PETALING JAYA: When lawyer Ahmad Zaharil Muhaiyar (pic) helped a poor mother charged with shoplifting 25 years ago, little did he know that his gesture would one day bring two families of different religious backgrounds together.
It was 1998 and Ahmad Zaharil was a lawyer in his 30s.
One day, he was alone in a courtroom after handling a case when a 50-something Malaysian-Indian woman, who worked as a cleaner, arrived in handcuffs accompanied by the police.
“Seeing her in distress, I felt compelled to approach her to ask how she ended up in court.
“She explained that she had stolen a pencil box from a supermarket.
“The pencil box was meant as a gift for her 10-year-old son, her only child.
“She said that she had promised to get her son a pencil box if he became the top student in class,” Ahmad Zaharil, now 57, recounted.
The boy, who was in Year Four, had passed his exams with flying colours, emerging first in his class.
However, his poor mother had no money with her and so she stole the RM18 pencil box from the supermarket and was caught.
In an interview, Ahmad Zaharil said: “I thought to myself then that if she was jailed for the offence, who would take care of her son? So, I had to intervene.
“After speaking to the magistrate to postpone the case to a later time that day, I went to the boy’s school in Sentul to verify the mother’s claim.
“After speaking to the headmaster, it turned out to be true that the boy was indeed the top student in his class,” said Ahmad Zaharil, who is a father of five.
He said together with the boy’s teacher, he quickly returned to the courtroom where he met the owner of the supermarket.
“I offered the supermarket proprietor double the price of the pencil box and pleaded with him to have mercy on the woman. However, he refused and wanted to proceed with the case,” said Ahmad Zaharil.
He said when the woman’s case came up, he mitigated it on her behalf.
Based on the teacher’s testimony and upon weighing the case, he said the magistrate discharged the mother after binding her over for a year on a good behaviour bond.
“Before she left, we passed the hat around and collected a couple of hundred ringgit contributed by court staff, policemen and me.
“We handed over the money to the woman. She left after expressing her gratitude and I never saw her again,” said Ahmad Zaharil, who specialises in cases related to narcotic crimes.
However, he said the case was always memorable to him throughout his three-decade career.
In 2018, while going about his routine in court, he was approached by a man in his early 30s.
The man told Ahmad Zaharil: “Hello, sir. You may not know me, but I am the son of the cleaner you helped 20 years ago. Remember the pencil box case?
“My mother saw you in the news on TV over a case you had handled and told me who you are.
“I searched for you and am so glad to meet you. I am a practising lawyer now, sir,” said the younger man.
Ahmad Zaharil said his eyes welled up at once and that he was overcome with joy.
Both he and the young lawyer hugged.
“I almost fainted when he told me who he was. It was heart-warming and one of the happiest moments in my life. We proceeded to visit his mother, who is now 76 years old.
“Since then, we have become close. He is like a son to me. We would visit each other during Deepavali and Hari Raya,” Ahmad Zaharil said.
In recounting the fated 1998 encounter with the mother, he said: “I helped because she is a fellow Malaysian. Here in Malaysia, despite our diverse backgrounds, our differences are minute, but we have similarities. We can live in harmony as one big family.”