Corps of Armored Knights greet visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's armor exhibit (4), originally uploaded by mharrsch.
SOMETIMES the justification by certain leaders on political action undertaken by party members sounds romantic, idealistic and most of all chivalrous.
Terms like "we will attack... to save the people from..." sound almost like a chapter from medieval lore, where knights in shining armour faced evil giants and sorcerers to save damsels in distress.
That was how it came across when Umno Kelantan said it would send out speakers with Islamic credentials to the State to counter lies and misleading statements on Islam issued by Pas.
In short, these speakers are being sent to the lion's den as Kelantan has for the past decade been Pas' bastion.
"They will be slaughtered," said a member of Pas' inner circle.
Of course, he did not mean it literally. But it did reflect confidence that Pas' Islamic credentials in Kelantan are impregnable and that Umno speakers would not dent its armour.
"Whether we make inroads or not, we cannot allow Pas to continue to use the religion for political ends and mislead Muslims with its brand of Islam."
"Islam is not a Pas monopoly nor Umno's. But Pas is clearly using Islam."
Yet, at the same time, what has it contributed to the development of Islam in Malaysia?
"Even in Kelantan and Terengganu for that matter, where is the Daulah Islamiah (Islamic State) concept it has promised?" questioned Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
But the question at hand is whether Umno, which has been known as a nationalist party, is changing its colour and attempting to build a more Islamic image to win back the Malay votes.
Former Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Dr Ibrahim Saad did not see the need for such measures.
He also felt it would not contribute to the governance of a multi-racial country like Malaysia.
It is important to identify what separates Umno and Pas, he said.
"In the early years, Umno was a Malay-Muslim party, meaning it was a nationalist entity."
"Pas too, during those days, was a nationalist party, but it chose to be identified as a Muslim-Malay entity."
"Over the years, Pas moved on to be more Islamist. But today, with the presence of more professionals in the party, it is becoming less Islamist and reverting to its original entity," Ibrahim said.
These developments, Ibrahim contended, meant that Pas realised that to rule the nation it must be with the co-operation of the non-Malays and the party would lose the support of non-Malays if it continued to move on Islamic lines.
"My point is that, if Pas is trying to be more like Umno, why then should Umno try to be like Pas?"
However, Pas leaders, including the professionals, would deny such remarks vehemently.
Its president Datuk Fadzil Noor had repeatedly said Pas would never compromise on its Islamic struggles and that it was duty-bound to make non-Malays understand that there was nothing wrong with Islam.
"The professionals joined Pas because they believe in the party's Islamic struggle. Why should they want to change it to be more like Umno?" argued a staunch Pas supporter.
Gerakan president Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik seemed to have a ready answer on how to win back voters for Umno and the rest of the Barisan Nasional components.
"Continue to be liberal and committed in pursuing economic and social development," he said in his speech at the party's general assembly in Penang yesterday.
It all sounds quite simple, yet, at the grassroots, especially among the Malay voters, Umno keeps on losing ground especially over matters concerning Islam.
Then there is also the fear among the moderates and apolitical Malays that Umno, in its efforts to win back the Malay votes, will succumb to knee-jerk reactions and start introducing more stringent Islamic laws and policies.
To this, Zahid said there was a difference between playing to Pas' tunes and inculcating Islamic values according to the religious teachings.
"Although Umno may lack the Islamic image according to Pas, we are not concerned. Our commitment to Islam cannot be denied and image has never been our goal," Zahid said.
"Islam does not belong to Pas or Umno, but rather to all Muslims. As such, it cannot be interpreted only by Pas but also by Umno and the rest of the Muslim community," he argued.
Zahid also believes that much as Umno is a Malay nationalist party, it has, over the years, ensured that its constitution is based on Islamic principles.
However, much as what Zahid has said is something all other Umno members will vouch for, the reality staring at the party's face is different.
A senior Umno leader had even proposed that it was time that the party start building an Islamic image of itself and that there was nothing wrong with it.
"We know that we already have the substance, but Pas is gaining because of form. So what we need is to build a more obvious Islamic image of ourselves and everything else will fall into place," he added.
But, Ibrahim was uncomfortable with such an idea.
"Umno is walking on a thin line. If it goes more Islamic, it may lose the support of the non-Malays."
Here Islamic means to be promoting Umno as an Islamic party, regardless whether it concerns its image or even struggles.
An Utusan Malaysia columnist, who goes by the pseudonym of Hang Jebat, recently questioned the wisdom of the authorities to push for legislation to punish apostates.
He contended that such a move was akin to the religious persecution of Middle Age Europe and introducing the law would be a regressive move.
A couple of days later, a reader wrote in to Utusan Malaysia and questioned the writer for such thoughts, arguing that it was high time that the country introduced the law against apostates.
The reader argued that the proposed apostasy law was already mild as the "true teachings of Islam" required the death sentence be imposed on apostates.
Such debate may be a one-off affair, but it is actually a reflection of the crossroads Malays have reached.
On one side, there exist the moderate Malays very much in the mould of Hang Jebat and on the other are those who are like the reader.
They can belong to any side of the political divide, be it with Umno or Pas, but generally it will be accepted that those who want more stringent Islamic rulings tend to be leaning towards Pas.
To assess which of the two groups is in the majority, the simplest way will be to look at where the Malay votes go. If more goes to Pas, then, it means that the majority of the Malays want more Islamic fundamental policies.
If the majority goes to Umno, then, it means the Malays are generally more comfortable with moderate Islam.
These are in terms of voting trend. However, the fear that some Umno leaders have is that even their own party members want the party to be more Islamic, in the mould of Pas.
If that is the case, then Umno and other moderate Malays are in trouble.
But Ibrahim is unperturbed. "Our moderate and tolerant approach on Islam has worked and served the multiracial nature of Malaysia well.
"The only thing Umno needs to do is to continue with its efforts towards a more liberalised and democratic organisation. That will be our strength."
In short, Umno does not have to do battle along religious lines to save the Malays who have been devoured by Pas' brand of Islam.
Umno's knights just need to polish their armour to clear the rust and keep them shining.
"'Umno knights, polish thy armour'." New Straits Times 25 Sept. 2000: NSTP12971786. General OneFile. Web. 7 Dec. 2010.
Gale Document Number:A65466166