Malaysian Islamic spiritual leader Nik Aziz dies at 84

AP News
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Posted: Feb 13, 2015 12:56 AM
Malaysian Islamic spiritual leader Nik Aziz dies at 84

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, a revered Islamic spiritual leader who helped bolster unity in Malaysia's opposition bloc and was a key advocate of Islamic law, has died. He was 84.

His son Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Aziz said his father, who was battling prostate cancer, died Thursday at his home in northeastern Kelantan state.

"The angels came to escort my father's soul back to his creator at 9:40 p.m. (1340 GMT) on Friday. May my father be happy alongside Allah," Nik Abduh said on Facebook.

Nik Aziz, the spiritual leader of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, helped keep his party in an opposition alliance amid calls from conservative members to leave the bloc.

His death is the second big blow to the opposition this week, with alliance leader Anwar Ibrahim jailed for five years Tuesday for sodomy. Analysts say the incidents increase the risk of a split in the three-party alliance, which has been beset for months by infighting and growing ideological differences.

"The relationship in the opposition alliance is going to be quite challenging as conservative views in PAS could grow louder, further clashing with the bloc's more progressive members. The risk of a split-up has definitely increased," said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, heads of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs think-tank.

The opposition alliance, led by Anwar, won unprecedented gains in 2008 elections and made further inroads in 2013 polls when Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition won with a slimmer majority and lost the popular vote for the first time.

Thousands of people attended a somber funeral Friday in Kelantan for the wiry and bearded Nik Aziz, popularly known as "Tok Guru" or "the teacher."

Born in Kelantan in 1931, Nik Aziz received his early education from his father who was a religious teacher. He studied at Darul Uloom Deoband University in India before taking up Quran studies in Pakistan. He also obtained a degree in Arabic studies as well as a masters of arts in Islamic law from Al-Azhar University in Egypt.

The father of 10 joined PAS in 1967 and served as a federal lawmaker for 19 years. In 1986, he became a Kelantan state legislator and was appointed chief minister in 1990.

Under his 23-year rule, Nik Aziz banned gambling, alcohol, nightclubs, unisex salons and massage places. Supermarkets were required to have separate counters for men and women, and Muslim women were told to wear headscarves but not lipstick. He has also said women attracted social ills by wearing skimpy clothing.

Despite his conservative outlook, his humble lifestyle won him respect. Nik Aziz refused to live in his official residence, instead staying in his green-roofed wooden home next to a mosque. Often dressed in a simple turban and white robe, he gave weekly Friday sermons at the mosque.

Despite his ideological purity, Nik Aziz saw the need to expand the party's support through cooperation with Anwar's alliance.

"Nik Aziz is seen as ... conservative, yet practical. He was an instrumental player in championing PAS' move from a small Islamic party into a national force," said Ibrahim Suffian, analyst from the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research.

Nik Aziz resigned in 2013 after the general elections due to poor health. PAS still rules Kelantan, which is the poorest state in the country.