Naming honours for first president Yusof Ishak

Naming honours for first president Yusof Ishak
The new mosque in woodlands which will be named Masjid Yusof Ishak.

Singapore will honour its first president Yusof Ishak for his contributions to the country by naming a new mosque, a leading think-tank and a professorship after him, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

A new mosque in Woodlands will be named Masjid Yusof Ishak, and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) will now be known as Iseas-The Yusof Ishak Institute.

A Yusof Ishak Professorship in Social Sciences will be started at NUS to enhance research in multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism.

"These are ways by which we ensure that future generations of Singaporeans will hold dear the memory, ideals and values of Encik Yusof Ishak," Mr Lee said.

This recognition for Mr Yusof, whose portrait has been on Singapore currency notes since 1999, comes as Singapore seeks to better acknowledge its pioneers' efforts ahead of the 50th anniversary of independence next year.

Mr Lee paid special tribute to Mr Yusof at the start of his National Day Rally for being an outstanding pioneer who served as Yang di-Pertuan Negara after Singapore gained self-government in 1959, and as president in 1965. He died in office in 1970.

Speaking in Malay, Mr Lee said Mr Yusof was a deeply religious man, and at the same time had close and friendly relationships with non-Muslims and strongly supported multiracial policies.

He was also committed to helping all communities progress via education, and had also helped strengthen Singapore's ties with its neighbours, Mr Lee added.

Turning to Mr Yusof's widow, who was in the audience, he said: "We are grateful for all the contributions and sacrifices made by your late husband to the nation."

Madam Noor Aishah later told reporters she was very grateful for the recognition: "I thought, 43 years, already forgotten, but still they remember him."

She recalled how before Mr Yusof died, he told her he was upset as he felt he had not done enough for the Malay community. But now, with the PM speaking on how Malays have progressed, "he would be very happy".

Mr Yusof, she added, had always wanted to see all Singaporeans progress and work together.

In his speech, Mr Lee said Singapore's pioneers exemplified the spirit of partnership and sacrifice the country hoped to foster.

Alluding to how Malays had the option of crossing the Causeway when Singapore and Malaysia split, he said: "Pioneer Malays had a choice at independence, and you cast your lot with Singapore.

"Your choice enabled Singapore to grow into a unique multiracial and multi-religious society. Thank you for having faith in Singapore, and working with other communities to set Singapore on a path to development."

NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan said the professorship will allow NUS to continue Mr Yusof's "legacy of furthering understanding of multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism for an inclusive and progressive society".

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said the tributes were a fitting testimony of how Mr Yusof was "a Singaporean Singaporean, truly reflecting the merits of meritocracy, the principle of multiracialism and other principles we hold dear".

This article was published on Aug 18 in The Straits Times.

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