WHEN one speaks of the annual Thaipusam festival in Malaysia, people will instinctively picture the sea of humanity ascending the steps to the temple dedicated to Lord Murugan in Batu Caves, Selangor.
Similarly, more than a few will think of the enthusiastic coconut smashers lining the streets of George Town, Penang. Even the celebrations in Kedah and Perak get mentioned for the crowds the festival attracts every year.
However, many would be forgiven for not including Kelantan in the above list of places where Thaipusam is celebrated. Aside from being the very definition of the Malay heartland, it is also the traditional stronghold for PAS where it has ruled uninterrupted since 1990.
Keen to dispel the image of being a hardline, extremist party that is insensitive to other religions, the youth wing of the Islamist party highlighted that indeed, there is an annual Thaipusam procession in the east coast state.
In a posting on Pemuda PAS Malaysia Facebook page, Dr Firdaus Azim who is chairman of the PAS Youth Council’s National Unity Platform highlighted this with several videos and images showing a colourful and vibrant Thaipusam procession taking place.
Albeit on a much smaller scale than those in other states, it clearly shows that minority groups are not prevented from celebrating religious festivals in Kelantan.
Firdaus went on to state that although Indians represent only 0.03% of the state’s population, there are currently 18 Hindu temples to serve their needs with some of them being over a century old.
One of those heritage temples is the Sri Muthu Mariamman temple which he claimed to have brought Chinese and Indian friends from Kuala Lumpur to visit a couple of years ago.
It was also pointed out the temple is currently undergoing renovations, subtly hinting that the state government does not stand in the way of upgrading work for non-Muslim houses of worship.
Charismatic Nik Aziz
The message that PAS Youth seems to want to convey is that non-Muslims have nothing to fear from the Islamist party. The freedom to practice one’s religion will be upheld and respected.
If indeed, PAS has serious pretensions of taking Putrajaya, it will have to appeal to non-Muslim voters much like it did during the 13th General Election (GE13) when the party made great inroads into non-Malay urban constituencies as part of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition alongside DAP and PKR.
Under the leadership of the late spiritual leader Tok Guru Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, PAS indeed preached a message of tolerance and mutual understanding that saw it sway many voters to its side.
However, the party’s public persona has shifted significantly since then with its current president Tan Sri Hadi Awang greatly offending minority groups’ sensibilities with a series of inflammatory remarks, not least the accusation that non-Muslims were at the root of all corruption in the country.
The recent public relations fiasco involving the party’s Kepala Batas MP Dr Siti Mastura has further painted PAS as an organisation populated by racist and uneducated hardliners, hence further alienating non-Malay voters.
Nevertheless, this post highlighting the Thaipusam celebrations in Kelantan is a step in the right direction in projecting an image of tolerance and cultural understanding.
As was highlighted by some netizens over the recent Loy Krathong festival controversy in Bachok, the Kelantan state government had always allowed other communities to carry on their religious and cultural celebrations.
Earning non-Muslim’s trust
In the Bachok incident, PAS was taken to task over the ‘sexy’ attire of some performers during a concert held on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. But many locals lamented the politicisation of the issue when Buddhists in the state had been allowed to organise and enjoy their celebrations in peace for many years.
It is perhaps time for a reset for PAS. Although it is the party with the most seats in the Dewan Rakyat today, it will still need to appeal to non-Muslims if it is serious about forming the next government.
Posts such as the one above portraying a scenario where multi-culturalism is recognised and celebrated must come to the fore. Right now, PAS is portrayed as a party of hardliners and extremists who are against everything, anything and anyone non-Muslim.
Malaysian politics is extremely fluid in nature. A slight move away from the far right will not come as any great betrayal to its core principles.
Voters need to see more politicians embrace the reality of multi-cultural Malaysia instead of the harmful pendatang invective that has so poisoned the narrative.
Meanwhile, well done to PAS Youth for taking the initiative to highlight the party’s more tolerant stance with the Thaipusam post. – Jan 26, 2024