This conversation with Pak Kassim has strengthened Barathi Selvam’s belief that the world offers us a breadth of knowledge as wide as an ocean.
A physically old man, wearing a white Pagoda T-shirt, was seated on a wooden chair that comforted his spine. A pair of glasses perched on his nose helped him identify those approaching him. Slightly weak with age, the 83-year-old nevertheless greeted us with an energetic “Good morning!”
The man was none other than Kassim Ahmad, no stranger to plenty of swirling controversies, mainly due to his writings on the Hadith.
It would be silly if I started to write about his political beliefs or his religious stand; he himself had done so on various occasions and platforms. Besides, he had just won in the Appeals Court in a case pressed by Jawi and Jakim.
This is not a transcript of our conversation with him but merely a glimpse of what we learned from him in a short period.
As a university student with exams approaching in two weeks, I was supposed to be on study leave. We are allocated a week’s holiday for revision so that we can achieve excellent marks and be recognised as among the best students the world has ever seen.
But this opportunity of meeting Pak Kassim (as we fondly call him) came a week ago through some of our friends. So, my fellow campus mates in Serikat Mahasiswa, a student group based in Penang, and I decided to grab this opportunity to meet the man who is perceived by some as the most idealistic person in Malaysian politics so much so he is sometimes referred to as the Malaysian Che Guevara.
As many of us knew, Pak Kassim had repudiated socialism a long time ago for the path of Islam and has written books about this. But what took us by surprise was his remarkable memory, way beyond what we imagined possible for an 83-year-old. It reminded us that not every person who grows old suffers from memory loss.
He could easily refer to many verses from the Qur’an and the Hadith which he even asked us to write down so that we could check if what he was saying was correct. That’s not all; he recalled precisely many books with the authors’ names which I found impossible to remember.
His discerning demeanour showed that he was listening attentively to all our varied questions. He answered every single one without the slightest hesitation – including those touching on metaphysics, political science, economics, religion, the law, and nature. If you ask me, he could be awarded multiple PhDs due to his deep, wide-ranging intellect.
Although age has swallowed most of his physical strength, his inner spirit and strength are not in the least threatened. He remains determined to fight injustice in society, especially the corruption in the Malaysian administration.
“Justice will never be granted to any of us; it should be demanded”, said Pak Kassim, full of conviction, allowing us a peek into his progressive side.
Pak Kassim appears to be a man of vast knowledge who does not confine himself within any walls. This should serve as an example to everyone, especially university students who believe that memorising everything and regurgitating it during exams to obtain good grades is enough.
Such rote-learning will not help us go far. The conversation with Pak Kassim has further strengthened my belief that the world offers us a breadth of knowledge as wide as an ocean. Much depends on whether we are willing to plunge into it and swim across.
We left his home with a few of his books which had not been banned. He encouraged us to visit him again armed with as many questions as we could muster.
“The struggle must continue and every one of you must fight this modern-day slavery to emancipate the minds of the masses,” were the words of Pak Kassim that rang in our minds.
Barathi Selvam, an undergraduate student majoring in journalism at a local university, is just a normal teenager enraged with the social injustices he sees around him. He hopes to use writing as a medium to advocate for anyone who is discriminated and oppressed and to empower the marginalised.