Nik Abdul Aziz was born in Kota Bharu in 1931 as the second of five siblings. He was raised by a single father (Tok Kura) who was an aspiring blacksmith. Nik Aziz's Islamic studies began in pondok schools in Kelantan and Terengganu. He went on to study at Darul Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, India for five years. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Arabic Studies and Master of Arts in Islamic jurisprudence from Al-Azhar University, Egypt. During his university studies, he was one of the witnesses and a civilian to have lived in the heat of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
Having returned from Egypt, Nik Aziz began as a teacher at various religious schools in Kelantan, hence his popular nickname "Tok Guru."
Nik Aziz joined PAS in 1967. He contested and won the Kelantan Hilir parliamentary seat by-election in that same year, and held the seat (later renamed Pengkalan Chepa) until 1986. In 1982, he was part of a movement by young members to bring change to the party leadership. PAS had lost the Kelantan state elections in 1978 and, as PAS state commissioner, Nik Aziz began to question president Asri Muda's leadership. Finally, in the PAS Muktamar (General Assembly) that year, Asri was forced to resign.
After stepping aside from federal politics, Nik Aziz won a seat in the Kelantan State Assembly in the 1986 general elections. In 1990, PAS managed to wrest control of Kelantan back from Barisan Nasional. In his capacity as party leader in the state, Nik Aziz became Menteri Besar of Kelantan. He succeeded Yusof Rawa as spiritual leader of PAS in 1991.
Nik Aziz's government was re-elected on four occasions (1995, 1999, 2004, 2008), until his retirement in 2013. During the 1990s, his administration in Kelantan frequently clashed on the role of Islam in Malaysia with the then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. In contrast with the racially exclusive ruling party UMNO, he openly rejected communal politics.
Nik Aziz commanded support from a large number of non-Muslims in Malaysia and played a leading role during PAS' increase in popularity among non-Muslims.
Nik Aziz drew some criticism for his hardline Islamic views. His advocacy of Islamic shariah law for all Malay Muslims drew criticism, as did his suggestion that women would be at a lower risk of being raped if they abandoned using their lipstick and perfume, and for a 15-year ban on the game of snooker. He was also recorded once stating that fashionable and sexy-dressing women deserved to be raped during a ceramah.
In 2012, there was an issue of Catholics in Malaysia using the Arabic term for "God"; "Allah" in their Christian Bible. Initially, Nik Aziz stated that the word "Allah" can be used by non-Muslims as the origin of the word itself is evidently pre-Islamic. The issue caused a stir in the Muslim community. The PAS party was almost divided into two blocs; one that supported the use of the word, and one that did not. Aiming to restore unity in PAS, Nik Aziz took back his words and disapproved of the word "Allah" being used by non-Muslims.
His son Nik Adli was held under the Malaysian Internal Security Act in 2001 for alleged terrorist activities including planning jihad, possession of weapons, and membership in the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM), an Islamist extremist group. After 5 years in detention without trial, he was released.
Nik Aziz retired as Chief Minister of Kelantan at the 2013 election. PAS was re-elected and Nik Aziz's deputy, Ahmad Yaakob, took his place. Over the ensuing two years, Nik Aziz became increasingly ill with prostate cancer, and died on 12 February 2015(2015-02-12) (aged 84) at 9.40 p.m. Malaysia Standard Time (UTC+08:00); at his residence in Kampung Pulau Melaka, Kota Bharu. The following day, more than 10,000 people attended his funeral at Masjid Tok Guru, his local mosque. His death triggered the Kelantan State Assembly seat of Chempaka by-election, 2015.
Note: 1 PAS were in the Alliance (1972–1973) and later Barisan Nasional (1973–1978) coalition government.