10 things about: Syed Azmi, the passionate do-gooder

Picture by Choo Choy May
Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 16 — Syed Azmi Alhabshi is best known, for now anyway, as the man who organised the “I Want To Touch A Dog” event.

He has received death threats and been called an apostate just for organising an event where Muslims could overcome their fear of touching dogs.

Although the backlash from Muslim clerics and right wingers has been severe, there were also a lot of positives as a result of the event: Many Muslims proudly posted Facebook pictures of themselves petting dogs at the event.

They said they went because they wanted to learn more. To understand.

The quirky pharmacist, who will only give his age as somewhere in the 30s, was in high spirits though when he arrived for an interview with Malay Mail Online.

He gushed about the chow chow dogs that were at his October 19 event held at the Central Park in Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, saying that the fuzzy canines looked like bears, or lions, like Simba from Disney’s The Lion King.

While Syed Azmi is best known for his dog-petting event, he has done community projects involving other groups like the homeless, the blind and the deaf, old folks’ homes, refugees, cancer patients and abandoned babies.

Among his projects in the Klang Valley are Free Market and Suspended Meals. Free Market, a cheeky twist of the flea market term, is where one gives out items for free and recipients are merely required to say a polite please and thank you.

Breadmakers and even TVs and Playstations have been given away at Free Markets, Syed Azmi said.

Suspended Meals is a project where one can buy two of the same item on a menu, one of which will be “suspended.” A restaurant patron who forgets to bring her wallet or who is simply in need, like single mothers, can consume anything on the

Suspended Meals that have featured food like scones and even sirloin steaks, he explained.

Here, Syed Azmi talks about dogs, his identity as a Muslim and his passion in doing good deeds.

In his own words:

  • I’m a Muslim first, Malay second.
  • Dogs are one of the most amazing creatures… I do feel the connection, even though I’m not a dog-owner. You do know that they have a sense of loyalty. You can feel it.
  • I’m no longer afraid of well-bred dogs, but when I see stray dogs, the feeling’s a bit different. Last time I’m probably be afraid of them and shoo them away, but now I actually look at them in a sad way, sad in the sense of “I wish I could help you more, but you’re tougher than you look.” I guess that kind of feeling calms me down, and the dogs do not disturb you that much.
  • How can people be so mean? How can they be that mean? It’s something that you just don’t understand — the hatred, even though you do not know that person at all. If they use it in the name of religion, that’s even weirder because you know no religion on earth would have such ethics.
  • We do not have the concept of most people, who say you “orang mana.” We don’t have that question in my house. When you go out, they ask “you orang mana?” and you say Malaysia, but when you come here, you say Kedah or Kelantan or Melaka. I don’t like that. Why do you segregate yourself? And then you talk about vernacular schools. So normally I’ll say I’m Malaysian... I guess Malaysians actually segregate themselves.
  • If you’re kind to others, you’ll get it back — ten-fold actually.
  • You don’t know one day you might be homeless. If you help others, you never know… What happened to me with the dog event —  if I hadn’t done any of those other projects, do you think I could survive? No, it’s because of all the other projects that make me seem like a hero. I never thought of using these projects… it was brought up by other people but those things saved me in my dog event.
  • My passion has always been for the old folks because it’s not publicised enough. There’s no story, there’s no “kesian” because they’re old folks. When you’re talking about old folks, it’s probably even my parents. It’s not that they’re left alone; they’re not abandoned, but old folks that you think are redundant because their ideas are just old, old folks you think that they cannot be themselves again. So I always try to find a way to show that they’re still an important part of society. We’ll be having a project called Ceritalah Lagi, Karim Raslan kind of topic. We’re calling them to do a storytelling session for the public — talk about what five cents meant to you last time.
  • Transparency, humbleness and humility… it will never go out of style. It’s actually more classy than having a Chanel bag.
  • I’ll be a bit more sensitive, but will I stop? No, I’ll still be me. I’ll still go on with projects that I believe in. You wouldn’t get below par Syed Azmi projects.