By Wan Hamidi Hamid
Last night, surrounded by family, Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat breathed his last in the same modest house in Pulau Melaka, Kelantan, where he had lived for the past few decades.
The 84-year-old left behind a legacy that was truly unique for a man who fought his political battles in the light of a multi-racial, multi-religious Malaysian society.
All that remains of his good deeds and noble character has been immortalised in the stories told, conversations shared, and memories recalled by those who respected him; only a small group of people could hate him, and this was mostly due to personal disagreement or partisan politics.
In terms of ideology, DAP and Nik Aziz – fondly known as Tok Guru – were as different as night and day. While Tok Guru held fast to religious principles, DAP has always championed a secular democracy upholding fundamental rights, equality and justice.
On matters of governance, PAS is guided by the Quran and Sunnah, and the party also seeks to enforce hudud laws.
DAP, on the other hand, espouses a secular democracy in line with the Federal Constitution which (should) guarantee the rights of all races and religion without any form of discrimination.
However, this fundamental difference in ideology never hampered the good relationship that Tok Guru shared with the leadership of DAP, particularly Lim Guan Eng and Lim Kit Siang.
Although they agreed to disagree on matters regarding the Islamic state and the enforcement of hudud, they were always on the same page when it came to upholding democratic practices, fighting against cruel and anti-freedom laws, raising the living standards of the people, and ensuring that no one is left behind in the process of economic development.
In fact, as many Pakatan Rakyat leaders have pointed out, there were far more things which the leaders agreed on, than the few matters on which they differed.
This is why the role of Nik Aziz was so important. Although his worldview and political compass (in particular, his views on women’s rights and religious matters) was conservative, he was always quick to read the mercurial changes in Malaysian politics.
While he never concealed his stand as an ulama who rejected the liberal lifestyle, Tok Guru always exercised wisdom in handling political issues. He was instrumental in preserving the friendship between Pakatan parties.
When Barisan Nasional-controlled media pressured him about Pakatan’s differences, Tok Guru kept his cool. He was quick to admit that PAS and DAP each held their own stand on the issues of hudud and Islamic State. However, he emphasised that it would be better for both parties to work together on the issues which they shared a common consensus.
It is on this basis that DAP – a party which fights for equal opportunities and rights as well as gender parity – could cooperate with the conservative PAS. If anyone is to be credited for the union’s longevity, it would be Nik Aziz.
One could say that it was Tok Guru’s insistence to continue the efforts by the late PAS President Datuk Fadzil Noor that brought the opposition parties together in a coalition after the Reformasi era of 1998.
Nik Aziz contributed greatly to improve relations between opposition parties, allowing PAS and DAP to work together with PKR through the efforts of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, leading the opposition pact to its best ever performance during the 2008 political tsunami.
It could also be said that Nik Aziz’s positive public image and moderate lifestyle allowed many non-Muslim voters to feel comfortable to vote for PAS in 2008 and 2013. He was a humble man who chose to live in a modest house easily accessible to the public, and he continued teaching in the mosque even in his advanced age.
Nik Aziz was a pioneer to break the invisible fear of non-Malays -especially the Chinese- towards the image of Islam as previously portrayed by PAS ulamas, and a catalyst to win their votes for PAS and Pakatan Rakyat.
In 2013, many Chinese voted for PAS, enabling the party to win several seats that it had never won before. This is despite the fact that many Malay voters still hesitated to vote for DAP, influenced by UMNO-BN propaganda and lies.
As Tok Guru’s health condition worsened since late last year, the political climate was also changing. Voices of intolerance and forcefulness emerged, louder than ever. The voice of the moderates was slowly fading in Pakatan Rakyat.
Nik Aziz’s death comes almost a year after Karpal Singh’s passing, and two days after Anwar Ibrahim was hauled off to prison by a regime that fears the truth. These events, no doubt, will irreversibly alter the political landscape.
It is too early to tell whether or not this change will lead the people in a better direction, or whether we will revert to the era of squabbling and bickering.
The loss of Nik Aziz is one that is keenly felt. Condolences to Tok Guru’s family and those who were close to him. -The Rocket