By Grace Chen for Khabar Southeast Asia in Kuala Lumpur
Two years after it started, the Ar-Rahman Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, cited by the World Health Organisation as the first mosque in the world with a methadone clinic, has halted its programme for rehabilitating drug addicts.
Citing a lack of pharmacists and honouring a decision by the mosque's newly elected leadership committee, Rusdi Abd Rashid, chief co-ordinator with University of Malaya Centre for Addiction Sciences and pioneer of the programme, said clinic operations have been moved to a Cure and Care Centre in Kampung Kerinchi, about a kilometre away.
Close observers said the clinic's removal in late September was inevitable.
Shahrin Mohammad, assistant to the imam and assistant registrar of marriages of the mosque, said he didn't see many positive results from the clinic.
"We felt (the addicts) were desecrating the place. Some of them come here and perform prayers while they are under the influence. Many worshippers also feel the clinic has violated prayer space as the site was formerly meant to accommodate the extra numbers during Friday prayers," Shahrin told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Patience has also worn thin among congregation members, who have seen addicts using the mosque's toilets to shoot heroin. Cases of theft of donation boxes and footwear (Muslims are required to remove their shoes before entering the prayer hall) have also been linked to the presence of these addicts.
Shamsudin Jamaludin, a taxi driver who frequents the tea stall in front of the mosque, said purses and phones are also commonly stolen.
"Sometimes, they come up to us and ask us outright for money," Shamsudin said.
Rubbishing such claims, Rusdi of the University of Malaya, said the mosque was infamous as a haunt for drug addicts since the 1980s, long before the clinic was established. He believes this group is giving his patients a bad name.
Under the treatment system currently in place, all patients are referred by the National Drug Agency. All have gone through a screening process and have been certified as "ready to change for the better".
"Theft of shoes and monies from donation boxes are common occurrences in local mosques. It is hard to pinpoint who the culprit is," Rusdi said.
Congregation members are sceptical, saying that addicts who came to the clinic had either run out of money to buy their daily heroin fix – methadone was given free at the mosque clinic – or were selling the free methadone doses outside.
"In the 1980s, the heroin was pure. Addicts who were rounded up and placed in lock-up for a compulsory 14 days before being sent to the rehabilitation centres slit their wrists because they could not stand the withdrawal symptoms. Now, the mixtures are so adulterated, you can easily wean yourself off after two weeks of going clean. Problem is, many addicts are prone to clinging to nostalgia," said Sivakumar Subramaniam, a former addict who took 10 years to get clean.
It is the "clinging on to nostalgia" that riles Shahrin.
"It is easy to say 'help them' but in the first place, do these people want to be helped?" he said.
But Mohammed Nor Ismail, vice chairman of the An-Nur Madrasah in Jalan Sekilau, sounds a more compassionate note.
"I agree that whatever is sacred must be kept sacred. And rightly so, a treatment clinic for drug addicts should be separated from the place of prayer. But, as Muslims, we must recognise that drug addicts are also Allah's creations. It is not right to say they are not our problem because our laws say to help those in need," Nor said.
Ustaz Afnan Abdul Rahman, who has been conducting religious classes at the Ar-Rahman Mosque since 1997, says a more effective outreach programme should have been employed to help rehabilitating addicts.
"It is easy to say that there is nothing like the power of divine intervention when it comes to solving life's problems. But in order for these addicts to know the word of Allah, they are going to need mentors. This will mean the need for volunteers," Afnan said.
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