Thursday, April 8, 2010

The unforgettable visit to Sungai Buloh Leprosy Centre

In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate; blessing and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w

"When the earth shall be shaken to its depth,
and the mountains shall be crumbled to atoms,
becoming dust scattered abroad." (Waqia 56: 4-6)

ONE of the oldest and most feared diseases in the world is leprosy. But today, citizens of world including our country are living in fear due to Influenza A (H1N1) or swine flu outbreak which has taken scores of lives.

Regarding leprosy, according to Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him – pbuh) had declared: “Keep away from the leper as you do from a lion.”

The Messenger also said: “If you hear that there is pestilence in a place, do not enter it; if the pestilence breaks out where you are, do not leave it to escape the pestilence.”

I had heard about these hadiths (saying of the Prophet) several times, so when one of my Journalism lecturers in UiTM in the 80s; suggested our class made a visit to National Leprosy Control Centre (Pusat Kawalan Kusta Negara, PKKN) in Sungai Buloh, we were in a state of shock.

“Making a visit to a leprosy center? No way,” cried some of my friends. “We are supposed to shy away from it, but now what, this ‘mad’ lecturer wants us to visit lepers!” murmured some. In those days when people heard if you were from Sg Buloh, what more living near the ‘Pusat Kusta’ they will keep a distant away because of the leprosy diseases awareness.

But our lecturer was firmed in asking us to carry out the assignment. After explaining that it was safe to be at the centre to even touching cured patients; he said the visit was compulsory. “I only want to see reports and articles on the visit from each of you on my desk next week,” he said.

So we had no choice but to arrange for the trip. We had booked a bus and on one fateful morning we were on our way to meet the lepers. Some of my friends shivered; some looked cool but who knew what was inside their hearts.

Since in those days internet was not available to us, we had to gather information about leprosy and the centre in Sungai Buloh from paper cuttings. It was a hard job, but it was nothing compared to the uneasiness feeling we had when the bus finally moved into the compound of Sungai Buloh National Leprosy Control Centre.

From our readings we noted that the Sungai Buloh Leprosy Settlement, established on 15th August, 1930 was the most well equipped leprosy asylum and research center among the Commonwealth countries. But the village was said to be founded in 1926 and some said as early as 1920.

Even though leprosy was almost 100 percent eradicated in Malaysia, the centre had turned into a self-contained community where ex-patients built their homes while the few patients could live in humane surroundings while under medical supervision.

Under Leper Enactment Act, segregation and treatment of those with the leprosy disease were compulsory.

For decades, through World War II and the birth of an independent Malaya and the formation of Malaysia, the occupants lived in virtual isolation and quarantine from the outside world.

It was reported the operation were managed by a medical superintendent and his staff, with its operations supported by the able-bodied among the residents, the leprosarium had its own rules and regulations, its own currency, school, places of worship, social clubs, fire brigade, police force, grave yard and even a prison.

There in the Sungai Buloh Leprosy Settlement, for the first time almost all of us had the first experience in meeting former leprosy infected persons who had twisted face or features, bend arms, lost of fingers and toes.

We were afraid but our lecturer's words kept ringing in our ears. “Nothing to be afraid of, lepers who had been cured are safe to mix around or even being touch.”

So with heavy hearts, some of us began shaking hands and interviewing some of the ex-patients. But after some time, we were accustomed to the situation. We were absorbed to some sad and sob stories of the ex-lepers. As human beings, they too ‘had hearts’, they too knew about loving and caring.

It was there at the Sungai Buloh Leprosy Settlement, I began to learn to put myself into other people’s shoes to understand what life was about.

My lecturer was correct, the experience in Sungai Buloh had huge impact on me; it nurtured me to be a person who was sensitive to other's feelings and needs which in my opinion was good to a would be journalist like me.

Near the gates of the Sungai Buloh Settlement, there were some ex-patients selling flowers and pots. Some of us gladly bought small pots of flowers to mark our visit to the centre.

In the early days, it was reported there were about 2,000 to 3,000 patients, but with medical advances, the number has dwindled drastically. A source claimed nowadays there are about 200-300 leprosy infected patients stay in a quarantine for closer observation and treatment.

In my opinion, the ability of human race to control leprosy is in line with a hadith (saying of the Prophet) that a cure would be found for every illness as related by Bukhari. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, declared: “God did not send down an illness for which He did not send a cure.”

This hadith, in addition to declaring that every illness is curable, is the most comprehensive statement encouraging research in the field of medicine. In another Tradition, the Messenger (pbuh), pronounces that there is a cure for every illness. Another version tells us: “Do not neglect having your diseases treated, for God does not send a disease for which He will not send a cure except for old age.”

Now we are seeing the rising tide of Influenza A. Insya-Allah (God willing), a cure for it would be found, but do we learn nothing from the pandemic? This article was written during Ramadhan.

Regarding Ramadhan, I quoted what PAS spiritual leader, Tuan Guru Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat had said about it. “The main focus of Ramadhan in the Qur’an is about the revealing of the Qur’an itself. Others are secondary.

“But almost all of us do not have the focus on the Qur’an; instead keep our minds to fasting, the special night prayers such as ‘tarawih’ and ‘witir’. The fact is that the revealing of the Qur’an had greater purpose.”

One question could be raised here, are we using the book of Allah as guidance in life or we choosing what we think is good and ignoring what we think is of no good to us. For example we choose to fast but at the same time, we reject hudud laws (Allah SWT laws) which are spelled in the same Surah al-Baqarah of the Quran?

In doing so, are we asking for trouble; perhaps the swine flu is a stern warning from Allah SWT about our misconduct!

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