Respecting the deceased


  • A Humble Submission
  • Monday, 21 Apr 2014

WITH the passing of the late, great Karpal Singh, you get a sense that for many, the nation has indeed lost one of its most illustrious sons. It is one thing seeing it from his friends, political colleagues and constituents, but we also saw genuine sadness and respect from those he opposed. Some of it may just be a public relations exercise, of course, but for many, many others, the words expressed did reflect their honest feelings for the prominent lawyer and politician.

Some notable words that have been said include a testimonial from his comrade-in-arms Lim Kit Siang, a press statement from PAS spiritual adviser and former Kelantan mentri besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, a Twitter testimonial from minister and Kota Belud MP Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan and reactions from former adversaries Tun Ling Liong Sik and Datuk Seri Samy Vellu. The latter even shed tears, a side of him we have not seen in a long time, owing to his larger-than-life, almost caricature-like, public persona.

But amid these kind and honest words, there are some who cannot put politics aside just for a moment to respect the deceased. We have seen the tweet from Zulkifli Noordin linking Karpal’s death with his opposition to hudud.

Even worse, we saw a lawmaker, Langkawi MP Datuk Nawawi Ahmad, posting photos of the accident and gleefully asking on his Facebook page who would want to step over the body of Karpal, a reference to the Bukit Gelugor MP’s famous quote some two decades ago. The lawmaker even used Karpal’s fatal accident to promote Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad, of which he is chairman.

Of course, these two personalities have since tempered their subsequent responses in light of the barrage of condemnations heaped upon them. The lawmaker has even apologised. Well, Karpal’s family may forgive him but we certainly should never forget what he said.

But they are not the only ones. There are many others like them, less prominent, but no less crass and unkind in their response to Karpal’s death. It is one thing if you do not care for the deceased, and no one should be forced to say nice words just because they feel they need to, but to share photos of the bodies and to actually publicly rejoice in his death? That takes a whole new low. Freedom of expression means that one can unfortunately act like a douche.

Then, there are defenders-of-the-faith types, who take it upon themselves to remind believers that non-believers will surely go to hell, so there is no peace in the afterlife for them. As such, the expression “rest in peace” is inappropriate for non-Muslims. This writer confronted one such person, asking the person whether he thought that he was God that he knew for a fact that the deceased would not rest in peace.

But the expression “rest in peace” is not supposed to be taken literally. Even those who do not believe in an afterlife use the expression. Because really, we do not know what happens after we die. There is no empirical, scientific evidence. There is only faith. If you do believe in the afterlife and a creator, then surely you would not be so presumptuous to think that you can judge the dead.

This is not the first time. The writer remembers when Nelson Mandela passed on, the same debate about wishing a non-Muslim “rest in peace” also cropped up.

It is even more frustrating that these things have a religious dimension to them. Or rather, these people use religion to justify what they say. Again, the image of the religion suffers because of the actions of its adherents.

They ignore that oft-narrated hadith of the Prophet standing up for a funeral procession of a Jewish man. When asked why he did so, the Prophet replied, “Was he not a soul too?”

We respect the departed not necessarily because we respected them when they lived, but because the dead cannot defend themselves. We also respect the departed, especially so soon after their departure, because their family and friends are still be in mourning. Thus, we should not add to their sadness and grief, and instead let them mourn their loss.

For all the religiosity permeating in society, for all the moral code we seek to impose and enforce, somehow common sense and courtesy have been lost to some.

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Karpal Singh , death , Malaysia

   

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