The bad in beseeching deities during disasters

JANUARY 2 — When major floods struck the East Coast, a PAS leader said the disaster was a sign of God’s wrath and urged the implementation of hudud law in Kelantan.

Then, in what was reminiscent of people giving burned offerings or doing rain dances to placate angry gods, an Islamic preacher defended an RM200,000 New Year’s Eve event for Muslims and said the amount was needed to appease a wrathful God after the disastrous floods that had forced almost 250,000 people to evacuate.

Mohammad Asraff Ayob said it was useless to spend billions on flood mitigation measures – which the government really should focus on considering the regular occurrence of floods in the country – unless Malaysians fixed the root problem, which was God.

We live in the 21st century.

But instead, we still have such superstitious beliefs governing Malaysian life.

When the ferocity of the floods hit, hashtags like #PrayForPantaiTimur and #PrayForEastCoast emerged.

Similarly, after Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 disappeared Sunday, hashtags #PrayForQZ8501 and #PrayForAirAsia appeared.

There is nothing wrong with prayer. Prayer may be a very calming act at a time when everything seems to fall apart beyond one’s control.

But it is far more crucial to take preventive measures so that such environmental and aviation disasters do not happen again.

Kelantan Deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah said last Friday that disasters were God’s will which could not be stopped by humans and went on to pass the buck to Putrajaya over the floods.

Prayer will not prevent floods from happening again this year or the next if Kelantan insists on prioritising considerations of deity over practical measures.

The same thing goes with missing planes.

The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in March sparked the hashtag #PrayForMH370 and the downing of Flight MH17 in July led to another similar hashtag, #PrayForMH17.

While Flight MH370 is still missing nine months after seemingly vanishing into thin air, at least bodies and wreckage were recovered from Flight QZ8501 in less than three days after the AirAsia plane disappeared.

Three Malaysia-related air disasters happened in just one year, two of which involved passenger planes that went missing.

Instead of just praying over aviation mysteries, we should be pressing the government and global aviation bodies to make it mandatory for airlines to improve their tracking systems despite the cost, so that another plane never goes missing again in the age of smartphones and GPS.

Prayer is a lazy way of coping if it’s not accompanied by concrete action, much like one who only prays for a beggar, but doesn’t offer her food or clothing.

Malaysia, of course, has witnessed a tremendous outpouring of generosity from ordinary people who donated money and worked round-the-clock to help flood victims.

But such a major disaster should not be allowed to happen again.

Saying that we are at the mercy of a capricious god is not a good excuse to hold back from engaging in serious, long-term efforts to fix the environment.

Faith should not lull one into the illusion of a lack of self-control. We may not be able to control the rain, but we have far greater autonomy over other factors than religious figures will have us believe.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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