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Initiatives to honour Yusof Ishak now all realised

SINGAPORE — The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) was officially renamed the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute yesterday, the last of three initiatives mooted in last year’s National Day Rally (NDR) to honour the Republic’s first President.

Initiatives to honour Yusof Ishak now all realised

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat presents Puan Noor Aishah with a copy of a new book on her husband, Singapore's first president Yusof Ishak, at the renaming ceremony for the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute. Photo: Valerie Koh

SINGAPORE — The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) was officially renamed the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute yesterday, the last of three initiatives mooted in last year’s National Day Rally (NDR) to honour the Republic’s first President.

The late Yusof Ishak was first appointed Yang di-Pertuan Negara, or the Head of State, in 1959. He chose to stay on in a Singapore that was unceremoniously booted out of Malaysia in 1965. This spoke volumes about his unwavering faith in modernisation and multiculturalism, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat at the renaming ceremony at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“Encik Yusof did not see our diversity of race, language and religion as an obstacle to progress. He saw this as our strength … as exactly what would make Singapore dynamic and progressive,” said Mr Heng yesterday, which was also the late President’s 105th birthday.

He added: “It is deliberate that we choose to honour Encik Yusof through institutions that allow our people to grow in spirit and in knowledge, for Encik Yusof was a religious man, committed to learning and progress.”

With over a week to go before the next NDR, all three ideas to commemorate Mr Yusof have been realised.

A new mosque in Woodlands, Masjid Yusof Ishak, is slated for completion next year. In the meantime, as of June, more than S$2.5 million in donations have been collected.

A Yusof Ishak Professorship in Social Sciences has also been set up at NUS, and the fund-raising committee has since raised S$3.87 million.

Founded in 1968, ISEAS was meant as a regional hub for knowledge generation, and for the fostering of mutual understanding and ideas. A Bill to legalise the name change was passed in Parliament last month.

Noting the think tank’s growth in scope and repute over the years, Mr Heng said: “As ISEAS continues in its next 50 years as the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, we hope that its name will constantly call to mind all that vision — of equality, justice, harmony and strength amid diversity.

Besides the renaming, Mr Yusof will also be honoured through a new book and photography exhibition — both of which were launched yesterday.

Another book on the history of ISEAS was also given to the 120 guests present, including Mr Yusof’s widow, Puan Noor Aishah, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Masagos Zulkifli and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower Hawazi Daipi.

Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Dr Imran, the late Mr Yusof’s son, recounted his father’s belief in education.

“He was schooled in the university of life, but he appreciate and admired those who went through the proper education system, and emphasised to all of us the importance of a good education,” he said.

Added Mr Masagos: “He is … someone who espouses values which at that time were a paradigm shift. He was the first among many significant Malay leaders who conveyed the message that this country is a country that belongs to everyone.”

Dr Yaacob said Mr Yusof was appointed an officeholder based on meritocracy, and not because he was from a minority race.

“I believe the Malay community has held on to this principle for the past 50 years and whatever achievements that we’ve made, we know that we’ve done so because of our hard work, not just because of our privileges or anything else. It’s not about numbers, it’s about performance and excellence.”

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