'Abang MRT' nervous as he meets law minister

He bravely confronted and stopped a bully who was verbally abusing a teenager on an MRT train.

But yesterday evening, Mr Muhammad Hanafie was a nervous wreck as he stood in a corner of a room at Chong Pang Community Club, waiting for Law Minister K. Shanmugam to arrive.

"I'm nervous and feeling a little cold. I'm also shy. It's my first time meeting a minister and I'm just not used to all the media attention, I guess," he said, clutching his arm and shivering as his therapist girlfriend, Miss Nabilah Nasser, 23, looked on in amusement.

She had taken a video of the incident and uploaded it.

The incident happened on July 7 at about 10pm on the North-South Line, between Toa Payoh and Ang Mo Kio stations.

The video, which went viral after it was posted last Wednesday, shows a man insulting and threatening a teenager on an MRT train for wearing a T-shirt with an offensive word on it.

He is heard telling the teenager that he could beat him up and throw him off the train.

Mr Hanafie eventually stepped in, confronted the man and told him to stop his aggressive behaviour.

Both men got out of the train at Ang Mo Kio station, as instructed by the police. The video has since received more than 20,000 shares, with many condemning the actions of the bully.

Mr Shanmugam also weighed in, saying in a Facebook post that it was "unacceptable bullying conduct", while praising the commuter, referred to as "Elfy" in the video, who stepped in.

Yesterday at the community club, Mr Shanmugam met "Elfy" over iftar, the meal Muslims eat after fasting during the month of Ramadan.

The minister reiterated his praise to a shy Mr Hanafie, who was dubbed "Abang MRT" by those present.

"When I watched the video, I said: 'Look, we need to come out and affirm some types of conduct and also say that some things are not acceptable,'" Mr Shanmugam said.

"That was my main reason. The bullying was unacceptable, and what Elfy did made me feel proud, standing up to a bully. (And it was) also good to see that he was Singaporean.

"I have an iftar anyway with young students which I do every year, and the person who organises it for me decided to invite Elfy and Nabilah, who did the video."

Smiling throughout, Mr Hanafie looked visibly more relaxed once members of the media moved away.

Friend requests

Asked how life has changed for him since the video went viral, he said he had an influx of friend requests on Facebook.

"I have many more friends now. I have a thousand friend requests on Facebook," he added.

Mr Shanmugam had dinner and spoke with Mr Hanafie and his girlfriend at length for about two hours.

"I think it's good to affirm and support what Elfy did," said the minister.

"Hopefully that value then sets in, and more people get encouraged to stand up to bullies," he added.

Mr Hanafie, who is currently unemployed, said he looks forward to getting a job as a fitness instructor soon.

"I feel really blessed after all the support and affirmation given," he said.

"I look forward to the future and hope that others will also stand up when needed, just as I would if I have to again."

This article was first published on June 16, 2015.
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