"We're All At Fault" - Syed Azmi Believes The Tahfiz Tragedy Is Part Of A Bigger Problem

Two of the seven teen suspects were charged with 23 counts of murder.

Cover image via New Straits Times/Mohd Yusni Ariffin/The Rakyat Post

Seven teenagers set fire to a tahfiz school in Kuala Lumpur at about 5.15am on 14 September. The incident led to the tragic death of 23 people, with the youngest victim only six years old.

Image via Berita Harian

The massive fire that broke out at Darul Quran Ittifaqyah (DQI) tahfiz school claimed the lives of 21 students and two teachers.

Described as the country's worst fire disaster in 20 years, the incident has shocked many, especially after it was revealed that a group of teenagers are responsible for it

Two days after the incident, the authorities arrested seven teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18 who are allegedly responsible for the incident.

Police believe that the fire is the result of an altercation that broke out earlier between the tahfiz school students and the seven suspects.

Out of the seven teenagers involved, two of them who are 16, were charged with 23 counts of murder, one for each victim of the fire

The fire and rescue team at the scene.

Image via Rosdan Wahid/New Straits Times

Both of the accused will escape death penalty as they are minors aged 16, reported Malay Mail Online.

As for the remaining five teen suspects, three of them (between the ages of 12 and 17) claimed trial to the charge and the remaining two aged 16 pleaded guilty. The 12-year-old boy was released on bail, while the two other teenagers were denied bail.

Another suspect, 18-year-old Mohd Sharulnizam Ikmal, was charged for allegedly using ganja and syabu, with a maximum of two years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of RM5,000 if convicted.

Meanwhile, parents of the victims had divided opinions about the alleged perpetrators. Some said that they should be slapped with death penalty, while the rest thought that religious lessons might help the boys repent and turn over a new leaf.

Little has been said about the seven teenagers whose actions cost the lives of 23 people, except for quite a lot of comments calling for them to be publicly shamed and hung

Police escorting one of the suspects to the crime scene on 21 September.

Image via Mohd Yusni Ariffin/New Straits Times

The issue here is that the fire was started by a bunch of teenagers, who are dropouts. They are also said to be children of immigrants. This opens up conversations on child rights, repentance, second chances, and what exactly fueled such violence in them.

Six out of the seven suspects were expelled from their respective schools for truancy and disciplinary problems. Only the 18-year-old suspect completed his secondary school education and continued studying at GiatMARA, before dropping out eventually.

Reports also suggested that the boys were referred to as, "Geng Budak Jahat Keramat" by the residents in the area. Later, authorities revealed that two of the suspects have criminal records for weapon possession and theft.

Based on these reports, it is quite clear that these children aren't exactly from stable homes and they have a known history of disciplinary problems.

So, who is at fault here? Should these children be given a second chance? How can we come together as a community to make things better?

We spoke to Syed Azmi Alhabshi, prominent social causes advocate, who gave a thought-provoking and interesting view on the issue.

Syed Azmi Alhabshi

Image via The Rakyat Post

When asked whether or not someone can be blamed for the incident, Syed stressed that there's no one to be blamed because youths at risk are victims themselves.

"I don't think anybody should answer arrogantly about this issue, because it affects everyone. For instance, I think the school is also a victim but if they answer arrogantly, or do not wish to take shared responsibility, that's wrong.

"If any parent pinpoints other parents, they're wrong because everyone is a victim. Nobody wants to bring up a child in that way and nobody wants their child to die like that. When you start looking for a person to blame, that's not helping the situation. Six out of the seven of the suspects are minors.

"That is a concern, because children and students are allowed to make mistakes and to learn from them. So, the question is, who is actually helping them?" he asked, when we spoke to him at a humanitarian conference last weekend.

He said that being a child activist, he believes that it's important to look into how the seven suspects' siblings are coping with the incident and also how it affects their families

"I've seen some of the families, to me they're victims. The fascinating part is that, I know most of their neighbours are supportive of them.

"They understand that the families of the suspects are also hurt, but life needs to go on - the parents needs to go back to work, the siblings have the right to go to school. So, basically I'm highlighting their plight and also how the community is helping them rebuild their lives," he explained.

Syed believes the issue needs to be discussed objectively because the same thing could happen to anyone.

"You have to talk about it instead of ostracising them."

"The hard part is that there's no quick fix for this. I think we don't have enough child experts to cater to all children.

"I have received calls from parents who say that they suspect their child is under the influence of illegal drugs but these parents don't know where to get help from mostly. So, these are the small things people should take note of, be aware of your child's behavioural changes," he said.

To address the issue, Syed revealed that he's currently trying to compile a helpline or a help-desk for parents to reach out to if they have questions or concerns about their children.

He also raised an important question in regard to the seven teen suspects.

"Why did they drop out? Did the teacher ridicule them? Can they read? We need to ask the right questions."

Explaining that poverty plays an important role in situations where teenagers resort to violence or end up with disciplinary problems, Syed said that these people are most often just trying to conceal their insecurities.

"When you have flaws, you will find a strength to show that you're powerful and that can lead to violence, so that people cannot touch your insecurities.

"You call them, 'Bodoh, bodoh' (stupid, stupid), so they react," he said.

Ultimately, Syed said that it all comes down to the fact that children want to be accepted and recognised. When these basic needs aren't fulfilled, kids who grow up in harsh, volatile environments may resort to extreme measures.

"In a way, it's a blessing in disguise, the tahfiz incident. Without that, we wouldn't be raising these issues.

"In our country, we needed to let 23 people die to get to this point."

Norazizan Abdul Razak (centre) with his wife, Taufik's (one of the victims) stepmother, Rusbiah Nordin at Raudhatul Sakinah cemetary in Batu Caves on 17 September.

Image via Salhani Ibrahim/New Straits Times

What do you think about Syed's thoughts on the teen suspects and this issue? Let us know in the comment section below.

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