Malaysiakini News

Any accountability for religious institutions?

Zaid Ibrahim  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | In London, everyone is looking forward to an upcoming public inquiry, to be headed by a High Court judge, into the cause of the fire that killed more than 88 residents of Grenfell Tower a few months ago.

The residents are already talking about instituting additional preventive measures, such as making it mandatory for water sprinklers to be installed even in buildings that were built before 2006.

They want to make sure, as far as possible, that such a devastating fire will not happen again, or that even if a fire breaks out then the death toll can be kept to a minimum.

What a huge difference in attitude we see here in the wake of the fire at a tahfiz school that recently claimed the lives of 23 victims.

In the beginning, all we heard was talk of how it was God's will, and of how the students died as martyrs in the service of Allah. They want us to console ourselves and move on.

Even a cabinet minister was talking rubbish from the start when he cautioned authorities not to blame the school operator, as they had suffered enough!

There have been numerous fires, fatalities and strange accidents in religious schools over the years, but the only results we have seen are some recommendations from the authorities.

No accountability

Everything was forgotten soon after that. No one ever takes responsibility and no one ever needs to be held accountable.

There has never been any pressing demand for accountability, even though what we have seen time and again is the same reckless negligence and disregard for the lives of our children.

Instead, the attitude is that since everything happens according to God's will, why should we need to put too much blame or accountability on anyone?

I do not consider this attitude to reflect religious belief or understanding, but a deep-seated callousness towards the welfare of others. It’s a mark of a very self-centered and selfish community.

Why is this attitude so prevalent in our country? We are a product of what we are taught every day. If life lessons are being taught by the usual group of religious teachers, then they will teach you about fatalism, and about how all things have already been decided upon. It's about how things are preordained and destined to happen, regardless of what we do.

They just teach you to fear God. Every word about God is a reminder to follow His commands or you will go to hell.

That's why when a tragedy happens, there is no urgency to look for worldly causes. There is no pressing need to find out who was responsible for building a school without proper fire safety measures.

Even death is no big deal – we are just meant to comfort one other by saying that the children will go to Heaven.

Look East

If we want our people to grow up and have the right attitude about responsibility and accountability so they can help preserve the well-being of the community, we should discard such cult teachings.

We should instead emulate what the Japanese teach their young. Only when our people are properly educated and instilled with the right values can we see a change of attitude towards responsibility and accountability.

Japanese schoolchildren are taught that the most important lesson in life is the utmost consideration they need to give to others. Every day in school, they have to clean the toilets and sweep their classrooms themselves.

The Japanese know they have limited space and resources, so it becomes a necessity for the people to care for one another, to be considerate, to be respectful, to queue in line patiently, to excel in what they do.

They provide security to one another and demand utmost accountability from their leaders. In other words, they always look for ways to optimise the resources they have to make their community and country better.

If such a fire had happened in Japan, the first reaction of the people would probably have been to demand that the minister responsible be sacked. They would ask local councils to be revamped. They would probably demand that certain local council officials be dismissed too. They would demand that local council elections be held to elect the most responsible officers and administrators.

They would ask for the cause of the fire to be ascertained and impose new measures and new laws to be put in place. They cannot afford to have more senseless and preventable tragedies as they need all their students to grow up and serve the country. They values lives. They take care of one another.

What do we do?

We have a completely different approach to the whole matter. Soon the prime minister will start giving some money to the affected families, and to the school operator to start a new school.

We will talk about new measures to be implemented, but the local authorities will not actually implement them because there's really no one to make sure that they will do so.

We will not want local elections to be held to make local councils better, because that would mean DAP (read: Chinese) will take over all our towns and cities.

We will not punish the religious teachers or the school operator because they are doing the work of God, so how can they be punished for neglecting worldly matters like fire safety?

So you see, this country of ours is really suffering from some kind of psychosis. We are poor but we believe we are rich. That’s why we want to save the American economy. We have countless problems in our daily lives but the people are more interested in superficial religious matters and protecting religious institutions from scrutiny and supervision.

Our people have little interest in properly regulating this community to make this life better because we can always resort to public prayers if we have serious tragedy along the way.

In other words, I don't see much prospect for change, unless we can have a new government in power in the next few months. It's time you play your part!


ZAID IBRAHIM is a former law minister and Umno politician. He is presently a member of DAP.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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