The latest Google Doodle honours the late Azah Aziz on what would have been her 94th birthday today. An icon in her own right, she is remembered for her work as a journalist, author, women’s rights advocate, and her efforts in preserving Malay culture, specifically regarding textiles and traditional attire.
Fondly known as Mak Ungku, she was born on 21 August 1928. Her mother, Azizah Jaafar, was from a distinguished Johor family and was herself a pioneer in domestic science studies. Part of Azah’s deep interest in the Malay language and culture came from the collection of early Malay textiles she had inherited from her mother, as well as her marriage to Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz bin Ungku Abdul Hamid.
In 1957, Azah took up secretarial work under the renowned Malay language and literature scholar Zainal Abidin Ahmad (known by many as Za’aba), where she developed her interest in writing and literature. She then became a secretary to the Straits Times’ then-editor-in-chief Leslie Hoffman. At the newly established Berita Harian, she began her career as a journalist being in charge of the women’s section for two years, a role she took over from her mother.
Without fear or favour, Azah flourished in her field and went on to interview notable figures around the globe. She had names such as former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, and the first woman cosmonaut that went into outer space, Valentina Nikolayeva-Tereshkova, under her belt.
She trailblazed her way further by founding the Malaysian Women Journalists Association (Pertama) and became its first president from 1971 to 1978. She also co-founded the charitable organisation Pertubuhan Tindakan Wanita Islam (Pertiwi), founded the Islamic Women’s Action Organization, and advocated for salary equality, separate taxes for working wives, and Muslim family amendments.
As a Malay cultural expert, she had lectured about Malay culture in art festivals and international seminars while through her publishing company, Akaz, she was one of the first Malaysian women to publish books on poetry, games, and songs for children. Azah was honoured as a Tokoh Wanita Johor in 1992, as well as being named a Tokoh Budayawan Melayu.