Umno: Dulu, kini and Islamisation

He has been described as the future of Umno and his maiden speech as the Umno Youth chief was applauded as inspiring and providing recipes for the revival of the party.

I met Umno Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki recently at Bangsar Shopping Centre and he strikes me as a nice young man with polite manners.

He even promised to call me when he is free. I hope he will do well as the future of Umno depends on young leaders like him.

What bothers me about leaders in Umno like Asyraf is that, although well meaning in their desire to help the Malays, they themselves have forgotten Umno’s original objectives.

Umno leaders of the earlier years just wanted to help Malays deal with the problems in this life. In contrast, the present leaders want “a complete Malay” in the Muslim mould; that is successful in this life and the next.

What’s wrong with that? It’s too ambitious a project; and is not achievable, that’s why. No one can save another’s soul. Not even a Malay-led government. When you try to shape the Malays into a “complete persona” in this world and the next, you will fail in both.

Umno’s original objective was more limited in scope. Umno worked hard to get the Malays to read and write and be properly educated. They wanted the Malays to be able to reason and be interested in scientific matters.

That’s why Umno published “Revolusi Mental” or “Mental Revolution”. Umno wanted Malays to have meaningful participation in the economic activities of the country. That’s why they opened land schemes for them. Umno leaders then were not bothered if some Malays drink whisky or Guinness Stout, or the ladies dressed like Saloma without the tudung. Private morality was a non-issue.

Today, Umno has a different complexion with a different agenda. They spend countless hours talking about halal and haram. They have to provide answers if Malays can visit temples, and the optimum age of young girls they should take as a wife or secondary ones.

In other words, they spend a lot of time dealing with the Malay soul. But the Malays’ souls are not sated, and the endless search for the saviour will continue, and that’s why Umno and PAS are courting them.

Since the early 1980s, Umno has become a hybrid. Half of them are Malay nationalists who only know Article 153; and the other half are Malay Islamists who think there is a magic formula out there revolving on the notion that religion is a panacea for all problems in society. The panacea has not been found yet, despite 40 years’ of Islamisation and billions spent on making the Malays “better Muslims”.

When I was in Umno, I proposed to the leaders to focus on issues of education; they wanted Islamic education as well. When I said Malays must have deep knowledge, they replied: what kind?

Knowledge was not enough for them; they wanted divine knowledge as well. When I suggested we leave religion to the Malays to sort it out, they countered: what do we do with all the religious institutions and thousands of religious teachers in the country?

When I told them that religious education should just be left to the parents and the community and government schools should just focus on education, Umno said no, and insisted that the government must not adopt secular policies. Now it looks to me PPBM-led Pakatan Harapan is following their footsteps.

Malay political leaders speak of great ideas like Malay resurgence and the Islamic renaissance. But none are prepared to talk about the lack of savings and the high household debt among Malays.

They don’t talk in their assemblies about why Islamisation policies have retarded Malay education, although it’s crystal clear to those who have eyes. They don’t want to find out why Malays are the biggest consumers of illicit drugs and ketum drinks.

They don’t have a debate on why some Malay students still cannot read after six years of schooling. They do not want to discuss the curriculum in religious schools or the lack of focus on science and technology in all schools generally. They are more interested in “more Islamisation“ for the Malays.

The message in my piece today is this: If Malay leaders in Umno, PAS and PH still want to save the Malay soul, then appoint more muftis and spend more money on Jakim (Department Of Islamic Development Malaysia) and continue with the programme of having an Islamic image and Islamic content, and spend a few billions more on divine knowledge.

In doing so, they might well win elections, but they will not save the Malay soul, nor will they contribute anything meaningful to progress the Malays.

The Malays will still be selling tom yam for a long time.

Zaid Ibrahim is a former law minister.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.