Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi, the 11-year-old boy whose suffering ended today with his death, went to a school for the memorisation of Quran, or tahfiz.
He may not have completed the course, or committed the whole of the Quran to memory, which is the main goal in the syllabus of a tahfiz school.
But his cry for help, as he wrote in his note book, and the days of pain that he, his mother and his family went through, will be etched in the memory of every Malaysian for a very long time.
The question is, and this is true for so many other tragedies that have gripped the collective conscience of Malaysians: for how long?
What happened to Thaqif is not the first, nor will it be the last if the authorities do not treat his death today as a cry for help from behind the walls of boarding schools in the country.
Thaqif is in a better place now, but the spate of reports of abuse, not to mention the claims of bullying, that are coming out of boarding schools, suggests that there may be scores of others who are enduring the same pain that this boy went through.
It is ironic, and certainly not comforting, to know that most of these boarding schools place emphasis on religious values and rituals.
Some parents think that placing their children in these schools is a solution to their own failures, or shortcomings, to inculcate religious values in their children. There is no denying they have good intentions, but there is no shortcut to this.
Yesterday, when Thaqif was fighting for his life, staring at the bleak future that awaited him, Prime Minister Najib Razak was singing praises of the tahfiz school system, dishing out RM30 million specifically for the same kind of schools that he had attended.
The timing of this historic handout is worrying, but it will be welcomed if the money is well spent for the reform of the boarding and religious schools.
RM30 million may be able to build better hostels, better canteens and better classrooms. But whether or not it can remove the thick cloak of discipline and religiosity that have made this part of the country’s education system almost invisible remains to be seen.
We can continue producing thousands of people who commit the Quran to memory, but not at the cost of the many Thaqifs who want the grown-ups to adhere to the Quranic reminder: God does not change a people’s lot unless they change what is in their hearts (13:11).
Thaqif invoked God’s name to bring him out of a school that is committed to God’s Book. He paid with his life. His death must not be in vain.
Abdar Rahman Koya is the editor-in-chief of FMT.