CAIRO - Competing with Malaysia's main Islamic party for conservative votes, the youth division in the country's ruling coalition announced their will to contest in coming general elections under the banner of pursuing Islamic principals in the political landscape.
We will not fight on personal or political issues but for religion and Islamic principles, Fathul Bari Mat Jahaya, working secretariat chief of the young Ulama (Ilmu) in the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), told The Malaysian Insider on Sunday, May 20.
Jahaya added that if given the green light by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) leadership, it would be ready to help to pursue Islamic principles in the political landscape.
Seeking to make gains among conservative Malays, the young Islamic scholars in Umno was part of a larger election battle over votes with Malaysia's Islamic party PAS.
Earlier this May, Abdul Hadi Awang, the leader of PAS, said the party would amend the constitution to apply hudud if it won the election.
Opposition alliance, People's Justice Party (PKR), rejected PAS statement, saying it will not implement Islamic penalties following next year's general election.
The move comes amid a changing political landscape in the Muslim-majority country as polls showed Malaysians' will to apply Islamic Shari`ah law.
A survey of Malaysian Muslim youth conducted at the end of 2010 showed that nearly three-quarters back the idea for the Qur'an 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.
Malaysia's parliamentary elections are due in 2013, but expectations are high that the polls could be called much earlier.
The members of Umno youth division confirmed that the group's stand on religious matters would not be influenced by political expediency.
Our voice has never been gagged. Umno has never blocked us and we have issued statements without taking sides, Fathul, a former religious advisor to the National Heart Institute (IJN), said.
But in PAS, the ulama are blocked from contradicting their leaders, he said.
With an estimated 800,000 members, PAS is the main rival of Prime Minister Najib Razak's United Malays National Organization.
Hudud are part of PAS' political agenda and has been one of the pillars of its policies.
A few years ago, PAS has enacted the hudud laws in its stronghold in Kelantan to be imposed only on Muslims, who represent about 90 percent of the state's 1.5 million population.
The laws introduced hudud for theft, robbery, adultery, liquor consumption and apostasy.
Muslim Malays form about 60 percent of Malaysia's 26-million population, while Christians make up around 9.1 percent.
Buddhists constitute 19.2 percent, Hindu 6.3 while other traditional Chinese religions make up the rest of the population.