ON December 24, 2014, 'an old friend', Prof Dr Safiah Osman passed to me her latest book - Stories of Love and Compassion - which she said was just two days out from its printing house; Success Printing and Packaging Sdn Bhd.
It was a compilation of 32 short stories by several writers with Dr Safiah as the 'anchorwoman' who wrote nine pieces. The other writers were Hajar Alias, Laila Hassan, Kamaruddin Abd Kadir, Firoza Burhan, Khairiah Ahmad, Kalsom Taib, Putri Zanina, Rohani Ramly, Zawiyah Baba, Rohana Zubir, Zuraidah Omar, Yasmin Gan Abdullah, Noorshin Ng Abdullah, Azleen Osman Rani, Sulaiman Osman and the late Kamariah Osman, Rafiah Bahar Rasip, Rodziah Ahmad Tajuddin and Nur Aini Mad Yaman.
The book was published by Muslim Aid Asia Sdn Bhd of Muslim Aid Asia which was founded in 2004 to provide a platform and focus for Malaysians to join hands with fellow Malaysians and the world community at large in tackling the persistent and recurring problems of local and global poverty and suffering as a result of natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, etc) and human disasters (endemic poverty, civil strife, wars, and so on).
In 2008, Muslim Aid Asia was officially registered as a foundation to serve these goals, and now is known as 'Yayasan Kemanusiaan Muslim Aid Malaysia' (YKMAM) or Muslim Aid Malaysia Humanitarian Foundation (Muslim Aid). Readers can get this book at its premises at 8-1-2, Menara Mutiara Bangsar, Jalan Liku 59100 Kuala Lumpur (telephone 03-22881996 and website www.muslimaid.org.my). It is also available at leading bookstores.
Dr Safiah in the preface to the book notes that there is a story in all of us waiting to be told. "Every story is unique, conveying its particular message, meaning of purpose. A story may be inspiring, thought-provoking, spiritually enlightening or just plain nurturing and very often we want to share it with others...The all-important message in this book is that we need to love and fear Allah SWT and we need to turn to Him not only in times of adversity, sadness and grief but also in times of joy and happiness."
Reading the first story by Dr Safiah herself - A Magnificent Gift of Kindness – it 'pierced deep inside my heart'; it was about Dr Safiah's warm relationship with a fellow pilgrim in Makkah who had been diagnosed with advanced cancer.
Dr Safiah found out that this woman who was travelling alone to perform the hajj was actually 'fully sponsored' by a generous man who would like to remain anonymous. Regarding 'their relationship' after after hajj, Dr Safiah wrote: "My heart will always be pierced with regret because I visited her only once and that was when she had already been hospitalized...I was deeply saddened by the young woman's passing..."
Taking time to read on; I was 'stung' while reading ''Learning all about love and compassion' by Putri Zanina. It was a story about my friend, a long forgotten friend who was a colleague in Berita Harian. He was my successor as Foreign Editor when I resigned from the media house in 1999.
Among others Zanina wrote: "It was 6 pm and already dark when we left Heathrow Airport for the New Straits Times apartment in the centre of London. It was 1995 and I was travelling with my four children, aged between five and fourteen, who were on their first long-haul trip overseas. After the twelve-hour overnight flight, we were all exhausted. Adding to the strain was hauling luggage for five people.
"As we sat in the taxi cruising into the city all I could think about was getting a good night's sleep. But as soon we arrived at my company's apartment near the Queensbay area, we realized how famished we were. I was unfamiliar with the area and our apartment was located in a quiet, secluded spot. No shops were within sight. I felt dazed, made worse by jetlag, but I had four hungry kids to feed.”
"As I was thinking of where to take the children for dinner, there was a knock on the door. Opening it, I saw a man smiling and then giving me his 'salam'. He introduced himself as Karim Sulaiman from the apartment upstairs. The name rang a bell. He was a Berita Harian journalist and the newspaper correspondent in London. He explained that he had heard our taxi arrive and had been told by his New Straits Times colleague that I was making a visit and he thought he would welcome us. ‘Would you like to have dinner at my apartment? My wife has just finished cooking,' he said. What a relief to receive his invitation. I gladly accepted it and no word could describe how grateful I felt.”
"My children and I trooped upstairs. The forlorn feeling we had earlier dissipated as we entered Karim's home. Not only his lovely wife, Siti Hawa Mohd Ariff warmly welcomed us, but the shrieks and laughter of his two children also added to our joy. We felt immediately at home. Although we were strangers, Karim and his wife embraced us with the kind of sincerity that could only come from compassionate hearts. And the piping hot chicken rice and soup that Siti Hawa served us was the best I had even eaten!”
"A simple meal, a simple gesture twenty years ago, but I still remember it until today. Although I have traveled to many places in the world over the years, the experience in Karim's house remains one of the best moments of being away from home. I have often wondered why it stayed in my memory. Perhaps it was because it showed that you can offer kindness even by simple means..."
Karim Sulaiman was one year my senior in Berita Harian. I began working at the daily in 1986 while Karim in 1985. I remembered the last time I talked to him was when he took the position of Foreign Editor and he asked me for advice regarding work. That was our 'last contact'. It was more than 14 years ago.
Ending her story on Karim, Putri Zanina wrote: "When love is spread regardless of creed and colour of skin, it is a powerful tool to spread goodwill. Karim's goodwill remained forever and I felt profound sadness when he passed away in February 2014. Aged only 53, he succumbed to a rare skin disease, 'scleromyxedema', which he had been suffering from..."
My heart will always be pierced with regret because I had never visited Karim since I left Berita Harian in 1999. Perhaps I had 'merajuk' (taken things too hard). It was my mistake. And to 'Allahyarham' (the late) Karim, well, dear readers, let us say our prayers (du'a) for him...'Al-Fatihah'. May Allah SWT be pleased with him. - ES