Family proud of warden’s selfless sacrifice in hostel fire

SUNGKAI, 15 Sept 2017: 

The family of Mohd Yusuf Md – the warden  who sacrificed his own life to save a student who was trapped in the fire that broke out at  Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah in Kuala Lumpur yesterday – are very proud of him.

His sister Norazni Md, 37, when met at the family’s home in Felda Besout here, said even though it deeply saddened them to lose him, they were very happy that he emerged a hero in the tragedy.

She said their mother, Saadiah Othman, 62, remained calm and accepted it as fated on receiving the sad news.

“He sacrificed his own life to save others. That is something any family will be proud of,” she said while members of the family were reciting Yassin prayers for Mohd Yusuf.

Mohd Yusuf, 26, who was also a teacher at the school, was the eighth of 10 siblings.

Norazni said the family came to know about the tragedy at about 7am but were not informed about the status of Mohd Yusuf then.

She said their eldest brother Noorazam Md, 40, who lives in Kuala Lumpur, when to check at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital and the school and found that his name was not on the list of those who survived.

“When Abang Long confirmed Abang Chik had died, mother cried a short while and later calmed herself,” she said. adding that her brother was a very cheerful person.

Mohd Yusuf, who was still single, had studied at the same school since he was 15 and thereafter took up the teaching and warden positions.

Twenty-one students and another two teachers who also served as wardens were killed in the incident while seven others were injured.

Meanwhile, Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani said private tahfiz schools should no longer be given leniency on their building safety.

“I will asked for a list of all tahfiz schools in my constituency and I will visit every one. I want to tell them that there will be no exception on building safety. If they want to set up a tahfiz centre, they must comply with all safety requirements.”

He also said authorities were also not informed of any construction or renovation of tahfiz schools by their operators to enable the government to monitor the work carried out.

Also, the Kelantan Fire and Rescue Department has detected 17 religious schools in the state operating without permits from the department.

Director Nazili Mahmood said the schools, located in several districts in Kelantan, were found to be at high risk in the event of a fire, as the buildings’ safety features were inadequate.

“We find that most of the pondok schools operating without permits are vulnerable to fires, because the electrical wiring system and the wooden structure of the building are old.”

Nazili said the department had advised all the owners of the pondok schools to increase safety measures, such as rewiring the premises, installing smoke detectors, as well as fixing grills which could be opened during emergencies.

“Based on our records, most fire cases involving pondok schools are usually due to short circuits, as well as negligence in using the kitchen stove and mosquito repellents.”

The fire tragedy involving Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah in  Jalan Keramat Ujung here is not the worst as a bigger case happened 28 years ago.

On the morning of 22Sept 1989, a Friday, a fire ripped through Sekolah Agama Rakyat Taufiqiah Al-Khairiah Al-Halimiah or better known as  ‘Pondok Pak Ya’ in Kampung Padang Lumut, Yan, Kedah.

Twenty-seven female students perished in the blaze – which razed eight hostels at the school.

The girls, aged 13 to 18, were fast asleep when the fire broke out. Investigations later found that a lit candle that was not put out after some of the girls had used the light from it to study had toppled onto a mattress and started the conflagration,

This led to questions on the use of polyurethane foam mattresses as most of the bodies were found on burnt out mattresses or near them.

The victims were buried in a special grave named “27 Syuhada Peristiwa Kebakaran Pondok Pak Ya”, nearby in their memory.

Documentaries and telefilms on the tragedy were produced. In 2011,   Radio Televisyen Malaysia ran a 30-minute documentary titled  Pondok Pak Ya, Kedah that was produced by acclaimed producer Ramlee  Johari who told the story of the school before and after the tragedy.

Pay TV station Astro also ran  a telefilem titled  Pondok Pak Ya directed by Wan Hasliza  in 2014 on what really happened that tragic day.

There were mounting calls for stronger regulation of religious schools following the horrific fire at an Islamic boarding school that killed 23 victims, most of them teenage boys trapped behind the barred windows of their dormitory.

Malaysian officials said there had been 31 similar fire incidents in the past but yesterday’s fire was the worst seen in 20 years.

But media reports said the numbers were much higher – 1,034 fires reportedly occurred in registered and unregistered religious schools from August 2015 to August 2017. Of these 211 were burnt to the ground, according to data from the fire department.

Family members of Mohamad Haikal Abdullah, a 12-year-old who died in the blaze, were furious after reports emerged that the only door at the school’s dormitory had caught fire and that the windows had metal bars, leaving the boys trapped and unable to escape.

“From what we understand, there was only one way out but they couldn’t get through because it was on fire,” Faizal Abdullah, Mohamad Haikal’s brother, said while waiting for his sibling’s remains to be identified outside a hospital morgue late yesterday.

“How could they have escaped? How could something like this have happened? We want to know.”

Fire department operations deputy director Soiman Jahid yesterday said the cause was likely to have been a short circuit or a mosquito repellent coil.

Authorities claimed the school had made structural changes to the building and had not secured a clearance from the fire department. The school denied this.

Muslim-majority Malaysia provides a secular education system, but growing conservatism has led to a boom in the number of Islamic religious schools, most of which are privately-run and not overseen by the Education Ministry.

Some have a curriculum similar to secular schools, but with a greater emphasis on Islamic knowledge.

Others provide more specialised education, such as tahfiz schools and ‘pondok’ schools, where students are taught in small groups in tiny wooden huts, popular in rural areas.

Inadequate regulation and training has led to a slew of safety issues at such schools, including reports of fires, abuse, and student deaths, religious leader Mohamad Asri Zainul Abidin said in a column posted on his Facebook page.

Some of the schools’ owners had set them up simply as money-making enterprises or to satisfy their own interests, said Mohamad Asri, the mufti for the northern Malaysian state of Perlis.

“There are some ustaz (religious teachers) who failed in their education but still opened their own schools without the right qualifications or training.

“Some low quality schools, in order to save costs, also take in anyone ready to teach even when they have nothing to do with the subjects they’re teaching.”

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said some religious schools are reluctant to follow government regulations because they did not want interference in their administration.

Tun Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia who served for 23 years, said no lessons had been learned in nearly three decades – citing a similar tragedy that killed 27 female students at a religious school in 1989.

“I’m sad that this kind of incident happened again,” he said after visiting the families of the victims on Thursday.

“Safety measures are very important. I hope after this, all schools will review (their safety standards) if such incidents happen.”

– Agencies

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