KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 — Umno’s Young Ulama (Ilmu) will grab the chance to contest in a general election that must be held within a year amid heightening religious rhetoric as the ruling Umno battles for the key Malay vote with PAS.
Ilmu working secretariat chief Fathul Bari Mat Jahaya told The Malaysian Insider that if given the green light by the Barisan Nasional (BN) leadership, it was ready to help to pursue Islamic principles in the political landscape.
“We will not fight on personal or political issues but for religion and Islamic principles,” he said.
The new branch of young Islamic scholars in Umno comes as it seeks to make gains among more conservative Malays in a head-to-head battle with PAS where an Ulama council is the highest decision-making body of the party.
Religious authorities in Malaysia have issued fatwas (edicts) banning various activities including yoga and Valentine’s Day, creating public discussion among Malay Muslims, who make up 60 per cent of the 12 million-strong electorate, over such practices.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement has also become both religiously and politically divisive and used to attack some politicians and community leaders such as Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, co-chairman of electoral reforms movement Bersih.
A survey of Malaysian Muslim youth conducted at the end of 2010 showed that nearly three-quarters back the idea for the Quran to replace the Federal Constitution as the country’s highest law.
The survey in Malaysia by independent pollster Merdeka Center revealed that about 72 per cent of Muslims aged 15 to 25 support the Islamic holy book as the highest law; 25 per cent disagreed.
About 71.5 per cent support the cutting off of hands as punishment for convicted thieves, 92.5 per cent agree to the death sentence for murderers and support for whipping as punishment for those who drink alcohol is at 92.4 per cent.
While the young Muslims surveyed appear to be religiously conservative at first glance, only 18.1 per cent said they read the Quran often and 28.7 per cent said they perform the compulsory five daily prayers.
Fathul, a former religious advisor to the National Heart Institute (IJN), insisted the group’s stand on religious matters would not be influenced by political expediency despite being formed under the ruling Umno.
“Our voice has never been gagged. Umno has never blocked us and we have issued statements without taking sides. But in PAS, the ulama are blocked from contradicting their leaders,” he said.