$7.6m professorship to honour Yusof Ishak

NUS scheme aims to boost the teaching and research of multiculturalism

Muslim donors donating money at a mosque on Aug 7, 2015.  All the mosques in Singapore are organising a special collection for the Yusof Ishak Professorship Fund.
Muslim donors donating money at a mosque on Aug 7, 2015. All the mosques in Singapore are organising a special collection for the Yusof Ishak Professorship Fund. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

A professorship to honour Singapore's first President, Mr Yusof Ishak, was launched yesterday with a $7.6 million fund to attract top academic talent.

The Yusof Ishak Professorship in Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS) aims to boost the teaching and research of multiculturalism.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday hailed Mr Yusof as a keen champion of ethnic and religious diversity.

"Many of us would remember Encik Yusof Ishak for his firm belief in mutual respect and multiculturalism, which held the nation together in our early years of nationhood; his drive in rallying together and championing a progressive Malay/Muslim community; and his emphasis on education in developing our people and nation," he said at the launch.

NUS' Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences dean Brenda Yeoh said the university has started its search for suitable candidates for the professorship, focusing on areas of study such as civic engagement, ethnicity and community, and religion.

Scholars have already expressed interest and the university hopes to appoint an appropriate candidate by the next academic year, beginning next August.

The fund-raising for the professorship was spearheaded by the SG50 Kita Committee, which coordinated the Malay/Muslim community's efforts to give back to society as part of Singapore's Golden Jubilee.

It raised $3.8 million for the fund, with the rest of the $7.6 million coming from matching government grants. This exceeded the initial target of $6 million.

Yesterday's launch wrapped up a year-long series of events organised by SG50 Kita.

They include a Service-to-the- Nation Week initiative, which brought together all 69 mosques here to distribute porridge to nearby residents of all races during the Ramadan period, and KitaX workshops for young people to discuss their vision for the country.

Dr Yaacob said the Service-to- the-Nation Week and the KitaX conversations will continue in the coming years. He added that the strong bond between communities here was something to be cherished and urged Singaporeans not to take it for granted.

SG50 Kita chairman Sallim Abdul Kadir said that such initiatives embody "gotong royong", Malay for community spirit, that has always been associated with the Malay/ Muslim community.

At a separate event yesterday, organised by the Pioneer Generation Joint Committee, Dr Yaacob also paid tribute to Malay/Muslim pioneers, calling on Sinagaporeans to "leverage on (their experience) to grow Singapore even further".

Agreeing, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, head of the committee, said: "It is now our responsibility to continue this journey towards excellence and build on the foundations our pioneers have laid to strive for even higher peaks."

Both of them, along with Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Social and Family Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, also launched a book of stories about 50 Malay/Muslim pioneers, who were also invited to the event.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2015, with the headline '$7.6m professorship to honour Yusof Ishak'. Subscribe