Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has lost its second spiritual leader in less than two years.
Datuk Haron Din, 76, died yesterday in San Francisco, where he was seeking medical treatment for heart problems.
His death is not expected to lead to a tumultuous shake-up for PAS, which last year parted ways with the wider opposition and started to work with the ruling Umno on Islamic issues instead.
He died at 10.10am Malaysian time after falling into a coma about eight hours earlier. Stanford University Hospital, where he was being treated, had placed him on life support. He is survived by his wife Khatijah Din and five children.
Dr Haron had taken on the role of spiritual leader - who heads a council of Muslim scholars that decides on wide-ranging theological matters for the party - after Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat died of cancer in February last year, aged 84.
The death of Mr Nik Aziz - who had been spiritual leader from 1991 and was committed to ousting Umno by cooperating with other opposition parties - allowed PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang to assume full control of the party with the support of Dr Haron, who was then deputy spiritual leader.
The current deputy is Kelantan Menteri Besar Ahmad Yakob, who has supported Datuk Seri Hadi's push for Islamic criminal law, a key pillar of the party's hard turn towards the right.
TRIBUTE TO FRIEND
Personally, my family has lost a much-loved and close friend. Even though we have different political paths, we both have the same desire - Malaysia as a Muslim nation that is prosperous.
PRIME MINISTER NAJIB RAZAK
Datuk Ahmad's expected elevation to spiritual leader would place him in a similar position as Mr Nik Aziz, who led the Kelantan state government for 23 years and was a national religious icon.
But he will not likely use his added influence to swing the party back towards more secular opposition parties, although he may be able to limit Mr Hadi's seemingly unfettered control of PAS.
Dr Haron was widely respected by Muslims in Malaysia and appointed by the Umno-led federal government as chief of the Islamic Consultative Council's missionary unit last year. He was deputy dean of Islamic studies at the National University of Malaysia and sat on the syariah advisory panels of Bank Negara Malaysia, CIMB and the Securities Commission.
Despite their political differences, Prime Minister Najib Razak called Dr Haron a "leader in Islamic scholarship" who was a "much- loved and close friend". PAS colleagues led by Mr Hadi extended their condolences.
Opposition leaders set aside their ongoing feud with PAS, with Democratic Action Party supremo Lim Kit Siang acknowledging Dr Haron as "an important figure in politics and preaching (of Islam)".