From March 20, 2015
By Jerome Fernandez
I came to know the late Tuan Guru or Tok Guru Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat in 1997.
The National Union of the Teaching Profession’s 14th Delegates Conference was to be held in Kota Baru and I as the Secretary of the NUTP Kelantan Branch had to write a letter to the Kelantan Menteri Besar (MB) requesting a dinner from the State government to felicitate the delegates.
I received a positive reply within three days and a day later an official from the MB’s office came to see me and said that the MB wanted to know the ethnic distribution of the delegates.
I thought it as a bit odd.
Nevertheless I gave the list to him.
The dinner was held at the official residence of the MB and he sent a senior exco member to represent him and tendered his apologies for not being able to attend.
The food served had the unmistakeable Indian flavour and there was no beef in the menu although there were a substantial number of Malay delegates at the dinner.
Now I knew why he wanted the list. There were a large number of Hindus in attendance.
Tuan Guru has 10 children. One of his sons was staying opposite my house. He was a supervisor in a plantation near Gua Musang.
He leaves early in the morning on his motor cycle to reach his place of work and returns late in the evening.
I used to poke fun at him saying that he must be the poorest among all the children of menteris besar.
“Having a mentri besar as the father could have opened many doors for you to get a better job,” I quipped.
“That’s what everyone thinks. I dare not even suggest this to my father. I might get a slap for suggesting anything close to this!”
Once I had to accompany the then Bishop of Penang, the Most Reverend Soter Fernandez to meet the menteri besar.
Tuan Guru among other things mentioned about his visit to Bosnia and commented how sad he was witnessing religious conflict there.
“This should never happen at all,” he sighed.
On our way back Bishop Soter said that being the Bishop of the Penang Diocese, he also meets other menteris besar and chief minister, but he had never met such a simple and down-to-earth person as Tuan Guru.
“After visiting the other menteris besar, I find this man to be exceptionally different and even his office room is so bare, unlike the opulence I see in similar offices.”
The Fatima Catholic Church is situated opposite the menteri besar’s office, Kota Darulnaim, Kota Baru.
Anyone driving to the menteri Besar’s office will not miss the church and vice versa.
One day the parish priest received a morning call from the menteri besar’s office.
The official said Tuan Guru had noticed that the cross on top of the church was missing.
“This must be the work of some vandals,” he said.
However the parish priest said that in actual fact there was no vandalism. There was a storm the previous night and the cross had fallen off the steeple.
The official then consulted with Tuan Guru and the following response was heart-warming.
“The menteri besar wants the church to replace the cross and the bill for the replacement to be sent to the menteri besar’s office for payment. The menteri besar feels that as head of the government he is responsible for what had happened,” said the official.
Kuala Krai has the only chapel in Kelantan. It was once a bungalow owned by a doctor who had since migrated.
There were about eight families attending service once a week with the priest coming from Kota Baru.
The building was in poor condition and we had to repair it if we wanted to avoid the roof falling on our heads during service.
As chairman of the parish committee, I wrote to the local council seeking approval for repairs and renovation.
The application was rejected thrice.
Taking courage, I went to see Tuan Guru.
After listening to me he asked: “Who rejected your application?”
“The secretary of the local council,” I replied.
“Do you know his name?” he asked.
“I know his first name, not his full name,” I murmured.
“A good Muslim will not hinder others from building their houses of worship”
“I am sorry for what had happened. Don’t worry you will get a letter from him within this week allowing you to repair your chapel.”
As I thanked him, he invited me to see him should there be any other problems. “But don’t come on a Saturday,” he added.
“What is special about Saturday?” I said.
“On Saturdays, many people from the kampungs will come to see me.
Children entering universities, those getting married, those going on the haj. They all come to seek my blessings.”
As I took leave, he called me back and asked, “Do you have enough money to repair your chapel?”
“I think what we have is enough, Tuan Guru,” I replied.
“I have a special fund to help Non –Muslim houses of worship. It is yours. I can give some money from that fund”.
“If we need, I will come back to you. For the moment, I have your blessings! Thank you.”
As I mourn together with thousands if not millions of others who have been touched by this man, my tribute to Tok Guru is simply this: “With your simplicity you endeared yourself to everyone. You walked the talk. I am blessed to have met you. When the history of this nation is re-written people will remember you and say: ‘This was a Great Man’. ”
SOURCE: The Malaysian Insider
–Former headmaster Jerome Fernandez is project co-ordinator for Education International. He has called Kelantan home for 50 years.