From Hannah Yeoh
I lost a defender. I don’t know where and how to start writing a fitting tribute for a big man. He was on a mission.
His Rahmah programme was a hit from day one. He wanted it to eventually become a value system. That people in business would share and help those in need.
He wanted no one to go hungry in this land. He worked tirelessly until he became unconscious. Condolences to his wife, Fatimah Taha, and their children.
I have so many good things to say about this precious friend of mine, Salahuddin Ayub.
I first met him when he was in PAS and we were in (the now defunct) Pakatan Rakyat (PR) together. He served in Johor while I was in Selangor and so we had very little exchanges until later on.
When my book “Becoming Hannah” was used as a political attack against me, Salahuddin defended me. I have always been used as a scare tactic by some to frighten Muslims because I am a DAP politician of Christian faith.
For Salahuddin to not employ the same fear tactic like some would, or to shun away, but instead draw closer as a friend, truly earned him a very special place in my heart. I told him multiple times that I would never forget the kindness he showed to me.
Once, in Parliament, a former minister made a cheap shot remark while replying to my debate and Salahuddin defended me in his speech. In politics, it is a precious thing to find a fellow MP going on record to speak on your behalf. The Hansard will be proof of our friendship.
After Pakatan Harapan (PH) made it to Putrajaya in 2018, we saw more of each other regularly.
Back then he was busy championing the rights of fishermen and farmers (as agriculture minister), but our friendship was strengthened after the Sheraton Move.
He was in the PH presidential council, I was not. In multiple episodes about a change of government, he would often ask me for my views. Many times I would share my frustrations by calling him too.
That was the kind of leader he was. Always taking time to listen.
Malaysian politics saw parties moving in and out of coalitions but Salahuddin and I kept our close friendship with Azis Jamman of Warisan. We would always try to match our schedule for a simple gathering every time Azis was in KL.
When Azis lost his seat in the last general election (GE15), we both made time to encourage him. Such cross-party friendships are not common.
Source of comfort
On the night Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced his Cabinet line-up, Salahuddin messaged me late at night to ask if I was happy. I replied “Takut” (I’m scared).
It was a daunting new experience to be made a minister but he was a source of comfort, especially when finding him at the same table for our weekly Cabinet meetings.
Whether it was breakfast or lunch at Cabinet meetings, most times, Salahuddin would sit next to me and jokingly compare the number of times I received more airtime on the news than him. He would return home late after events and send me photos of my press conferences on midnight TV news to prove his point.
After news of his sudden demise yesterday, many friends messaged me to look after my health. Ironically, Salahuddin would never miss his annual medical check-up and he would lecture me for not doing mine.
Salahuddin was a hard worker. He took pride in his Rahmah initiatives and wasted no time in making sure its implementation was effective nationwide. He wanted our return to Putrajaya to be lasting this time around and he wanted this unity government to be successful.
Malaysians, I want you to know he did not shortchange you every day that he was in Putrajaya. He worked hard till his last working day on Friday.
I have not come to terms with his sudden death. I keep returning to our Whatsapp messages to remember our exchanges. I don’t know how I am going to react to seeing his empty chair at the Cabinet meeting this week.
I could go on and on writing this tribute but words would not bring him back. My husband held me as I returned home crying after my last event. He knows this is one loss too great for me to process.
In a nation where race and religion become political tools for some politicians to divide voters, I am forever grateful to God for giving me a friend like Salahuddin.
Malaysians, it is absolutely possible to find genuine and life-changing friendships with someone beyond your race, religion, political affiliation, and even beyond your generation.
Through Salahuddin’s life, I experienced the kindness and provision of God. Salahuddin understood my love and my faith in the Almighty. God provided me with such a friend.
I cannot say rest now, my friend. I have yet to let go. I cannot.
Hannah Yeoh is the youth and sports minister and Segambut MP.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.