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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The failure of the Muslim support system

How many more suicides will it take before the Muslim who needs help is given the emotional support he so desperately needs?
muslim-support-system-malaysia-1Suicide is considered a sin in many religions, and is a crime in Malaysia. Is there a helpline, similar to “The Samaritans” or “The Befrienders”, for Muslims who are contemplating suicide, to seek help and counselling?

If zakat payments are supposed to be used to help Muslims who have fallen on hard times, why were they not used to help people like Mohd Irwan Omar or Mohd Shukri Saad? These young men decided to take their own lives and end their suffering. They may have felt they were a burden to their families, but ironically their very act of suicide may have added to their families’ woes.
Were they not aware of any support systems on which they could depend? Did the systems fail them, because the criteria for obtaining help was complex, or was the network for help, not well publicised?
Overwhelmed by his many problems, 37-year-old Mohd Irwan Omar, waved goodbye to his 15-year-old daughter, then plunged to his death from his fourth floor apartment in Bukit Mertajam. The tragedy happened late on July 16.
Irwan and his wife had seven children, whose ages ranged from 2 to 17, and an eighth, was due to be born, soon.
One of his teenage daughters claimed that her father had difficulty finding the monthly rental of RM250, for his apartment. As an unemployed and uninsured person, with a history of drug-related offences, he also had difficulty paying for their day to day living expenses.
Although it was incorrectly reported that his monthly zakat payment of RM300 had been stopped, the Penang zakat office clarified that Irwan was not a zakat recipient, but his 37-old-wife was. The zakat assistance she received, was in the form of a monthly food aid package.
As the family had recently relocated to Bukit Mertajam, Irwan was no longer in receipt of the Welfare Department’s monthly assistance.
Irwan had reached the end of his tether. Are there many others like him, who are unable to cope and more importantly, cannot talk to anyone for help?
Only last year, in October, a man carefully prepared a farewell note to his family, and put it beside his motorbike, before taking the fatal decision to end his life, by jumping off the Penang bridge.
On the day he committed suicide, 38-year-old Shukri was due in court to face charges for selling around RM360 worth of contraband cigarettes. He was aware that he was likely to face a prison term and hefty fine.
Like Irwan, Shukri had great difficulty in making ends meets. He realised that if he were to go to prison, his family especially his children, would be branded as the offspring of a convict. He wanted to spare them the shame, and gave his reasons for ending his life, in a poignant message to his family.
Shukri alluded to a “director who stole millions, but was freed on bail,” and that he felt oppressed by a cruel government. He explained that he chose suicide because he was unwilling to borrow money from others, so as to avoid going into debt and burdening others with his problems.
In a message, which touched many Malays and Muslims, whom he believed to be in a similar predicament, he implored PAS president, Hadi Awang, not to be tricked by Umno-Baru into tabling the Hudud Bill.
It is a pity that Shukri’s plea for Hadi to return to the opposition fold, to make it a credible force again, has not been heard.
In the meantime, Shukri’s warning about the countless other Muslims and Malays whose lives are blighted by poverty, a spiral of debt, and a seemingly hopeless future, goes unheard.
How many more suicides will it take before the Muslim who needs help, is given the emotional support he so desperately needs?
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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