Is courtesy extinct?

JANUARY 4 — You don’t go around calling people fat. Unsightly. Ugly. 

Even if they are all that.

Neither do you brag about the trip you’ve taken to Europe or the Caribbean because you’ve worked hard and earned it. 

Even if it’s true, and you are indeed the hardest working person on earth.

Nor do you tell those who are mentally ill that they are retarded. Or those who are of different faiths that they will end up in hell. 

You don’t do all that because that is simply rude. Uncouth. No matter your faith, no matter the truth. 

And if you can’t understand that, you are simply not fit to be part of a community.

Lonely in diversity

Recent events suggest that the assumption Malaysians are more respectful, tolerant, and simply more culture savvy given the multiracial composition of our society is no longer true. 

The blame... or credit... I suppose must first go to the politicians whose systemic segregation of our society has resulted in communities that somehow manage to eat, live, learn, play and interact mostly among their own kind.

Workplace. Schools. Universities. In restaurants, eateries. 

I have spoken to Malaysians who have never worked or studied with anyone who is of another race. There are also those who have never had Malay food their entire life—and treated their first rendang with the same amazement as a kid trying out his or her first ice cream.

When the term unity in diversity was first coined, I thought it meant being united across diversity. Certainly not according to it. 

Then there is the influence of religious people in public spheres.

In a progressive society, people offer condolences or comfort to those who have lost someone. Flowers. Cards. Regardless of their beliefs. And if the government too is progressive, the country talks about road safety when there is a road crash. More allocation for research if it’s cancer. Mental health and awareness if it’s a suicide.

Certainly not about whether or not the dead is fit for heaven or hell. Or whether or not Muslims can or cannot have their photos taken in a non-Muslim shop.

Because that’s neither progressive nor reformist. It’s regressive.

And before you draw conclusions, I don’t question the legitimacy of holy books but the people who interpret them, and their ability to then draw conclusions on matters that they can’t possibly fathom.

Because would they know what happens to those who have never heard about the true teachings of Islam? Or those who are repulsed by one which is misrepresented by ill-behaved, ill-informed Muslims?

What about those who are busy eking out a living, fleeing oppression, persecution, famine, war? Do we condemn them to hell just because they are trying hard to make ends meet, than to ponder about religion and after-life?

Then we have those who are mentally handicapped. People who are mentally ill, who hurt themselves, and even kill themselves—without understanding the physical, psychological, what more the spiritual consequences that ensue. 

Do we condemn them too?

Given all that, how can we, as followers of a compassionate religion, who live in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society, be so sure, so confident that God will condemn them for all eternity? God, who is supposed to be merciful, beneficent, benevolent, of a religion that is peaceful, tolerant and beautiful?

If we can’t, how do we then justify our collective opinions and actions as good Muslims?

Manners go beyond what we see

I am stupid for not having all the answers, and certainly am not fit to know who is and who isn’t going to hell.

Mea culpa.

But as a person who has lost colleagues and patients to suicide, let me share with you that their perception of life, desire to live, ability to cope were distorted. 

And because mental illness can’t be visualised through bloody bandages, splints and casts, it is often misdiagnosed, misreported, and underestimated. Together with the social stigma that it carries, mental illness can lead to grave public health concerns affecting the social, economic well-being of societies, communities and the country.

The medical fraternity, for instance found out that 13.6 per cent of medical students exhibited probable signs of major depression with 6.6 per cent of them with suicidal ideation through a study published in the February 2009 issue of Academic Medicine.

Suicide, unsurprisingly is the second most common cause of death after accidents among medical students.

The finding I am sure, isn’t unique to the medical fraternity alone—but could be extrapolated to other professional and demanding professions.

I have grieved the loss of friends, colleagues, and wished their families well. I can’t begin to imagine, nor pretend to understand the pain their family and loved ones go through.

Tormenting them about heaven and hell would be cruel. Inhumane. Something that I do not condone and strongly disagree with, no matter the public opinion.

Because my religion teaches me respect. Manners. Decency and civility. 

Even if society does not.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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