Firdaus Aziz: Doctor, Dad, and man on a mission

By Katie Stone

Reading time: 12 minutes

Time is a rare commodity for Dr. Firdaus these days. As a full-time general practitioner and a father of four, his days are fairly packed with family and patients.

But twice a week, he still finds time to support and inspire thousands of online viewers in New Zealand and across the world.

Helping others has always been important to Firdaus. Born in Malaysia, he knew from an early age he wanted to become a doctor - just like the then-Prime Minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad.

When he received a scholarship to study medicine in either the UK, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, he chose “the land where milk powder and sheep came from.”

By Katie Stone

Reading time: 12 minutes

Time is a rare commodity for Dr. Firdaus these days. As a full-time general practitioner and a father of four, his days are fairly packed with family and patients.

But twice a week, he still finds time to support and inspire thousands of online viewers in New Zealand and across the world.

Helping others has always been important to Firdaus. Born in Malaysia, he knew from an early age he wanted to become a doctor – just like the then-Prime Minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad.

When he received a scholarship to study medicine in either the UK, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, he chose “the land where milk powder and sheep came from.”

“New Zealand isn’t well-known in Malaysia for studying medicine, but I chose it because I thought it looked beautiful. I just liked the idea of living somewhere so green,” he says.

He arrived in Dunedin in 2004 at the age of 20, and very quickly learned New Zealand was indeed beautiful – and very cold.

For many students, university life is synonymous with wild parties and drinking. But Firdaus spent most of his six-year medical degree working as many part-time jobs as he could handle. “When I came here, I wanted to prove to my parents that I could be independent,” he says. “I don’t like cooking, so I would have to go out to eat – and to sustain that I had to work!”

Between studying and interning, he worked as a cleaner, a fruit picker, a Four Square supermarket assistant, and unloading ships for Sealord. In each of his roles, he found himself among Kiwis from all cultures and walks of life, much like the Malaysia he grew up in.

Firdaus completed his studies at the University of Otago in Wellington and married his wife – a fellow doctor – during his final year. They spent two years in Whanganui before moving to Tauranga, where he was a junior doctor at Tauranga Hospital.

It was in Tauranga that their first two sons were born, and also where Firdaus decided to add another item to his already hectic schedule: firefighting. “I’d read an article about the brigade needing more crew members,” he says. “We lived on Cameron Road, the same as the fire station. I looked at the map and realised I could make it on time when the alarm went off.”

As any brigade member will know, volunteering is no small commitment. For Firdaus, it meant being called out in the middle of the night during precious hours of rest, or after arriving home in the evening after a long shift. “It kept me very busy,” he laughs. “But I enjoyed it. It was good to be doing something alongside working at the hospital.”

 

In fact, he loved it so much he stayed on for three of his four years in Tauranga, and believes it’s something everyone should do. “I met good people there. You consider your crew members as someone you can really trust, like a family member. You learn to look out for one another.”

In 2015, the family moved again – this time to Manurewa so that Firdaus could complete his pathology training in Auckland. For three years, he battled the Auckland traffic driving between Auckland Hospital, Middlemore, and North Shore Hospital.

Firdaus and his wife are now both working as general practitioners in Pukekohe, where they are living with their four young children. It’s the perfect fit for Firdaus, who has always preferred smaller towns to big cities. He’s also happy to be seeing and talking to different people every day. “Being a GP is something I really enjoy. When you work in pathology you don’t get to deal with patients, and I like those interactions,” he says. “My wife says that I like to talk, so that suits me well!”

Although he generally keeps a low profile due to the nature of his work, Firdaus has always felt like a member of the community. And when New Zealand was rocked by the Christchurch terror attacks two years ago, he was overwhelmed by a sense of solidarity. “March 15 affected me a lot, even though I was up here in Auckland,” he says. “But the way the wider community responded to the Muslim community really touched my heart.” Firdaus also travelled to Hagley Park for the reopening of the restored Al Noor mosque.

In the wake of the attacks, however, he also realised that there was a gap in non-Muslim’s understanding of the Islamic message. He began wondering whether enough was being done to educate the wider community about Islam, and how he could make a difference. “One thing I realised is that, as Muslims, we are supposed to share what our beliefs are,” he says.

It was then he discovered the New Zealand-based charitable organisation Voice of Islam (VOI). He signed up as a volunteer and has since become one of the organisation’s representatives and speakers.

Formed in 2004, Voice of Islam is a non-profit initiative run entirely by volunteers. Every week, it hosts online discussion and live events based on teachings from the Quran. The aim is simple: to reduce misinformation about Islam, and to foster unity, peace, and harmony within the Muslim community.

The Voice of Islam YouTube channel now has 7.17k subscribers and over 100 videos. Topics include health and wellbeing, Islamic customs, personal stories, and other matters relating to daily life. As a medical professional, Firdaus shares his advice and supports topics such as mental health and issues regarding COVID-19. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern even featured in a special video interview with Voice of Islam to mark the two-year anniversary of the Christchurch attack.

Firdaus says that although New Zealand’s ongoing support for the Muslim community has been an important part of the healing process, the key to reducing misunderstandings about Islam is to spread the truth as far as possible. “That’s what motivates me to be a part of this. To be reaching out to the community, sharing our beliefs.”

He says that one of the biggest misconceptions the world has about Muslims is that they are all the same group of people. What many people don’t realise is that the 1.8 billion Muslims in the world all come from many different countries, languages, and backgrounds. There are around 50,000 Muslims in New Zealand alone, 30 percent of whom were born here. Islam is New Zealand’s fourth-largest religion (after Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism) and there are about 60 mosques and Islamic centres throughout the country.

Through Voice of Islam, he hopes to educate more people about the Islamic way of life. “We want to recreate a good understanding of one another. Sometimes, people are scared or worried about something, but they don’t know why. In general, I’ve found that the majority of the wider community are very welcoming.”

Firdaus speaking

As well as hosting the online video discussions, Firdaus spends many weekends travelling between speaking engagements around New Zealand. He also coordinates many of VOI’s events.

This year, Voice of Islam embarked on a campaign to thank New Zealanders for their support in the two years since the attack. The group placed a number of billboards around Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch featuring messages based on texts from the Quran and quotes from the Prophet Muhammad. Firdaus wrote one of the Auckland billboards based on the reading: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Quran 49:13)

For the billboard, Firdaus simplified the message to: “We made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”

Voice of Islam also played a major role in supporting Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan last year, which fell during the six-week national lockdown. This traditional month of worship is highly communal, filled with prayer, gatherings, and charity work. Friends and family visit their mosques every evening for iftar, the shared meal that breaks the Ramadan fast at sunset. However, lockdown meant that these traditions were impossible, which left Muslims in New Zealand and around the world facing a Ramadan they had never known.

To help the community through these strange circumstances, Voice of Islam held live video discussions and Quran lessons every evening during the time they would otherwise have been at the mosque. In addition to running virtual consults during lockdown, Firdaus kept himself busy every night hosting Voice of Islam. He would speak for an hour on the evening’s topic, then an hour of the Quran. He continues to host at least two programmes a week, covering “anything I think would be useful for people to watch and listen to”.

Despite his many commitments, Firdaus still prioritises his family time. He spends every spare minute with his children, playing soccer or taking them mountain biking. The family enjoy exploring New Zealand’s natural beauty as often as possible.

Being a Muslim has its challenges at times, he says, but New Zealand has shown his family this is where they belong. He’s proud to be here, and proud to be making a difference.

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