Rising PAS stars with pedigree

Mr Nik Abduh (above) is a son of PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat, while Mr Zaharudin is the son-in-law of PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang.

MALAYSIA - Both men studied at Egypt's famed Al-Azhar University and, like an increasing number of Muslim clerics in Malaysia, are regular Facebook users.

But what makes them stand out from the other clerics is their political pedigree: Mr Zaharudin Muhammad is the son-in-law of opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) president Abdul Hadi Awang, while Mr Nik Abduh Nik Aziz is a son of PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

The two rising stars in PAS now join the pool of next-generation leaders with blood ties or who are closely related by marriage to prominent political names, including Ms Nurul Izzah Anwar, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and Mr Khairy Jamaluddin.

"Son-in-law" until now is often used to refer to Mr Khairy, the Youth and Sports Minister, who married the daughter of former prime minister Abdullah Badawi.

Now, there is Mr Zaharudin, 38, who is widely respected for his Islamic knowledge and is the youngest member of the consultative ulama council, a prestigious body of PAS grey beards led by Datuk Nik Aziz.

Asked about his role in the party, Mr Zaharudin told The Straits Times in a phone interview: "My colleagues and I want to have better engagement with the people on current affairs as we need to explain things better."

This is a change from clerics' tendency to talk down to people.

As for Mr Nik Abduh, 43, he famously defeated Mr Ibrahim Ali, who heads the Malay rights group Perkasa, in the May general election. He is deputy chief of PAS Youth.

Both men are rather media-shy. Instead, they use Facebook to log their regular appearances at forums held in mosques and public halls around the country, reflecting their status as clerics whose views and opinions are sought after by the 800,000-strong party.

Together with youth wing chief Nasruddin Hassan, 42, they are said to be leading a campaign to discredit the so-called Anwarinas, referring to PAS leaders who support opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim rather than PAS president Abdul Hadi to become prime minister should their Pakatan Rakyat alliance take federal power.

Ahead of PAS' biennial elections next month, tensions are already evident in the social media and SMS messages between the conservative clerics and the Anwarinas, who comprise mainly professionals such as doctors, bankers and engineers.

Mr Salahuddin Ayub, a so-called Anwarina, said that having led the youth wing for three terms, he could understand these "angry young men" who want their voices heard.

"We need to appreciate our differences as the party allows us the space for this. The good thing is, tensions rise between the ulama and the professionals at every election, but we have never broken up," Mr Salahuddin, now one of PAS' three vice-presidents, told The Straits Times.

PAS clerics tabled a resolution at its annual convention two weeks ago asking the party to review its political cooperation with Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) as the relationship has weakened the Islamic party.

Some see this as a hint that PAS might want to leave the opposition alliance.

A top PKR leader, who did not wish to be identified, is concerned about what is happening in PAS.

"We see big problems coming from our friends," he said.


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