10 things to know about the Sultan of Johor

Five years after ascending the throne, Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar will be officially coronated on Monday, March 23, in a ceremony that will be the first in 55 years for Malaysia’s southern state. To mark the occasion, the day has been declared a public holiday and street parades, concerts and sporting competitions are just some of the major events that have been lined up.

Here are 10 things to know about the Sultan of Johor.

1. Coronation comes years after ascension 

Sultan Ibrahim’s coronation may be taking place five years after his ascension in 2010 following his father’s demise, but he is not alone in taking his time to be officially coronated.

In an interview last week with The Star, he notes, for example that his ancestor, Sultan Abu Bakar Daing Ibrahim, was crowned on July 29, 1886, 23 years after ascending the throne.

“I felt there was no need to rush…The coronation is not a legal requirement but a customary tradition to enhance the sovereignty or daulat (majesty) of the Ruler,” he said. He added that another reason for the delay were the necessary refurbishments of the places for the coronation, including the Istana Besar or Grand Palace.

2. Military training

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Born on Nov 22, 1958, the Sultan is a fully trained army, navy and air force officer and has also studied diplomacy and international relations. He attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston, Massachusetts, where he completed courses on South-east Asian Strategic Studies and International Laws of the Seas, according to the Johor Sultan’s official coronation website.

3. Has British roots 

Sultan Ibrahim is of Malay-British descent. His father Sultan Mahmud Iskandar, married Josephine Ruby Trevorrow, 79, in 1956 after meeting her in Britain while completing his studies. 

She adopted the Muslim name Kalsom Abdullah after her marriage.

4. His son, the Crown Prince, served in the Indian army 

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Sultan Ibrahim is married to Her Royal Highness Raja Zarith Sofiah and they have six children – five sons and a daughter. His eldest, Tunku Ismail, 30, is the state’s Crown Prince (Tunku Mahkota Johor). Tunku Ismail, who studied in Singapore at the Australian International School, was a Captain with the Indian army. In 2007, he became the first foreigner to lead a unit of the Indian Army contingent. "It is a family tradition to get trained in the forces. My grandfather was trained in the Malaysian Army. My father, the Crown Prince of Johor, received training in the US," he told the Press Trust of India in an interview.

5. Son's battle with cancer 

The Sultan has spoken candidly about his children, particularly about the health of his fourth child, Tunku Abdul Jalil, 25, who was diagnosed with liver cancer last December.Tuanku Abdul Jalil has since undergone a liver transplant and travels to Singapore for weekly treatments.

Recounting his son’s cancer battle in an interview last week, he said: “My son is lucky as he is my son. I understand the agony when a person is diagnosed with stage four cancer. Even my son did not believe that he would survive and neither did I."

His son has since established a cancer fund in his name, the Tunku Laksamana Johor Cancer Foundation. Sultan Ibrahim said in the interview: “I am grateful that he is alive and that is one reason why I have put aside RM10 million to set up the Tunku Laksamana Johor Cancer Foundation to help fund cancer patients who cannot afford the expensive treatment.”

6. Coronation diet 

In order to prepare for the coronation, Sultan Ibrahim went on a diet to look his best for the ceremony. The diet consisted of eating lots of fruit and vegetables and drinking a lot of water, the New Straits Times reported. “The coronation ceremony has given me the motivation to go on a diet because I want to be slimmer. I want the people to see me fit because this is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” he was quoted saying

7. Tanjong Pagar train's last journey 

The Sultan has the honour of also driving the last KTM train to pull out of Tanjong Pagar Station in 2011. On its last journey, the train ferried some 600 passengers which included members of Johor royalty and officials, current and former KTM staff, KTM train enthusiasts and journalists.  

8. Business ventures 

The Johor royalty is involved in a variety of businesses, including a power plant and property development in Johor.

Last week, for example, the Sultan emerged as Malaysian telecommunications firm Redtone's largest shareholder after he upped his stake in the firm to 20 per cent from 4.8 per cent. He recently talked about his business ventures, saying: “I believe it is healthy for royalty to be involved in proper and legitimate businesses rather than to be in dubious businesses that harm the image of the institution.

“Let's be honest here, we are a constitutional monarch. I have to earn my living like everyone else. I cannot depend on my allowances of RM27,000 a month. I must earn a living, like ordinary Malaysians,” he added.

9. Winning number plate 

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Sultan Ibrahim has a penchant for cars and once won a tender for a much sought after number plate.

In 2012, Sultan Ibrahim’s bid of RM520,000 helped him top 9,999 other bidders including the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (the ceremonial Head of State), in the bid for the car number plate WWW 1. Transport Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha then announced that WWW 1 had set an all-time high bid. Thousands had thronged three branches of the Kuala Lumpur Road Transport Department to place their bids for the "WWW" prefix, which is the acronym for "World Wide Web".

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong won the number plate WWW 5 in that tender.

10. Passion for sports 

Sultan Ibrahim also has a passion for sports and has participated in international championships, according to his official coronation website. He is also an avid tennis player, sailor, shooter, racer and parachutist. Like most royal, however, he cites polo as his favourite sport.  

SOURCES: THE STAR, BERNAMA, OFFICIAL JOHOR SULTAN CORONATION WEBSITE, NEW STRAITS TIMES, PRESS TRUST OF INDIA