The party was founded in 1951 by Muslim clerics in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). In the party's early decades, it fused Islamist and Malay nationalist ideologies and entrenched itself as one of the country's strongest opposition parties. From 1974 to 1978, PAS joined the governing Barisan Nasional coalition, but has otherwise been in opposition at the federal level for the entirety of its history. The 1980s saw the party taken over by a group of Muslim clerics ("ulama"), who shifted the party's ideology away from Malay nationalism towards a more radical brand of Islamism. After poor electoral performances, the party moderated in the 1990s, with an increase in progressive leaders. In the 2015 PAS Muktamar, the Ulama wing called for a total out of progressives, following which the progressive leaders lost almost all party positions. The progressive faction later formed Parti Amanah Negara (AMANAH) and with the two main Malaysian opposition parties, PKR, DAP formed Pakatan Harapan.
PAS's electoral base is in Malaysia's rural and conservative north. The party has governed the northern state of Kelantan two times (1959-1977 and 1990-now) and has also, in the past, formed governments in Kedah (2008-2013) and Terengganu (1959-1962 and 1999-2004). The party currently holds 14 of the 222 seats in the federal House of Representatives and has elected parliamentarians or state assembly members in ten of the country's 13 states.
The President is the party's chief office-holder. Abdul Hadi Awang has occupied the post since 2002. Under the President sits a Deputy President and three Vice-Presidents. There are two standing decision-making bodies of the party: the elected Central Working Committee, which deals with administrative and political affairs, and the Syura Council, composed of clerics, which deals with religious matters. The party has formal branches for women members ("PAS Muslimat") and youth ("PAS Pemuda"). Harakah is the party's official newspaper.
The post-World War II period, while Malaya was still under British colonial rule, saw the emergence of the country's first formal Islamic political movements. The Malay Nationalist Party (MNP), a left-wing nationalist organisation, was formed in 1945 and led by Burhanuddin al-Helmy, who would later become the president of PAS. Out of the MNP arose the Pan-Malayan Supreme Islamic Council (MATA) in 1947, and MATA in turn formed the party Hizbul Muslimin ("Islamic Party") in 1948. The central aim of Hizbul Muslimin was the establishment of an independent Malaya as an Islamic state. However, the party did not live beyond 1948. The Malayan Emergency of that year, while a British–Communist dispute, saw the colonial administration arrest a number of the party's leaders, and the nascent group disbanded. Nevertheless, the party served as a forerunner to PAS, supplying both the ideology upon which PAS was formed and some of PAS's key leaders in its early years.
PAS was founded on 24 November 1951, as the Persatuan Islam Se-Malaya (PAN-Malayan Islamic Organisation). The formation of the party was the culmination of a growing movement among Muslim clerics within the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to formalise a discrete Islamic political organisation. However, at first, the lines between UMNO and the new party were blurred. PAS allowed dual membership of the two parties, and many of its early senior leaders were also UMNO members. The party's first president was Ahmad Fuad Hassan, an UMNO cleric. He lasted in the position only until 1953, when he fell out of favour with the party, which was now developing a more distinct identity, and returned to the UMNO fold. Fuad's departure coincided with the end of dual membership. The party turned to Abbas Alias, a Western-educated medical doctor, as its second president, although he did not play an active role in the party and was little more than a nominal figurehead.