Tahar Jumaat
Humanitarian

Assalamualaikum! Tell me more about yourself.

Waalaikumussalaam warahmatullahi wabarakatuh! My name is Mohamad Tahar Jumaat. I am 49 this year. I am the eldest of 5 siblings. I am the quietest in my family. Even with friends, I do not say much. I like to listen first before I give my input. Though I love to travel, I prefer to stay home most of the time when I’m in Singapore. Perhaps it is due to age. I miss those times when Singapore was not that crowded. I enjoy being in the company of people who love being themselves. I am uncomfortable around those who show off and think too highly of themselves. With age, you find more and more people like that as they start to accumulate more material wealth in their lives.

I’m a stubborn person. When I was young, I loved climbing Mount Ophir in Malaysia. My mother would try to discourage me from going by not giving me any money for the trip. I was 16 then and I remember having only $20 in my savings. I calculated the cost for the trip, and took my chance. I actually made the trip with only 50 cents left in my pocket as the emergency fund. -laugh- I brought kuih (traditional snacks) and fruits to sustain me.

Now, I love traveling with my wife. Our favorite activity is to marvel at nature because that was created by the Creator Himself.

You are very active in humanitarian work. Tell us more about your experiences.

I have been involved in humanitarian work since the tsunami in 2004. I started by being a volunteer with an aid organization. I left my well-paying job and took a major pay cut. As a former paramedic, I always had to be quick to make decisions and be prepared for any eventuality. I knew those traits would make it easy for me to fit the role of an aid worker. However, it was much harder. You see, when I was a paramedic, I had the crew with me. They helped me to forget the disturbing and depressing scenes. As an aid worker, I was mostly alone. People around me were strangers. I had to do my own self-reflection and console myself. Many things that I saw still haunt me. It’s not always the horrid disaster scenes but people that I met. You can’t help but compare your life with them. You start to wonder why God made your life easier than theirs. Surely they have a special reward for being patient through hardship. It makes me frighten if I cannot use the privilege that is bestowed upon me to help others.

You founded IUVA Management and also run projects such as Nature for Change. What interested you in social activism?

I have always been interested in nature. After my stint with the aid organization, I worked as a lorry driver, shuttling foreign workers. From interacting with them, I got the courage to set up IUVA. They have so much hope for their families, selves, and community. Their spirit inspired me. Once you realize your potential and belief, Insyaallah the rezeki will flow with it. IUVA’s first program was rejuvenating a degraded forest near the border of Aceh. I realized that I could be a conduit to help people accomplish their aspiration and dreams. I can play a part in helping others to design programs to meet the community’s wish for a better world for our children.

I decided to be passionate about on the cause. I didn’t want to be afraid to let go of things that I love. With no grant or funding, I used my own money to develop programs for the community. Through such programs, we empowered the community to be proactive. I honestly don’t think that I have reached the level at which I can be called an activist. I’m just a guy who wants to do my part as a global citizen, and make the world a better place. I’m happy that we managed to change lives for the better. All thanks to Allah for the opportunity.

What’s the most beautiful moment you’ve experienced during your humanitarian work?

When giving aid, one has to be apolitical. You cannot have religious and racial biases. You have to be level-headed and non-judgemental. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan slammed the Philippines. I was concerned with the devastation. There were many relief efforts by organizations and aid agencies. But the troubling part was that they focused on certain areas which had more media exposure and limelight. A friend managed to identify an island which was the first to receive the brunt of the typhoon – Macatunaw. It is situated 2 hours away from the mainland. Though I didn’t get many donations, I managed to buy secondhand chainsaws, nails, wires and tools to make temporary shelters for the community. I sailed on a small boat to reach the island. The faces of the people were unforgettable. No one came to help them. They were overjoyed. Before they met me, they had never encountered a Muslim. They had only read about Abu Sayaff and Mindanao rebels in the news. We got along incredibly well. When they learned that I had to pray 5 times a day, they readily prepared an area for me. I felt so touched by their kindness. I hope that I left a good impression as well.

Tell us more about the 100km walk that you did recently to raise funds for refugees.

Back in December 2015, I went to Losvos, Greece . I bought the air ticket about 6 months before the trip, not knowing why and what I’ll be doing there. Then, the photo of drowned Baby Alan Kurdi went viral on social media. It was heartbreaking. On January 6, 2017, I read about the refugees and found that nothing much has changed. In fact, it is worse than before. I remembered a young man whom I met in Losvos. He came with a rubber dinghy. When he landed, it was very cold. His clothes were completely drenched. He had only a small backpack with few items inside. From Losvos, he had to sail to mainland Athens. Then, he had to walk more than 500km to reach the border of Macedonia. The challenges are unimaginable, with no money, food or drink. Before going to sleep, I told my wife that I wanted to do something to raise awareness about the refugees’ plight and raise SGD10,000 to help them. I told her about my idea of walking 100km around Singapore, in solidarity with the refugees. That got her attention! She retorted, “Don’t talk nonsense! You are too old for that!” But, I had made up my mind. I published my intention on social media. I received a message from Arif Nurhakim who volunteered to cover my walk and share information with the media.

The personal contributions started pouring in. I immediately set up a crowdfunding page. My wife realized that she couldn’t stop me and accepted my decision. She became my motivator. She even walked with me for 7km. I had mixed reactions from friends. I hadn’t trained for it and at my age, many were skeptical that I could really pull it off. Some gave me reasons why I will fail. However, many were kind and supportive.

Were there difficulties? How did you overcome them?

The main difficulty was my body. The walk was challenging because I had internal injuries. It was swelteringly hot. Throughout the march, I relied solely on the goodwill of individuals to give me food and water, just like the refugees who flee their home countries. I did not meet anyone and was getting tired, frustrated and thirsty. When I reached 50km, I checked the crowdfunding page. The donations had only increased by $75! I was disappointed and started crying. The voices in my head were telling me to stop and give up. It was the hardest, most painful thing for me. I stopped at a bus stop to try to calm myself down. I opened my Quran Explorer app and scrolled for Surah Ar-Rahman. Every time I reached the verse ‘So which of the bounties of your Lord will you deny?’, I felt peaceful and rejuvenated. Alhamdulillah. When I finished reading, I saw a migrant worker who was working under the scorching sun. When I asked for some water from his bottle, he remarked that it was no longer cold and rushed off to find cold water for me. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I don’t think I’m a pious man but I strongly believe that without God, I am nothing. You can’t help but supplicate for His guidance and help. Through the trials and tribulations, I felt more spiritually connected. At the end of the walk, I managed to raise SGD23,000. That’s more than double of the original target! Alhamdulillah.

Who inspires you the most? Why?

I am inspired by many people – our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), my parents, farmers, cleaners, migrant workers and everyone I meet. I try to emulate their good traits as much as I can. I am truly blessed to meet countless great people in my life. I love listening to how people deal with the challenges in their lives. I especially love going to rural areas to listen to stories. They never fail to uplift me.

What’s your favorite verse from the Quran?

My favorite verse is Surah Ar-Rahman. Every time I’m on the ground and see the reality of life, this verse reminds me of the blessings that me and my family have been bestowed. I think about the beauty of nature, the miracle of life and the wonder of our body and mind. How could we deny these bounties? This verse encompasses gratitude and servitude to the Allah, Glory to Him, the Exalted.

What do you want to say to people who want to help others but don’t know where to start?

I think helping others can start from our own circle of comfort. We can reach out to our family, neighbors, and friends. You will find that there is always a way to help, not only with money but also with moral support or our skills and knowledge. I like to believe that the inclination to do charity comes from Allah. He gives that chance to do good to His servants. If we find it hard to do simple charity, pray. Ask Him for guidance. Make an effort to let go of what we value most. God willing, He will repay it with more blessings. Many years ago, a man approached me to ask for some money. He wanted to buy food. I had $5 in my pocket. I refused to give it to him because I was worried about myself. He left in despair. During the walk, I didn’t have money and had to rely on others’ kindness. I had to beg for water and I felt humiliated and helpless. I believe that was what that man felt when he asked for help. I can never forget this and have chided myself for being so selfish.
Today, many try to con others on the pretext of seeking help. If we are not sure about someone, give what you feel is right and leave the honesty part to Him. Let Him be the rewarder.

What is your hope for your community?

Unity. We have been segmented and disintegrated through political and religious manipulation. We need to be united to face challenges in this new global era. Our youth are getting less resilient. We must continue to advocate and promote risk-taking, adventure, and entrepreneurship to our community. If we look at the other races in Singapore, we will find that many are entrepreneurs. When the older generation passes on, their business legacy helps to maintain the prosperity of the family. The family has something to fall back on and can continue with their lives. This will ensure that the community will still hold together as there are less issues to manage.