When logic fails and every trail leads to a dead end, some will turn to cultural and traditional beliefs in desperation.
SINCE “Raja Bomoh Sedunia” Ibrahim Mat Zin brought out his “magic carpet” to help in the search for the missing MH370, visuals of the supernatural ritual and its spoofs have gone viral. Do Malaysians still buy into the unexplainable?
Academics say many Malaysians still hold strongly to cultural and traditional beliefs despite living in a digitally driven world.
Since flight MH370 disappeared, shamans, astrologers and mediums have all come forward to offer their services to help in the search – with some predicting that the plane would resurface yesterday.
Meanwhile, a YouTube video where a “Nigerian Pastor” “prophesies” a plane crashing shortly after it took off from an Asian country is also being re-circulated.
A cursory look at the various public holidays for the different faiths in Malaysia and the often highlighted religious-cultural festivals support the impression that a lot of Malaysians are very familiar and comfortable with the prevalence of religious-cultural beliefs and practices, Monash University Sunway Campus School of Arts and Social Sciences senior lecturer Dr Yeoh Seng Guan points out.
He believes that there are various well-meaning individuals and groups out there, though not necessarily of the same religious faith or belief system of the affected families, who are doing what they think is important or meaningful in bringing about a happy resolution to a difficult situation.
“The very nature of social media like Facebook allows for divergent comments, whether one sees it as appropriate or inappropriate.
“The critics are obviously those who don’t believe in the world-view of the shamans (and the like),” he adds.
The presumption that faith and modernity or science cannot co-exist, and that those who are modern cannot be religious or spiritual, is no longer the reality as historical events of the past two or three decades have shown, he states.
Universiti Malaya anthropology and sociology department lecturer Kamal Solhaimi Fadzil agrees.
Describing Malaysian society as one that straddles between modern rationality and traditional values, he says we are a spiritual community.
This is true irrespective of which religion we embrace, he says, noting that people will accept and believe in whatever gets them through a difficult time – and this includes the supernatural.
“For those who believe, nothing is far-fetched. However, their beliefs should not be exploited,” he says.
“Rituals need not be turned into a spectacle because then it becomes a farce or, worse, offensive to the families involved.”
Dr Edward Chan, principal consultant psychologist at the International Psychology Centre, Kuala Lumpur, notes that Malaysians are not unlike many other nationalities who veer towards God or the supernatural to help in times of crisis and to cope and manage their emotional distress.
The baby boomers especially, and their children who are locally educated draw emotional strength from the hope-generating acts of the supernatural practitioners, he feels.
“As there are still many from various religious traditions who share in such beliefs, supernatural reports are widely shared on social media.
“Practices (like the one involving the bomoh) psychologically support those who believe. They find it helpful,” he explains.
Dr Chan recommends that the public develop psychological skills so that they can better accept and deal with difficult situations.
This can be done through psychotherapy, he says.
Conducted by psychologists, these include existential psychotherapy, rational emotion therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
“In the long term, this would be a healthier and more resilient way to deal with an emotional crisis,” he opines.
Instead of relying on acts performed by shamans, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) associate professor Dr Muhammad Azizan Sabjan from the School of Humanities (philosophy and civilisation section) calls on Muslims to “pray sincerely and obediently” to Allah for help to locate the MH370 and bring those on board home safely.
“Apart from searching with top notch gadgets, please pray because His power is might.
“Malaysians still hold strong to their cultural and traditional beliefs but Muslims should not condone ritualistic acts that deviate from Islamic teachings.
“Now the whole world is making fun of us, which is irritating,” he says, referring to various spoofs of self-dubbed “Raja Bomoh Sedunia” Ibrahim Mat Zin’s attempts to find the missing aircraft.
The group first performed their ritual at KL International Airport in Sepang on Monday and returned on Wednesday.
Following reports of the spectacle, creative netizens went to town super-imposing shots of Ibrahim and his assistants sitting on the so-called magic carpet onto photos including one of US President Barack Obama.
A few of Ibrahim’s Indonesian counterparts have also weighed in on the topic, with blogs and websites quoting some as saying that the aircraft had crashed in a realm controlled by supernatural beings or flown through a portal in the sky where it could remain for hundreds of years.
On the Malaysian Bomoh Facebook page, the administrator posted that real shamans do not publicly parade their tricks.
It wrote: “There are Good bomohs and there are Nonsense bomohs. Not all bomohs the same. But unfortunately most of the nonsense bomohs get all the attention in media because everyone likes these kinds of news. People always like to make fun of things they do not understand (sic).”