When the world around him gets overwhelming, Ashraf, 21, will dig into his bag for one of his many counters and practise dhikr, Islamic devotional acts in which phrases or prayers are repeated. Ashraf has autism and Tuberous Sclerosis. He was bullied while studying at a mainstream primary school and developed deep-rooted anxiety as a result.

Ashraf seeks refuge in Allah, whom he believes would help him overcome any difficulty, especially his anxiety. When he was younger, the soft-spoken boy of few words surprised his religious teacher by asking, “I already dhikr the 99 names of God. What else can I dhikr?”

Even though his behaviour sometimes subjected him to the ridicule of his peers who could not understand his condition, Ashraf enjoyed attending religious class. This prompted his mother, Ms Faraliza Zainal, 50, to start a religious class for Ashraf and other individuals with special needs. It subsequently became a school offering a holistic education and work readiness programmes. In 2018, Ashraf’s Cafe was established to provide employment opportunities for the school’s graduates. Ashraf blossomed in this safe environment and now works at the cafe.


Ivan began using his hands to hit his head about a decade ago. Now age 30, he is blind in the right eye and his sight in the left eye is deteriorating. He has a visible bald patch on his head—a worn-out part of the wall hints at how he has been passing time during the sixteen years at home.

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