Muhammad Haziq Azfar bin Ishak is a final-year student at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (‘UM’). A torchbearer for many students and friends alike, Haziq’s forthright and good-natured spirit shines through in the manner that he carries himself as the President of the University of Malaya Students’ Union (‘UMSU’). Never one to take for granted the trust and opportunities bestowed upon him, he has gone above and beyond to amplify the voices of his peers. Haziq’s innate belief that one must always act on one’s social and moral responsibility in whatever capacity one can serves not only as his personal incentive, but also galvanises those around him to join the good fight.
Originally from Tanjung Malim, Perak, Haziq found himself relocating around the country frequently during his youth — having to restart and adapt to new school environments each time. Nevertheless, he took it in stride and embraced the different communities he encountered along the way. Being the first amongst six siblings, Haziq was no stranger to the heavy burden that often came with being the eldest in the family. However so, this was another aspect of his life that he learned to embrace, fostering those high expectations into a steady flame that illuminated his path as a young student. ‘Be it from my parents or teachers, I am glad that there was always this constant force behind me that prevented me from being complacent with my life,’ he admitted gratefully.
Having graduated from the Maktab Rendah Sains MARA Taiping, it seemed as if wherever he looked, the conventional path to take was one built towards the STEM field. While such a career path would indeed be a great prospect, his intuition led him to ponder the possibilities that awaited him beyond the horizon. Reflecting upon this, he bravely leapt forward, setting his mind to pursue law in his foundation studies. The decision came about due to his veneration towards politicians, social activists and leaders of non-governmental organisations (‘NGOs’) who utilised their legal backgrounds to contribute significantly towards Malaysia’s advancement.
That leap of faith allowed him to hit the ground running as he began gaining traction as a law student at the Universiti Teknologi MARA, Dengkil (‘UiTM’). Eager to see where his journey would take him next, he started weighing out his options. With UM law school in his sights both figuratively and literally — a picture of the Faculty pinned to his study area — he was resolute in making the UM Law Faculty his home for the next four years. True enough, after impressing the likes of Dr Sherin Kunhibava and Ustaz Abdul Muhsin during his interview, thus marked the dawn of his whirlwind of a journey as a UM law undergraduate.
If life was a well-documented journal, Haziq’s ardour for student politics and activism could be traced back to the very preface of his teenage years. He fondly recollects constantly having his nose in a book, immersed in discovering the intricacies of the country’s political climate — from the historical foundations upon which Malaysia was built upon, to the implementation of current national policies. The latter, in particular, birthed a curiosity within him as he noticed how some of the systemic measures planted across the country were simply not harvesting the intended results. Such implications concerned him the most, knowing that the very livelihoods of everyday Malaysians were being put on the line.
‘As long as you live within a community of people, there will always be problems that arise in some form or another. As a member of that community, you need to put yourself in a position that allows you to act with courage to enact change wherever you can. This is how you can contribute to your society.’
Embedding this philosophy within himself, Haziq began searching for opportunities to nurture his growth as a student leader. Soon enough, his stepping stone into the vast and diverse world of politics came in the form of an offer to participate in the novel ADUN Muda Selangor 2016 programme. Being one of the youngest representatives amidst the handpicked group of bright-eyed youths, Haziq brimmed with zeal to take away as much as he could from the event — be it during the enlightening sharing session with YB Hannah Yeoh or the spirited debates concerning Selangor’s water supply shortages. Little did he know, his experience in the event would not only be a platform for him to start exercising his passion for statesmanship; it simultaneously served as a glimpse of what awaited him in the coming years.
With an added year of experience as a UiTM student representative under his belt, Haziq stepped into the Faculty with fresh eyes and an inquisitive mind. During his first year, he was drawn towards joining the Majlis Orator Universiti Malaya (‘MORUM’) — a renowned hub gathering some of the best orators across campus. He wasted no time committing himself towards the hustle of the organisation, stepping up as the Director of the annual Debat Piala Timbalan Naib Canselor (HEPA) Universiti Malaya competition. After months of meticulous planning and voluminous paperwork, Haziq and his team came out on top with the positive reception displayed by eager participants. In spite of their success, his triumph was unfortunately eclipsed by his private musings on the impediments they had to overcome; particularly, the procedural hurdles that challenged them along the way.
Haziq with the High Committee of the Debate Malaya Competition in 2019
As Haziq progressed on his journey within MORUM in his second year, both as the Secretary of the club and the Deputy Director of the Debat Malaya competition, these challenges became even more pertinent. Upon sharing his thoughts with his friends, he was sympathetic towards the common struggles equally faced by them when it came to executing major events for their respective organisations. By digging a little deeper, he also came to learn about the unfortunate welfare issues that plagued his circle of companions, and became unsettled by the fact that some of them could not even afford three square meals a day. Refusing to remain idle while others suffered, Haziq sought to take proactive actions to eradicate these issues. Thus, falling back onto his roots and what he knew best, Haziq marched with resolve into the thriving atmosphere of UM’s campus politics.
‘Perhaps for most people in campus politics, the factor that endorsed them to join this environment was that they wanted to be an active voice for students. For me, my journey did not begin with that sort of ambitious intention, but it was rather empathy that pushed me in this direction.’
Haziq joined campus politics in his second year as a modest student union executive member and was comfortable with the notion of supporting his superiors behind the scenes. However, it was evident that his colleagues had a different vision for him. Impressed by his industrious yet charismatic manner, they endorsed him as a potential candidate for a general seat in the student body during his first-ever campus election in 2019. Unsurprisingly, not only did he amount to their expectations, he even managed to surpass it — being conferred the formidable title of Deputy Vice President of UMSU post-election.
Haziq understood the significant weight added to his responsibilities, yet he remained unfazed. He was steadfast in holding his ground to see through his initial aspirations of lending a much-needed helping hand to his community. A constant stream of effort was required to orchestrate and implement institutional reforms and welfare measures. During the arduous process, he unearthed a feeling within himself that made the fatigue all the more bearable and worth it — the feeling of witnessing how these small sparks of change manifest themselves into warm fires of hope and relief within the students. For example, their initiatives to smoothen the application process for the authorisation of events held on campus were exalted by many student organisers for their added efficiency.
‘Whenever I am assigned with a position, it matters to me very much that I carry out my responsibilities beyond what is expected of my role. To me, the integrity and good faith that people have entrusted in me is much more valuable than any other material possession that I own.’
Haziq and other Union members alongside YB Datuk Dr Shahruddin bin Md Salleh, the Deputy Minister of Federal Territories in 2019 — during the Union’s proposal of extending the GOKL City Bus PINK Line to UM
The apex of his political endeavours in UM came about once more due to the showers of support and encouragement by those around him. As the Chairman of Angkatan Mahasiswa UM, he decided to contest in the 2019 campus election alongside Demokrat UM and University of Malaya Association of New Youth (‘UMANY’) — the powerhouse trio forming a coalition aptly named Suara Siswa. With that, Haziq was launched onto the frontlines of their campaign for student government. From relaying impactful speeches to the masses to generating awareness regarding their manifesto, he was confident to battle at the frontier with his comrades. This assurance largely stemmed from the fact that the coalition had a clear-cut vision on what they aspired to bring to the table and what type of union they wanted to represent as the face of UM. In his opinion, this was what distinguished them from other contending student fronts.
The backbone of Suara Siswa: Haziq together with Mr Farhan Amran (Coordinator for Demokrat UM) and Mr Liew Liang Hong (President of UMANY)
Despite the revolutionary progress they were making at the time, windy turns and bumpy roads inevitably turned their way. Indeed, encounters with other competitive entities are part and parcel of any political election. Haziq personally struggled with the opposition’s sharp-cutting remarks intended to cause a flurry of chaotic distraction from his cause. Nonetheless, such attempts to disconcert him uncovered a personal revelation instead; no matter what happened, he simply could not walk away from continuing to voice out the collective frustrations and calls for change. With the advice and solidarity generously afforded to him by his colleagues, he managed to come out on the other side of this life-changing experience unscathed. ‘If I had been left to muddle through those comments alone, I would not have been able to come out of it. It was only with the help of my friends and team that I learned how to combat it.’
Ultimately, it was the very accumulation of all his victories and defeats that guided him to where he is today — at the very helm of the ship as the esteemed President of UMSU.
As always, with great power comes even greater responsibility. As the official student representative of the Union, Haziq was extended the courtesy to participate in Senate meetings as an official Senate Member — part of the University’s highest decision-making body in determining the general direction and policies of the institution. With this practice freshly introduced in 2019, it effectively meant that he was the very first from the sterling line of student body presidents to sit in these meetings. To prepare himself for this high-stakes position, he ensured that his actions and mannerisms reflect the very purpose of his presence in the first place — to push for student leadership to be on par with the University’s top administrators in terms of influence as much as possible. True enough, his presence on behalf of all students in Senate meetings has proven to be of much value. The pressing questions and concerns he raised have often been taken into consideration by other Senate members during votes surrounding policies.
Haziq’s commendable attempt at navigating uncharted waters was further exemplified during the unforgettable month of March 2020, when the entire campus was thrown into a frenzy of uncertainty due to the strict enforcement of the first phase of the Movement Control Order (‘MCO 1.0’). As a result of the alarming announcement, some students chose to remain in the residential colleges and off-campus rental houses. Unbeknownst to them, the pandemic would only persist and escalate thereon. Soon after, the staggering flood of responses collected from those students through virtual surveys administered by UMSU immensely shook Haziq’s conscience. With a majority of them detailing grievances of not being able to access basic household necessities, Haziq knew that the Union had no choice but to rise up in the face of the pandemic.
Haziq understood that time was of the essence. He swiftly formed the COVID-19 Management Taskforce to tackle the unforeseen yet dire consequences that the MCO 1.0 had towards students. From there, a series of intensive initiatives was employed: the distribution of food aid to those stranded on campus; delivery of household necessities to those in the off-campus rental houses; a 95% rental fee reduction for the houses under the management of UMSU; and even the establishment of ‘Wang Saku KMUM’ which provided pocket money to students who were in desperate need of financial aid. It was clear that the items on his to-do list were endless. Nevertheless, with fundraisers and financial donations reaching an astounding RM10,000, the team continued to carry out the impossible. Suffice to say that this was a true testament of willpower from Haziq and his assiduous ensemble of Union members.
Their work to alleviate the ramifications of the pandemic in their unique approach did not stop there. The recent announcement of the second phase of the Movement Control Order (‘MCO 2.0’) raised many red flags as UM students were expected to endure Open and Distance Learning (‘ODL’) for a third semester. Hence, UMSU once again stood firm and formed another committee to solve the adversities that arose due to ODL. In fact, this committee even reached out to struggling students all over the country to offer aid in the form of Internet package assistances. Furthermore, laptops acquired from NGOs and offices of certain Members of Parliament were also distributed accordingly to help accommodate those with technical difficulties. Truly, Haziq and his team tirelessly laboured to uplift the students from their unfortunate circumstances.
‘We just tried to help everyone to the best of our abilities as we knew that ODL was starting to become extremely inaccessible for some of our peers.’
Haziq with his Union members during their trip to the states of Kedah, Perak and Penang to distribute internet package aids and laptops to students in need
Apart from dedicating his time and energy to the COVID-19 task forces, Haziq was also an active member of various other committees rooted in issues concerning student activism and empowerment. Some of these projects were not just limited to campus grounds, but even reached all the way up to the Ministry of Higher Education’s polished settings. For example, Haziq was invited by the Ministry to contribute his perspective as a student representative on behalf of all public university students across Malaysia in the Working Committee for Improvement of Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (‘UUCA’). The committee comprised various legal experts in the country, including the esteemed Datuk Emeritus Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi, a renowned academician at the UM Law Faculty and Malaysian legal landscape.
Although Haziq has his personal differences with the UUCA — one that reflects a similar stance taken by the majority of student activists — he was still grateful to be involved in such a high-calibre committee, guaranteeing that efforts to amend the Act would place equal importance on the voices of the students who would be most affected. Upon sharing details of his scheduled appearance to present his paper on the proposed amendments to the upper ranks in the Ministry, one wonders if he finds it difficult to assert his voice in the forum, especially as an individual representing the youths of Malaysia. To this supposition, Haziq divulges:
‘Even if you speak as a student representative amongst a boardroom of high-level and distinguished persons, you need not feel inferior. As long as you speak with certainty and truth, the very merit of your opinion should be the aspect that is upheld. It is not the position of the person that should be considered in decision-making but rather the merit of his opinion. That is the way forward that we need to practice.’
Haziq during the hybrid Universiti Malaya Student Parliament for Session 2021
Even with his rapid succession within campus politics, Haziq did not neglect his avidity for public speaking and debate, evident in the string of prestigious local and international accolades he clinched. Looking back, Haziq feels extremely fortunate to be surrounded by such an active and neighbourly community of orators in MORUM, and he credits them for aiding him in expanding his skills despite not being equipped with a prior background in debate when he entered UM. Together with his diligent training and natural aptitude for oral advocacy, he even went on to represent Malaysia in the 19th ASEAN University Network and 8th ASEAN+3 Educational Forum and Young Speakers’ Contest held in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The opportunity to participate in the rigorous intelligent discourse regarding the problems faced by nations of the ASEAN+3 region was not something that he took lightly. Consequently, he successfully brought home the highly coveted Runner-up title.
Haziq alongside the other finalists of the Young Speakers’ Contest and the President of Chiang Mai University
In addition to that, in the same year, he was given a chance to travel to Cambodia as part of the Malaysian delegation to the Asia Pacific Summit led by YB Datin Paduka Dr Tan Yee Kew — an opportunity that most students can only dream of. Unlike all his previous public speaking endeavours, this particular event was not competitive in nature. The platform allowed him to refine his diplomacy skills, interacting with many highly competent ministers and government officials from the other participating countries.
‘I was extremely grateful to those who entrusted in me the opportunity to forge such connections, even if I was far from holding the same level of expertise other attendees had.’
Haziq with the Malaysian delegation to the Asia Pacific Summit 2019 in Cambodia led by YB Datin Paduka Dr Tan Yee Kew, the Member of Parliament for Wangsa Maju
Apart from utilising his legal studies to boost his oral advocacy skills, Haziq did not want to limit himself to one discipline. Preferring to sharpen his skills in other mediums, he began employing his ability to form coherent arguments differently and more persuasively. From The Star to Berita Harian, Haziq was featured in numerous thought-provoking articles ranging from burning topics such as the Undi18 movement to the hefty burden of tuition fees imposed on students during the pandemic. He even managed to broadcast his views on Berita Harian as a columnist, penning an article on reducing the voting age to 18 years old. On top of that, as the President of UMSU, he was also active in providing press statements on behalf of the Union to reaffirm their stance on issues affecting the students’ quality of life and education. To him, the self-imposed fear that certain students have in utilising written media must be conquered, as neglecting to do so would only add to the list of opportunities wasted in not advocating for their cause.
‘University students act as the conscience of society as we are given the opportunity to learn from institutions set up by public funding. When we share our stance and opinions through the mainstream media, there is a higher chance of capturing the government’s attention towards our voices — and hopefully, that will translate more during the formulation of national policies.’
Haziq’s published article in Berita Harian on lowering the voting age
During this period, Haziq attended to a multitude of commitments all at once. It was no surprise that he had to endure many abstract hurdles alongside the duties and obligations that came forth around-the-clock. When COVID-19 hit, Haziq took it upon himself to personally sift through the thicket of complaints lodged by affected students. While this brought levels of comfort and assurance to both the students and his team, his own return to home only totalled up to 25 days throughout the whole year. At the same time, he was also invested in maintaining his academic performance at the Faculty. Nevertheless, all the personal sacrifices he willingly made were worth it. Haziq successfully persevered and was satisfied that he managed to achieve the key performance indicators he set up for himself.
With his time in the Cabinet coming to an end, Haziq looks forward to all the free slots in his Google Calendar that he would have on his hands. Primarily, he wishes to focus whole-heartedly on digesting the lessons and legal knowledge that remain during his final stretch in the Faculty, alongside dedicating some time to reflect on his future plans. His mind is set on completing his chambering and practising as a lawyer for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, he is also excited to see the facets of growth he could cultivate with his law degree — parallel to the icons who inspired him to pursue law in the first place.
‘I would love the opportunity to work with NGOs that pertain to students’ rights or even the peoples’ welfare. I think it would be a great way for me to continue fighting for what I believe in, even if I am no longer a student or a Union member myself.’
For his fellow students in the Faculty who are still finding ways to forge their path, Haziq offers a few words in the hopes that it will help anyone out there struggling:
‘Law school is something that is certainly not easy, and it comes together only with hard work and critical thinking that you develop over your course. However, to be hardworking, you need motivation, and that comes in the form of setting a goal in your mind, be it big or small. When you focus on the big picture and track your performance as you go, no matter what you choose to commit yourself to, you will find that everything else will flow naturally from the objectives you wish to see yourself achieve.’
Haziq with two of his closest confidants in the Faculty, Mr Ameer and Mr Najib, who have been with him through thick and thin
Written by Ashley Khor
Edited by Azra Athirah
Reviewed by Celin Khoo Roong Teng and Luc Choong Guong Sang