As 2015 comes to a close, Malaysians can look back at a year rocked by racial and religious flare-ups, and dampened by rising living costs brought on by price hikes and a new consumption tax.
Yet, despite the gloom, there exist everyday Malaysians who have emerged as inspirational figures – whether it is because they battled injustice from religious authorities, or rallied thousands to sleep on the streets of the capital for a better tomorrow.
The Malaysian Insider salutes the following “Notable Malaysians of the year” whom we believe embody the best of all good values and have made a positive impact on and contributed to society.
Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin
As the face of G25, the former judge, diplomat and legal adviser has been on the receiving end of rape threats, death threats and name-calling.
Farida could have remained in the background, enjoying a good life after retiring from the civil service but instead chose to become an icon for moderate, progressive Islam.
Maria Chin Abdullah
The Bersih 2.0 chairperson proved that Malaysians do care about their country and can gather peacefully with people of different races sleeping on the road next to each other for the sake of the nation’s future.
She has shown courage in the face of adversity and has stood up for what she has believed in, despite being investigated by police for her actions and charged with organising an illegal rally under the Peaceful Assembly Act.
Datuk Hishamudin Mohd Yunus
Hishamudin is an example of what a good judge should be, yet he was passed over for promotion to the Federal Court in February.
And even after his retirement in September, the former Court of Appeal judge’s views are valued by the public and legal fraternity.
His notable legal pronouncements include striking down as unconstitutional a provision in a Negri Sembilan Islamic religious enactment which punishes Muslim men who cross dress in 2014.
In August this year, he led a bench to rule that decisions of native courts in Sabah and Sarawak were subject to judicial review in the High Court.
Pak Mie and Mak Intan
For years, the late Muhammad Azmi Ismail, known as Pak Mie, battled poverty and prejudice to protect stray cats and dogs, up until his death in March.
But his legacy did not die with him. His wife, Halijah Idris, known as Mak Intan, continues to care for the more than 500 dogs, cats and rabbits with the help of two workers and their son, Alif Effendi.
But it is no easy task, as they need a permanent home above all else, not just food and medicines, for the survival of the rescued animals. Their current shelter has no electricity or piped water.
The mountain guide was hailed a hero after he died while helping fellow climbers on Kota Kinabalu, in the wake of the earthquake which hit Sabah in June.
The 31-year-old was reportedly badly injured by falling rocks, yet he continued to help others on their way down the mountain.
Sapinggi reportedly waited for about five hours before descending the steep slope himself and was eventually found barely alive by the rescue team. He died moments later.
While some may disagree with his point of view, we admire popular cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, or Zunar, for using his talent in art to exercise his freedom of expression.
His perseverance in the face of multiple charges, censorship and raids make him an inspiration to the local art scene and a pioneer in creative activism.
Zunar was also a recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2015 International Press Freedom Awards.
Syed Azmi Alhabshi
Despite being threatened and humiliated for organising the “I Want to Touch a Dog” programme last year, Syed Azmi chose to forgive his haters and was determined not to let them bring him down.
In the past year, Syed Azmi has eclipsed the infamy he gained by organising many more programmes to feed, clothe and help the homeless, the poor, refugees, flood victims and the disabled.
His creativity in coming up with unique events makes social work cool and is great at attracting more and more people to get involved in charity.
The Malaysian Paralympic Team
The Paralympic team made Malaysia proud at the recent Asean Para Games in Singapore, winning third place with 52 gold, 58 silver and 37 bronze medals.
The team of 197 athletes did not allow their disabilities to hinder them, even though their feats would have been more challenging to achieve compared with their non-disabled counterpart.
One of them is Felicia Mikat, who, at 16, won three gold medals in the Games.
Malaysia took part in athletics, boccia, football, goalball, judo, powerlifting, archery, badminton, cycling, rowing, volleyball, swimming, table tennis, shooting, tennis, basketball and fencing.
Simo Sekam, Jerome Sekam and Tangah Jansah
Three Bidayuh “kampung engineers”, Simo Sekam, his son Jerome and nephew Tangah Jansah have become the go-to people for mini-hydroelectric dams which are a blessing for Sarawak villages cut off from the electricity grid.
Simo and his two assistants have helped install five mini-hydro projects in five villages all over the state despite not having any engineering degrees.
Materials for the projects are donated by NGOs and politicians, but the three volunteer their time and invaluable experience of working in the jungle to get the dams up and running.
The Jakun Orang Asli of Kampung Peta, Johor
On January 17, 2012, the Johor and federal governments tried to throw the Jakun Orang Asli of Kampung Peta off their own land.
But rather than bow down to the authorities, the minority community stood fast and fought against their eviction in court for more than three long years.
The battle ended on October 21, with the courts declaring that the eviction handed down to them invalid and unlawful