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Malaysia's Islamic party seeks non-Muslim members

Written by: Staff

KUALA LUMPUR, June 7 (Reuters) Malaysia's fundamentalist Islamic opposition party, scrambling to stay relevant in a moderate Muslim nation, is ready to change its charter to admit non-Muslims, state news agency Bernama reported today.

Recruiting non-Muslims to help pursue the Islamic struggle did not mean the party was deviating from its concept of struggle, Abdul Hadi Awang, president of the Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), told reporters at a party function.

''PAS has been getting the support of non-Muslims, therefore there is room to enable them to become party members,'' Abdul Hadi said, although he said that any move to amend the party's constitution needed to be discussed, and a change would not be immediate.

''The amendment is not seen as something urgent as PAS has worked out cooperation with Keadilan, which has nominated non-Muslim candidates to contest in several constituencies,'' he said, referring to a pact with another opposition party.

Muslims make up just over half of the population of roughly 26 million, but PAS, which wants Malaysia to be an Islamic state based on the Koran, has limited appeal for many of them.

The party narrowly clings to power in its last remaining bastion, the northeastern state of Kelantan, one of Malaysia's poorest states, where it has ruled since 1990.

In its bid to widen its appeal, PAS has even reportedly asked former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to become a national opposition leader, only to be rejected.

''I will not have anything to do with PAS because I don't think it is an Islamic party at all,'' Mahathir told reporters today. ''It is a form of deviation from the teachings of Islam.'' REUTERS SHB PC1905

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