TENS of thousands have flocked to the Kelantan home of beloved Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) spiritual adviser Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat since last night, when the former Kelantan chief minister passed away at 9.45pm in his home here.
Mourners held a sleepless watch outside the residence even before Friday morning's Islamic last rites at 10am, which were attended by those from both sides of the divide, including Prime Minister Najib Razak and colleagues from the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition alliance, like Selangor Chief Minister Azmin Ali and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
The funeral prayers were held in Pulau Melaka village, outside state capital Kota Baru, at a mosque known popularly as the Tok Guru Nik Aziz mosque.
It is the second major loss for the tripartite pact this week, after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed immediately after the Federal Court on Tuesday upheld a controversial five-year sentence for sodomy.
Both leaders were key proponents of the multiethnic opposition pact, which rose from a token presence to become the first real threat to Barisan Nasional's (BN's) uninterrupted rule since Malaysian independence in 1957.
Anwar's Malay-led Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) was crucial as a buffer to ensure the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) and PAS could work together despite misgivings centring largely on religious issues.
"I am sad over the news of his passing," Anwar said from the Sungai Buloh prison where he is incarcerated following a sodomy conviction, Malaysiakini portal reported. "His loss is like the extinguishing of a star’s shine as he is one of our country’s religious figures," Anwar was quoted as saying in an image posted on PKR's Facebook page.
Deputy president of PKR, Mr Azmin Ali, told The Straits Times: "This is the most crucial time to strengthen Pakatan, and we will miss him."
PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub said the passing of Datuk Nik Aziz after Anwar's imprisonment was "a great loss" to the coalition, especially "given the difficulty of the post-Kajang move", referring to the failed plan for Anwar to assume the Selangor chief minister post - a fiasco leading to an internal squabble that appeared to push PAS to the brink of leaving PR.
"But we have to unite under Pakatan Rakyat as Tok Guru wanted and make sure we are strong in facing the next elections," he told The Straits Times, using the honorific that PAS had conferred on its top religious scholar.
PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang acknowledged the presence of leaders from BN, including several Cabinet ministers, saying "this shows our hearts are as one".
"Because he (Nik Aziz) taught us well, so we pray that we will receive of his great knowledge for all our lives," he said in his eulogy before the body was carried to the burial grounds in the same village.
Mr Nik Aziz was widely respected across all segments of an increasingly polarised Malaysia.
While he was a religious scholar held in awe by the Malay Muslim majority - even by bitter opponents Umno - his inclusive manner was well-received by other races, as opposed to that of the more doctrinal PAS conservatives in the party's top positions.
He governed Kelantan for 23 years, beginning in 1990, but stepped down due to his failing health, despite defending his seat in the 2013 General Election.
He had been undergoing treatment, including chemotherapy, for prostate cancer from at least as far back as 2012, though his inner circle tried to keep his illness a secret.