Looking past superficiality

By Azra Farzana Shuib        

Mohd Yusof Rohani, for the past 16 years, has diligently taken care of diabetic friend, R. Doraisamy. Doraisamy who lost both his legs and sight, does not only depend on Mohd Yusof for his necessities but also gets showered by this angelic care giver. Their relationship was so heart warming and inspiring that his altruistic act gave him the Star Golden Hearts award.

Learning the fact that Mohd Yusuf has patiently tended to Doraisamy who has lost both his legs to diabetes, I wondered if such bond, looking past your skin colour and beliefs can be profoundly and sincerely cherished in my country. What if, our strength actually lies within the fact that we are strong because of our differences, not because of all the material development, although that played an important part too.

I guess I was lucky enough not to be born yet during the 1969 riot. Following that tragic incident, the New Economic Policy (NEP) has been implemented to eradicate poverty and restructure the society. More importantly, it gives back to the hands of the local people what has been taken by the foreigners. The NEP has somehow reflected the fact that socioeconomic stability is an important factor in promoting racial peace and harmony. True enough, the NEP was not free from any failures but we can’t deny it has helped to build our country big time.

And now in 2016 our country is facing another economic uncertainty. In the midst of this hard situation, we should stand strong, hands in hands together. Above all, we don’t want to write another 1969 riot in history. It’s very tiring. Let’s be better than that and offer more meaningful tales for our grandchildren to read.

However, not everything in history is meant to be regarded as cautionary tale of the things not to be repeated. There used to be a lot of openness in society, as far as my 22-year old self can recall.

I remembered going to a Convent school when I was nine, and my best friend was a Chinese. We were so young, but we respected each other’s ways of life. If we ever fought, being immature at that time, we were smart and sincere enough to look past our cultural backgrounds. There was one day I declined to eat the food she offered because I didn’t know if it was halal. The next day, she brought a cake that she bought somewhere and offered it to me. There was no offence in anything that we did, just understanding. I can still remember that time being in a diverse classroom, our interaction was fun and lively. I was in Convent for less than a year, but I still remember her face vividly.

Then at high school level I went to a religious school. If I ever made a statement that I go to a religious school now, some ignorant fellas might see me as a little Taliban. I know it has only been a few years that I have left school, but with the atrociously increasing racist remarks on social media now, I do feel like my school years were at least ten years ago.

Back in school, Islamic teachings moulded my perspective. No, not in a hostile way. I was taught to love everyone for they are unique individuals, not because they are followers of certain beliefs. I was convinced fully that Islam taught its believers to be respectful towards other human beings, also other creatures. I have never, not even a single day of my life at school back then, been taught to be racist or hateful. Instead, I was wise enough to look at everyone for their souls, not their skin.

Then I went to university, in an era where keyboard warriors enjoy unrestricted freedom in the Internet realm. As my world expands before my eyes, I have no choice but to cope with the abundance of information that I get. Some are provoking, some discriminating, some are annoyingly fabricated and some are just plain dumb.

Remember when recently BBC wrote about the ‘hot dog’ issue in the country? What follows after that incident is insinuations and negative remarks triggered by pulling out the race cards. I guess we were barking up the wrong tree.

But is social media to be blamed fully?

I don’t think so. Social media is just another portal to escape reality. You can say whatever you want in that ‘magical world’ but you’ll be just fine until you start to take everything in there seriously. All of us have a choice to make any world, reality or virtual, a better place. It’s just up to us to make the choice.

Perhaps it starts with us; maybe we should build a bond with someone from other race, like Mohd Yusuf did. Then we’ll realise that we should look at inhabitants of the earth as unique individuals with his or her own goals and desires, not merely as a member of a certain racial group.

We have different physical features, but we can find a common ground. In fact, that may be the only difference that we have against each other. Deep inside, we share the same humanistic values. All we need is just a little more understanding, and a willing heart.

It’s never too late to initiate a bond with people from other cultures that speak different languages than us. After all, love is a universal language. I’ll leave a quote from Harper Lee’s book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” for all of us to reflect on our sense of understanding and sympathy towards others:

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around it.”

In the end, what is superficial does not really matter. ***


Photo credited to The Star

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