The death of Kassim comes at a time when conservative religious ideas are rearing their ugly heads

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By P Ramasamy

As mortals we accept the inevitability of death. However, it is difficult to accept the deaths of those who have made immerse contributions to society.

The death of Kassim Ahmad, one of Malaysia’s, foremost intellectuals at Kulim Hospital is something tragic.

Kassim was 82 years old when he died apparently of lung infection.

The last few years were one of the difficult period for Kassim. He was persecuted by religious authorities for allegedly insulting Islam. Even though the shariah high court cleared his name, he paid the price with his life.

I sincerely hope, actions can be taken against those religious personnel for making Kassim’s life extremely miserable in the last few years.

I am not sure what they had against him and why they went after him without any mercy or compassion.

Kassim was no ordinary person. He had a sound education in Malay studies in University Malaya of Singapore, and later at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), University of Oxford.

He become lecturer at SOAS for four years before he returned to Malaysia.

He could have accepted a permanent post in UK, but knowing Kassim, he wanted to be in Malaysia, to do what was right.

Kassim spent some time as the head of Malaysian Socialist party before he resigned. Knowing very well the pernicious nature of ethnicity, he joined Umno to bring about changes within.

However, Umno proved too impervious to change from within or without.

Disgusted, he left Umno to pursue other scholarly and intellectual activities, to counter conservative mainstream thoughts.

In the 80s, he wrote a book on the hadith, intending to engage the Muslim conservative class for a debate on why there was a need for Muslims to return to Quran.

But unfortunately, he was not well received by the conservative class. He was accused of using Islam to advance his socialist ideas.

Kassim wrote many books on subjects like Malay literature, Islam and social change. He was influenced by ideas from progressive religious and non-religious scholars.

He is also well known for his iconoclastic views on Malay leadership. He was the first to go against the notion that Hang Tuah was an ideal Malay leader. He felt that Hang Jebat would be a better role model.

The death of Kassim comes at a time when conservative religious ideas are rearing their ugly heads. We wish Kassim is around to defy and confront the reactionary forces, but unfortunately he is gone.

Kassim might not be around with us, but I am sure his ideas will remain relevant for Malaysians wanting a progressive society.

He might not have brought a major political change, but his ideas about society, religion and democracy are important for Malaysians to navigate the rough waters of conservatism and reactionary politics.

Prof. P Ramasamy is Penang Deputy Chief Minister 2

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