Cikgu Muhammad Ariff Ahmad was awarded Singapore’s highest literary honour, the Cultural Medallion, in 1987 — ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
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A literary giant in the Malay community in Singapore and the region, Cikgu Muhammad Ariff Ahmad is not letting two accidental falls last year stop him from doing what he loves best: writing.
He uses a wheelchair to get around and is no longer able to write with a pen or type on a computer keyboard. But the 89-year-old taps gently on his iPhone whenever inspiration strikes, storing his ideas in an e-notebook.
An author and poet, Mr Ariff was awarded Singapore’s highest literary honour, the Cultural Medallion, in 1987. Six years later, he took home $5,000 in cash when he won a top Malay literary prize in Singapore, Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang.
He also founded regional Malay language writers’ group Asas 50 and has led many conferences on the Malay language. But it is the almost 40 years he spent in the teaching profession that stand out, as he is widely and affectionately known as Cikgu, or teacher in Malay. He taught Malay in primary and secondary schools for nearly 20 years before moving to lecturing trainee teachers at the then-Institute of Education.He retired in 1979.
His wife Sarinah Haniff, 84, is a retired teacher. They have two sons and two daughters, between the ages of 49 and 60. But only the third child, Ms Shahrulbariah, 51, has followed in her parents’ footsteps. She is a primary school teacher.
Mr Ariff, a grandfather of six, was born in Singapore in 1924. He is the second child among two sons and two daughters of a housewife and odd-job worker. At age 24, he got his teaching diploma in Perak, Malaysia, from what is now known as the Sultan Idris University of Education. It awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2006.
He has written almost 60 children’s books, novels, grammar textbooks as well as articles on culture and literature for magazines and newspapers in the region.
Today, he gives advice on literature, language and culture every week in a column in Berita Minggu, a Sunday Malay newspaper.