Kassim Ahmad

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Kassim Ahmad (9 September 1933 – 10 October 2017)[1] was a Malaysian intellectual, writer, poet and an educator. He was also a politician in the early days of Malaya and later Malaysia.

Early life[edit]

Kassim was born in Bukit Pinang, Kota Setar in the northern Malaysian state of Kedah in 1933. His parents were Ahmad Ishaq and Ummi Kalthom Ahmad. One of them originated from Pattani, Thailand. Kassim's grandfather was a farmer and a religious teacher who lived in Perai, Penang. In 1960, Kassim married Sharifah Fauziah binti Yussof Alsaggof.[2]


He attended a Malay primary school in Bandar Baharu before attending Sultan Abdul Hamid College for his secondary education. He later went to Singapore to enrol at the University of Malaya in the 1950s.

In Singapore, he completed his dissertation that challenged the popular status of Hang Tuah as a Malay hero. Hang Tuah is a Malay legendary warrior mentioned extensively in The Malay Annals and Hikayat Hang Tuah. Kassim instead argued that Hang Tuah's antagonist Hang Jebat was the hero. In Malay legends, Hang Tuah fought and killed his sworn brother Hang Jebat who rose up against an unjust sultan. The former is celebrated for his loyalty to the sultan, despite suffering injustice from the courts.

He was preparing for his doctorate degree in political science in 1976 when the government detained him without trial for five years.[3]


Upon graduation from the university, he worked as a researcher at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Institute of Language and Literature) in Kuala Lumpur where he specialised in Hang Tuah literature. Soon after, he moved to London to lecture on Malay language at the School of Oriental and African Studies for four years.[4] Due to his deep interest in Malayan politics, he refused to take up a permanent position at SOAS and decided to return home. Upon his return to Malaya, he taught at a school in Penang. His service as a teacher was terminated after he was found distributing socialist pamphlets to his students.[5]

Activism and political participation[edit]

Kassim was an active member of the University Socialist Club in the 1950s, a left-wing student body in Malaya and Singapore. He was also a member of Parti Rakyat Malaysia when Ahmad Boestamam was the president.

He later went on to lead the political body together with Syed Hussin Ali from 1965 until 1980 before joining the ruling United Malay National Organisation. He was arrested under the Internal Security Act for 5 years beginning 1976 for allegedly supporting socialist-communist movement in Malaysia. Syed Hussin himself was arrested two years earlier for the same charge.

Kassim was later released on 30 July 1981 after Mahathir Mohamad became the prime minister. Mahathir first met Kassim at the University of Malaya, and had written forewords for Kassim's books.

Islam and Quranism[edit]

In 1984, he wrote Hadis: Satu Penilaian Semula, a book questioning the role of hadith in Islam, and ignited a debate on Quranism in Malaysia.[2][6][7]. The book was banned by the Home Ministry in 1986.

He died in Kulim, Kedah, on October 10, 2017.


This is a partial list of his work:

  • Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah (1966)
  • Kemarau di Lembah (1967)
  • Perwatakan dalam Hikayat Hang Tuah (1973)
  • Pengembara Dalam Perjalanan (1978)
  • Universiti Kedua (1983)
  • Hadis: Satu Penilaian Semula (1984)
  • Hadis: Jawapan Kepada Pengkritik (1992)
  • Quo Vadis Bangsaku?
  • Polemik Sastera Islam
  • Mencari Jalan Pulang Daripada Sosialisme Kepada Islam
  • Jalan Ke Parlimen
  • Hikayat Hang Tuah
  • Lamumba Mati[8]


  • Doctorate of Letters, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (1985)
  • Anugerah GAPENA (1987)
  • Anugerah Zaaba (2016)


  1. ^ "Kassim Ahmad passes away". 10 October 2017. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b (in Indonesian) Aviv Alfiyyah dan Dewi Khodijah, “Kassim Ahmad: Tokoh Mungkir Sunnah Melayu,” dalam Yang Membela dan Yang Menggugat, ed. Muammar Zayn Qadafy (Yogyakarta: Interpena, 2011), hal. 183.
  3. ^ "Free Ahmad". 27 September 1979. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  4. ^ "Free Ahmad". 27 September 1979. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  5. ^ "Malay intellectual Kassim Ahmad dies". 10 October 2017. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  6. ^ (in Indonesian) Abdul Majid Khon Pemikiran Modern dalam Sunnah, (Jakarta: Kencana, 2011), hal. 110-111.
  7. ^ "JAWI's detention, arrest of Kassim Ahmad was illegal, court rules". 21 December 2015. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  8. ^ Nada sinis puisi era 60-an