantan Haji Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.

The new ulamak leadership has brought at least six changes to PAS members' attitude, political vision and approach
(Mohd Sayuti Omar 1991:53-58). Firstly, there was a drive for self-assessment and correction among the individual
members and within the Party itself. Secondly, priority and special concentration was given to both increasing the
understanding of Islamic knowledge and the implementation of the laws of Allah in their daily lives. Thirdly, PAS
members' mode of thinking was gradually changed from being obsessed with secularism (ilmaniy) and materialism to the
concentration on the rights of human beings as the Vicegerent and creation of Allah. Fourthly, Islamic scholars (ulamak)
have no more been merely a symbol in the Party but instead the main mover in the Party's struggle. Fifthly, PAS' image as
merely a `welfare political organisation' has been changed to a commercial one with its own cooperative and businesses
in order to raise the living standards of its members and strengthen the Party's funds and finances. And sixthly, the new PAS leadership has been more rational and has opened its scope of struggle to a wider audience. For instance, it cooperated with the Chinese Consultative Council (CCC) and established an understanding with non-Islamic opposition parties such as Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (People's Socialist Party Malaysia, PSRM), Socialist Democratic Party (SDP) and Parti Nasionalis Malaysia (Nationalist Party Malaysia, NASMA) under the banner of Harakah Keadilan Rakyat (the People's Justice Movement, HAK). It also extended its domain to secular-educated Malay Muslim elites, beyond its normal domain of the traditional Islamic-educated rural Malays.

It is with such changes that PAS has transformed the whole spectrum of its approach, from merely confrontational to a
maturer and relatively harmonious approach. This is supported by a more knowledgeable and open-minded attitude of
many of the party leadership and members. Under such a leadership and approach, the state of Kelantan has fallen back
completely into PAS' hand for the second time in 1990, providing another opportunity to endeavour for the establishment
of an Islamic state[16]. In 1998, PAS scored another unexpected success by winning a Parliamentary seat in a
by-election in Arau, Perlis, previously an UMNO stronghold, with more than a thousand majority[17]. And according to
PAS’ Central Office, in between August 1997 to August 1998, almost nearly 4,000 people have joined PAS monthly,
including UMNO members in especially the states of Kelantan, Kedah, Pahang, Perak and Selangor[18]. Such a figure
has increased drastically after the emergence of Anwar’s issue in September 1998. According to PAS Vice President
Ustaz Haji Hassan Shukri, during 14 October and 12 December 1998 alone, a total of 33,518 individuals have joined
the party[19]. It is also said that, as according to a PAS new member, the motivation expert Dato’ Dr Hassan Ali, the party too is being increasingly supported and joined by intellectuals and professionals[20].

Despite attracting supporters through a relatively gentler approach, PAS still does not tolerate issues thought to be unjust
and undermining or against the true teachings of Islam. In such cases, PAS would take the opportunity to defend them, as
in the case of the Mufti of the state of Selangor turned freelance missionary Datuk Ishak Baharom. The former Mufti was
asked to resign by the authorities because of his strictness in implementing Islamic law in the state[21]. So is in the case
of the assistant imam of the Selangor mosque also turned freelance missionary Ustaz Kamal Ashaari. The imam was fired
because of his criticisms of the religious authority JAKIM (Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia) relating to the issues of
blasphemy[22], and to issues relating to the coming of Israel students and cricket team to Malaysia, corporatisation of
higher learning institutions, and nepotism and cronyism among the ruling elites. The Mufti and Imam, like a handful of
other outspoken freelance missionaries, have become good friends of PAS and are given full opportunity to express their
teachings and ideas at PAS’ public lectures and other programmes. In this context, PAS’ radicalism is seen to be
gradually returning and the vocal freelance missionaries could be said to have contributed to some extent to restimulating
such an attitude. Interestingly, these freelance missionaries who operate at the grassroots level have attracted a substantial
number of Malaysian masses. Many of the issues raised by them are gaining at least sympathies, if not a full support, from
the majority of them. Understandably, these sympathies and support too are flowing into PAS[23].


The above factors have led to a kind of Islamic revivalism that dominantly operates from within the mainstream, with a
non-confrontational approach, as in the case of ABIM and JIM. In the case of PAS, though operating from outside the
mainstream, there is a relatively more moderate and lesser confrontation. Whether this reflects the maturity of the Islamic
revivalism or the Islamic movements’ obsession with the mainstream’s baits such as popularity and wealth accumulation
opportunities, especially in the case of the movements operating within the mainstream like ABIM and JIM, is intriguing.
But one thing for certain would be the extent to which the factors are able to shape a new trend of Islamic revivalism that
is more harmonised and homogenous, with the definition of Islam being dominantly formulated by the ruling power. In
other words, as opposed to the earlier resurgence which was more of a confrontational type that operates from beyond
the structural framework of the ruling power, the current dominant resurgence of Islam in Malaysia operates from within,
in particular from within the nation’s Vision 2020. Even PAS in general and PAS in Kelantan in particular, despite being
relatively more critical of the government and unIslamic issues than ABIM and JIM, could not help but be engulfed in the
Vision’s framework. Until now, the PAS-led Kelantan government, being a state government in a larger national
government, has to bow to the national neo-classical Vision, at least in its development planning.

However, of the three movements, PAS could be said to be the least in dispensing with the critical view of the
government. It indeed may have a potential of being an efficient critic in the future. But how far could PAS mould the
future trends of Islamic revivalism in the country? At the moment undoubtedly PAS has all the potentials: the gentler
approach adopted by the ulamak leadership and the support of the masses motivated by at least two factors, namely the
vocal freelance missionaries and the banning of Darul Arqam.

As regards the first factor, PAS has gained a lot from government’s latest treatment of Islam that has given rise to the
vocal freelance missionaries, culminating in the association of these missionaries with PAS, be it direct or indirectly. Of
late, the government, and in particular the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself has been making unfavourable
statements and comments on trivial but very sensitive issues such as the covering of female awrah and the keeping of
male’s beard (Ahmad Lutfi Othman 1998b). On bigger issues, the Prime Minister has also attacked individual ulamaks
such as the former Selangor Mufti Datuk Ishak Baharom[24] and Datuk Professor Harun Din[25], as well as portraying
a favourable stance towards Israel plus a defensive stance on the issues of nepotism and cronyism among the ruling elites.
The longer such an attitude exists, the stronger PAS would be. The freelance missionaries would gradually mould public
opinion, which is unfavourable of the government, let alone the injustice done against Anwar Ibrahim afterwards. In such
a situation, Islamic-minded masses would eventually go for PAS as an alternative. The recent capture of the Arau
Parliamentary seat is an obvious portrayal of this situation.

This would be strongly supported by the second factor, namely the demise of Darul Arqam. In Malaysia, it is a public
knowledge that only Darul Arqam and PAS are considered as public-oriented movements that are able to penetrate into
the masses[26], while ABIM and JIM are viewed as elite-oriented movements. As Darul Arqam is forced to disappear,
the masses have no other alternative except to seek an alternative in PAS. Being a political party that needs as many
votes as possible, this is for sure a development very much welcome by PAS. But if PAS is not able to take this opportunity and mobilise the masses efficiently while public opinion moulded by the freelance missionaries is already prepared to have a change, then another Islamic leader has to emerge, but probably neither from within ABIM nor from JIM.


In the past, the government’s handling of the Islamic revivalism especially by wisely changing its unfavourable to
favourable responses had led to the deradicalisation of the Islamic movements like ABIM and JIM. But the
government’s offensive comments on and reactions to some important Islamic issues, even before Anwar Ibrahim’s episode, have created dissatisfaction among the Muslims, hence sowing the seed for a new trend of a critical-confrontational pattern of Islamic revivalism. However, before the sacking of Anwar, the trend of confrontation does not arise from the Islamic movements as yet, most of which have been absorbed into the mainstream, but rather
from the freelance missionaries. Being oppositional in nature, these freelance missionaries naturally incline to, or sympathise with PAS, the sole opposition Islamic party and the single Islamic movement in the country that seems to survive an independent struggle, from outside the government.

In general, the Islamic revivalism in Malaysia, at least before the Anwar’s episode, undoubtedly seems to be relatively
more harmonious and quieter, and the freelance missionaries seem to be working only on individual basis. But the
unfavourable public opinion moulded by the government’s offensive comments and statements on issues related to Islam
is actually growing. If the government does not change its attitude, it is not impossible that there would be another Arau
by-election incident, expectantly spreading all over the country, giving more political power to PAS to formulate and
execute a new trend of Islam. A clear indication of such a phenomenon has emerged after Anwar has been kicked out of
the government.


[1] This is a revised and up-dated version of a paper presented at the Second International Conference of the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EUROSEAS), Hamburg, Germany, 3-6 September 1998. The author acknowledges the research grant provided by Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang that has resulted in this article.
[2] Dr Muhammad Syukri Salleh is Associate Professor and Head, Islamic Development Management Project (IDMP) at the School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 Penang, Malaysia. E-mail: [email protected]
[3] Anwar Ibrahim was alleged as being involved in sexual misconduct hence the sacking from the government and the ruling party UMNO. Not long after that, he was jailed under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and later under remand. At the time of revising and updating the present article, he is being charged in court for alleged corruption and sexual misconduct. The Anwar’s episode sees an emergence of reformation movements that support him, which involves Islamic movements and to some extent mould a different trend of Islamic revivalism.
[4] Examples of such freelance missionaries are the former Mufti of Selangor Dato’ Ishak Baharom, the former assistant imam of Selangor mosque in Shah Alam Ustaz Kamal Ashaari, the former Professor of Islamic Studies Dato’ Dr Harun Din, and the former panel member of the previously popular government-controlled TV1 programme Forum Perdana Dato’ Ismail Kamus.
[5] See Muhammad Syukri Salleh 1999.
[6] The research entitles The Management of Islamic Revivalism in Malaysia, sponsored by Universiti Sains Malaysia through its IRPA Short-Term Research Grant, 1998-1999.
[7] Interview with Saari Sungib, the JIM Founder-President at his house in 1997.
[8] For a discussion on this, see, for instance, Muhammad Syukri Salleh 1995 and Ahmad Fauzi bin Abdul Hamid 1998.
[9] For a discussion on the lifestyle and establishment of a comprehensive Islamic system endeavoured by Darul Arqam, see Muhammad Syukri Salleh 1992.
[10] The government, in particular the Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad himself, for instance, is critical of the Islamically obedient and practising ulamak in the country. Among others, he is particularly against the former Professor of Islamic Studies Dr Harun Din and the former Mufti of Selangor Dato’ Ishak Baharom. While the former has been criticised as an Islamic healer with self-interest, the latter was sacked because of his strict action on three Muslim girls involving in beauty contest. The Prime Minister also has publicly undermined the importance of covering the awrah among women and the keeping of beard among men. In addition, he is seen as being apathetic towards blasphemy (murtad), a problem which is increasing among the Muslims in the country.
[11] Interview with the ABIM President at his office in 1997.
[12] For a detailed explanation on the history and concept of homeostasis, see Saari Sungib 1997:25-30.
[13] Interview with Saari Sungib, the JIM Founder-President at his house in 1997.
[14] For JIM’s theoretical reasons, based on the ideas of Muhammad Rashid Reda, Sayyid Qutb, Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Khaldun, see Saari Sungib 1997:23-24.
[15] Kelantan is almost synonymous with PAS for the state has been under PAS rule for a long period and more than once. Unlike the neighbouring state Terengganu which also used to be ruled by PAS but only once and for a much shorter period (1959-1962), Kelantan has been under PAS twice, each with a quite substantial period. The first rule, beginning as early as two years after independence, in 1959, was for a period of 18 years (1959-1978), and the second, which is still prevailing at the moment, has already been into its ninth year now (1990-present). The interval between the two rules, viz. when the Barisan Nasional ruled the state, was only about twelve years (11 March 1978 to 21 October 1990). After that, for the second time, in the 1990 General Election, PAS made a comeback by an overwhelming victory in Kelantan. The victory, by winning all the 39 State and 13 Parliamentary seats, was achieved through the PAS-led opposition
coalition Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah. In the 1995 General Election the victory was repeated again, though this time with a lesser majority, continuing its rule in Kelantan until now. All in all, to date, Kelantan has been under PAS control for a total of about twenty-five years. For a detailed discussion on the PAS’s endeavour in establishing an Islamic state in Kelantan, see Muhammad Syukri Salleh 1996.
[16] For a discussion on the PAS’ experiment, see Muhammad Syukri Salleh 1996.
[17] During the last general election, in 1995, UMNO won a majority of about 7,000 votes. The one thousand majority won by PAS in this by-election reflects a clear shift of about 8,000 votes from UMNO to PAS.
[18] PAS attributes such a change in support partly to the failure of the UMNO-led government to overcome the present economic crisis and to the people’s increasing belief that only the Islamic system could provide an effective solution to the crisis. Among UMNO leaders who have joined PAS are Tendong (Kelantan) State Assemblyman Haji Hussein Ahmad, former Secretary to Kedah Chief Minister Cikgu Nayan and former Executive Council Member of UMNO Youth in Kubang Pasu, Kedah Tarmizi (Harakah, 14 August 1998).
[19] See Harakah, 28 December 1998.
[20] See Harakah, 8 February 1999.
[21] See Ahmad Lutfi Othman 1998a.
[22] See cassette tape by Ustaz Kamal Ashaari entitles Mayat Bertukar Menjadi Khinzir, 1998.
[23] This has become a significant foundation for PAS to attract more membership later on, especially when Anwar was unceremoniously sacked from the government. Viewing the sacking as a confirmed indication of an increasing injustice that even the Deputy Prime Minister himself was not secured from its grasp, the Muslim masses turn to PAS as an alternative. This is added by the annoyance of the masses with the government’s treatment of Islam and issues relating to economic downturn, corruption, cronyism, nepotism, extravagant mega-projects, industrial urban-bias, detention without trial under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA), police brutality, increased higher education fees, frequent increase of highway tolls price, apathetic attitude towards blasphemy and so forth. All these have become valuable assets for PAS, moulding avenues for a stronger anti-establishment attitude not only among the PAS members, but also among the masses.
[24] See Ahmad Lutfi Othman, 1998a
[25] See cassette tape entitles Bangau Oh Bangau or Keris Oh Keris (1988), a recording of a discussion on Islam in a meeting between the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers of the Malaysian states.
[26] Jamaat Tabligh, though operating its mission among the masses, is excluded from this group, as it is more interested in changing individual inner-selves rather than the system.


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