MH370: Together in hope and prayers

"Agama kita berlainan tapi doa kita satu... Doa buat MH370 (Our faiths are different, but our prayers are the same)."

The words scrawled in black on a wall at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (picture) stand out starkly among the more colourful messages for MH370.

That is because it hits home hard - no matter who you pray to, it is not difficult to find a common ground, if we want to.

More striking about the writing on the wall is that there are many others expressing the same sentiment - on other walls, on the Internet and in private journals.

The past three weeks have seen Malaysians of different race and religion come together to pray for the passengers and crew of the ill-fated flight. All around the country, we have been speaking as one in hope and prayers, no matter the language.

But do we really need a tragedy before we can reach out to our fellow countrymen?

As Azrul Mohd Khalib, the convener of the Malaysians for Malaysia collective - which has been organising peaceful initiatives to highlight peace and harmony in the country - sees it, we just need to be reminded of what is important in life.

"Lately, we have been petty in terms of what's important. This incident reminds us what's important - the people," he says.

Looking back at past incidents, adds Azrul, it is clear that Malaysians have always come together in times of tragedy, hardship and sorrow.

This was one reason why Azrul and friends decided to organise message walls - the Wall of Hope - around Kuala Lumpur's shopping malls when news of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 broke out.

"We were not able to contribute to the search itself, but we were hoping this small contribution could help console, heal and support the families affected."

When the first wall was erected at the Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, the response was massive. Some 200 tags printed for people to convey their messages on were snapped up immediately.

Before long many more sprouted up, not only around the city but also throughout the country. The Wall of Hope even caught on in other cities worldwide including Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei) and New York.

These walls have been a good outlet for Malaysians and non-Malaysians to pour out not only support for the families of the 239 people on board flight MH370, but also their own grief and confusion about what happened. Ultimately, they became expressions of solidarity.

"When you read the many messages of compassion, hope and prayer from people all over the country on the Walls of Hope and Prayer for the passengers and crew of MH370 and their families, you get a sense of how united we really are as a nation and as a people.

"Whether they were family, friends or total strangers, we are united in our grief and shared humanity. We are all MH370," says Azrul.

It gives him a sense of pride to see how everyone set aside their petty differences and communal issues to reach out amidst tragedy, he adds.

"But it is also sad, as it seems that we often require such a reminder for us to appreciate the strength that lies in the Malaysian people with its religious pluralism and social diversity, values which we pride ourselves of having but often our appointed and elected leaders forget. I believe that we depend on the faith and determination of the Malaysian people to carry us through our darkest hours."

Azrul believes it is important to try and continue the solidarity forged during the MH370 tragedy for the future.

"There is an opportunity in this tragedy. An opportunity to regain trust and heal bonds which have been stressed, traumatised and even broken amidst religious and racial strife over the past few years," he says.

For now, the Wall of Hope is being turned black as a sign of mourning for MH370.

"We hope to continue the initiative until we get some closure. We are also planning for vigils and prayers," he says. (The first vigil held in Bangsar Village on Thursday.) Later, adds Azrul, he hopes the experience can spur Malaysians to find a new way forward based on mutual interest and respect.

"It must also be demonstrated in both words and action. But most of all, when we hold hands or stand together during our interfaith prayer sessions, or write messages of compassion, love and support for those affected, we have to remember that this tragedy has brought us together.

"That despite our differences in ethnicity and religion, we are once again reminded that there are bonds which are stronger than our need to divide each other into exclusive boxes. That we are united in our humanity and faiths."

Let that be the legacy of Flight MH370.

A memorial and prayer session where 239 balloons with the names of the passengers and crew will be released into the sky will be conducted at Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, Kuala Lumpur, after the conclusion of the NUCC dialogue sessions at 5.30pm today.