PETALING JAYA: The Kuala Lumpur-based Istanbul Network has criticised PAS for what it says is its warped sense of priorities.
In an interview with FMT, the think tank’s CEO, Ali Salman, said an Islamist political party should be focusing on economic development instead of prescribing punishments.
The Istanbul Network brings together leaders of think tanks from Muslim countries. Ali hails from Pakistan.
“PAS is talking about a criminal code when this should be the last item on its agenda instead of the starting point,” he said.
“A starting point for an Islamist party should be to solve problems faced by the people. Islamist parties have to be socially and economically active.”
Ali was commenting on PAS’ proposal to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act to increase the severity of punishments.
He said Islamist political parties, especially those that operate in multicultural societies, must develop broad policies in the interest of all citizens rather than focus on Islam alone.
“In my view, Islamic political parties which focus on Islam alone and not address social and economic issues as well as issues of governance and corruption have a very myopic view of Islam.”
He said the success of an Islamist government wasn’t defined by the presence of Islamic laws but by socio-economic indicators.
“Have jobs been created? Have investments increased? Is health and education better? These are what define the success of an Islamist government.”
Commenting on last Saturday’s rally in support of the PAS-proposed amendments, he said it would not scare off investors as the demands had nothing to do with economic policies.
“At most, it will spook individuals but not organisations. The things which scare businesses are mechanisms like price and profit controls.”
Ali also spoke on the importance of individual freedom, economic freedom, political freedom and religious freedom to a country’s economy.
“Freedoms are a spectrum,” he said. “For a country’s optimal development, these freedoms must exist together. If you have some forms of freedom but not others, you will be holding back a country’s development.”
Citing the Egyptian uprising of 2011, he said the suppression of any type of freedom would make people demand for it sooner or later.
He said religious freedom was the essence of Islam because of its prohibition of coercion. “If Islamist political parties aren’t ready to give religious freedom, then they aren’t doing justice to Islam.”
Ali also commented on talk in social media that Malaysia was going down Pakistan’s path. He said this wouldn’t happen because Malaysia was different from Pakistan for being a multicultural society and having a diverse economy. Furthermore, he added, the two countries’ economic and foreign policies were not similar.
He also said there were many misconceptions about Pakistan’s problems being rooted in Islam.
“Pakistan’s problems stem from poor governance and its foreign policy. There are extremists, but it’s not because of Islam. It’s manifested in radical Islam, but the root of the problem is that social and economic issues haven’t been addressed for decades.”
He said many of Pakistan’s past leaders used Islam as a means of legitimising their rule and developed so-called Islamic policies that were more “form than function”.
This was a lesson for Malaysia to learn, he added.
“When you have more form than function, then you give Islam a bad name. If you force women to don headscarves or focus on punishing people, then you’re only harming the religion’s image.
“If we’re sincere about Islam, we have to be more sensitive to broader socio-economic issues rather than superficial issues. Nothing about religion should be enforced.”