The day when humanity died, and lived

pic by TMR FILE

FASTING for Muslims in Malaysia starts today. It is going to be different, and the most unconventional, in their lifetime of celebrating Ramadhan.

Missing would be the near ubiquitous Ramadhan bazaars, breaking of fast with kith and kin, attending the tarawih (prayers after the breaking of fast) and the moreh (the light meal after the tarawih).

These practices are build-ups of conventions leading to the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations, all in all, a mishmash of what is wajib (compulsory) and sunnah (prophetic tradition) — giving the month-long affair a wholesome experience.

It has, however, been argued that it is only in the Malay world, ie the Nusantara — comprising Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, south of Thailand and southern Philippines — that such elaborate conventions are carried out during the fasting month.

Regardless, for better or worse, the need to hold Ramadhan in such esteem, would usually bring out the best of humanity or the need to be humane.

After all, the celebration of Ramadhan is about the celebration of humanity, the need for the haves to feel for the have-nots, the struggle to overcome greed and desire, to temper ego and arrogance with humbleness and modesty, while patience is exalted.

Of course, it had been argued that these values were lost in translation when in the overzealousness to hold on to the conventions, some went overboard, leading to wastage during the breaking of fast sessions, apart from the need to hold these sessions at the best and most expensive of buffets and such, leading to potential riak (showing off).

Yet, at this stage in time, all these seem to be a distant memory.

However, it should not make this Ramadhan any less than previous ones. In fact, if the past practices during Ramadhan had been questioned of their virtues vis-a-vis the spirit of the holy month, the restrictions and limitations of current times should put in place the proper values.

Without the conventional fanfare, Ramadhan can only be celebrated modestly and in moderation, a general prerequisite of the fasting month.

In the past, sedekah or alms and contributions for the poor are taken for granted. This time around, given the hardship and sufferings from the economic downturn which afflicts not only the poor and needy, but also newly-created poor and needy, it becomes a serious subject that requires proper collection of contributions and an equally proper strategy of redistribution.

In other words, humanity and being humane is no more confined to being a concept, but a matter of pursuit.

As such, fasting this time around, albeit the departure from conventions and limitations of wants, the values and philosophy behind Ramadhan are actually amplified and impressed upon Muslims.

While Malaysian Muslims brace themselves to the new normal, there is something brewing that does not seem to commensurate with the ideal of Ramadhan past or present.

There seems to be a cumulative anger and hatred building up towards Rohingya refugees.

It was triggered by reports that some Rohingya refugees had defied orders from the authorities and that some had done so aggressively. Then came reports of the authorities thwarting attempts by Rohingya refugees to enter Malaysia by boats.

These then sparked extensive expressions of opinions on the social media — some reflecting on reports of how the Rohingya refugees were ungrateful and had been known to behave uncouthly and arrogantly towards locals and so forth.

Adding to the debate is that Malaysia has never ratified the 1951 International Convention on Refugees and, as such, is not duty bound to extend any help nor support to the Rohingyas, plus under the current climate, the Malaysian authorities should focus on assisting Malaysians and not the Rohingyas.

To justify these demands, some postings on the social media had also “researched” the origin of the Rohingyas, pointing out they were of cruel descent and never did any justice to the Bangladeshis and the Burmese.

Another seemingly popular argument is why can’t the Rohingyas be like the Palestinians — stand their ground and not leave their land. A nastier posting mocked the “Selamat Malam Rohingya (Good night Rohingya)” song which was penned in 2017 in solidarity with the Rohingyas, who were then at the height on their plight and being massacred in Myanmar.

Alas, hate, as pointed out by Euripides, is a bottomless cup.

It is quite amazing how some Malaysians, the Malay Muslims in particular, could have swung from one extreme to another — from being the humanitarian nation that supported a flotilla to extend aid and support to the Rohingyas — to being xenophobic and insular, if not bigoted.

It can of course be argued that the Rohingyas brought it upon themselves for being aggressive and, at times, ungrateful. But surely that does not diminish their plight, their sufferings at the hands of the Myanmar military regime and ignored by the likes of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The murders, persecution and genocidal acts by Yangon against the Rohingyas are not fictitious and merit the attention of the whole world, and Malaysia should not exclude itself.

All Malaysia needs to do is to be firm with errant Rohingyas already within our shores.

Xenophobic and racist tendencies are quite common during a crisis where the citizenry rise against immigrants and refugees in their fear for their own survival. This was evidenced during the Syrian humanitarian crisis when some of other European nations were shabbily treating the refugees at their borders. And it was also at a time when the world over heralded Angela Merkel for her role in accepting the refugees.

Then there was the tragic picture of three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed up on the Turkish shores.

It somewhat helped to restore humanity, if only momentarily.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.