Especially after an intensive general election, who in the world is not familiar with Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali? The wife of Malaysia’s 4thand 7thPrime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, she is also the first woman to be appointed a Medical Officer in government service for the state of Kedah. And since the appointment of her husband as Prime Minister in 1981, she has used her position as the wife of the Prime Minister to campaign tirelessly for women’s health, family planning, drug abuse control and adult literacy. As of the 10 May 2018, she will serve as a chancellor of the Multimedia University of Malaysia. However, as much as we know about her through the media, here are 5 things that may surprise you about our beloved First Lady.
1. She plays the violin
Siti Hasmah started playing the violin ever since during Malaysia’s war years. However, she stopped playing in the late 1950s to only pick up the string instrument in 2016. Not only did she have to become reacquainted with the instrument, because of her poor eyesight, she had to learn the songs by heart. Nonetheless, her renditions of “Por Una Cabeza” and “Tanah Pusaka” during Pakatan Harapan fundraising event in April 2018 have managed to leave her audience mesmerised.
2. She is not the only one with great stories in her family
There is no doubt that Siti Hasmah is a wise and ambitious woman. However, she is not the only one making the family proud. Many of her siblings were prominent leaders in the country as well. For example, the late Tun Ismail Ali, the brother of Siti Hasmah, is the second Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) and still holds the record as the longest-serving BNM governor in the country. Furthermore, he was also the first Chairman of Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB).
Apart from Ismail Ali, Siti Hasmah’s other brother General Tan Sri (Dr.) Dato’ Paduka Mohamed Hashim is a former Commander of the Armed Forces from 1987 to 1992. He was among those involved in the peace agreement between the Communist Party of Malaya (PKM) and the Malaysian government in Haadyai in 1989. After retirement, he was appointed as the Chairman of Ajinomoto (Malaysia) Berhad, National Aerospace & Defense Industries Sdn. Bhd and the Remuneration Committee.
There are also politicians such as the late Tan Sri Ahmad Razali Mohd (former Chief Minister of Selangor) and the late Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Dr Hajah Saleha, who was one of the main figures who moved UMNO at the beginning of its establishment. Saleha was also the only female representative who spoke in the Third National Congress.
3. Siti Hasmah is the NOT the first Malay woman to become a doctor
You’ve read it everywhere, Siti Hasmah is the first Malay woman to become a doctor. But, the fact is, she is the second Malay woman to become a doctor. The first Malay woman to become a doctor was Tan Sri Dr Salma Ismail, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 95. However, she is the first woman to be appointed a Medical Officer in government service for the state of Kedah. In 1974, she became one of the first women to be the Maternal and Child Health Officer. In addition, she also held various positions such as:
- President of the Girl Guides Association of Malaysia
- Chairman of the Kedah Family Planning Association
- President of the Malaysian Medical Foundation Association
- President of the Disabled Child Recovery Association
- Deputy President of the Federation of Malaysian Family Planning Associations
- Advisory and Neonatal Maternal Health Association Advisor
- Malaysian Paediatric Association Advisor
4. She went to Iraq and criticise for being a Saddam Hussein supporter
In the year 2000, Siti Hasmah went to Iraq with a few specialist doctors and several NGOs for a humanitarian visit. Her companions and her were shocked to see the current state of the country. She lamented that before the Gulf War, Iraq was one of the most modern countries in West Asia and the world’s second largest oil producer. What the war has done to it really shook her.
In addition to visiting the hospital, they also visited the Al-Amiriah anti-nuclear sanctuary bombed by the Gulf War allied forces. While her intentions were humanism, there were people who claimed that the visit was actually to support Saddam Hussein. Even the United States (US) responded with hostility. However, Dr Mahathir stood by his wife and responded to the allegations by stating that, “We are not there to support Saddam nor does Saddam need our support.”
Our then Prime Minister also added that Malaysia can never agree to the Iraqi’s attack on Kuwait. At the same time, Malaysia also disagreed to the economic sanctions against Iraq, which led to the continuous suffering of the Iraqis.
5. Siti Hasmah’s sister is the one who matchmake Anwar and Wan Azizah
Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking may have been one of the most controversial and memorable events during Dr Mahatir’s govern. As a result, the relationship between the two families ended with it. Today, it seems that the issue between Dr Mahathir and Anwar has been forgiven when Dr Mahathir himself join hands with the PKR president, Wan Azizah.
The late Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Dr Hajah Saleha was the person responsible for uniting Anwar and Wan Azizah. In November 2016, Siti Hasmah and Wan Azizah met for the first time since the sacking of Anwar in 1998. In one of her interviews, Wan Azizah informed that both she and Siti Hasmah would play badminton often. However, due to political reasons, their close relations had to be sacrificed.
6. Siti Hasmah doesn’t really know Dr Mahathir’s mind
When Dr Mahathir stepped on stage to announce his retirement on live TV on 22 June 2002 at the UMNO General Assembly, not only has he confused the nation, Siti Hasmah herself was in the dark as well. When asked if she felt left out that her husband didn’t inform her about the news beforehand, Siti Hasmad calmly explained that it was his rights to choose what he wants to keep from her. Similar situation, when Dr Mahathir wanted to step back into the political scene, she was not aware until later. “I can’t deny, that at first, I was very disappointed because I thought we would have a good retirement period. But now that he is back in politics, I have to support him and look after him.”