Safety is our top priority

  • naturalLy
  • Saturday, 23 Sep 2017

We all have a role to play in preventing fires and should know what to do when a fire breaks out. 

MY excitement over leaving for Oxford the past week was marred by two incidents: first, the Parsons Green tube explosion and secondly, closer to home, the fire that ravaged the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz school in Datuk Keramat.

The former alerted me to be more aware of safety when living in Britain with the possible exposure to terror attacks, while the latter just frustrated me to no end with our lackadaisical attitude when it comes to safety.

Last I checked, the Malaysian social media furore has conveniently moved on to beer festivals from the outrage surrounding the tahfiz fire. We are indeed a society with short-term memories, where tragedies and outrage only serve selfish, fleeting purposes of status updates on social media.

While police investigations pointed to an arson attack as the cause of the tahfiz tragedy, the bigger issue of safety seems to be swept under the carpet.

Safety should be paramount, especially if this involves minors, with sustained discourse surrounding the issue to be followed by assertive public pressure on authorities to implement stricter regulations.

There are two prongs to steer the discourse on this issue. First, policy implementation and regulations on fire safety; second, educating the public on fire safety.

Regardless of the possible cause(s) of fire – short circuit, accident or arson – there should be fire drills regularly carried out by building management, in addition to structural safety measures, including multiple exit points in any building, to minimise casualties.

Fire drills are meant to educate people involved on the hows and whats when a fire takes place, with appointed fire marshals (usually these are the most responsible managers, college wardens or the unfortunate building occupant who went for a condominium’s annual general meeting and had to volunteer for this responsibility) trained to administer emergency first aid as well as guide people to safety.

There should be strictly enforced laws that require building managements to abide by safety regulations. Further, buildings that do not pass safety checks should not be given their certificate of fitness and any schools or businesses should have their licences revoked if they operate out of unsafe buildings.

With regard to public education, all of us need to spend a few minutes to learn “what to do” in case of a fire and be aware of the fire exits in any building we frequent.

Call out unsafe practices and fire hazards, whether in our homes, local premises or any buildings or construction in our neighbourhood.

In the few days following the tahfiz fire, netizens were up in arms against those of us who called for stricter regulations for tahfiz schools. It is time for all schools – public, private or tahfiz – to be under the purview of the Education Ministry.

Budgets can be streamlined and diverted into the ministry, if funding is an issue. Further, why not have a curriculum in public schools for those who want to be hafiz?

There should also be rules on the minimum age for admission into boarding schools with schools’ principals and boards of governors held liable should students be found begging or selling knick-knacks on the streets in the name of fundraising for the school. Fundraising is the responsibility of adults and those in management, not students.

I should note that I am writing this column in the safety of a university town, cocooned in a café that held interviews between a sheikh from Lucknow, who is now with the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OCIS), and an American author.

Those interviews made the bulk of the book If the Oceans Were Ink. I am also sitting in a booth next to the fire exit.

The rich discourse in said book highlights the intellectual scholarship exemplified by Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi, presenting Islam as a malleable and spiritually intellectual religion, with Muslims presented as highly responsible individuals.

The fact that conversations on Islam, down to its very tenets, were held in cafés, living rooms, lecture halls and on a bench in the famous Ashmolean Museum just proves the benevolence of the spiritual practice of Islam.

I should note that the sheikh had his religious education in a tahfiz in India. He came from a religious education background similar to the children who perished in the recent fire and is now a Fellow in OCIS.

The children who passed away could have had the same future as Sheikh Mohammad Akram. They could have sat where I am now sitting, having intellectual debates about the Quran and hadiths.

Tragedies should go beyond our fleeting Facebook status updates. May the recent tragedy be a lesson for all of us – the public, policymakers and those in authority – to no longer scapegoat any imminent issues, to prioritise the bigger picture and put forth the necessary efforts for improvement, especially when it involves children and safety.

Children are the responsibility of adults and should not be subjected to unsafe, dire living conditions.

Parents should not feel compelled to send their children to boarding schools with unsafe buildings – whether from force of poverty or the need for divine mercy.

Safety should be and is our utmost priority.

Lyana Khairuddin is a Chevening-Khazanah Scholar pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. The views expressed here are entirely her own.

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Opinion , Lyana Khairuddin , columnist


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