Mat Sabu: From His Days As A Detention Camp Cook To Becoming Malaysia's Defence Minister

After more than 40 years in politics, Mohamad Sabu was recently declared as the new Defence Minister.

Cover image via The Malaysian Insight

Mohamad Sabu, popularly known as Mat Sabu, was recently named as the incoming Defence Minister by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

Hailing from Penang, Mat Sabu grew up in the state and went on to further his studies at Institut Teknologi Mara, which is now known as Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM). However, he never completed his studies as he was expelled.

The Amanah president first ventured into politics when he joined the Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) in 1975.

Six years later, Mat Sabu joined Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) as a member and went on to hold various important posts, including his tenure as PAS' deputy president from 2013 to 2015.

The 64-year-old established himself as a fearless politician after he was imprisoned twice under the now-defunct Internal Security Act (ISA)

Mat Sabu speaking to supporters at the Bersih 4 rally in 2015.

Image via Choo Choy May/Malay Mail

theSun reported that Mat Sabu was first detained in 1984 to 1986 on charges of being involved in extremist movements.

He was later detained for the second time under the infamous Ops Lalang in October 1987 and was only released more than two years later in January 1989. Following his release, Mat Sabu was put under house arrest and he had to report himself to the police station until the general election in 1990.

It was his time at the Kamunting Detention Centre that paved the way for him to forge friendships with senior DAP leaders such as Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng

Mat Sabu and Lim Guan Eng sharing a happy moment in a video that was published on YouTube in 2013 as they reminisced their time together when they were detained under ISA.

Image via DAP Penang

In an interview with The Malaysian Insight last year, Mat Sabu recalled his time at the Kamunting Dentention Centre well, despite it happening 30 years ago in 1987.

Mat Sabu was detained under ISA, and it was during that period of time when he was held and served as a prison cook that allowed him to encounter and know people with different political ideologies, forming relationships that stood the test of time.

"Yes, because I was the cook, and we talked and shared conversations every day," he told The Malaysian Insight.

Praised for his down-to-earth stature, Mat Sabu has been referred to as one of those politicians who is capable of pulling crowds to ceramahs.

People know him as one of the best speakers during his time with PAS, and this is also well-documented.

Image via PAS Jelebu

Take for instance, in the book 'Cleavage, Connection and Conflict in Rural, Urban and Contemporary Asia' edited by Tim Bunnell, ‎D. Parthasarathy, and ‎Eric C. Thompson, Mat Sabu was described as "PAS' most popular orators".

Touching on the subject of how orang kampung in rural Malaysian are mobilised through "rhetoric of PAS", the book pointed out how Mat Sabu played an instrumental role as the authors based their analysis on his past speeches in 1995 that were taped and sold at PAS rallies and circulated through PAS networks.

"In his speeches, Mat Sabu addresses his audience as 'Muslimin dan Muslimat' (Muslim men and Muslim women.) He stresses his struggle (perjuangan) for Islam," read an excerpt from the book, which went on to talk about how Mat Sabu appealed to his audience.

Despite dedicating his youth to PAS, Mat Sabu's involvement with the party came to an end when he set up his own 'Gerakan Harapan Baru' in 2015

The party was founded in 2015 by a splinter group of PAS shortly after PAS' split from the then opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat following policy disputes within the coalition, which included disagreement over the implementation of hudud law.

Mat Sabu, who spent 38 years in PAS, led the charge as he was joined by his PAS colleagues such as former PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub, former PAS central working committee Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, and former Kota Raja MP Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud, among others.

Shortly after the announcement that Mat Sabu was going to set up a new party, he told Malay Mail in 2015 that he wanted his new party to be Malaysia's Islamic Renaissance 'beacon', saying, "Our akidah (creed) and akhlak (morals) is separated already. Now my struggle is I want to combine both of these back."

The party was first unveiled as 'Gerakan Harapan Baru', but it was eventually rebranded to what we know today as Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah).

Eventually, Mat Sabu led Amanah to be a part of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

Image via NST

Despite being imprisoned twice under ISA during Mahathir's reign as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the vocal leader has put those days behind him.

Two years ago, Mat Sabu appeared alongside Mahathir at the 'People's Congress 2016'.

He reportedly said then, "I'm nervous to speak in front of a former leader who had ruled the country for 22 years.

"I was arrested twice under the ISA. Like the others said, we are not here to speak about revenge."

Fast forward to the 14th General Election (GE14), Mat Sabu contested in the Kota Raja parliamentary seat and won with a 71,142 vote majority

Mat Sabu made a comeback to the parliament as he received 90,697 votes, defeating his rivals Mohamed Diah Baharun (19,555 votes) from PAS, dan V Gunalan (17,874 votes) from Barisan Nasional.

He contested as a PAS candidate during the 2008 and 2013 general elections, and lost both in Kuala Terengganu and Pendang respectively.

The Defence Minister-designate has continued to win the hearts of Malaysians for his humility in serving the people

Most recently, Mat Sabu shared several photos on his Facebook page that depict him cooking in the kitchen as he hosted a group of young women from Wanita Muda AMANAH (WARDA).

Netizens have since showered Mat Sabu with praises, who was seen clad in a white top and sarong, for living a simple life and working hard to serve the people.

Following the announcement that Mat Sabu is slated to be the Defence Minister, netizens have congratulated him with these memes:

Meanwhile, Penang has a new Chief Minister:

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