Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute is born

Mr Heng Swee Keat taking a photo of a panel at an exhibition on Mr Yusof Ishak's life at the Iseas library as Madam Noor Aishah, Mr Yusof's wife, points to a 1966 picture of him in ceremonial uniform. The think-tank was renamed in Mr Yusof's honour y
Mr Heng Swee Keat taking a photo of a panel at an exhibition on Mr Yusof Ishak's life at the Iseas library as Madam Noor Aishah, Mr Yusof's wife, points to a 1966 picture of him in ceremonial uniform. The think-tank was renamed in Mr Yusof's honour yesterday. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Renaming institute honours first president's commitment to learning: Heng Swee Keat

The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas) now bears the name of Singapore's first president Yusof Ishak, who worked to unite the nation's different communities.

The think-tank's new name is the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

At a ceremony held yesterday, the 105th anniversary of Mr Yusof's birth, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said as the first head of state of a multiracial Singapore, Mr Yusof "embodied our sovereignty" and "assured all races that this would be home for all".

Mr Yusof was appointed Yang di-Pertuan Negara in 1959, when Singapore was self-governing after years under British colonial rule. In 1965, he became president upon Singapore's independence after a short-lived union with Malaysia.

 

During those years, he had to deal with a diverse and growing population, racial unrest, and economic and infrastructural challenges. He also steered the country through periods of "existential crises", Mr Heng said.

"At a time like that, what does it say of Encik Yusof that he chose to stay in Singapore, to lead a new country that many thought would fail, rather than return to Malaysia? It says that he believed in Singapore. That he believed in the ideals and principles on which Singapore was founded."

These ideals include equality, justice and diversity - whether in race, language or religion - as a source of strength, Mr Heng said.

Last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced three initiatives to honour Mr Yusof, who died in office in 1970.

The other two are setting up a Yusof Ishak Professorship in Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS), to enhance research in areas like ethnicity, and naming a new mosque in Woodlands the Yusof Ishak Mosque.

The Yusof Ishak Mosque is scheduled to be ready by next year end and over $2.5 million in donations has been collected for it. Fund-raising for the professorship at NUS, meanwhile, has reached close to two-thirds of the $6 million target.

"It is deliberate that we choose to honour Encik Yusof through institutions that allow our people to grow in spirit and knowledge, for Encik Yusof was a religious man, committed to learning and progress," said Mr Heng.

"Even now, Encik Yusof continues to bring our people together."

On the move to name Iseas after Mr Yusof, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said it was a "historic moment" not just for the Malay community but also for Singapore.

The Iseas library is now home to a permanent exhibition on Mr Yusof's life which is open to the public. Two books were also launched yesterday, one on Iseas' growth by former Straits Times journalist Lee Kim Chew, and the other, a monograph on Mr Yusof by Iseas fellow Norshahril Saat.

Mr Yusof's wife, Madam Noor Aishah, attended the ceremony with her son Imran and his wife Zarina, who both flew in from Brunei where they live.

Mr Imran said: "We feel overwhelmed by this remembrance of him. We hope to live out his ideals.

"The exhibition was like walking down memory lane. There was a mix of feelings: sadness, but also happiness because he is still remembered and honoured."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2015, with the headline 'Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute is born'. Print Edition | Subscribe