I will always remember Tok Guru Nik Aziz for his utter simplicity, his humble lifestyle and his genuine openness to inter-religious dialogue.
He lived in a modest kampung house, used a BIC ballpoint pen, and did not have much use for the trappings of power. Once when I interviewed him, along with a colleague from Aliran, I was startled that he opted to sit on the floor for the interview. This was the Menteri Besar of Kelantan, mind you.
One outstanding example of his openness to inter-religious dialogue is burnished in my memory. On the same day when an unknown group had threatened to hold a Bible-burning fiesta at the Butterworth padang, ratcheting up emotions, Tok Guru had other plans for the day, which happened to be his 82nd birthday.
He chose to diffuse tension by sweetening ties with Bishop Sebastian Francis in Penang, presenting him with a sumptuous cake, hours after wading through the Thaipusam crowds for the first time. It was a masterstroke, a triumph of bridge-building over bigotry. A day that had begun with mounting anxiety and uncertainty ended on a celebratory note and with a sense that there was still hope for this nation.
Bridge-builder Abdul Rahman Kasim had been planning another meeting between Nik Aziz and Bishop Sebastian, this time in Kota Bharu on 27 February 2015. But it was not to be. “What to do?” lamented Rahman, when contacted just now.
Now the baton of inter-religious dialogue has been passed on to the likes of Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Khalid Samad and Dzulkefly Ahmad.