AirAsia X flight D7237: Prayers at 38,000 feet

pray-AirAsia-XBy Tay Tian Yan

There is a problem with the aircraft engine at 38,000ft and the plane starts to rock like a washing machine.

Suddenly the pilot announces, “Let’s pray that we may reach home safely.”

This is the scenario, as related by some passengers, a few days ago on board an AirAsia X flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur.

If I happened to be one of the passengers, my heart would very likely have sunk at hearing the pilot’s announcement, and for those with low stress tolerance levels, they could already have been in trouble even before the aircraft.

Former minister Zaid Ibrahim felt that the announcement shouldn’t have been made in the first place. He tweeted, “If AirAsia is big into prayers; engage proper imam and priest.”

While some supported Zaid, others were critical of him, demanding “what’s wrong with praying?”

AirAsia X CEO Kamarudin Meranun asked, “What’s wrong with it when you are in a tight position, seeking divine intervention while doing whatever humanly possible?”

Well, the comments that have come out reflect the religious views of different segments of our diverse society.

I believe those with a strong religious inclination would tend to support what the captain did. Of course, this encompasses different religious faiths and not any particular religion.

As for those lightly religious or atheistic, they may still pray. When a person gets desperate and helpless, all he can do is to surrender himself to the Almighty.

The question is: how should we define a helpless moment?

If I were on that AirAsia X flight, it would be my own business whether to say my prayers, but most positively I would not want to hear an announcement calling for prayers.

I would pin all my hopes on the people inside the cockpit, not anyone outside it.

What I am trying to say is that passengers would fully depend on the pilot with all his professionalism to overcome whatever problems the aircraft may encounter to ensure everyone’s safety.

With such an enormous responsibility upon his shoulders, the pilot must make sure the passengers have faith in him.

If the pilot were to ask everyone on board to pray together, passengers in their right mind – not to mention those watching too many Hollywood disaster movies – would assume the aircraft was out of control and that they could only surrender their destinies to the Almighty.

How could the announcement then not trigger widespread panic?

The consequences could be grave if a handful of the 300-plus passengers, all cramped into a tight space at 38,000 feet, went hysterical.

I would rather hear something like this: “We have a failed engine, but don’t worry, another engine is still functioning well and this aircraft is under our control so that we can get back to Perth safely.”

Even in the most serious conditions, when the pilot is not sure of a safe return, at least a well-intentioned lie would do more good than harm.

Often in the last moments of life, we need faith and hope to keep us going.

Therefore, under no circumstances should the pilot call for a prayer.

This is not an argument about one’s belief in God, but instead it is first and foremost about having faith in human power, through our own courage and wisdom to overcome the imminent crisis.

Easily surrendering ourselves is a manifestation of weak determination, which is forbidden by God.

“Our destiny lies in our own hands”, and this holds true for a pilot manning the controls in a cockpit, a business leader or any individual in whatever field, for that matter.

And this insistence must be stretched to the very last moment before we surrender ourselves to God.

I pray that the next time I take a flight, I will not hear this announcement from the captain: “Let’s pray!”

Tay Tian Yan writes for Sin Chew Daily.

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