'A president for all Singaporeans'

In his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the country will honour Singapore's first president, Mr Yusof Ishak, by naming a new mosque, a leading think-tank and a professorship after him.

A new mosque in Woodlands, which is now being built, 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 also be started at NUS to enhance research in multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism, said PM Lee.

"He was a president for all Singaporeans," said PM Lee at the rally. "Encik Yusof showed that in Singapore, you can rise to the top if you work hard. He stood for enduring values that underpinned Singapore's success: meritocracy, multiracialism, modernisation."

Born in Perak in 1910, Mr Yusof was the oldest of nine children of a civil servant.

When his father was posted to Singapore in 1923, Mr Yusof accompanied his parents and studied at Victoria Bridge School before entering Raffles Institution.

He started Utusan Melayu, a newspaper dedicated to Malay issues, at age 29.

During his years as head of state, Mr Yusof stressed the need for racial harmony and multiculturalism for Singapore to succeed.


Said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim eariler this month: "It was his firm belief in respect and multiracialism that held the nation together in our early years, and it was his drive in championing a progressive Malay/Muslim community that rallied our people together."

Mr Yusof said in his 1968 New Year message: "No man need feel that to belong to a particular religion puts him at a disadvantage or gives him an advantage... This is how things are in Singapore and this is how things must always be in our country.

"Only in this way can a multiracial society like Singapore live in peace and prosperity."

Mr Yusof died from heart failure while still serving in office on Nov 23, 1970.

He is survived by his wife Puan Noor Aishah, now 81, and his children: Dr Imran and his sisters, Ms Orkid Kamariah, 65, and Madam Zuriana, 61, who now live in Malaysia and Brunei respectively.