Sapno Tukijo, who calls for prayer at the Taman Free School surau, was seated at the VIP table and later honoured by Christians for Peace and Harmony in Malaysia (CPHM) for his humanitarian decision to admit flood victims into his surau.
The night was made more meaningful for the Indonesian national as he was informed over the weekend that the Immigration Department had issued him an entry pass, which precedes the award of permanent residency (PR) in Malaysia.
“Alhamdullilah. I am so happy that I will get my Malaysian PR. The immigration director himself had come to assure me all will be well.
“I was told I must next fill up a form at the National Registration Department. After that, I will have to wait for about three to six months.
“In Malaysia, I practise what I learnt in my home country, through the Pancasila (the ethos of the Indonesian state), to do good. Especially believing in God and being civil.
“I feel Malaysia’s Rukun Negara is also the same, where ‘kesusilaan’ (moral decency) is also preached. It will be a great honour if I was given PR status here,” he said.
At the dinner, Sapno was often approached for selfies and was praised by everyone who stopped by his table.
“I have been overwhelmed by so many people thanking me for what I did. People would walk up to me and thank me.
“I keep telling these people, no thanks are required. I was merely doing my duty to help my fellow humankind,” he said in an interview after the dinner organised by CPHM at the G Hotel.
Riau-born Sapno, 50, had waded through high floodwaters near his surau to help bring to safety some 70 Chinese and Indian residents living in kampung houses when the waters rose to their roofs in early November.
He had tied a rope between lamp posts to get the victims to a temple, but the rushing water was too treacherous for them to get across.
Sapno then guided the victims, some of them without shirts, to seek refuge in the surau’s prayer hall.
Pictures of the victims in the surau went viral, but some commentators criticised the ill-dressed evacuees for defiling a place of worship.
However, the number who praised Sapno’s action far outnumbered the critics, hailing him as a hero of the Penang floods.
Last month, Sapno and the surau’s director Zakaria Malik were conferred a special Maal Hijrah award by the Penang Islamic Religious Council in conjunction with Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
Sapno was 21 when he moved to Malaysia in 1988 to work as a welder. He applied to be a PR after he married a Malaysian in 1994, but his application was never approved.
Sapno is married to Penangite Norliah Mohamed Noor, 52, and they have five children aged 12 to 22. They adopted a boy aged 6 not long ago. Norliah cares for her family full time.
‘The Great Malaysian Christmas Banquet’
Last night’s CPHM banquet was attended by some 200 people, who included imams, church leaders and PAS Youth members.
It was officiated by Penang Deputy Chief Minister I Mohd Rashid Hasnon.
The dinner’s theme was not to celebrate Christmas, but to fete those who had helped Penang recover from the worst floods in its history.
Besides Sapno, the CPHM also paid tribute to the Penang Civil Defence Force, led by Kol (CD) Pang Ah Lek and many Muslim and Christian groups that helped in flood relief efforts.
CPHM chairman Lee Min Choon said the dinner was part of efforts to reduce polarisation between religions and communities in Malaysia.
He said despite the predominantly Christian and Muslim leaders at the dinner, there were a sizeable number of Buddhists and Hindus as well.
“In Penang, we started in July, when we brought imams and priests to a hotel for dinner.
“We are privately funded by Christian and Muslim leaders…to lay the foundation for peace and understanding for many years to come,” the former chairman of the Bible Society of Malaysia said.
Shah Kirit Bin Kakulal Govindji, a popular Muslim preacher and the president of the Global Unity Network, said such dinners were important to foster links between religious leaders.
“These dinners will get them talking, and these imams and church leaders will go back to their congregations, spreading the good word about others, breaking prejudices,” he said.
Vineyard Community Church pastor Samuel Teh said gatherings such as these “reduce suspicion” between religions.
“You reach the grassroots this way. All tables at the dinner here have a mix of five Muslims and five Christians. They are encouraged to mingle.
“And from the Sapno experience, we have brought ourselves closer to each other, that humanity and faith prevail over all.”