Celebrated Malay literary icon Muhammad Ariff Ahmad dies from heart failure

Dr Muhammad Ariff Ahmad died from congestive heart failure on Wednesday (March 23) morning.
Dr Muhammad Ariff Ahmad died from congestive heart failure on Wednesday (March 23) morning. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE - Veteran writer and retired lecturer Dr Muhammad Ariff Ahmad, a literary giant in the Malay community known as the authoritative voice on its language, literature and culture, died from congestive heart failure at Khoo Teck Puat hospital on Wednesday (March 23) morning.

Dr Ariff, who was 91, had been admitted to hospital on March 16 after he complained of breathing difficulties, family members said. Affectionately known as Cikgu, or teacher in Malay, he spent almost 40 years in the teaching profession before retiring in 1979.

He was awarded Singapore's highest literary honour, the Cultural Medallion, in 1987, and also helped the late composer Zubir Said craft the lyrics of Singapore's National Anthem.

The opening line of the anthem, "Mari kita rakyat Singapura", for example, was written in what Dr Ariff called a "national language" that was "not just Malay for Malays" - four simple words that most could understand, enabling communication for all Singaporeans.

Minister-In-Charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, who attended the funeral prayers for Dr Ariff on Wednesday afternoon alongside more than 300 well-wishers at the Ba'alwie Mosque in Lewis Road, said that Dr Ariff had made tremendous contributions to the Malay community as part of the pioneer generation of Singaporeans.

"He's always remembered as a person who loved the (Malay) language, and spent most of his lifetime promoting the good use of the language... I hope we can use him as an example, especially for the younger generation... to continue to move the community forward."

yuensin@sph.com.sg