The objective of this study was to consider stances of ulama on modern state and control over shari‘ah interpretation by the Malaysian government. This study analyzed materials on kafir （infidel） declaration including fatwas in Malaysia in the 1980s. The main focus of the study was discourses by Parti Islam SeMalaysia （PAS） or Islamic Party of Malaysia and contradictions by the government. PAS was founded by ulama in the Malay Peninsula in the 1950s. PAS played a role as a political platform of ulama to confront with the government. In the former half of the 1980s PAS attacked the government for its secular − or infidel − characteristics. In this period the conflict between ulama and the government was most fierce in the Malaysian history.
When PAS declared the Malaysian government to be infidel, the government competed by issuing fatwas by official muftis. In Malaysia there are enactments to regulate issuance of fatwa. Issuance of fatwa is monopolized by official Fatwa Committees under Majlis Agama Islam or Islamic religious Council in each state. After an official fatwa is published in a gazette, the fatwa becomes binding. All Muslims in the state must follow it. Actions or discourse against the gazetted fatwa are penalized according to the enactments. Such state control on fatwa is very rare in the history of the Muslim world.
Although the government attempted to regulate kafir declaration by PAS, the confrontation escalated and an armed conflict broke out in 1985. In Memali, state of Kedah, a PAS leader called Ibrahim Libya was swooped by security force. Ibrahim was known by his judgment against the “infidel” government. As a result of the conflict, Ibrahim himself and his 14 followers were killed. After the incident, the way of burial for victims became an issue between PAS and the government. PAS tried to mobilize ulama in Majlis Agama in Kedah, and attempted to obtain an official fatwa to bury victims as martyrs. The burial as martyrs meant that Ibrahim’s death was the result of legitimate uprising against the infidel government. However, PAS failed in the attempt. The attempt by PAS reflected ambivalent stance on the state control on fatwa. Although the fatwa control is a regulation on shari‘ah interpretation by ulama, it is also an opportunity for ulama to utilize state power to influence on the Muslim society.
The state control on fatwa was a part of the nationalization of Islamic affairs by the Malaysian government. Because of such nationalization policies, the authority of ulama declined in long term. Ulama were involved in bureaucracy and lost their own voices as teachers, scholars, and muftis. PAS can be considered as an attempt by ulama to retain their authority as shari‘ah interpreter through a political platform. However, state power was fascinating and even PAS was not necessarily against the nationalization of Islamic affairs. The controversy on kafir declaration and fatwa showed the dilemma of ulama between shari‘ah and the state.