At the height of her career, G25 founder and retired diplomat Noor Farida Ariffin was wearing three different hats for Malaysia at the world’s legal capital – The Hague, Netherlands. MALAYSIANS KINI, a series on Malaysians you should know, provides a depth to this lady many may have not understood or misunderstood. Here Alyaa Alhadjri speaks with Noor Farida to find out …
She was appointed as ambassador to The Hague in 2000 and represented Malaysia as co-agent at the International Court of Justice in the trials for claims on Pulau Batu Putih, as well as Sipadan and Ligitan.
This was aside from being the Malaysian permanent representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, also based in The Hague.
Her journey with the judiciary, however, started with in 1971 when she joined the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
She was a Sessions Court judge in 1988 when the government seconded her to London for five years as the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Director of the Women and Development Programme.
This was to be the turning point for her diplomatic career after being appointed in 1993 to head Wisma Putra’s newly established Legal Division of the Ministry.
Nowadays, Noor Farida shares her home with eight cats, while at the same time continues to travel and offer legal consultancy services.
One of her eight cats, named Jasper, was a gift from a friend and came along with her all the way from Holland.
In her own words, Noor Farida shares her life experiences that eventually led to formation of G25.
I WAS BROUGHT UP IN TAIPING. I have six siblings – three boys, three girls. I went to school at the Treacher Methodist school and I did my Form 6 at King Edwards Science School. After that I went to Inns of Court and did my law degree in London.
During my time, we mixed freely. Until now I am still in touch with my classmates of all races because we never looked at skin colour, we never looked at religion.
We even had pyjama parties. We visited each other’s homes.
One thing about us Malaysians is that we are so respectful of each other’s religion.
I find that even to this day. Except that now Muslims are more concerned about halal haram issues than they are about corruption.
I AM SINGLE BY CHOICE. Once you reach a certain stage, you get too independent to want to share your life with somebody. To clutter up your life.
Of course during your youth you have all the relationships but it never made me want to give up my singlehood.
In fact many of my friends who are in this line of work, people doing civil society work, activists, many of them are single by choice. So it is nothing unusual now.
You have other interests and you value your independence. That is the main thing. If you have God to celebrate, causes to fight for… you lead an interesting life. And you have financial independence as well.
You can travel when you like, as you like.
I TRAVEL EXTENSIVELY. I still go about twice a year to Europe because my family has a house there. My family has a townhouse and my niece lives there.
My sister is in Australia, I have nieces, nephews and grand-nieces in Australia. I will be visiting them next month.
So basically we are very cosmopolitan people, that is how it has shaped my world view.
THROUGH IT ALL I REMAIN A DEVOUT MUSLIM. But people will always judge you on whether you cover your hair or not and that is such a shame.
Islam in this country – and I have been talking to foreigners and foreign diplomats – they say, our emphasis is more on rituals. More on form rather than substance.
Many people, especially some of our religious authorities, have forgotten that the main message of Islam is justice and mercy, and compassion.
We begin every prayer by invoking the name of Allah SWT the merciful and most compassionate but you look at Kelantan’s proposal for public caning in stadiums.
A stadium is for recreation and sports. It is not for punishment. And why? Where is the emphasis on mercy and compassion?
I CONSIDER MYSELF A LIBERAL BUT I AM A FAITHFUL MUSLIM. I am a practising Muslim. I don’t just pray five times a day, I pray more than that. I take my religious obligations very seriously.
But the problem is, they just judge you by your exterior. I don’t go around exposing my bosom and all that. I dress modestly, except that I don’t wear the tudung. Which is a conscious decision.
But to them you are murtad, you are deviant.
THEY NEVER DEFINE WHAT IS A LIBERAL. What is a liberal? For us being liberal means respecting other point of views. And being pluralists means respecting people of other faiths.
I respect, for example a Christian, but that does not mean that I believe in the Christian religion.
As a Muslim I believe that my religion is the truth. But let’s just learn to respect each other’s differences. Basically it is all about respect.
These people have such a distorted interpretation of the word liberal and the word plural.
IT WAS AN INFORMED DECISION. I don’t wear the headscarf because I have read enough and I’m convinced it is not mandatory.
There are many views, except in this country, only one view prevails.
Through the Golden Age of Islam, differences of views, except on matters of faith like the five pillars of Islam, were welcomed.
That is why we have the four mazhabs (school of thoughts). Differences of views on minor things.
Just not on the five main pillars of faith. Those are matters which cannot be questioned.
I AM VERY PROUD TO BE A FEMINIST. People who look down on feminists don’t understand the meaning of the word. We are just making sure that women are not abused.
To fight for what is right, for men or women, for me that is the right thing to do because you have an innate sense of justice.
Even if men were abused, I would be very concerned because we also fight for human rights.
To be a feminist is to fight for women’s human rights.
MOST PREJUDICES ARE BORNE OUT OF IGNORANCE. If people are racially prejudiced, it is because they have never mixed with others. And because of basic insecurities, they think only their race and their religion is perfect.
But if you were to mix with others, you will see that they are just the same as you.
SNOOPING AND SPYING INTO PRIVATE SINS IS AGAINST THE AL-QURAN. I was a founding member of Sisters In Islam. To us, Islam is a merciful religion. Islam is a religion that gave so much rights to women at a time when Europe was still living in darkness.
And yet you have people accusing me of being murtad and a deviant just because we (G25) question the administration of Islam and we are against moral policing.
As I said, so much ignorance. What I discovered from this episode, when I have been so maligned and defamed, is that a lot of Muslims in Malaysia are ignorant about the religion.
WE AT G25 WILL CONTINUE TO SPEAK UP. What has struck me is that because our composition is mainly very senior retired civil servants, we’ve got eight former secretary-generals, eight former ambassadors, directors-general and also members who are still working… people are emboldened to speak up.
People are saying that if G25 who are basically establishment figures, if they can speak up, they too can speak up.
We are very perturbed at the manifestation of religious intolerance in this country. At the breakdown of good governance in this country.
So its not just religious issues that we are focusing on but also good governance, upholding the Federal Constitution, and reforms.
MALAYSIANS KINI is a series on Malaysians you should know.