SHAH ALAM: In 1969, the year of the deadly race riots in Kuala Lumpur, Nik Abdul Aziz Hassan was one of only four Malay students at the Methodist Boys School near Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur.
In fact, in his own class, he was the only Malay. The rest were all Chinese.
He said he got along well with his classmates and, after the clashes started on May 13, they took pains to avoid talking about the tense situation.
Outside the school grounds, however, tensions ran high for weeks after the riots were quelled.
When they were going home after night classes, Nik Aziz and the other three Malay students would make sure to stay together and to be among other Malays at public places.
“I was living in fear,” Nik Aziz, a former academic who comes from a long line of traditional Muslim scholars in Kelantan, told FMT.
“We avoided taking the bus from Petaling Street as most of the passengers were Chinese.”
He was also wary of getting into a taxi if the driver was Chinese. If he happened to hop into one, he would ask to be dropped off at the Malay enclave of Kampung Baru.
“I did not hate the Chinese,” he said. “I was close to my classmates.
“But I’d get afraid when I was outside the school. I remember once getting into a cab with a Chinese driver and he too was afraid since I was Malay.”
He said he hoped he would never have to live through such fear again.
Nik Aziz is the grandson of the late Wan Musa Abdul Samad, one of the Malay world’s most prominent authorities on Islam, and who served as the mufti of Kelantan between 1909 and 1916.
He is also part of G25 which brings together former senior Muslim civil servants to promote moderation, and has written papers and books on the history of Islamic scholarship in the Malay region.
He said the riots created suspicion among the various racial communities, particularly among those in the low-income groups.
The general sentiment among the intellectual and middle classes, he added, was that there was no alternative to having the different communities work together.
The episode spurred the then prime minister, Abdul Razak Hussein, to work towards restructuring society so that race would cease to be identified with income levels.
“He strove to create solidarity among Malaysians,” Nik Aziz said, noting the introduction of the New Economic Policy and the pursuit of strategies to develop rural areas through such agencies as Felda and Felcra.
He spoke of his discomfort with the current political climate, saying politicians seemed to be trying to survive on racial polarisation, especially since the last two general elections.
But he said there was no shortage of extremists on either side of the political divide.
“It’s very worrying,” he said, giving an example how an ethnic community is labelled based on their support for certain political parties.
Nik Aziz urged all the different racial communities to work towards fostering inter-communal understanding.
He said Muslims should look to the Medina charter that was drawn up by Prophet Muhammad.
“It’s a very inclusive document and it will help with race relations in the country,” he said.
He also said he believed most Malaysians want to live together in harmony.
He recalled the Methodist Boys School’s headmaster offering he and the other three Malay students a ride to the bus stop in the days of fear after May 13, 1969, and said simple gestures like that would go a long way in race relations.
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