THE blue Perodua Kelisa car may have seen better days but it is a familiar vehicle for the people residing in the poorer sections of Bestari Jaya.
Its owner Kumaran Nagapa is ever ready to ferry people, who cannot afford to take public transport, to the government hospital in Sungai Buloh for their follow-up appointments or treatments.
At other times, he can be seen running up and down the stairs at some government office or other in Kuala Selangor trying to get help to resolve a host of problems faced by the locals, with the most pressing ones relating to applications for identity cards and seeking aid from the Social Welfare Department and Selangor Zakat Centre.
During weekends, he will be busy conducting tutorial classes for primary school children at a centre located within the compound of Masjid Al Awwabim in Bestari Jaya.
Helping people in need has become the daily routine for this 40-year-old busy bee who chose to become a social activist about six years ago.
Sharing the beauty of Islam
Kumaran is also currently busy managing a social enterprise that he initiated in 2016, called Grassroots Moringa Project, to help the local marginalised communities in Bestari Jaya (formerly known as Batang Berjuntai) to generate higher incomes by planting the Moringa oleifera or drumstick tree, the leaves of which are said to be rich in antioxidants and various vitamins.
His social enterprise produces and sells supplements made from the dried Moringa leaves.
Kumaran, who converted to Islam in 2013, has also made it his mission to promote 'Islamophilia' in order to reduce misunderstanding of Islam among the predominantly Indian population in Bestari Jaya.
Islamophilia is a term that is generally used to describe the admiration of the values of Islam, as opposed to Islamophobia or prejudice against Islam.
As a social worker, Kumaran extends his assistance to the needy without taking their race and religion into consideration.
By treating them with love and affection, he has shown the non-Muslims that Islam promoted peace and harmony and he has succeeded in tearing down the wall of hatred and misunderstanding of Islam.
"Before I embraced Islam, even I viewed it negatively. Now that I'm a Muslim, I've to spread love so that others will see Islam's inclusive nature," he told Bernama.
During Ramadan recently, Kumaran invited the non-Muslims to break fast with him and other Muslims at the local mosque.
"Breaking fast in a mosque was something they had all not done before and it was a new experience for them," he said, adding that he received positive feedback from those who participated in the activity.
In the past, Kumaran had also initiated an activity called 'nasi dulang' where Muslims and non-Muslims would sit together to eat out of one large plate, aimed at promoting kinship and understanding between communities practising different faiths.
The earlier years
Kumaran, who was born and raised in Kampung Pandan, Kuala Lumpur, never imagined that he would find himself thrust into a rural area far from the hustle and bustle of the city that would change the course of his life.
After completing school, he enrolled into a local university in Kuala Lumpur but dropped out halfway. After that, he travelled to various countries to broaden his horizons and to do volunteer work.
When he returned to Malaysia sometime in 2011, he decided to continue with his tertiary education. His application to pursue a degree course in science was accepted by University Selangor and that was how he landed in Bestari Jaya in 2012 as the university's campus was located there.
"I never expected that in this little town, I would find the inspiration to become a Muslim and to serve the community regardless of race and religion," he said.
His interest in Islam deepened after he read an astronomy book that showed the correlation between science and Islam.
"After reading the book I realised there were many aspects of Islam that I didn't know about. This inspired to find out more about the religion," he said.
Kumaran finally embraced Islam in August 2013 and he became more determined than ever to stay on in Bestari Jaya to help the socially-disadvantaged community and also to dispel Islamophobia.
Grassroots community centre
In view of the fact that almost 80 per cent of the 15,000-odd people living in and around Bestari Jaya comprised Indians, initially, it was not easy for Kumaran to live among them as a Muslim convert. Even his parents gave him the cold shoulder.
"I realised then that it was my responsibility to show them the truth about Islam so that they understand the religion better and have no negative perception," he said, adding that his social services provided an avenue for him to win the people over.
Social ills like dropping out of school and drug and alcohol abuse were rife in households stricken by poverty. To resolve these problems and help empower the community, Kumaran opened a community centre, which he called Grassroots, in nearby Kampung Jawa which was mainly populated by Indians.
Since 2015, he has been conducting tutorial classes for primary school students to improve their academic performance. The community centre has since been shifted to a building located next to Masjid Al Awwabim in Bestari Jaya. Currently, about 100 students are attending classes at Grassroots.
"From the start, I observed that the dropout issue, especially among the girls, appeared to have a great social impact on the community.
"When they drop out of school, the girls stay all alone at home after their parents go to work and they tend to become victims of sexual assault," he said, adding that he found that they were most prone to sexual attacks between 1 pm and 5 pm
Kumaran's wife Subashini Mariappan, 28, was herself a rape victim and she even became pregnant.
"The first time I met her was at Hospital Sungai Buloh when she came there for a prenatal check-up. She told me her story and I felt very sorry for her," he said, adding that he decided to marry her after she gave birth to a baby girl.
Kumaran and Subashini, who converted to Islam in December 2014, now have another daughter who is six months old.
"My wife is my pillar of support and we understand one another very well," he added. – Bernama