Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat’s death marks the loss of one of PAS’s most iconic and influential leaders – he was a cleric who has helped shape the course of the Islamist party for over three decades, and was a politician so unlike any other politician the country has seen.
Throughout his lifetime, Nik Aziz always struck a humble figure. Despite having the most powerful position in a party that boasted about one million members, and retaining the Kelantan menteri besar post for over two decades, the religious teacher was content staying in his old kampong house and driving around in his own car.
His gentle, subdued manner belied his fiery, bordering on zealous, determination to turn Kelantan into the first state in Malaysia to implement the controversial Shariah criminal law, as well as his instrumental role in overthrowing a former PAS president and turning the party around.
Even as his health deteriorated during his last months, the PAS spiritual adviser did not neglect his party during the recent Pengkalan Kubor by-election in Kelantan, and turned up at a PAS ceramah to deliver a brief but rousing speech.
Born on January 10, 1931 in Pulau Melaka, Kota Baru, Nik Aziz began his studies in pondok schools under the guidance of religious teachers around Kelantan and Terengganu before pursuing his tertiary education in Islamic university Darul Uloom Deoband, in India.
He obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Arabic Studies and Master of Arts in Islamic Jurisprudence from Al-Azhar University, Egypt.
He returned to Malaysia in 1962 and served as a religious teacher in Kelantan, earning him the popular nickname “Tok Guru”.
Five years later, Nik Aziz joined PAS and won the Kelantan Hilir parliamentary seat in a by-election that same year, a seat that he held until 1986.
He witnessed the transition PAS underwent under the leftist pan-Islamism leadership of Burhanuddin al Helmy, to the Malay nationalist-leadership of Asri Muda, who took over the presidency in 1970 and nearly dragged the party to its early demise.
Asri’s most controversial decision was to announce PAS’s alliance with Umno and its entry into the ruling coalition in 1972, ostensibly to strengthen Malay unity. But the move was doomed from the beginning, as many members and leaders unhappy with the decision either left or were purged from the party.
But the PAS-Umno partnership was shortlived: a disagreement between the two parties over the Kelantan menteri besar post saw PAS exit the alliance just five years later, and Kelantan, PAS’s long-treasured jewel, fell to Barisan Nasional (BN) in the 1978 general election.
Nik Aziz was appointed Kelantan state commissioner immediately after PAS lost the state to Umno.
It was Nik Aziz’s bitter, first-hand experience dealing with the fallout between Umno and PAS that has kept the two parties from venturing into another alliance decades later, despite fringe voices urging for a unity government.
Nik Aziz and the new generation of leaders, did not stand idly by as Asri led the party to one of its worst electoral losses in history; he, Abdul Hadi Awang and the other clerics in the party sought to reorient PAS as an Islamic party led by the ulama faction.
Asri was ultimately pressured to resign from the party, and in 1990, under the leadership of former PAS president Datuk Fadzil Noor, the party wrested back Kelantan and Nik Aziz was appointed menteri besar.
A year later, he succeeded former PAS president Yusof Rawa as the party’s spiritual advisor after the former passed away.
Nik Aziz held the position of menteri besar until May 6, 2013, a day after the 13th general election concluded. Throughout his 23 uninterrupted years of service, Kelantan remained a PAS stronghold even as Perak, Terengganu and Kedah fell to BN after they were briefly captured by the party.
No other PAS leader could boast being a menteri besar for such a long period of time; PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang was the Terengganu menteri besar for only one term, before losing the state to Barisan Nasional in the 2004 general election.
After relinquishing his menteri besar post, Nik Aziz continued to play an important role in both PAS and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) as the party’s spiritual adviser.
During the Selangor menteri besar crisis last year, which saw PAS threatening to break away from PR, Nik Aziz put his foot down and maintained that the party would remain with the opposition pact, even as other PAS leaders floated the idea of cooperating with Umno.
But now with his passing, the future of PAS and its role in PR is no longer so certain, and with it, the possibility of an alternative coalition to take over Putrajaya. – February 12, 2015.