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07 September 2016

Our local debate scene has bloomed gracefully over the years, gaining international recognition in world championships and tournaments. We talk to Mohd Mifzal, a debater and debate coach from Universiti Teknologi MARA on what it is like to represent your nation and debate on foreign grounds.

The local debating scene has had its ups and downs over the years: from being generally unheard of to making headlines and stirring up controversy to currently (and rightfully) being prestigious and world-renowned. Even though some may opine that “debat bukan budaya kita” (debate isn’t our culture), our debate teams seem to be proving otherwise. Malaysia is now home to some of the top debaters in the world, and this is not all there is to be proud of.

In June 2015, the debating team from International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) emerged as champions at the United Asian Debating Championship (UADC) that was held in Universitas Udayana in Bali. Our very own law student/controversial activist Syed Saddiq was named best overall speaker. He then went on to bag the Asia’s Best Speaker award for the third time in a row at the Asian British Parliamentary Debate tournament in September.

In November, both IIUM and Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) teams made history at the Cambridge Intervarsity Debate Championship. Ameera Natasha Moore and Sarah Rahim from IIUM defeated Tel Aviv University and Leiden University in the English as Second Language (ESL) category. The team from UiTM, on the other hand - consisting of Mohd Mifzal Mohd Murshid Kieron and Jasmine Ho Abdullah - came out as victors after winning in the main category and beating powerhouses from Oxford University, London School of Economics and Trinity College, Dublin.

For Mohd Mifzal of the UiTM team, debating is not all about competing and winning tournaments. In fact, what he enjoys most about it is the fact that debating places no limits on the topics which could be explored, regardless of how controversial they may be.

According to Mifzal, individual debaters are expected to have daily habits to improve, including reading multiple news sources on current issues as well as reviewing debate videos. When it comes to preparations as a team, Mifzal explains that they typically warm up by debating not only among their own members but also with the teams from other Malaysian institutions.

Besides competing in debate tournaments himself, Mifzal also coaches. When asked which role he prefers more, he eagerly replies: “I love being a debate coach! More than being a debater most of the time.” He further explains, “To coach is to understand that your job isn't to impose your worldview or debating style on the people you coach, but to facilitate their ability to formulate their own speaking style.”

He adds, “The best thing about coaching is definitely seeing a student overcome a personal challenge, be it winning a tournament or simply being able to communicate their ideas persuasively. It feels incredibly rewarding, knowing that I was part of the process.”

And while the rest of us wonder how amazing it must be to step onto international platforms and represent Malaysia, Mifzal explained that competing internationally can be daunting for a first-timer. “Perhaps it’s because Malaysians are typically told since young that everything is better abroad, including their students.”

Regardless of that, Mifzal counts international debates as some of the best experiences of his life. “You meet the sharpest and most brilliant minds from across the world, and challenge yourself against them, learning new and incredible things in the process. It expands your horizons and exposes you to an international intellectual space like no other activity can.” 

Mohd Mifzal and Jasmine Ho Abdullah went on to make the nation proud once again this year, after being ranked world number two at the World Universities Debating Championships (WUDC) that took place in Greece. WUDC is the biggest and most prestigious intervarsity debating championship with participation from renowned universities worldwide.


By Dhabitah Zainal

Photo of Jasmine Ho Abdullah & Mohd Mifzal in action courtesy of Mohd Mifzal

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