THE name Ustaz Ebit Lew is probably unfamiliar to most non-Muslims in Malaysia but he has become a big name among Muslims.As Malaysians stay home during the movement control order (MCO) period, with most glued to their computers and mobile phones, one of the most followed personalities nowadays is this young religious teacher.
From A-list local celebrities to politicians, they all want to be a part of his story, as his social media platforms chalk up between 400,000 and 600,000 views, within hours, each time he uploads a video.
The 36-year-old has almost attained celebrity status – but the downside to this is that it has given rise to envy and jealousy within the religious preaching fraternity. But many Muslims, from ordinary Malays to big names, have come to the defence of this Chinese Muslim convert and, in one or two cases, those criticising him have had to clarify their comments.
He became a subject of controversy recently following reports that he violated MCO rules by distributing food and aid to the poor, as well as to the police.
Last week, Criminal Investigation Department director Comm Datuk Huzir Mohamed said Lew has always been allowed to carry out charity work to help those affected by the MCO. He said Lew has police permission to carry out his deeds as long as he follows Health Ministry and Social Welfare Department guidelines.
“Many have praised his work but there were others who felt uneasy with him sharing pictures on social media as though he was trying to show off, ” he said.
Comm Huzir was responding to Lew’s decision to stop sending aid directly to those in need after he was called to record his statement by Bukit Aman Special Branch.
Lew also received flak for reportedly failing to practice social distancing while doing his charity work.
The preacher has said he will stop direct charity work from now on and will only bank in financial support.
Ebit Irawan Ibrahim Lew comes from Muadzam Shah in Pahang; he is the third child in a family of 11 other siblings. A Universiti Putra Malaysia graduate, he had his early education in SK Bukit Ridan, SMK Muadzam Shah, SM Teknik Johor Baru and SMK Abdul Rahman Talib.
According to reports, the former Lew Yun Pau embraced Islam at the age of 12 after following the religion closely.
What sets Lew apart from preachers who merely lecture from the pulpit is the fact that he is prepared to reach out to the underprivileged on the streets.
In one video, the bearded ustaz, in kopiah and jubah, is seen talking to drug addicts, calling them abang (brother) and reminding them to pray, and next, in the dark alleys of Kuala Lumpur, he is seen speaking to transgender people. He has rescued homeless single mothers living with their children under bridges in the city.
There is no moralising, he merely reminds people to remember their families and God. He does not squirm uncomfortably as he hugs these people, some of whom are seen breaking down.
He is soft-spoken, unlike preachers who prefer the “thunder and lightning” approach.
In another session, a transgender person speaks about how he misses his mother and has not returned home for many years. Lew consoles him and advises him that his mother will always love him, and he needs to be patient. He assures him that God loves him despite his imperfections, like every human being.
Lew has also gained the media’s attention because he has helped Malaysians regardless of their race and religion, as he has made many visits to senior citizens who live alone.
He has reportedly said that he gets as many as 3,000 names a day asking for help after people heard about his Door To Door Ebit Lew programme on Astro.
Recently, images and videos on his Facebook page showed a family of two grandparents and 10 grandchildren living in extremely horrid conditions in a village in Kedah.
The family was said to be surviving mainly on government aid and donations from the public with none of the children going to school and the patriarch bedridden after suffering a stroke.
Lew managed to persuade the family to move out; it seems that the Kedah Zakat Board had tried but failed to do so for the past 12 years, even after offering them a flat – the family had deemed it too small for them. Lew managed to get them to move into a proper house and the grandparents checked into a hospital.
Such videos, with emotional
narratives and background music and uploaded on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, have caused uneasiness among his peers, who feel that he is seeking publicity and self-glory.
Said trainer and consultant Anas Zubedy: “Ebit Lew preaches with love, understanding and sedekah (charity). He uses his own money, profits from his own business, to help the needy, making him an ustaz with a difference.
“The fact that he is a Chinese convert cuts deeply. Many born Muslims will be inspired to do better.”
But it is said that some religious leaders have said in private that Lew should carry out charity work quietly without filming the people he helps and airing the videos on social media. However, Netizens have posted comments to say these leaders are just plain jealous.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri has since said he wants to meet up with Lew to discuss the issue and how to move forward.
He reportedly said it did not matter if charity was done quietly or openly, depending on the circumstances.
In an emotional post on Facebook on April 27, Lew downplayed the attacks against him, saying it was never his intention to “hurt anyone” and that he is “being tested” and he harbours “no ill feelings” against anyone, adding that he has been “praised, criticised and threatened”.
So where does Lew get his money from? He is open about his life and has even posted a picture of his home. He has said he started off poor but now owns three restaurants (in Bangi, Putrajaya and Shah Alam), a publishing firm, an advertising agency with earnings from motivational courses and talks and TV appearances on Astro and the free-to-air TV Al-Hijrah channel as well as advertisement earnings from his postings on social media platforms.
Lew has said that he has spent “millions of ringgit” to help the poor.
In his latest Facebook posting, Lew said he has 55 full time staff and 40 paid volunteers, adding that besides being a preacher, he has been a businessman for 10 years.
He has put up pictures of his family members, who are not Muslims, during Chinese New Year celebrations complete with lion dance troupes.
Lew uses Bahasa Malaysia and Arabic in his lectures, TV shows and social media postings, as Malays are his target audience – but he looks set to reach beyond them as media in other languages begins to carry reports about this young preacher.