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Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman

Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic

Affairs, Volume 36, Number 2, August 2014, pp. 206-231 (Article)

DOI: 10.1353/csa.2014.0020

For additional information about this article

Access provided by Nanyang Technological University (24 Nov 2014 22:40 GMT)

Contemporary Southeast Asia Vol. 36, No. 2 (2014), pp. 20631

DOI: 10.1355/cs36-2b
2014 ISEAS
ISSN 0129-797X print / ISSN 1793-284X electronic

Salafi Ulama in UMNO: Political

Convergence or Expediency?

The Salafi ulama (religious scholars) in Malaysia have seen their

religious and political influence amplified over the last five years.
Operating within a newly formed organization, the Pertubuhan Ilmuwan
Malaysia (ILMU) and the newly augmented United Malays National
Organizations (UMNO) young ulama wing, Salafi scholars play a key
role in providing Islamic legitimacy to the government and defending
it against the opposition Islamist party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic
Party (PAS). The decision by Salafi scholars to support the Malaysian
government is striking given their hardline views on the implementation
of Islamic laws and their opposition to democracy. This paper seeks
to understand the reasons for the Salafi ulamas support for UMNO.
It argues that the Salafi ulamas involvement in UMNO is due to
a convergence of interest between the two groups and as part of a
strategy by the Salafi ulama to expand their influence at both the
state and societal levels. The paper examines the religious-political
positions of the Salafi ulama on issues such as the Islamic state, the
implementation of Islamic laws and democratic political system, and
argues that they are opposed to the current state of religious affairs
and the political structure of the Malaysian state. Nevertheless, the
ulama are working within UMNO to change the political system. For
UMNO leaders, the Salafi ulama form an important group that could
defend the party against religious attacks from PAS and provide the
party with greater religious credence.
Keywords: Ulama, UMNO, Salafi, PAS and Islam.

Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman is an Assistant Professor and

Coordinator of the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of
International Studies (RSIS), Blk S4, Nanyang Ave, Level B4 Nanyang
Technological University, Singapore, 639798; email: ismnawab@ntu.

Reproduced from Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs Vol. 36, No. 2 (August
2014) (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2014). This version was obtained electronically direct from the
publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior
permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at
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Salafi Ulama in UMNO: Political Convergence or Expediency?


The terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda in the United States on September 11,

2001, and the subsequent arrests of members of its Southeast Asian
affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), have cast a negative light on the
Salafi interpretation of Islam. Salafi ideology was alleged to have
inspired JI members to carry out violent attacks against targets in
the region. In Southeast Asia, Salafi scholars and groups came
to be viewed with trepidation by governments because of their
supposed ideological links with violent movements such as Laskar
Jihad and JI.1 In Malaysia, due to Salafis puritan interpretation of
Shariah (Islamic laws), and its uncompromising attitude in seeking the
implementation of these laws, it has been categorized as extremist by
the countrys religious bureaucracy. Yet despite the Salafis hardline
stance on religion, the group has made inroads within the government.
In fact today a group of younger Salafi ulama form the bulwark of
the ruling United Malays National Organizations (UMNO) ulama
wing (a wing comprising Muslim religious scholars). This seemingly
contradictory position of the state vis--vis the Salafi ulama is the
subject of enquiry of this paper.
This article argues that the Salafi ulamas involvement in
UMNO is due both to a convergence of interest with UMNO and
as a strategy to expand its influence at both the state and societal
levels. The aim of this paper is threefold. First, to examine the
beliefs of the Salafis and provide an historical background of the
Salafi movement in Malaysia. Second, to identify key religious
scholars with an inclination towards Salafism and examine their
religious-political thinking and attitudes. In particular their views
on issues such as the implementation of Islamic laws and Islamic
governance in Malaysia is examined. Third, to analyse the factors
that have encouraged Salafi ulama to render their support to UMNO
and how the Salafi influence in UMNO is likely to affect future
government policies related to Islam. The research for this paper
is based mainly on primary sources including speeches by and
interviews with Salafi ulama scholars.2 This article contributes to
the existing, but limited, scholarship on the contemporary Salafi
movement in Malaysia.3
Understanding Salafism
In most of Southeast Asia, the term Wahhabi is used interchangeably
with Salafi. While the two groups are similar in most aspects
of their religious adherence, there are also important differences
between the two. The Wahhabi orientation can be traced to the

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Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman

scholar Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (170392), a fervent reader

of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (780855), one of the founders of the
four schools of jurisprudence that are dominant in Sunni Islam, and
Taqi ad-Din Ahmad Ibn Al-Taimiyyah (12631328), a fourteenthcentury scholar known for his strict puritan interpretation of
Islam.4 Al-Wahhab was perhaps best known for his role as the
co-founder with Muhammad Ibn Saud (d 1765) of the first Saudi
state, and who provided religious legitimacy to Ibn Sauds struggle
to form a unitary state on the Arabian Peninsula. In return for
his efforts, he was awarded control over the Saudi religious
establishment.5 Al-Wahhab argued that many Muslims at that time had
deviated from the teachings of their pious ancestors (al-salaf al-salih)
and adopted practices akin to the period of ignorance (jahiliyyah)
which precedes Islam. In his view, these practices such as the
reverence of saints practised by Sufis and the doctrines espoused
by Shiite Islam ran counter to the teachings of Islam. However,
Al-Wahhab was less clear about where he stood on theological
issues. While in theory he was against the tradition of taqlid (blind
imitation) of past practices of traditional scholars and advocated the
establishment of ijtihad (open interpretation on religious matters), in
practice he subscribed to the Hanbali School of jurisprudence which
had a more literal reading of the Quran.6 The religious teachings of
Al-Wahhab received political support when Muhammad Ibnu Saud,
chief of the prominent Ibn Saud tribe on the Arabian Peninsula, swore
a traditional Muslim oath whereby he promised to work together with
Al-Wahhab to establish a state run according to Islamic principles.
By 1765, when the first Saudi kingdom was established, Al-Wahhab
consolidated his position as the religious guide to the kingdom.
The Wahhabis have thus been loyal to the Ibnu Saud led kingdom
since its formation. Outside of the Saudi state, most Wahhabis have
generally maintained a quietist position on political matters. 7
Nevertheless, some Wahhabis are privately opposed to the fact
that many Muslim governments do not impose strict Islamic laws
in their countries, even though they are unlikely to play an active
role to change this.8
Salafism can be traced to the 1920s reformist movement (Salafi)
started by Sayyid Jamal-al-Din Al-Afghani (183997) and Muhammad
Abduh (18491905). Both individuals were highly critical of the
practice of blind imitation of the past and strict adherence to
one particular school of jurisprudence.9 They viewed the practices
of Sufis with disdain and blamed many of the problems of the
Muslim world on religious scholars.10 One of Abduhs students,

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Rashid Rida (18651935) merged reformist religious ideas with

anti-colonialism, and was also responsible for transforming Salafism
into a more conservative movement akin to Wahhabism.11 In the
religious realm, little separates the Salafis from the Wahhabis.
However unlike the Wahhabis, who are generally Hanbalite in matters
of jurisprudence, the Salafis reject all schools of jurisprudence
arguing instead for individual ijtihad on all matters related to
jurisprudence. In the 1960s, Saudi King Faisal gave refuge to many
Islamist figures from the Muslim Brotherhood movement as well
as Muslim reformist scholars after they were forced to flee their
countries following intense repression by Arab nationalist rulers.12
The anti-establishment political ideas and cultures brought by
political figures such as Muhammad Qutb (a key Egyptian Muslim
Brotherhood leader and brother of Sayyid Qutb) and Saeed Hawa
(a key Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader) encountered the strict
Wahhabi Islamic doctrine resulting in some Muslim Brotherhood
leaders and members adopting Wahhabis religious doctrines. On
the other hand some Wahhabis began to subscribe to more active
political positions, as described in the next section of this paper.
As a result of this encounter, there was more convergence between
the Salafi and Wahhabi Islamic ideologies. This is described by a
legalistic interpretation of Islamic law that is inflexible and highly
intolerant of differences as well as a rabid anti-Sufi and anti-Shiite
position. Those who subscribe to the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology are
often harsh in their criticism of other Muslims, even branding many
of their co-religionists as infidels.13
Another result of this encounter is the myriad of different
positions on political engagement that began to emerge among
Salafis. The first is the infamous Salafi-jihadi ideology represented
by Al-Qaeda. This ideology can be traced to the political position
advocated by Sayyid Qutb (190666), a key ideologue of the Muslim
Brotherhood in Egypt.14 Qutb famously promoted the twin concept of
hakimiyyah (Gods sovereignty) and jahiliyyah (idolatrous condition)
in which he argued that given the fact that most of the regimes
in the Muslim world are in a state of jahiliyyah, it is the duty
of all Muslims to rebel using violence to uphold hakimiyyah.15
This ideology has been used to justify rebellions against various
governments such as that by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in
Egypt and the terrorist actions of Al-Qaeda. The second political
position of the Salafis emerged from interactions between the Muslim
Brotherhood and Wahhabism. This political position is known as
the al-Sahwa al-Islamiya (Islamic Awakening). 16 The advocates

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Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman

of this political position, commonly referred to as the Sahwas,

include Saudi preachers Safir Al-Hawali and Salman Al-Ouda.17
The Sahwas stress the need to attain political power through nonviolent means, including election to public office. The El-Nour
party in Egypt is an example of the Sahwa movement. The third
position is known as the political quietist Salafism. Much like
Wahhabism, these Salafis argue that it is forbidden for Muslims
to participate in civil strife and that obedience to a Muslim ruler
is religiously mandated. These Salafis tend to focus their attention
on education and proselytization. 18 The leading scholars within
this school of thought include Nasir Al-Din Al-Albani (191499)
and Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Baz (191099). In this regard, being
political quietist does not mean that these Salafis are apolitical.
In fact, much like the other Salafis, they seek political power in
the long run so as to implement their version of Islamic laws. In
general the politically quietist Salafis are also supportive of the
Saudi regime.
It must be added that the boundaries between the three political
positions are porous and that Salafis can move easily from one
group to another. This could be seen from the example of the
GIA which began as a Salafi-jihadi group but became quietist after
signing a peace agreement with the Egyptian government in 2003
and quickly moved to form a political party following the collapse
of the Hosni Mubarak regime in 2011. Similarly the Salafi movement
in Indonesia, Laskar Jihad led by the preacher Jaafar Umar Thalib,
was a politically quietist movement that quickly transformed
itself into a Salafi-jihadist movement following the collapse of the
Soeharto government in 1998.19 While the two doctrines have some
differences, as noted earlier, for the purposes of this paper, the
term Salafi will be used since both Wahhabis and Salafis describe
themselves as Salafis.
Salafism in Malaysia
Salafism first arrived in the Malay states in the 1920s. Several
Malay students studying in Cairo were influenced by the ideas of
Al-Afghani and Abduh.20 Upon returning to the Malay states, they
began propagating these ideas. The most important figure within
this group was Sheikh Tahir Jalaluddin (18691956). He was an
avid reader of the Al-Manar journal published by Rida and was
personally acquainted with him. He published a journal called

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Al-Imam, together with several reformist figures such as Sayyid

Sheikh Al-Hady (18671934), which discussed issues of religious
reform within the Malay world. 21 This reformist group, known
collectively as the Kaum Muda, was opposed to many Sufi rituals
within the Malay world which they perceived as contrary to
Islamic teachings. They also advocated for the introduction of
modern subjects into the education system and the emancipation of
women in Malay society.22 Several Kaum Muda figures also played
important roles within the religious bureaucracies in several Malay
states. For instance, Sheikh Tahir Jalaluddin took up the position
of Mufti of Perak and Haji Abbas Taha was a kadi (Islamic judge)
in Singapore.23 Their involvement in state religious institutions was
in line with their attempts to change the system. The Kaum Muda
was opposed by both traditional leaders and religious scholars
(known as the Kaum Tua) who viewed them as political and
religious threats.24
The Kaum Muda-Kaum Tua conflict dominated much of the
religious discourses in the early twentieth century. By the midtwentieth century, however, the discussions and debates had dissipated
and the Kaum Muda had failed in their attempt to challenge the
authority of the Kaum Tua. However, over the long term, the Kaum
Mudas impact on Malay society was felt in both the religious and
political spheres. The Kaum Muda was successful in propagating
their ideas in Perlis. The most important figure who promoted the
Kaum Muda/Salafi ideas in Perlis was Haji Ahmad Muhammad, a
Mecca educated religious scholar who was also Chairman of the
Council for Islamic Religious Affairs and Malay Customs in the
state.25 Haji Ahmad was active in promoting the ideas of the Salafis
by translating and publishing various books, treatises and journals
discussing Salafi ideas. In the same vein, Haji Ahmad curtailed the
ideas of the Kaum Tua forcing several pondoks (Islamic boarding
schools) in Perlis to be closed. Several bureaucrats, such as Wan
Ahmad Wan Daud who was personal secretary to Perlis Raja (king),
and UMNO politicians such as Sheikh Ahmad Md Hashim, who
was appointed Chief Minister of Perlis in 1959, were instrumental
in the institutionalization of the Salafi thought within the state
constitution. Unlike other states in Malaysia that listed the Shafie
mazhab as the official school of jurisprudence, the constitution of
Perlis asserts that there is to be no official school of jurisprudence
that the state subscribes to. 26 This early influence on the state
legislature has made Salafism the mainstream religious orientation
in Perlis.

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The second wave of Salafism arrived in the 1980s when a

new breed of Malay religious scholars educated in Saudi Arabia
returned to Malaysia. As part of its attempt to limit the influence
of Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Saudi Arabia began
to exert its influence in the Muslim world. A key strategy used
by the Saudis was to offer scholarships and financial assistance
to Muslim students from around the world to study at Islamic
universities which were dominated by Salafi scholars. Most of
the scholars these students were exposed to were of the quietist
variant such as Albani, Muhammad Ibn Al-Uthaymeen (19252001)
and Saleh Al-Fawzan (b. 1933).27 Beyond these Salafi scholars,
many scholars from the Muslim Brotherhood were also present
in Saudi Arabia. As mentioned earlier, these scholars included
Muhammad Qutb and Said Hawwa. As such, a segment of
Malaysian students became more oriented towards the Muslim
Brotherhood rather than the Salafis. A case in point is the
current president of PAS, Hadi Awang who was strongly influenced
by Saeed Hawwa (193589) and was part of his personal usrah
(study group). 28 By the 1980s, these Saudi-trained Malaysian
students had returned to Malaysia and began propagating their
Two main groups emerged from the Saudi alumni. The Muslim
Brotherhood-oriented group joined PAS and began campaigning for
the establishment of an Islamic state in Malaysia.30 The puritan
Salafi-oriented group focused on teaching and preaching their
doctrine. Due to the influence of the quietist Saudi Salafi scholars,
these individuals stayed clear of politics. Among these Salafi
scholars were Dr Sulaiman Nordin who taught at the National
University of Malaysia, and Dr Abdullah Yassin who became a
freelance preacher. Traditionally, all the Muftis of Perlis were of
Salafi orientation. This is true for former Muftis such as Mat Jahaya
Hussin and the current Mufti, Juanda Jaya.
In 2010, several younger Salafi ulama formed Pertubuhan Ilmuwan
Malaysia (Association of Malaysian Scholars, ILMU), an organization
with the aim of upholding Islam and freeing Islamic teachings in
Malaysia from deviant practices. The organization comprised both
more senior Salafi scholars such as Sulaiman Noordin and Rasul
Dahri as well as younger Salafi such as Fathul Bari Mat Jahaya,
Fadhlan Osman and Ahmad Fauzan Yahya. Several of these ulama
were also members of UMNO.31 ILMU has focused on organizing
Islamic classes and seminars as well as online engagements where
they preach Salafi Islam and criticize other variants of Islam

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including Sufism and Shiism. The organization is also implicitly

political and has used its various platforms to defend government
policies and actions while criticizing any Islamic groups or parties
opposed to the government.
Salafism and the Malaysian State
The Malaysian government has attempted to impose a standard
form of homogeneous Islam in the country.32 In pursuit of this
goal, the governments religious bureaucracy, the Department of
Islamic Development (Jabatan Kemajuaan Islam Malaysia, JAKIM),
has issued fatwas (religious edicts) and statements declaring various
Islamic sects to be deviant.33 However, the federal nature of the
Malaysian state, and the fact that matters pertaining to religion
are under the purview of the Malay rulers, makes it difficult for
the Malaysian government to achieve this homogeneity. In the
case of the Salafis, several discussions were held to address the
problems in the teachings of this sect.34 While Malaysias highest
religious authority, the National Fatwa Council of Malaysia, did not
gazette the Wahhabis as a deviant sect, it has issued five different
statements in 1985, 1986, 1996, 1997 and 2003 declaring
Wahhabism as a sect that must be curtailed due to its divisive
nature.35 In line with this position, several books by leading Wahhabi
scholars have been banned in Malaysia. For example, in 2003
the Islamic Religious Councils of the state of Penang and Negeri
Sembilan banned several works by Rasul Dahri.36 In 2009, Salafis
encountered another setback when a number of Salafi scholars,
including Fathul Bari Mat Jahaya and Dr Azwira Abdul Aziz, were
banned from preaching in several states because they did not possess
the necessary documentations to do so.37
The anti-Wahhabi/Salafi orientation of religious bureaucracies
in Malaysia can be attributed to several factors. First, many of the
religious scholars working in Malaysias religious bureaucracies
are traditionalist in their orientation, and hence have no sympathy
for Salafism which questions many aspects of their beliefs. 38
Second, most of Malaysias royal families continue to adhere
to traditional Islam. For instance, members of the royal family
in the state of Perak are adherents of the Naqshabandi-Haqqani
Sufi brotherhood. 39 The Sufi brotherhood is known for its
avowedly anti-Wahhabi stance, and sources within the brotherhood
in Malaysia note that members of the royal family have
initiated measures to limit the influence of the Salafis in Perak.40

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Third, the Salafis do not enjoy much political patronage due to

their lack of connections to key politicians or religious bureaucrats.41
Such patronage is crucial for the survival of minority sects in
The UMNO-Salafi Religious Nexus
The anti-Wahhabi/Salafi sentiment within the Malaysian religious
establishment has not prevented these scholars from being co-opted to
form the young ulama wing within the party in June 2010. Sources
within UMNO report that the inclusion of the Salafi ulama was
proposed by several UMNO politicians such as Shahidan Kassim,
former Chief Minister of Perlis and Reezal Marican, a key member
of the youth wing of UMNO.42 Shahidan Kassim, himself a Salafi,
had proposed the inclusion of the Salafi ulama as an attempt to
buttress UMNOs Islamic image. It was also argued that many of
the ulama in PAS are of traditionalist (subscribing to the Shafie
mazhab) or Sufi orientations. Hence, having a group of Salafis
to counter their religious views can be beneficial to UMNO as it
enhances the partys Islamic credentials and improves its credibility
with Malaysian Muslim voters. Salafi ulama can also use religious
based arguments to discredit PAS and its leaders. Likewise, Reezal
and Khairy Jamaluddin, head of the youth wing of UMNO, were
reported to be in favour of these ulama joining UMNO to bolster the
partys Islamic image.43 However, this position was not necessarily
supported by all UMNO members and leaders. Nakhaie Ahmad,
one of the most senior ulama in UMNO, has been a strong critic
of the Salafi ulama. 44 Nevertheless, the UMNO leadership still
agreed to grant membership status to the Salafi ulama. In June
2010, several Salafi ulama submitted their membership forms to
the President of UMNO, Prime Minister Najib Razak, in a highly
publicized event attended by several UMNO leaders such as
Shahidan Kassim.45
The Salafi ulama were led by Dr Fadlan Othman, a lecturer at
the Islamic studies faculty in the National University of Malaysia.
Other prominent Salafi ulama including Ustaz Fathul Bari Mat Jahaya
and Ahmad Fauzan Yahya were part of the group. Dr Mohd Asri
Zainul Abidin, a former mufti of Perlis and perceived by many as a
Salafi was conspicuously absent despite earlier reports suggesting
that he had joined UMNO. Shortly after the event, several of the
40 ulama, including religious scholar, Mohd Hosni Mubarak,
claimed that they had been misled into attending the event which

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was misrepresented as simply a meeting with Prime Minister

Najib.46 This tarnished the image of the Salafi ulama as many in
the opposition circles started questioning whether 40 ulama had
joined the party. The Salafi ulama themselves did not attempt to
address this allegation, which further strengthened the claim made
by Mohd Hosni that the number of those who actually joined UMNO
was substantially smaller. As highlighted earlier, some members of
this group also formed ILMU with the aim of striving for Islam
in line with the Quran and the Ways of Prophet Muhammad.47
The advisory committee of ILMU comprised a total of ten scholars
including several older scholars such as Sulaiman Noordin and
Azwira Aziz. It should be noted that a number of prominent
Malaysian Salafi scholars such as Asri Sobri disagreed with the
stance taken by fellow Salafi scholars and felt that involving oneself
in a democratic system and joining a party whose ideology is
nationalism transgresses Islamic teachings.48 In terms of its activities,
scholars from ILMU conduct religious classes for UMNO members
and in the wider Malay-Muslim community, make regular media
appearances and have published numerous books on religious and
political issues.
Salafi Ulama in UMNO: Religious and Political Positions
In line with the position of the quietist Salafis, such as Albani
and Sheikh Rabee al-Madkhali (a prominent Saudi Salafi scholar),
scholars in ILMU support the government of the day.49 However,
support for the government does not mean that ILMU members
agree with every aspect of the current political, legal and economic
system. A closer examination of their views on issues such as the
promulgation of an Islamic state, the implementation of Islamic
criminal law and the concept of democracy highlight disagreements
with the current Malaysian political system.
Malaysia as an Islamic State
ILMU scholars have argued that Malaysia is an Islamic state. In
doing so, their benchmark is whether the Islamic prayer call can
be heard and whether political power is in the hands of Muslims.
By using this yardstick, Fadlan Othman argued that Malaysia is an
Islamic state.50 Other Salafi ulamas such as Fathul Bari are more
circumspect in their assessment of Malaysias Islamic credentials.
He stressed that there are weaknesses in the implementation of

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Islam within Malaysia. Nevertheless, such weaknesses can be

rectified if the ulama work with the government to further enhance
the role of Islam in the political system. These Salafi ulama are
resolute in their defence of a Muslim-led government to remain in
power in Malaysia. Citing Prophet Muhammad, who said that it is
un-Islamic for a Muslim community to be led by more than one
leader, Fathul Bari argued that Muslims in Malaysia cannot oppose
the government since the current Prime Minister, Najib Razak, is
a Muslim. Any act of opposition to his leadership must thus be
viewed as un-Islamic.51 Echoing Fathul Baris position, Rasul Dahri
espoused that any attempt to challenge a Muslim ruler is treason.
He stressed that during the leadership of the second Caliph of
Islam, Umar Ibn Khattab, any opposition to the state was viewed
as an act of treason punishable by death.52 This underscored the
severity of any opposition to the Malaysian government.
Islamic Criminal Laws
A key criticism that has been leveled at the Salafi ulama over
their support for UMNO is the latters purported rejection of the
Islamic criminal law.53 ILMU ulama have made it clear that they
view Islamic criminal laws as being an integral part of Islam
and therefore must be implemented.54 However, these ulama felt
that it was more essential for the government to ensure that core
Islamic beliefs and principles take root within Malaysian society.
The chairman of ILMU, Fadlan Othman, believes that it is more
pertinent for Malaysia to take action against certain Islamic sects
that are considered deviant.55 Fadlan stressed that even if the justice
system is Islamic, it will do little good to society if Muslims do
not subscribe to the core beliefs of Islam.
In 2012, the Salafi ulama made their stand clear on the hudud
issue.56 They wrote that the group supported the implementation
of hudud and that it is an integral part of Islamic law.57 They
were forced to issue a statement after the then President of the
Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) stated his opposition to the
implementation of hudud in Malaysia.58 Fathul Bari remarked that
the implementation of Islamic criminal laws comprising hudud,
taazir and qisas is an obligation for all Muslims.59 However, he
requested a meeting with the President of the MCA, Chua Soi Lek, to
clarify the latters remark. Following the meeting, Chua backtracked
from his statement explaining that he was opposed to the PAS

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version of the hudud rather than hudud itself.60 Chua himself had
remained vague about how PAS hudud differs from the hudud as
supposedly explained in traditional Islamic sources. Fathul Bari
himself concurred with the statement noting that many aspects of
PAS hudud run contrary to Islamic teachings. In sum, it is clear
that the religious scholars in ILMU support the implementation
of Islamic criminal laws and their differences with PAS are over
technical issues.61
Democracy: An Un-Islamic System
The ILMU ulamas attitude towards democracy is an important
corollary of its relations to the Saudi Salafi scholars. Salafi scholars
such as Al-Albani and Bin Baz have explicitly rejected democracy
because it challenges the Oneness of God. 62 Al-Albani had even
prohibited his followers from voting or participating in elections.
The fact that Salafi scholars in Malaysia use Al-Albani as a reference
point begs the question of how they can justify their support for
UMNO.63 The view of Rasul Dahri on this matter can shed some
light on this seemingly contradictory position. He declared that
democracy is an un-Islamic system that does not emanate from
Islam.64 For him, ultimate sovereignty lies in Gods hands and not
in the hands of the people, a core concept of democracy. Rasul
added that democracy is a system created by the Jews to divide
Muslims. Within the democratic system, there must always be
a group that governs and another group that opposes which in
essence will result in the division of Muslims.65 However, in the
Malaysian context, Rasul Dahri argued that the democratic system
ensures that the government remains in the hands of Muslims. He
argued that to strengthen the position of the Muslim community,
Muslims in Malaysia must vote for UMNO.66 This is to ensure
that political power is not divided within the Muslim community
resulting in non-Muslims usurping power.67 In essence, Rasul Dahri
views democracy as an un-Islamic concept but noted that democracy
can be utilized to protect Malay political dominance. During a
public seminar, Fathul Bari was questioned about his involvement
with UMNO. While he admitted that democracy is not an Islamic
concept, he justified his association with UMNO by arguing that
it is a necessary evil to change the system from within and that
ultimately he is working for an Islamic system to be implemented.68
The views of Salafi scholars reveal that there is an attempt on
their part to change the system from within. While most Salafis

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Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman

agreed that the process of voting in an election is un-Islamic, it is

essential in the struggle to establish an Islamic system in Malaysia.
The Salafi Ulama and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS)
The Salafi ulama in UMNO have been emphatic in their opposition to
PAS. Prior to understanding their opposition to PAS, it is important
first to understand PAS position towards Salafis. Many PAS members
are from the northern Malay states where traditional Sufism remains
predominant.69 Nonetheless, there are many PAS members who
were influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood as well as those who
are Shiites and a smaller number from Salafi backgrounds. These
Salafis are, however, of the Sahwa orientation described earlier. 70
PAS itself has taken a non-denominational approach towards its
membership. This view is best encapsulated by Hadi Awang, the
President of PAS who is opposed to Salafi teachings due to their
divisive nature but still considers Salafis to be part of mainstream
Islam. This view is not shared by all of PAS leaders. Dr Harun
Din, the deputy spiritual leader of PAS, holds avowedly anti-Salafi
views and has labelled its teachings extreme and deviant.71
It is thus of little surprise that the Salafis are opposed to PAS
religious position. In their criticism of PAS, ILMU members condemn
several of the partys key positions. First, PAS has been criticized
for supposedly allowing Shiites to be members of the party. The
deputy president of PAS, Mohamed Sabu, is often as accused by
the Salafis as being Shiite. Hence, PAS is deemed to accept Shiites
who are considered by Salafis as deviant.72 Second, ILMU ulama
deem PAS leaders with Sufi orientation as deviants who have ceased
to be Muslims and therefore must be opposed. Most importantly,
PAS interpretations of Islamic law are viewed as flawed, as it
is heavily influenced by both Sufi and Shiite doctrines. Third,
PAS has been denounced for dividing the Muslim community by
opposing the government of the day which is comprised mainly
of Muslims. By opposing UMNO, PAS leaders are believed to be
committing treason against a Muslim government and therefore
must be countered.
Understanding the Salafi-UMNO Nexus
The decision by the Salafis and UMNO leaders to cooperate is
driven by political expediency on both sides. For UMNO, there are
three main reasons to explain its collaboration with Salafis. First,

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Salafi Ulama in UMNO: Political Convergence or Expediency?


the formation of an ulama wing within the party comprising young,

well-educated and sophisticated religious scholars has buttressed its
religious standing with many Malaysian Muslims. This is especially
crucial in its attempt to limit the onslaught by PAS against the
partys ethno-nationalist ideology.73 Second, the Salafi ulama play
an important role in using religiously driven arguments against
PAS Islamic positions ranging from the emotive hudud issue to
the religious credibility of PAS leaders. For years, UMNO was
dependent on scholars within the governments religious bureaucracy
to defend the governments Islamic positions from PAS. Due to
their civil service status, and thus beholden to the government,
these scholars lacked credibility. Therefore the ILMU ulama fill
a void within UMNO. ILMU scholars have played this role with
aplomb. They follow every action and statement made by PAS and
present a strong counter-argument. After the 2011 Ijtima Tarbawi
(Religious Discourse Conference) organized by PAS Youth,
which featured several speakers from HAMAS and the Muslim
Brotherhood, ILMU members released a series of five videos on
Youtube admonishing the Muslim Brotherhood as an un-Islamic
movement inspired by the Freemasons.74 Such a move is clearly
aimed at attacking PAS for working with an organization that seeks
to destroy Islam. Third, UMNO could now engage PAS at an
equal level without feeling inferior. In 2012, a debate was held
between Nasruddin Tantawi, the then PAS Youth chief and Fathul
Bari, a key leader of ILMU to discuss the issue of the Islamic state
in Malaysia in which both individuals were equally knowledgeable
on religious issues.75 This attempt to posit an Islamic image is in
line with UMNOs quest to gain legitimacy, popularity and electoral
support among Malay voters. This move is even more important
following the disastrous performance by the National Front coalition
(Barisan Nasional, BN) in the 2008 and 2013 elections. In the
post-2013 political context, Malay votes are now key to UMNOs
survivability at the polls.
For the Salafis, the move is aimed not only at protecting
their precarious position by seeking political patronage but is also
motivated by a drive to supplant its version of Islam at the official
level. As highlighted earlier in this paper, the religious bureaucracy
in Malaysia has issued several edicts calling for Salafi teachings to
be curbed. Nevertheless, even their involvement in UMNO did not
safeguard them from persecution. Several ILMU leaders including
Fathul Bari, Azwira Abdul Aziz, Sulaiman Noordin and Fadlan

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Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman

Othman were banned from teaching in the state of Selangor by the

state religious department because they lacked proper accreditation.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the influence of the ulama has
increased significantly within UMNO and the Malaysian state. In
the 2013 election, Fathul Bari was fielded as UMNOs candidate
in the state seat of Sanglang in Perlis. While he lost by a very
small margin of 121 votes, his performance was laudable especially
given that the seat was considered a PAS stronghold. In the same
year, Fathul Bari garnered the most number of votes in the contest
for the UMNO Youth executive council, attesting to his growing
influence within the party.76
ILMU ulama have also been invited to address UMNO gatherings
throughout the country. They are also featured regularly in the
print media and on television on religious and political issues.
Rasul Dahri, long banned from Malaysian television for his extreme
views, was recently allowed to speak on a television programme.77
At the religious policy level, recent decisions made by the ruling
party to curb Shiite teachings could be attributed to lobbying by
ILMU leaders to proscribe the sect. Sources within UMNO report
that ILMU ulama are actively lobbying for several Sufi brotherhoods
to be banned in Malaysia.78 Most importantly, ILMU ulama have
convinced some UMNO leaders to give Islam more focus within the
national political landscape. Interestingly, awareness about hudud
and other aspects of Islamic law long associated with PAS agenda
has increased significantly within UMNO partly due to lecture
delivered by ILMU. The 2013 UMNO General Assembly meeting
saw Prime Minister Najib demonstrate a new commitment to Islam
including the announcement that the strengthening of Islam would
be one of the five areas of focus for UMNO.79 It is unsurprising,
therefore, that ILMU ulama has become more dominant in national
politics and religious affairs.
Defending the Sovereignty of Islam
ILMU ulama have taken a hardline stance in dealing with several
issues affecting the country. Two key issues that ILMU focused
on were the Bersih rallies and the Allah controversy. The Joint
Action Committee for Electoral Reform better known by its
acronym Bersih (Clean) was formed in 2005 with the objective of
achieving free and fair elections. In 2007, Bersih organized its first
demonstration. In 2010, Bersih was re-launched as a civil society
movement, Bersih 2.0, and attempted to distance the movement

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Salafi Ulama in UMNO: Political Convergence or Expediency?


from partisan interests. It was also announced that a second protest

would be organized under the leadership of former President of
the Malaysian Bar Council, Ambiga Sreenevasan.80 The Malaysian
government outlawed Bersih 2.0 on the grounds that the movement
posed a security threat. Regardless of the ban, the protest went
ahead as planned and an estimated 20,000 people attended.
Prior to the second protest, ulama from ILMU held a series
of talks and posted videos online to discourage Muslims from
participating in Bersih 2.0. In dealing with the Bersih rallies, ILMU
argued that demonstrations were not in line with Islamic teachings
even if they were aimed at correcting unjust government policies.
Citing Prophet Muhammad, Fadlan Othman explained that Islam
has prescribed proper ways of correcting the government.81 For
instance, he noted that the government must be corrected behind
closed doors. Additionally, he postulated that the Bersih rallies
caused disturbances, inconvenienced others and caused divisions
among Muslims, and therefore contravened Islamic teachings.
Fathul Bari argued that it is indeed un-Islamic for Muslims to
involve themselves in the rallies due to the fact that the leader
of Bersih is a non-Muslim woman and Islam has stipulated clearly
that leadership must be in the hands of Muslim men. ILMUs
position on the Bersih showed clearly how the Malaysian authorities
seek to justify their repression of civil rights using Islamic
rationalization.82 At the same time, they validate tough actions taken
by the authorities against the demonstrators as necessary and in
line with the need to defend the Muslim community. In essence,
an oppositional act which was essentially secular was Islamized
and aimed at blunting criticism from the opposition.
ILMU has also taken a strong stance on the issue of apostasy.
This highly emotive issue first surfaced in 1999 when Lina Joy,
a Malay-Muslim woman, decided to convert to Christianity and
applied to the Malaysian courts to have her conversion legally
recognized.83 In 2007 the Malaysian High Court finally decided that
only the Shariah court could legally recognize her right to leave
Islam. In 2012, Nurul Izzah, a key opposition leader, noted that
Islam does not forcefully impose its teachings on Muslims after she
was asked whether freedom of religion also applies to Malays.84 In
commenting on this statement, Fathul Bari explained that Islam
protects the rights of non-Muslims and forbids forced conversion to
Islam. Nonetheless, he opined that there is no freedom of religion
for a person who is Muslim. In fact, he stated that under Islamic
law, the punishment for apostasy is death which he believed should

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Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman

be implemented in Malaysia.85 Therefore, ILMU believes that the

Malaysian government has taken the right stance in dealing with
the Lina Joy case and that Muslim apostates in future should be
subjected to the death penalty.
An equally important issue that ILMU has been actively
exploiting is the usage of the word Allah in Malay translations of
the Bible. The ILMU ulama stated their explicit rejection of such
practice in Malaysia. While acknowledging that the word has been
used in the Arabic bible for years in the Middle East, Ahmad
Fauzan, a member of ILMU argued that the word has never been
used in the Malay Bible. Ahmad Fauzan then explained that it
is an act of disrespect against Muslims in Malaysia for the word
Allah to describe God within the context of the Christian belief of
trinity. In a bizarre analysis of the issue, Fadlan Othman argued
that the dispute was brought up by the Malaysian opposition,
and in particular by the Democratic Action Party (DAP), to create
Christianophobia among Muslims with the ultimate aim of driving
a wedge between Muslims and Christians.86 Fathul Bari used this
issue to attack PAS for failing to defend the position of Islam and
playing second fiddle to the DAP and Peoples Justice Party (Parti
Keadilan Rakyat, PKR) which are both trying to promote pluralism
of religion.87
An analysis of the position forwarded by the ILMU ulama on
the issues cited above indicates the symbiotic relationship between
the ulama and the Malaysian government. Contentious issues are
dealt with from an Islamic standpoint and hence enhancing the
Islamic credentials of the Malaysian government. This is especially
useful in countering the ideas of PAS. On the part of the ulama,
they are able to gain a national platform to promote their ideology
and indirectly push the government for a stricter implementation
of Islamic laws.
Malaysia: A Future Salafi State?
The increasing influence of the Salafi ulama has raised the question
of whether Malaysia will adopt Salafi Islam as a state ideology. The
co-options of the various Islamist parties by Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan
and the National Islamic Front (Muslim Brotherhood) by Jaafar
al-Numeiri in Sudan have seen an intensification of the Islamization
process in those two countries.88 In Pakistan, the ulama from the
Deobandi Jamaat-e-Ulama-e-Islam (JUI) have infiltrated the political

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Salafi Ulama in UMNO: Political Convergence or Expediency?


system and contributed to the radicalization of Pakistani society.89

Dr Mahathir Mohameds Islamization drive in the 1980s and 1990s
has also resulted in growing religious conservatism within Malaysian
society.90 As such, it is pertinent to consider what the likely impact
of Salafi ulama will have on the Malaysian state and society in the
long run.
Already, the ulamas influence is beginning to be felt, for
example in the way the Malaysian state has dealt with Shiite
Muslims.91 However, in the long-term the influence of the Salafi
ulama is likely to be restricted for the following reasons. First, the
Malaysian government is not dependent only on the Salafi ulama for
its religious legitimacy. The mammoth national religious bureaucracy
created by Mahathir continues to be utilized by UMNO to legitimize
many of its policies. The ulama in the bureaucracy are generally
of the traditional orientation. Second, Malaysias Constitution states
clearly that Islamic affairs are the purview of the Malay rulers.
Hence, UMNO politicians have little influence over the appointment
of key office holder in important institutions such as the National
Fatwa Council, the countrys highest Islamic legislative body.
Among the current members of the council, only one, Dr Juanda
Jaya, the Mufti of Perlis, could be described as Salafi. The rest of
the Council members religious views are more traditional. At the
level of the state religious bureaucracy, many key appointments
are also made by Malay rulers. Once again many of those
appointed are from traditional backgrounds and opposed to the
Salafi orientation. A case in point is the state of Perak where the
Mufti issued an edict making it illegal for Salafi teachings to be
propagated.92 This edict was supported by the Sultan of Perak. Third, it
is highly unlikely that UMNO will allow ILMU to grow significantly.
With the exception of Fathul Bari, none of the other ulama in
ILMU have been appointed to key positions within UMNO or the
government. Sources within UMNO report that they were aware of
the possible problems that could arise from the Salafis legalistic
interpretation of Islam.93 ILMU will be utilized as an important
counter to PAS, but will not be allowed to wield too much power or
influence. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the nexus between
UMNO and Salafi ulama will result in the Salafis gaining a larger
audience due to the public platforms that UMNO has created for
the group. Therefore in the long run, Salafi religious ideas might
become more popular in UMNO and the larger Muslim community
in Malaysia.

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Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman

The paper has examined the factors that have motivated Salafi
ulama to collaborate with UMNO. The Salafi movement arrived
in Malaysia through students studying in the Middle East. They
brought back the ideas of the Salafiyyah proponents such as
Afghani and Abduh. However, it was the second wave of Salafi
ideas influenced by the Saudi Salafi scholars such as Albani and
Bin Baz that have become dominant in Malaysia. This Salafi strand
is of the politically quietist form and is focused on spreading the
Salafi doctrine through education.
It was in the late 2000s that the Salafis began to organize
themselves politically in order to fill a religious void within
UMNO. This move was spurred by various political and religious
considerations including to shield themselves from attacks by the
traditionalists within the governments religious bureaucracy and
to spread their religious doctrine. This decision might seem awkward
given that the Salafi ulama reject democracy, views the Malaysian
state as insufficiently Islamic and considers it obligatory for Malaysia
to implement Islamic criminal laws. However, the decision to join
UMNO has also allowed the Salafi ulama to play a key role in
shaping policies on Islam in the country such as institutionalizing
laws against the Shiites and Sufis as well as creating awareness
of the need to implement rigid Islamic laws within the state.
Fathul Bari has successfully positioned himself as a key member
of UMNO Youth and has extended his influence in the country.
On the part of UMNO, the Salafis ulama political involvement is
in line with the partys attempt to enhance its Islamic credentials
and present itself as the bastion of true Islam in Malaysia especially
in light of the political gains made by PAS. The Salafi ulama have
played important roles in defending the governments position on
a range of different issues including in opposing anti-government
demonstrations, curbing the rights of Muslims to leave Islam and
encouraging the Muslim populace to vote for UMNO by invoking
religious justifications. Regardless of the ulamas role in influencing
policies, the influence of these Salafi ulama is unlikely to increase
within UMNO and Malaysian society as a whole and it is unlikely
that it will define religious discourse within the country due to the
presence of other religious forces within the government.
The Salafi ulama in UMNO serves as another case study
which attests to the fluidity in which the Salafi movement can

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Salafi Ulama in UMNO: Political Convergence or Expediency?


move: from being politically quietist to politically active. This is

part of a worldwide trend which has seen Salafi movements in
Egypt, Libya, Syria and the Gulf states becoming politically active
through the formation of political parties and organizations. In
other parts of Southeast Asia, the Salafi movements are becoming
more active politically. In Indonesia, the Salafis have actively
opposed presidential candidate Joko Widodo who is deemed to be
sympathetic to religious minorities in the country. They have also
escalated their efforts to denigrate minority religious communities
like the Shiites and Ahmadiyahs. In Singapore, Salafi scholars have
started an online campaign against Shiism and Sufism. More recently,
they launched a campaign against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
Transgender (LGBT) community. The increasing politization of the
Salafi movement is likely to continue within the next few years. In
the Malaysian case, the political prospects of the Salafi ulama are
likely to fizzle in the long run given that there are numerous forces
in UMNO and the government that are opposed to them. The same
cannot be said about the Salafi movement in other contexts which
seems to be growing in influence and gaining political momentum.
This is likely to change religious and political expressions in the
Muslim World.

For more on Salafism in Indonesia, see Noorhaidi Hassan, Laskar Jihad Islam,
Militancy, and the Quest for Identity in Post New Order Indonesia (New York:
Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 2010). For Salafism in Thailand see
Rajeswary Ampalavanar Brown, Islam in Modern Thailand: Faith, Philanthropy
and Politics (London: Routledge, 2014).

Three interviews were conducted with the Salafi ulama in Kuala Lumpur in
August 2011. Interviews were also conducted with several leaders of UMNO
and PAS between August 2012 and April 2014.

For a sample of works on Islamism in Malaysia, see Joseph Liow, Piety and
Politics: Islamism in Contemporary Malaysia (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2010); Farish Noor, Islam Embedded: The Historical Development of the PanMalaysian Islamic Party, PAS: 19512003 (Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Sociological
Research Institute, 2004); and Kamarulnizam Abdullah, The Politics of Islam
in Contemporary Malaysia (Bangi, Selangor: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia, 2002).

One of the most comprehensive studies of the Wahhabi movement is Natana

Delong-Bas, Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad (London
and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2007).

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Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman

David Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia (London and New
York: I.B. Tauris, 2006), p. 10.

Stephane Lacroix, Between Revolution and Apoliticalism: Nasir al-Din al-Albani

and his Impact on the Shaping of Contemporary Salafism, in Global Salafism:
Islams New Religious Movement, edited by Roel Meijer (London: Hurst & Co.,
2009), p. 60.

Political quietism is a belief that Muslims should withdraw from politics to

avoid anarchy or conflict. It stems from the argument put forth by classical
Muslim scholars such as Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (105811), a
renowned theologian who argued tyranny is preferred to anarchy. Abd Al-Aziz
al-Fahad, From Exclusivism to Accomodation: Doctrinal and Legal Evolution of
Wahhabism, New York University Law Review 79, no. 2 (May 2004): 485514.

Exceptions are the Taliban in Afghanistan and more recently Boko Haram in

Nikki R. Keddie, An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious

Writings of Sayyid Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (Berkeley, California: University of
California Press, 1968), pp. 67.

For a study of Abduhs ideas see Yvonne Haddad, Muhammad Abduh, in

Pioneers of Islamic Revival, edited by Ali Rahnema (London: Zed Books, 1994),
pp. 3064.

Bernard Haykel, On the Nature of Salafi Thought and Action, in Global

Salafism: Islams New Religious Movement, edited by Roel Meijer (London:
Hurst & Co., 2009), p. 46.

Giles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (London: Belnapp, 2003),
pp. 7090.

Madawi Al-Rasheed, Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices from a New
Generation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 5.

Lacroix, Between Revolution and Apoliticalism, op. cit., p. 48. For a critique
of the Salafi-jihadi ideology, see Khaled Abou El Fadl, Speaking in Gods Name:
Islamic Law, Authority, and Women (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Adnan A. Musallam, From Secularism to Jihad: Sayyid Qutb and the Foundations
of Radical Islamism (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2005), p. 220.

One of the most important works on the Sahwa movement is Stephane Lacroix,
Awakening Islam: The Politics of Religious Dissent in Contemporary Saudi
Arabia (Harvard, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011).

Al-Hawali and Al-Ouda were both influenced by the ideas of the Muslim
Brotherhood during their student days. Al-Hawali wrote his doctorate thesis
under the supervision of Muslim Brotherhood leader, Muhammad Qutb.
They formed a political opposition group, the Committee for the Defence of
Legitimate Rights (CDLR) in 1993. This is the first Saudi Salafi opposition group
in the kingdom accusing the government leaders and Saudi religious clergy
of not doing enough to protect and accord rights to Muslims. The CDLR are
generally opposed to the Salafi-jihadi strand of Salafism criticizing terrorism as
an un-Islamic form of political action.

Stephane Lacroix, Al-Albanis Revolutionary Approach to Hadith, ISIM Review

21 (Spring 2008): 67.










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Salafi Ulama in UMNO: Political Convergence or Expediency?



Hassan, Laskar Jihad, op. cit., p. 108.

Hafiz Zakariya, From Cairo to the Straits Settlements: Modern Salafiyyah

Reformist Ideas in Malay Peninsula, Intellectual Discourse 15, issue 2 (2007):

One of the most important works discussing the Kaum Muda movement is
William Roff, The Origins of Malay Nationalism (Kuala Lumpur: University
of Malaya Press, 1967), pp. 5690. For more on the Al-Imam, see Abu Bakar
Hamzah, Al-Imam: Its Role in Malay Society, 19051908 (Kuala Lumpur: Pustaka
Antara, 1991).


Ariffin Omar, Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concept of Democracy and Community

19451950 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 14.


Roff, Origins of Malay Nationalism, op. cit., p. 75.


Ibid., p. 78.


Abdullah H., Abdul Rahman, Gerakan Islah di Perlis - Sejarah dan Pemikiran
[Islah Movement in Perlis- History and Thoughts] (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa
dan Pustaka, 1989).


Abdul Rahman Abdullah, Pemikiran Islam di Malaysia: Sejarah dan Aliran

[Islamic Thought in Malaysia: History and Orientation] (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan
Pustaka dan Budaya, 1991), p. 260.


Mohammad Redzuan Othman and Md. Sidin Ahmad Ishak, The Malays in the
Middle East (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 2000).


Hawwa was a key leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria who was forced
to leave the country following state repression of the Brotherhood. He fled to
Jordan and Syria upon his release from prison in 1978. Author interview with
Hadi Awang, Kampung Rusila, Terengganu, 12 January 2006.


For the impact of overseas students on the resurgence of Islam in Malaysia, see
Zainah Anwar, Islamic Revivalism in Malaysia: Dakwah among the Students
(Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Pelanduk Publications, 1987) and Chandra Muzffar,
Islamic Resurgence in Malaysia (Petaling Jaya: Fajar Bakti Sdn. Bhd., 1987).

For Malay politics prior to the Islamic resurgence in the 1980s, see John
Funston, Malay Politics in Malaysia: A Study of the United Malays National
Organisation and Party Islam (Kuala Lumpur: Heinemann Educational Books,

Author interview with Dr Fadlan Othman, Kuala Lumpur, 16 August 2011.

Judith Nagata, The Re-flowering of Malaysian Islam: Modern Radicals and their
Roots (Vancouver, British Columbia: University of British Columbia Press, 1984),
p. 120.

Hussein Mutalib, Islam in Malaysia: From Revivalism to Islamic State? (Singapore:

Singapore University Press, 1993), p. 31.

One key problem associated with the term Wahhabism in Malaysia is the fact
that this term is used to describe all Salafis and Wahhabis without any distinction.
Hence, any edicts on Wahhabis are in fact applicable to Salafis as well.

Jabatan Kemajuaan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM, Malaysian Islamic Religious

Department), Keputusan Muzakarah Fatwa Kebangsaan Siri 2 [Decisions Arising
from National Fatwa Meeting Volume 2] (Kuala Lumpur: JAKIM, 2003).








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Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman


See Pengharaman Buku-Buku Tulisan Saudara Rasul Dahri Yang Telah

Diperakui Haram [The Banning of Rasul Dahris Writings which has been
acknowledged as Deviant], available at <>.


Abdul Rahim Sabri, JAIS tolak 7 penceramah Wahhabi [JAIS rejects 7 Wahhabi
scholars], available at <>.


Traditional Islam refers to an orthodox form of Islam which refers to the Quran,
Hadith, religious decrees of classical Muslim scholars, rational thought and
local cultures as sources of Islamic reference. Traditionalist Muslims are more
tolerant of local customs, cultures and are often practitioners of Sufism. They
are highly critical of Salafi doctrines. See Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman,
Towards a History of Malaysian Ulama, Southeast Asia Research 16, no. 1
(March 2008): 135.


Personal observation of the author at a Naqhshbandi-Haqqani event in Ipoh.

Raja Ashman Shah, one of the princes of Perak, was appointed as the
representative of the brotherhood in Malaysia. Also see the video Closing Dua
after 40th Day Tahlil for HRH Raja Ashman Shah by Mawlana Shaykh Hisham
Kabbani, 8 May 2012, available at <


Author interview with Shehzad Sultan, Naqshabandi-Haqqani Leader in Malaysia,

Kuala Lumpur, 22 August 2013.


The exception is Shahidan Kassim, former chief minister of Perlis who is known
for his Salafi sympathies. Author interview with Fathul Bari, Kuala Lumpur,
17 August 2011.


Author interview with an UMNO leader, Kuala Lumpur, 5 June 2013.




Nakhaie has written a number of articles on his blog site against the Salafi
ulama. See <>.


Anwar Hussin dan Faiza Zainuddin, 40 ulama muda masuk UMNO (40 young
ulama joined UMNO) [provide translation], Berita Harian, 26 June 2010; and
author interview with an UMNO leader (who does not want to be named),
Kuala Lumpur, 5 June 2013.


Jimadie Shah Othman, Ulama masuk Umno: Siapa tipu siapa? [Ulama joined
UMNO? Who cheated who?], Malaysiakini, 1 July 2010, available at <http://>.


Details of the formation and structure of ILMU can be found on the groups
website at <>.


For the differences between Asri Sobri and the ILMU ulama, see the video
Ustaz Asrie Sobri - Semangat Nasionalisme Menurut Perspektif Islam [Ustaz
Asrie Sobri-The Spirit of Nationalism from Islamic Perspective], available at


All these ulama have made references to Sheikh Rabee during their talks
and sermons. See, for example, Al Madkhali Dicaci, Rabai Yahudi Dipuji
[Al Madkhali was Insulted and Jewish Rabbi was Praised], available at

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<>. In this video, Fathul Bari

referred to Sheikh Rabee as his teacher and guide.

Author interview with Fadhlan Othman, Kuala Lumpur, 16 August 2011.


Author interview with Fathul Bari, Kuala Lumpur, 17 August 2011.


Rasul Dahri, Demokrasi, Pilihanraya dan Mengundi: Satu Kajian Menurut Al-Quran
dan As-Sunnah [Democracy, Elections and Voting: Research According to
AlQuran and As-Sunnah] (Johor Bahru: Ummul Qura Publications, 2013),
p. 56.


Salamiah Druhamad Drahsin, Hudud: Bukan Muslim Lebih Terbuka Banding

Ilmuan Islam [Hudud: Non-Muslims More Open than Ilmuan Islam], Sinar Harian,
17 November 2012.


Author interviews with Fadhlan Othman, Kuala Lumpur, 16 August 2011 and
Fathul Bari, Kuala Lumpur, 17 August 2011.


Author interview with Fadhlan Othman, Kuala Lumpur, 16 August 2011.


The hudud controversy erupted in 2012 when PAS declared that the party
would push for the implementation of hudud laws if the Pakatan Rakyat
(PR) coalition were to win the 13th general election. The party faced the
outright rejection of its objective by both its PR coalition partners and
UMNO on the basis that Malaysia was not ready for the implementation of
the laws.


Ustaz Fathul Bari Mat Jahya, Komen atas kenyataan Karpal Singh & Chua Soi
Lek [Comment on Karpal Singh and Chua Soi Lek], 4 November 2012, available
at <>.


Ida Li, Soi Lek disagrees with Umno ally over hudud, Malaysian Insider,
28 October 2012, available at <


Hudud laws refer to a class of punishments within Islamic laws that are fixed
for certain crimes including theft, adultery, consumption of alcohol or other
intoxicants and apostasy. The punishments for these crimes are fixed by the
Quran or Hadith. Tazir refers to punishments for offences not included in
hudud. Qisas means settlement of accounts and governs crimes for which a
victim or the family of the victim can demand that the same punishment be
inflicted on the offender. In the case of murder, the victims family can demand
the offender be killed.


Chuas statement on Hudud, New Straits Times, 3 November 2012.


Mohammad Fairuz Jumain, Fathul Bari: Soi Lek persoal hudud versi Pas
[Fathul Bari: Soi Lek Questions PAS version of Hudud], Sinar Harian,
5 November 2012.


Lacroix, Between Revolution and Apoliticalism, op. cit., p. 40.


Jocelyne Cesari, When Islam and Democracy Meet: Muslims in Europe and the
United States (London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2006), p. 95.


Rasul Dahri, Demokrasi, Pilihanraya dan Mengundi, op. cit., p. 127.

Ibid., p. 135.


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Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman





See the video UFB - Demokrasi - Mujahid Yusof Rawa Seleweng Ayat Quran?
[UFB-Demoracy- Mujahid Yusuf Rawa Misinterprets Quran], available at


The high number of northern Malays in PAS was alluded to by Farish Noor.
See Farish, Islam Embedded, op. cit., p. 228.

Author interview with Kamaruzzaman Mohamed, Head of PAS Youth in Federal

Territories, 23 November 2013.

Author interview with Harun Din, Kangar, Perlis, 26 April 2013.

Author interview with Fadhlan Othman, Kuala Lumpur, 16 August 2011.

PAS members have often criticized UMNOs ethno-nationalist ideology as being

opposed to Islam. They noted that UMNOss ideology is a form of assabiyah
(tribalism) which runs contrary to Islamic teachings. For an example of PAS
critique of UMNOs assabiyah, see Liow, Piety and Politics, op. cit., p. 106.

Ijtima Tarbawi PAS 2011 - UAF - PAS & Ikhwanul Muslimin Bermasalah Aqidah
[PAS Annual Meeting 2011-UF-Problems in PAS and Muslim Brotherhoods
Theology], available at <>.

Debat Sinar Harian antara Ketua Pemuda Pas, Nasrudin Hassan Tantawi dan
Pengerusi Jawatankuasa Kerja Sekretariat Ulama Muda Umno, Fathul Bari
Mat Jahaya dengan tajuk PRU13 - Orang Muda Pilih Siapa? [GE13- Who
did the Young Choose?], available at <

Raziatul Hanum a Rajak, Fathulbari dahului Exco Pemuda Umno [Fathulbari

Leads in UMNO Youth Exco Race], Sinar Harian, 13 October 2013.

Author interview with Fadhlan Othman, Kuala Lumpur, 17 August 2011.

Author interview with Dr Shamsuddin Moner, UMNO Member and General

Manager YADIM, Jasin, 19 March 2014.

D. Kanyakumari, UMNO Assembly: Five Transformations Planned, says Najib,

The Star, 5 December 2013.


Kuek Ser Kuang Keng, Reform of Face Rallies, Bersih 2.0 warns EC, Malaysiakini,
11 November 2010, available at <>.


See the video Demonstrasi BERSIH 2.0 - UFMO - Silap Pendalilan Hadith
Halal [BERSIH 2.0 Demonstrations-UFMO- The Mistake of Misinterpreting
Hadith], available at <>.


Author interview with Fathul Bari, Kuala Lumpur, 17 August 2011.


For a detailed and insightful treatment of the issue, see Julian C. H. Lee,
Islamization and Activism in Malaysia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian
Studies, 2010), pp. 6274.


Leven Woon, Nurul Izzah backs religious freedom for all, Free Malaysia Today,
3 November 2012, available at <








02 Mohd.indd 230

See the video URD-Hukum Mengundi Dalam Konteks Malaysia [URD-Islamic

Viewpoint on Voting in the Malaysian Context], available at <

4/8/14 11:29 AM

Salafi Ulama in UMNO: Political Convergence or Expediency?



Author interview with Fathul Bari, Kuala Lumpur, 10 May 2013.


See the video Kalimah Allah: Lim Guan Eng Timbul KRISTIANOFOBIA
[The Usage of Allah: Lim Guan Eng Promoting Christianophobia], available at




For the Islamization of Pakistan, see Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, The Vanguard of
the Islamic Revolution: The Jamaat-i Islami of Pakistan (Berkeley, California:
University of California Press, 1994) and for Sudan, see J. Millard Burr and
Robert O. Collins, Revolutionary Sudan: Hasan al-Turabi and the Islamist State,
19892000 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2003).


See Amir Mir, Talibanisation of Pakistan (New Delhi: Pentagon Security Press,
2010), pp. 117.


For the impact of Islamization on domestic policies, see Sven Alexander

Schottmann, The Pillars of Mahathirs Islam: Mahathir Mohamad on BeingMuslim in the Modern World, Asian Studies Review 35, issue 3 (2011):
35572 and Maznah Mohamad, The Ascendance of Bureaucratic Islam and the
Secularization of the Sharia in Malaysia, Pacific Affairs 83, no. 3 (2010): 50524.
For the impact on foreign policy, see Shanti Nair, Islam in Malaysias Foreign
Policy (London: Routledge, 1998) and Johan Saravannamuttu, Malaysias Foreign
Policy, The First Fifty Years: Alignment, Neutralism and Islamism (Singapore:
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010), pp. 23475. For Islamist conservatism
in Malaysia see Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid and Muhamad Takiyuddin Ismail,
Islamist Conservatism and the Demise of Islam Hadhari in Malaysia, Islam
and Christian-Muslim Relations 25, issue 2 (2014): 15980.

For an interesting analysis of Shiite repression in Malaysia, see Mohd Faizal

Musa, The Malaysian Shia: A Preliminary Study of Their History, Oppression,
and Denied Rights, Journal of Shia Islamic Studies VI, no. 4 (2013): 41163.

See Jabatan Mufti Perak (Perak Mufti Office), Keputusan Mesyuarat Jawatankuasa
Fatwa Negeri Perak: Fatwa Mengenai Penegahan Menyebarkan Aliran dan
Dakyah Wahabiah di Negeri Perak [Decision by the Fatwa Committee of the
State of Perak: Fatwa on Curbing the Spread and Teachings of Wahhabism in
Perak], available at <>.

Author interview with an UMNO leader, Kuala Lumpur, 5 June 2013.




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