However, I started writing this column on Good Friday, a day of solemn observance for Christians, so I told myself it would be best to highlight good tidings and the great sense of humanity that people are displaying. But then I was derailed by the promotion of a TikTok competition by a minister with an important portfolio. Not only is the timing wrong, it was insensitive and silly. Datuk Dr Noraini Ahmad is in charge of the Higher Education Ministry which needs some serious attention of another kind right now.
OK, OK, I know, I digressed.
Today is Easter, a meaningful day for Christians. So let’s rejoice in the good that is happening during a time when humanity needs help. Probably the most heartwarming story last week is the video clip of a policeman rescuing a stray puppy trapped in a monsoon drain. This minute-long video made its rounds on social media where it garnered over 114,000 views and almost 9,000 shares within three hours. The policeman was later identified as Corporal Mohd Azad (“Pup-saving hero cop’s identity revealed”, The Star, April 9; online at bit.ly/star_pup).
In the video, Corporal Azad is seen inside the monsoon drain, gently patting the puppy on its head before lifting it out and placing it on the ground where it is reunited with its parents, who are seen wagging their tails in apparent gratitude. What probably touched most people is that Corporal Azad is Muslim and the video was uploaded on Facebook by another Muslim. This is indeed most enlightening, as Muslims are traditionally discouraged from touching dogs and have to carry out a cleansing ritual if they do come into contact with one.
Despite this, Corporal Azad went beyond the call of duty to save a dog, which is one of God’s creations after all. Drawing a parallel, Covid-19 victims come from all backgrounds and they are treated by frontliners from the various races and religions in Malaysia.
Across the Causeway where a lockdown similar to Malaysia’s movement control order is in place, a letter from the mufti of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore to his Christian counterpart touched not only Singaporeans but many Malaysians too.
Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir explained how he empathises with Christians who are not able to enjoy traditional Easter celebrations of this year because of the lockdown. He also says that just as Christianity preaches, Muslims too are taught to always wish peace unto others.
He added: “The current Covid-19 outbreak underscores the importance of renewing our hope and digging deep within our faith and traditions for optimism amidst a bleak and gloomy global situation.”
In response, the National Council of Churches in Singapore told the mufti that they were deeply touched and truly appreciative of his sincere wishes, sending him similar wishes for the coming Ramadan.
“Like you, we are convinced of the resilience of the Muslim community in the midst of these challenges. We thank you for your friendship and are confident that this crisis will bring us closer together as fellow Singaporeans united in one country,” said Bishop Terry Kee, council president.
I don’t know about you but to me, this exchange was exhilarating and stirring indeed. I inquired and was told that there has never been such exchange known between leaders of different faiths in Singapore in the past. And coming at a time when some have turned Covid-19 into a religious issue, especially on social media, these words must have reached the apex of many a heart.
Obviously, it’s the hardship and challenges of a pandemic that prompted this exchange, proving that the citizens there have chosen to rise above all differences and unite at a time when it is most needed.
In Petaling Jaya, the action of a local mosque in Sunway handing out dry rations to Malaysians of all faiths touched many Netizens. Masjid Al-Islamiah spokesperson Muhammad Hafis Asib said at least 40% of the residents in the locality are non-Muslims.
“We welcome their presence because in Islam, Muslims must help all those in need irrespective of their religious background,” he said. It was heartening to read the positive comments about this act from readers of all races and religions.
In addition to this, many religious groups, individuals and NGOs out there are collecting donations. Some bank in cash to those in need while others send volunteers to supply basic needs to families in distress, irrespective of ethnicity or religion. The nicest thing that these down-to- earth groups and individuals have done is not putting logos of their organisations and political parties or their faces on the packages.
I have also heard of many landlords who have either reduced rents or waived them entirely for a couple of months. In some cases, this offer was made to tenants from different races or religions. This is like a breath of fresh air in a nation that is stifled by race and religious issues so much of the time.
We are in uncharted waters right now, trying to handle severe turbulence. The full impact of this Covid-19 crisis will only be felt in the months ahead and the repercussions are expected to last for some time.
Based on a psychological analysis, we are in the second stage of the crisis, which is a learning zone, after the initial fear zone.
Many have taken pay cuts or have gone on unpaid leave, some are starting to lose their jobs, and most sadly, daily wage earners and migrant workers have lost every-thing overnight. Frankly, the reality is that this is going to worsen over the next couple of months.
This may result in acute stress in most of our lives. But studies have shown that these kinds of situations may help remind us of a fundamental truth: our common humanity. Our vulnerability may be frightening but past crises have shown that tough times can also inspire kindness, unity and an ability to transcend all barriers to stand together and support each other.
This will be the third phase, the growth zone. It will be an opportunity to experience the most beautiful aspects of life: social connection and love. This cannot be plucked out of thin air but requires the sincere sacrifice of all – the government, employers and the rakyat. You take one out of the equation and we will all be doomed.
Decades of research have shown that social connection is a fundamental human need linked to both psychological and physical health including a faster recovery from disease and even longevity. Take war for example. It is one of the greatest stresses anyone could ever endure but from some of the stories we hear, it also often leads to deep friendships and incredible acts of heroism and sacrifice. Many veterans often speak of the tight bond that grows between soldiers on the battlefield.
These are extraordinary times; it is not a normal economic downturn that has merely slowed down business. Businesses are shut for now and there is absolutely no revenue for many. This is a different kind of war situation. During this stressful moment, let’s share the moving accounts of Malaysians breaking out of our usual racial and bigoted mind-sets to go out of our way to help others.
This is surely not the time to engage in bigoted arguments on whether it was right of the government not to allow breweries to operate for export, which only led to a social media debate on whose religion is greater. The government’s initial decision may have been based on the need to collect taxes to run the nation, something that has been done since Independence.
God bless Malaysia!
K. Parkaran was a deputy editor at The Star and producer at Aljazeera TV. The views expressed here are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sunday Star.