Making a tangible difference in her community

Growing up as a Madrasah student, Nur Hikmah Binte Md Ali was keenly aware of assumptions that religion is both cause and panacea to certain problems. 

Concerned about such assumptions, she was motivated to deepen her understanding of the issues within the Malay Muslim community. 

So when it came to choosing what to study in university, the choice was simple. Without hesitation, she clicked on “Malay Studies” on the online application form. 

“I found that Malay Studies in NUS was most relevant to my personal experiences and would help me to make sense of my own society,” said Hikmah, who also selected Sociology as her minor. 

Both these courses combined to give her new insights as well as learning tools, enabling her to challenge the status quo by digging deeper to examine the root causes of the key issues affecting her community. 

With her newfound knowledge, Hikmah decided to share her observations by writing various commentaries that were published in Berita Mediacorp, the Malay news arm of Mediacorp. 

Her commentaries have explored topics such as religion and its role in social development programmes, as well as undergraduate education – both in relation to the Malay-Muslim community. 

Turning knowledge into action 

Hikmah also sought to make an impact within the university. In 2020, she became the President of the NUS Malay Studies Society

Driven by her passion to raise awareness of socio-economic issues and policies, she organised several forums where speakers were invited to share about a wide range of issues pertaining to the development of the Malay community – extending to topics such as gender and sexuality. 

She also joined NUS Interfaith, eventually becoming a member of the executive committee and organising events on and off campus, as she believed strongly in the need to promote a better understanding of other religions. 

Beyond her activities on campus, she was recognised with a nomination as “Sahabat Sastera” (Friend of Malay Literature) by the Malay Language Council in 2021, for promoting the value of Malay literature. She is also working on a book with the other nominees on this topic. 

Hikmah is set to play an integral role in shaping the Malay media landscape too, as she now sits on an advisory panel for Malay media at Mediacorp. A recent initiative is the “Nadi Kampus” (Pulse of the Campus) section in Berita Mediacorp, where undergraduates are free to submit their poems, videos, short articles and other media forms. 

Overcoming obstacles along the way

However, Hikmah’s NUS journey was not all smooth sailing. When she first arrived at NUS, Hikmah was taken aback by the huge class size and distance between the student and the lecturer. It was a far cry from her Madrasah experience.

Thankfully, Hikmah made friends with a number of helpful seniors. With their support, Hikmah found her place in NUS. “Being with them helped me to transition to university life,” she said.

Coming from a large family of six, financial struggles were another hurdle in Hikmah’s education path. For a period of time during the height of the pandemic, she had to work as a swab assistant to help her family out – all while keeping up with her studies.

Fortunately, a MUIS Zaakat financial assistance scheme and the NUS Merit Scholarship gave Hikmah some reprieve and enabled her to pursue the academic excellence she has now achieved.

All her achievements are possible, she believes, because of the support she has received – from family, friends and the University. She also credits picking the right courses in NUS, that have opened up a whole new world of learning.

Hikmah graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours (Highest Distinction) in Malay Studies on 6 July.

With all that she’s gained at NUS, Hikmah hopes “to address some of the problematic ideas that are rampant in society.”

“Malay Studies has helped me to understand my own realities better,” she said. Coupled with Sociology, the courses have taught her how to critique assumptions and policies, and equipped her with the capability to make a difference in society.

This story is part of NUS News’ coverage of Commencement 2022, which celebrates the achievements of our 13,975 graduates through 28 in-person ceremonies. For more on Commencement, read our story on the opening ceremony, check out the official Commencement website, or look up (and tag) #NUS2022 on our social media channels!