What I've Learned with Nurul Izzah

Back in 2013, Nurul Izzah shared her life lessons with Esquire.

BY eugene phua | May 24, 2018 | Women We Love

I remember when I was a prefect at 16 in Assunta Secondary School, and there were these form three students from the lower income group and broken families. It helps you to understand and empathise because not everyone is fortunate enough to have a good family or a well-off upbringing. So, I thank God I had that experience because it really allows you to lead a normal life and to understand the plight of the average Malaysian. You’re not encapsulated in an environment where you’re protected from harsh realities.

You can’t try to live to make your parents proud. Of course, I want them to be proud of me, but it’s important to understand that you do things because it’s right. You live to become a better person in your own self.

Yeah, we do have family dinners. I missed the last one, and my father was quite upset with me.

Every time we visited him in prison, he made really funny jokes. We would laugh and we would have a ball of a time in Sungai Buloh. Yes, there were tearful moments once or twice. But my father never showed us he was suffering. In his wheelchair, he never showed us that sadness and despair. So how can I complain? You have your freedom, you’re not in prison. You can’t complain.

If we had won Putrajaya, I would have brought Radiohead to Malaysia!

When you join politics, nobody deserves a better seat. We’re all soldiers and you have to fight, you have to struggle. Don’t expect everything to be given to you.

I refuse to be cynical about politics because you have no idea how it felt when I met a nun in Sentul, and she held my hand and said, “I’m praying for you to win.”

It’s not living at all if I suddenly decided to become an engineer and work in an office and do nothing else. It’s not possible. It’s an awakening, a one-way street. There’s no way back!

They can take away anything from you. They can take away your freedom, they can take away people you love. But they can’t take away your spirit. It might sound cliché, but it’s true. That’s one thing they will not take away from me: my ability to hope, my ability to believe in God’s powers, in a better future, and to believe in love.

I got married relatively young, which is something I would not advocate.

When Safiyah was born, it was just a culmination of all my hopes. I felt so proud that God gave me this child, and that I could deliver her. Having this life inside me was such a strong spiritual experience.

Frankly, how much can you do to protect your children, when you’re not doing anything much to affect the outcome of the future and the governance of the country? I can only teach them and instil in them the ability to be strong, to withstand challenges, and to be able to compete in a difficult and challenging world.

Sheer optimism—that’s how you survive in opposition politics in Malaysia.

Where the colour of your skin does not matter. Where there is only one law that applies to everyone, regardless of how close you are to the powers that be. Where discourse is rich and vibrant, and inter-religious dialogue is never wrongly interpreted, misused and politically abused to signal an attack or an affront against certain groups. The sort of Malaysia I envision is where each of us has that sense of belonging.

I remember my father’s advice. He said, “Izzah, the first rule is never try to emulate or be envious of another orator. Never. You acquire your own style and you move on.”

You want to spend money on clothes, you can’t buy handbags. It’s like a rule.

First and foremost, you are a politician. People have to take your work seriously. The rest is either just bonuses or plus points. I remember I went to a ceramah, and they told me, “You look tired, can’t you put on some make-up?” I’m like, look, I’m not an artiste. I’m a politician. I’m tired. I have to go out and do my work. Don’t expect me to look glamorous everyday. So, there. Next question.

The year I keep reminiscing about is 2004. My father was still in prison. We lost every seat except Permatang Pauh—and we almost lost that! I felt that there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Fast forward to now, and I just feel we can go through anything together.

I feel very sad for my father. I’ve never seen anyone who works as hard as he does. It’s very difficult for a daughter to have to see her father go through that because you want him to be comfortable at his age. But what’s contentment really? Is it because you’re prime minister that you feel contented? I’m just happy to know that he is doing something that he loves and feels passionate about. I’m always so proud of him. His perseverance and his determination have taught us so much.

I am who I am because of him.

Art Direction by Rebecca Chew. Photograph produced by Blink Studio. Anwar Ibrahim photo: Getty. 
This article was first published in the July 2013 issue of Esquire Malaysia.