The International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) had its day made last week when the Raja Permaisuri Agong paid a visit to the campus in Gombak.
The queen was appointed the university’s constitutional head (equivalent to the chancellor of a local university).
She succeeded the late Sultan of Pahang, Paduka Ayahanda Sultan Ahmad Shah Al-Musta’in Billah, who passed away in June. He was IIUM’s constitutional head for the past 35 years; since 1983 when the university was established in a temporary campus in Petaling Jaya.
His profound passion for and dedication to the institution are also exhibited by the Raja Permaisuri Agong.
This we found out during her short but intense visit. Many have read in the media about the royal couple’s down-to-earth ways, or saw clips on television at various occasions.
But nothing compares with the real-life experience of being with her and observing the interplay that takes place. While the official tour was planned for some two hours, it spilled over into twice the time — a clear indication of what “passion and dedication” could mean to any one person.
In this case, starting from the visit to the Kulliyyah (Faculty) of Architecture and Environment Design, the two words seemed like a natural predisposition of the royal visitor.
Showing a very deep interest in anything architectural, she dazzled the students with several profound questions about the work they exhibited. Given the topic of heritage, in particular that of old traditional mosques and related buildings throughout the peninsula, she felt so much at home with the subject.
The time drifted away in meaningful conversations and discussions, adding much academic value to what has already been on record. Her thoroughness with architectural detail and ornamental design elated the students, who felt appreciated by her keen observations and comments.
This becomes more apparent from the effort that she is undertaking in Pahang where traditional heritage is being secured and preserved. In many ways, the university is very fortunate to know that it can count on the support of its constitutional head for a mission that it holds dear; namely in ensuring that sustainability is placed at the heart of IIUM’s raison d’etre, embedded within the Islamic worldview as well as practices for the greater good of humanity expressed as rahmatan lil alamin.
This became even more evident during a stop at the university’s children care centre. The centre is intended for parents who work at the university and want to feel secure about their children while they are at work. iEducare, as it is now known, provides such a service and more so by nurturing each child holistically.
This ranges from caring for the individual’s intrinsic development (spiritual and religious as well as creative aspects) to the extrinsic ones (like martial arts and outdoor activities). This she observed with much interest where time again drifted away generously. Even the little ones could sense her deep interest when they responded appropriately to Her Majesty’s humility in dealing with them.
This is perhaps the main takeaway from the memorable visit, including an introductory tour around the Garden of Knowledge and Virtue as the campus is popularly known. It came to the fore when Her Majesty chose an “ordinary” seating in the vehicle together with her two daughters and her younger sister (an IIUM alumnus).
The prepared seats that meet the royal SOP were somehow spared. Her choice was deliberate based more on being “adaptable” than on rigidly abiding by “protocol”. The former allows her to have an even “better” experience despite the “breach” of protocol.
But then, all along this was just one of many times when protocol was sacrificed without any untoward consequences. It was more enriching because she could casually interact (including impromptu picture-taking opportunities) with her eager subjects without being pretentious. Thus making the entire episode so much more lively, rewarding and memorable.
However, it was the lunch that was most remarkable. Amidst the frank and witty conversations at the “royal” table, Her Majesty “volunteered” an unscheduled off-the-cuff speech to the anxious audience. It could not be more humbling when she “requested” for wisdom and guidance from the university in executing her role as the constitutional head of the beloved institution.
This was almost a spontaneous response to the president's address that was conveyed earlier requesting the same from Her Majesty. Such humility, throughout my nearly 50 years of work in academia, is indeed rare because “arrogance” is prized above all else. What happened, therefore, was a jaw-dropping experience for many.
Put together, the IIUM community is most fortunate to be reminded that “humility” is the hallmark of education in the Garden of Knowledge and Virtue.
Therein humility is strongly advocated as the sign of a truly educated person. For this we are indebted to Her Majesty for being who she really is. To this we say Dirgahayu Tuanku for leading the way.
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector