I have been fortunate to have met many Federal Ministers and State Chief Ministers in my life time. In fact, I have even had the honour of personally meeting the Prime Minister as well as the Deputy Prime Minister, past and present.
Some of these personalities awed me. You could almost feel the power they commanded. Sometimes I came away from these meetings with an impression I had met a person of intelligence and intellectuality. Then again some of the people I met gave me the impression that we have clowns running this country. They were alright until they tried opening their mouth; then you really got to know the person. Fortunately they represented a minority. If not this country would really be in trouble.
When I was told I would have the pleasure of meeting YAB Datuk Tuan Guru Haji Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, the Menteri Besar of Kelantan, I started to have cold feet. It is not that Ministers scare me; as I said I have met many. When you get to know them better you come to realise that they are just ordinary people like you and me. The only difference between them and us is they are in a position of power. Nik Aziz however was an unknown, and it is this unknown that made me feel uncomfortable.
I stressed that my meeting with Nik Aziz was not to be an interview. The excuse I gave was I did not want the meeting to turn out too formal or official and an interview would make everybody stiff and too conscious of what they were saying. The truth is, it was I who was feeling uncomfortable as I really did not know what to expect and I feared that I would 'break' under the pressure of a formal interview. After all I have never formally interviewed a Minister before.
On that note the meeting turned out very relaxed and it was more like a meeting between two old friends rather than a first time meeting between an interviewer and an interviewee. The tea we sipped and the cakes we ate in between the informal chit chat helped create a down to earth atmosphere to the whole session. Being around Nik Aziz gave you this feeling.
It took me a few minutes to get into the mood. I was more flustered than the person I was supposed to be interviewing. What do I say to a man who, to me, is a living legend? I suppose the best place to start would be at the beginning so I opened the discussion by asking the basic question, "When was Tuan Guru born?"
Nik Aziz was born in 1931 at Pulau Melaka, a kampong not far from Kota Bharu. This would make him 65 years old today. However, because of this healthy lifestyle, Nik Aziz is far from over the hill even at this age. You could see he was a man of energy and very vibrant even though our meeting was being held at the end of a long day. To most people they would be about ready to retire but for Nik Aziz his day was only half way through.
Nik Aziz's day starts at 5.00am when he gets up to prepare for Suboh prayers. This is a mandatory routine for him even though he may have had a late night before attending a ceramah or perasmian until the midnight hours. Tuan Guru's sleep would be interrupted halfway when he would wake up to do his Tahajud prayers unless on that odd one or two days in a year when he would be down with an attack of flue or some other minor ailments.
After that it is off to school where he still teaches in his religious classes as he has been doing for more than thirty years. The nights are spent mostly attending ceramahs and other majlis. In between that he also has to run the state and attend to other matters such as meeting visiting dignitaries, attending the rulers conference, EXCO meetings, and so on.
Earlier I had the impression I would be meeting a frail old man who I would have to treat gently. Instead it turned out that Tuan Guru is a healthy and fit man for a person of 65. The only 'serious' ailment Tuan Guru suffers from is gastric but this does not seem to effect him to the extent that he would have to miss any fasting days, mandatory or otherwise. I commented that many of us seem to experience the same thing. Normally if we miss breakfast we would suffer from hungers pangs but during Ramadhan, maybe due to psychological reasons, we can complete a full day of fasting with no side effects.
Nik Aziz comes from a prominent family. However not much publicity is given to this fact and the general impression is Tuan Guru is merely a kampong preacher of humble lineage. Now please do not get me wrong. Nik Aziz and his ancestors are people of humble character; it is only that they are not of humble birth. Nik Aziz's father was a student of the famous religious teacher, Tok Kenali. Invariably he too became a famous Tok Guru himself. His father before him, that is Nik Aziz's grandfather on his father's side, was Raja Banjar. He carried the title of 'Pembawa Lembing Sultan', the equivalent of a Sultan's bodyguard today.
In fact, Nik Aziz is of royal blood but the family chose to drop the royal title because in those days the royals were placed second to God and they were not allowed to mingle with the common folks. However, because of Nik Aziz's father's religious background he needed to get close to the rakyat and this would have been impossible as a 'royal'. He therefore chose to become a 'common' man and devote his life to teaching religion in the kampongs. He also considered it syirik for the people to revere a fellow human being and as a royal this would have been difficult to avoid.
You can see that Nik Aziz has continued the family traditional of being down to earth and humble. Their family never 'reclaimed' their royal title and maintaining an identity of a kampong preacher suits Nik Aziz fine. He seems happier as a Tuan Guru rather than a 'Tengku'.
When not teaching religion Nik Aziz's father spent his spare time tending to his fruit orchard and rubber estate. This is a 'hobby' continued by Nik Aziz. In between his heavy schedule Nik Aziz can be found walking around his kebun or strolling through the kampongs with his trusted shotgun. Nik Aziz would shoot squirrels and other crop pests as a sport. He would not, however, shoot birds or other harmless creatures which are of no danger to the farmers' crops.
Of course these jaunts through the kampongs gives the local police chief heart attacks due to the security problem it poses but Nik Aziz says he feels very safe walking freely among the rakyat, confident that his sincerity in serving them is protection enough.
Nik Aziz was only about nine or ten years old when the Japanese invaded Malaya. It was during this time that Tuan Guru fell from his horse and was in a coma for 4 months. Due to the war, medical attention was lacking and hospitalisation was out of the question. Nik Aziz was left at home to 'fight' for his life on his own.
After he recovered Nik Aziz was sent off to a pondok school in Jertih for his education where he had to sit out the war with no news from home. It was too risky to travel so he had to stay put and tend for himself. He did not know whether his family was alive or safe until after the war when he could go back to Kota Bharu.
In Kota Bharu he continued his schooling under a well known Tok Guru, Tok Khurasan from Afghanistan. Among his contemporary was Haji Ahmad Mahir, the previous Timbalan Menteri Besar of Kelantan's father, who went on to become the Mufti of Kelantan.
After receiving his basic education in 1951, and at the age of 20, Nik Aziz decided to follow his father's footsteps and start his own kebun in Rantau Panjang. He was there for barely 28 days when he got struck down with a fever and for the next 3 months he was again in a coma.
On recovering from his sickness Nik Aziz decided that he was not cut out to be a farmer so he went on to continue his religious education instead. ...