THE holy month in the Islamic calendar is back again to the pleasure of Muslims around the globe.
For some, Ramadan is the month to purify their souls by doing as many good deeds as possible. Others look forward to putting on new Raya clothes.
Excitement is in the air as we count the days to Hari Raya and buying new clothes for children is high on parents’ list of priorities.
Last Sunday, Hafizah Said and her husband, Mohd Ryzal Abdul Razak, from Sanglang in Jerlun, Kedah, took their three children along for Raya shopping.
Their daughter, Nur Zarif Hamani, 6, was delighted with her new clothes.
In Johor Baru, Hawa Osman, 54, bought a baju raya for her son, Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnian, 21, a Malaysian National Defence University (UPNM) navy cadet.
Sadly, tragedy struck and the two families would not get to see Nur Zarif and Zulfarhan in their new outfits.
Nur Zarif drowned after falling into a canal in front of her home on the fourth day of Ramadan.
Two days later, the nation was stunned by the death of Zulfarhan, allegedly at the hands of bullies.
Reports claimed that the third-year student suffered from severe injuries. There were burn marks on his body, believed to be from having a steam iron pressed on his chest, hands and feet.
My heart sank as I wrote this.
I could not imagine the pain and agony felt by the families who lost their loved ones just before Raya.
While Nur Zarif died of a tragic circumstance, Zulfarhan’s is beyond comprehension.
Police have rounded up 36 students from UPNM and Universiti Tenaga Nasional in connection with the case.
Just two weeks earlier, 10 students aged between 15 and 16 from Mara Junior Science College (MRSM) Parit in Perak were expelled after they were found guilty of bullying six Form Two students.
While we are scrambling for answers that led to the horrifying physical abuses inflicted on Zulfarhan, I could not resist from asking this — have we raised a beast underneath our so-called bright students who study in reputable boarding schools and universities?
Aren’t such institutions for high achievers and future leaders?
What kind of bright students are we talking about if they cannot tell good from evil?
Are we, as parents and society, guilty of raising straight As students who are lacking in humanity?
The stark reality is that scoring good grades is insufficient.
Some would argue that the perpetrators are young and deserve a second chance. But, what about the rights of the parents who lost their children to bullies?
Prevention is better than cure, but where should we begin?
Home is the best place to start, followed by schools and higher learning institutions.
Children who grow up as school bullies have the tendency to carry on with the act in the later stages of life.
Statistics by the Education Ministry revealed that there were more than 14,000 bullying cases in schools nationwide between 2012 and 2015.
Most of them involved physical bullying.
Early last year, findings by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) reported in the Science Daily found that while many programmes to reduce bullying in primary and secondary schools were ineffective, a programme initiated in Finland called KiVA could be the answer.
“The study of more than 7,000 students in 77 elementary schools in Finland found that KiVA greatly benefited the mental health of sixth-graders who experienced the most bullying.
“It significantly improved their self-esteem and reduced depression,” the report said.
KiVA’s success is attributed to the role-playing exercises to increase empathy of bystanders and computer simulations that encourage students to think about how they would intervene to reduce bullying.
Perhaps it is time for the ministry to look into the programme as a possible solution.
We need to start educate the future generation that education is not just about graduating with flying colours, but also to become a humane person and not a beast with a scroll.
May Zulfarhan’s soul be placed with the righteous. It is our duty to make sure that he did not die in vain.
Adie Suri Zulkefli is the Kedah NST bureau chief. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org