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LETTER | Syed Husin Ali passed on peacefully on Saturday, June 29 at the age of 87. May Allah shower His blessings upon his soul and place him among the pious in Jannah. Ameen.

His death is a great loss to his family, friends and the nation. He made important contributions in the field of education and politics which have directly impacted thousands of people. He was uncompromising in the fight for justice, freedom and democracy. He had a keen biting sense of humour which did not go well with his opponents.

Syed Husin and I have been involved in the people’s struggle for a progressive Malaysia rooted in social justice since 1967, for over half a century. When I heard he was not well I visited him in early June with my family.

We had more than two hours of animated conversation while his daughter Nur Aini served us drinks and cakes and told us about her father’s condition. We regaled each other with stories of our friends and our struggles. I did not then expect him to leave us so soon.

Syed Husin was an accomplished intellectual and an incorruptible, selfless political leader, a rare quality among politicians in this avaricious materialist world.

He was fortunate to have a loyal supportive wife in Sabariah Abdullah who fought shoulder to shoulder with him and many others for the rights of the poor to land, housing and other basic needs. She passed on just over 10 years ago, leaving a legacy of dedicated service to the people.

Syed Husin was a tenacious fighter who always stood up for the poor and the oppressed. This made the people in power very uncomfortable. He was detained without trial in 1974 under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) for over six years. This included periods when he was put in solitary confinement to break his spirit. Syed Husin, however, was a man of great resilience.

During a six-month isolation when he didn’t even have anything to read and did not know night from day, he wrote a book entirely from memory. When he was transferred to semi-confinement, he wrote down the whole manuscript in 12 days. And thus, the seminal book, “Orang Melayu: Masalah dan Masa Depan”, came to life.

Syed Husin was highly disciplined and spent his hours studying books and keeping up with current world affairs. Sabariah used to visit him with their son Muhammad Ali, who was a little boy then, bringing trunk loads of books and food. The food was always meant to be shared with fellow detainees which, at that time, included our Anwar Ibrahim.

Syed Husin continued his political activism after being released. This time, the issues had shifted from rural poor to urban poor. The “peneroka bandar” or urban pioneers who helped to build our cities were being victimised by the ravenous appetite of developers, constantly colluding with the state to secure cheap land for huge profits.

Whole villages were bulldozed, families evicted and livelihoods destroyed to feed the rapid urbanisation of our cities. It was the protest, agitation and advocacy of people like Syed Husin who limited the government’s capacity to abuse and ensured that the urban poor be given access to alternative housing and public services.

Syed Husin was also a strong supporter of the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) and had contributed papers, especially on the issue of landlessness, in various CAP conferences and meetings.

In 2003, Syed Husin was the president of Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM), when, at a special congress, the members, by an overwhelming majority, decided to merge with Parti Keadilan Nasional to form the new party known as Parti Keadilan Rakyat or PKR.

There was a heated debate and some members were opposed to the merger. Finally, in the long-term interest of strengthening progressive forces and having a platform to achieve PRM’s struggle for social justice, the members decided to proceed with the merger.

After the merger, Syed Husin played an important role in the development and growth of PKR, helping to strengthen its resilience as it faced multiple crises, even as it began to build traction with the Malaysian electorate. I am glad that Syed Husin was able to witness the success of PKR as it finally achieved its goal of winning the trust of the majority of citizens to govern the nation.

May his soul be at peace, and his struggle for social justice continues.

MOHIDEEN ABDUL KADER is president of the Consumers Association of Penang.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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