Covid-19 and religious obstinacy - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Monday, March 16, 2020
Fairplay : Here is my take. Perhaps future wars would be fought on biological methods which could be far cheaper and more deadly - by using lab-manufactured bacteria or virus to annihiliate massive population or communities of population.
The most vunerable would be those communities that believe their religious faith and practices would protect them from harm might be the most likely candidates to become extinct by obiliteration.
Malaysiakini : "Give your cooperation, think of the other Muslims and
non-Muslims. Do not go to mosques until you have been confirmed
healthy." - Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin
| Kudos to the mufti of Perlis for his timely rejoinder. Folks are
talking about the Sri Petaling religious event, which led to a cascading
effect of paranoia, and institutional recrimination, which has consumed
social media. But there was another event which should be of concern,
and hopefully, the Health Ministry is on this.
At the Teluk Bahang beach in Penang, as reported in The Star, "More than 30,000 people thronged to the temple since early Sunday morning (March 8), with devotees taking part in several poojas (prayer sessions), carrying of the paal kudam (milkpots) and other religious ceremonies at the 123-year-old temple.”
this is where it gets worrying – Temple committee chairperson A
Kanapathy said the festival attracted devotees and visitors from all
over the country, including neighbouring countries. “Although
fewer people are travelling because of Covid-19, we are happy with the
turnout and the festival was carried out smoothly,” he said.
added that more than 100 stalls selling food, drinks and ornaments were
set up at the venue in conjunction with the festival. Now, I
wonder if the necessary preventive steps had been taken and the health
guidelines from the Health Ministry were followed? By the way, does
anyone seriously think that devotees in this festival were seriously
considering the guidelines from the ministry? No, they were not. They
were just concentrating on having a good time and enjoying the light
Malaysia at the moment has the highest rate
in Asean for Covid-19 and it does not take a genius to figure out why
that is. The fact is that these kinds of religious events are going to
be the main cause of the pandemic in this country. As always, it boils
down to how some people who should be community-minded are in reality
selfish in their religious preoccupations. Add to this narratives about
the majority religion and what happens is that nobody looks into their
So let me get this straight. We are in the midst of a
global pandemic. The new government is grappling with a growing crisis,
the news cycle is consumed with stories – some fake – of Covid-19 and
30,000 devotees decided that this is a good time to hold a festival?
yes it irks me that a commercial motive is implicit in these so-called
religious events because it implies that commercial considerations
overruled the instinct for protecting society against a pandemic which
is causing so much economic and social turmoil in the world today.
cherry on the cake was this quote by Consumers Association of Penang
education officer NV Subbarow - “We have encouraged the temple to use
volunteers to pick all the leftover rubbish after the festival as part
of the cleaning-up process to keep the temple surroundings free of
So what happened is that volunteers picked up rubbish
when we are living through a pandemic that is exacerbated by poor
hygiene. Wonderful. This is the kind of inaction that leads to health
crises in the so-called “Third World” countries.
At any other
time, this sort of social conscious tidbit would be good optics for the
kind of selfishness that permeates such events, but at this point of
time, it is a reminder of how serious the situation is when everyone is
stockpiling hand sanitisers and (should) be maintaining a respectable
social distance from one another.
Any rational person would be
concerned about people from all over the country, and neighbouring
countries as well, who may unwittingly have Covid-19 and are spreading
it around like what is happening in the Sri Petaling tabligh
case. This is the kind of stupidity that makes it extremely difficult
for the government to handle the nation's health security.
is also symptomatic of how religious activities are exempt from public
scrutiny on the grounds of religious diversity and national harmony. The
reality is that the people who organised this festival and the
state/federal institutions that sanctioned them are responsible if the
virus flares up into a new cluster.
This is what happens when
people do not pay attention or allow their selfish religious beliefs to
comprise the health security of the collective. It is easy to pick low
hanging fruit but what is paramount is that it is incumbent on all of us
to ensure the safety of our communities.
How in God’s name did
the festival organisers get the go-ahead for this event? This happened
after the Sri Petaling religious gathering and I get that this event has
been planned and God knows we do not want to “offend” any community.
But this really should not have happened.
The fact is that the
festival organisers should have been told to cancel this event because,
well, the health security of the nation was involved. State and federal
level authorities should have been on the ball on this issue.
on all those involved in this festival, especially in a time when
people all over the country are coming to grips with a pandemic that
stigmatises patients. People are afraid as they should be but the
political apparatus and the religious operatives should act
We cannot always blame and look to institutions of
power for “guidelines” when common sense should trump whatever
religiosity we think needs to be on display. The religious
apparatus is mulling cancelling Friday prayers. Mulling? They should
cancel Friday prayers. All religious mass gatherings should be suspended
until we get a grip on this pandemic. While it is commendable that
Christian and Buddhist religious organisations have been proactive in
this, what is needed is state intervention if need be, that all
religions confine worship to self-reflection at home – as it should be –
until the state manages to contain the problem.
remind us that we are all in this together and the state should clearly
articulate positions that enable health and security personnel to
contain the problem - instead of pandering to religious groups.