Yusof Ishak

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His Excellency Tun Haji Inche
Yusof bin Ishak
يوسف بن إيشاء

D.U.T. (First Class), S.M.N. (Tun), Pingat Kemahkotaan 1961, First Class - D.K. (Laila Utama), Sijil Kemuliaan (First Class), D.U.B.C. (First Class), P.J.G. (First Class), D. Litt. (National University of Singapore)
1st President of Singapore
In office
9 August 1965 – 23 November 1970
Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (1959–1990)
Preceded by Newly created post
(he was previously Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Singapura)
Succeeded by Yeoh Ghim Seng (as Acting President)
Benjamin Henry Sheares (as President)
1st Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Singapura
In office
16 September 1963 (retroactive) – 9 August 1965 (retroactive)
Monarch Putra of Perlis
Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (1959-1990)
Preceded by Newly created post
(he was previously Yang di-Pertuan Negara of Singapore)
Succeeded by Position abolished
2nd Yang di-Pertuan Negara of Singapore
In office
3 December 1959 – 16 September 1963 (retroactive)
Monarch Queen Elizabeth II
Hisamuddin of Selangor
Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (1959-1990)
Preceded by Sir William Allmond Codrington Goode
Succeeded by Position abolished
Personal details
Born Yusof bin Ishak Al-Haj
(1910-08-12)12 August 1910
Federated Malay States Terong, Taiping, Perak, Federated Malay States
(now Malaysia)
Died 23 November 1970(1970-11-23) (aged 60)
Singapore Singapore
Resting place Kranji State Cemetery
Nationality Singaporean
Spouse(s) Toh Puan Dr Noor Aishah binti Mohammad Salim (Singapore's first and former First Lady of Singapore, m. 1948, 1933- )
Children Orchid Kamariah binti Yusof (1949- )
Dr "Baba" Imran bin Yusof (1950- )
Datin Zuriana binti Yusof (1953- )
Alma mater Victoria School (formerly Victoria Bridge School)
Raffles Institution
(distinction in Cambridge School Certificate)
(awarded Queen's Scholarship)
Occupation Politician
Website http://www.istana.gov.sg/
Military service
  • Yusof Ishak
  • Father of Malay Nationalism
  • Father of Malay Journalism
  • Founding Fathers of Modern Singapore
  • Father of Meritocracy, Multi-racialism and Modernisation of Singapore
Allegiance Straits Settlements Straits Settlements (to 1946)
Flag of Singapore (1946-1959).svg Colony of Singapore (to 1959)
Singapore Colony of Singapore (to 1963)
Malaysia Malaysia (to 1965)
Singapore Singapore (to 1970)
Service/branch Royal Malaysian Police.svg Federation of Malaya Police (to 1933)
British Army Logo.png Malaya Command (to 1957)
Crest of the Singapore Armed Forces.png Singapore Infantry Regiment (1957-1970)
Crest of the Malaysian Armed Forces.svg Malaysian Armed Forces (1963-1965)
Crest of the Singapore Armed Forces.png Singapore Armed Forces (1966-1970)
Years of service 1929–1970
Rank Singapore Army OF5.svg Colonel; CINC
Unit Singapore Infantry Regiment
Singapore Armed Forces
Commands Commander-in-Chief
Colonel of the Regiment

World War II (1939-1945)

Part of (Cold War)

Tun Haji Inche Yusof bin Ishak (Jawi: يوسف بن إيشاء ;/ˈjʊsɒf bɪn ˈɪs.hɑːk/ YUUSS-off bin ISS-hahk; DUT (First Class), SMN 12 August 1910 – 23 November 1970) was a Singaporean politician and the first President of Singapore, serving from 1965 to 1970. Before becoming head-of-state, Yusof was a well-known journalist and co-founded Utusan Melayu, which is still in publication today. He started journalism after he graduated from Raffles Institution in 1929 and in 1932, he joined Warta Malaya, a well-known Malay newspaper company at that time. He left the company in 1938 and co-founded Utusan Melayu.[1]

Yusof held many appointments within the Singaporean government, he served on the Film Appeal Committee from 1948 to 1950 and was also a member of both the Nature Reserves Committee and Malayanisation Commission for a year. In July 1959, he was appointed Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Singapore.[2] He was sworn on 3 December 1959 as Singapore's Yang di-Pertuan Negara (head of state) after the PAP won the first election held in Singapore after Singapore's self-governance.[3] Yusof then became the first President of Singapore after the country gained independence on 9 August 1965.

His portrait appears on the Singapore Portrait Series currency notes introduced in 1999.


Early life[edit]

Born on 12 August 1910 in Terong, Taiping, Perak Darul Ridzuan, which was then part of the Federated Malay States (present day Malaysia), Yusof was the eldest son in a family of nine. He was of Minangkabau descent from his father's side while his mother was a Malay from the Langkat region in Indonesia.[4] His father, Mr.Ishak bin Ahmad, was also a civil servant and held the post of Acting Director of Fisheries, Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States.[5] His brother, Aziz Ishak, was a Malayan journalist and freedom fighter.

Yusof received his early education in a Malay school in Kuala Kurau, Perak and began his English studies in 1921 at King Edward VII School in Taiping, He was then admitted to Victoria Bridge School in 1923 when his father was posted to Singapore. In 1924, he was enrolled in Raffles Institution for his secondary education. During his time in Raffles Institution, he played various sports such as swimming, weight lifting, water-polo, boxing, hockey and cricket and had also represented the school in various sporting events. He was also part of the Singapore National Cadet Corps and was commissioned as the first ever cadet officer in the Corps due to his outstanding performance. Yusof received his Cambridge School Certificate with distinction in 1927, he was also awarded the Queen's Scholarship and decided to prolong his studies at Raffles Institution until 1929.[1]

Journalism career[edit]

After graduating from Raffles Institution in 1929, Yusof began his career as a journalist and went into partnership with two other friends to publish, Sportsman, a sports magazine devoted entirely to sports.[6] In 1932, Yusof joined Warta Malaya, a well-known newspaper during that time.[7] Warta Malaya was heavily influenced by developments in the Middle East and Yusof wanted a newspaper dedicated to Malay issues. He fulfilled his vision by establishing Utusan Melayu with several Malay leaders in Singapore in May 1939.[8]

During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, Utusan Melayu had to stop circulation as machinery used to print the paper were requisitioned to publish the Japanese paper, Berita Malai. Yusof then moved back to Taiping and with the remaining money he had, he opened a provision shop and lived there until the war ended in 1945 and Utusan Melayu resumed publication. In 1957, Yusof moved to Kuala Lumpur and in February 1958, the headquarters of Utusan Melayu was also relocated to the city. During the post-war period, many Malays wanted independence of Malaya from the British and Yusof, fanned this fervour through his publications which resulted in the formation of the United Malay Nationalist Organisation (UMNO) in 1946. However, his democratic ideals were different from UMNO's vision of reestablishing the monarchy of Malaya. This resulted in rising tensions within the Utusan Melayu and in 1959, Yusof had sold his shares he had in the company and resigned as UMNO had bought over almost all of the shares of Utusan Melayu.[8]

Political career and presidency[edit]

Yusof held several appointments within the Singaporean government, he had served on the Film Appeal Committee from 1948 to 1950 and was also a member of both the Nature Reserves Committee and Malayanisation Commission for a year. After his resignation from Utusan Melayu, Yusof took the position of Chairman of the Public Service Commission of Singapore at the invitation of then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.[9]

After PAP's victory from the 1959 Singaporean elections, Yusof was appointed as Yang di-Pertuan Negara and was sworn on 3 December 1959.[10] During his time as Yang di-Pertuan Negara, Singapore was divided by racial conflicts. Yusof actively promoted multiculturalism and reached out to people of all races to help restore trust and confidence after the 1964 racial riots.[11]

On 9 August 1965, Singapore was expelled from the Malaysia and became an independent nation. The position of Yang di-Pertuan Negara was abolished and Yusof then became the first President of Singapore. As president, Yusof reached out to the people to reassure citizens astonished by Singapore's expulsion and continued to promote multiculturalism and a national identity within the country by visiting constituencies and reached out to different racial and religious groups.[12]

Yusof bin Ishak served for three terms in office before he died on 23 November 1970 due to heart failure.[13]


Yusof was survived by his wife of twenty one years, Puan Noor Aishah, and three children.[14] Puan Noor Aishah continued her husband's legacy of public service and was the first Asian to become president of the Singapore Girl Guides Association.[15] She and her now adult children were interviewed for the Channel NewsAsia documentary Daughters of Singapore, which screened in August 2015 as part of the SG50 celebrations and commemorated the spouses of Yusof Ishak and David Marshall, two pioneer leaders of Singapore.[16]


The following institutions bear Yusof Ishak's name:

Yusof is buried at Kranji State Cemetery.

Other memorials include:

Personal life[edit]

As Sukarno's Konfrontasi (1963-1966) erupts across the region with Singapore having to be separated from Malaysia in 1965, some Malays felt betrayed and thought of migrating to Malaysia as they saw PAP as the only party that fights for merger, has failed in the battle for merger. But Yusof relentlessly walked the ground for hours under the searing heat of the sun, ignoring pain in both his legs, visiting every constituents around the island to soothe their fears. Ensuring all Singaporeans that he as a Malay race will stay in Singapore despite the many tumultuous challenges facing the newborn nation and ensuring that all Malays are protected and had the education and health care they needed and prove that they were not discriminated against, in a Chinese-majority city.[19]

At the same time, the Chinese in Singapore were more fearful than the Malays when the Federation of Malaysia collapsed as Indonesia sees this as an opportunity to annex (invade) Singapore from Batam with its growing, powerful military might with the support of PKI (Communist Party of Indonesia) movements in growing strength and influence. Also strongly-backed by China and Soviet Union in supplying of arms to Indonesia. Philippines too lauded the collapse.[20] This has led Lee Kuan Yew shedding tears over the National TV after the separation was announced by Malaysian founding-Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman that Singapore is to be kicked out of the Federation of Malaysia.[21]

What's next for Singapore during those tumultuous period? It was Inche Yusof Ishak's determination, courage and persuasion that the Malays do not leave Singapore where some have already left to be part of the larger Malay peninsula in case an invasion by Indonesia's Sukarno armed forces occurred. Inche Yusof told Singaporeans aloud that: "If we have a goodwill, Allah (God) will show us the way. Do not worry! Nothing to be feared of!"[22]

Fears and rumours spreads uncontrollably that is if once the Malays in Singapore left for Malaysia and leaving only the Chinese community behind, the invasion (annexation) might commence soon by Sukarno. But as promised by Inche Yusof, the Malay communities in Singapore stays put, never wavered and declares that: "My birth, my rights and my death is for Singapore!"[23]

After Singapore's independence in 1965 and the periods of Konfrontasi (Confrontation; Indonesia's undeclared war) prevails, Singapore sees itself as a must and compulsory to upgrade her small, 2-infantry regiments weakling armed forces, defence and military capabilities. But Singapore's plea to the world to rebuild her armed forces were turned-away and rejected by several countries (i.e., Britain, Switzerland, India, Egypt, etc.) Singapore sees it as a 'no choice' but to seek urgent help from Israel in the 1960s. It was a low-profile engagements as Singapore is in a Muslim-dominated region.[24]

Inche Yusof's astuteness, perseverance, stoicism and patience pays off big time after a short-2 months period of post-Singapore's independence, President Sukarno's Konfrontasi ends, with Major-General Suharto's take-over of the government with his military reserved unit after a failed coup led by PKI's 30 September Movement.[25] With Konfrontasi soon coming to the process of ending, Suharto became Indonesia's second President and rules the most populous Muslim nation with an iron-fist for 3 decades. Suharto normalizes relations with its neighbours Singapore and Malaysia. A boost to multilateral ties in the region. Stability, peace, trades and economy flourished throughout Southeast Asia during his time in office.[26]

The goodwill of Inche Yusof Ishak has played a pivotal role in the peace and stability for the region with Singapore's forging better, closer and stronger ties with its neighbours (Indonesia) despite the bitter memories of 1963's Konfrontasi, MacDonald House bombing and hence the hanging of two Indonesian marines in 1968 at Changi Prison.[27]

As a famous journalist who walks the ground and knows every situation, Yusof was an avid photographer and has a keen interest in photography and videography.[28]

Yusof was also an orchid enthusiast. After hours, he spends his time tending orchids at Sri Melati. He also attended many flower exhibitions and admiring award-winning orchids.[29]

Yusof was also a devoutly religious person, he opens several mosques, Islamic religious institutions and officiated many welfare organizations in Singapore. He also attends many religious functions particularly Al-Qur'an recitation competition throughout his lifetime as well as celebrations of Prophet Muhammad's birthday (Maulidur Rasul). In 1963, he went for his Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca to perform and complete his Hajj rituals (the last Five Pillars of Islam).[30]

Other legacies[edit]

Senior appointments[edit]

Opening ceremonies[edit]

Yusof Ishak officiated many events including:

And also his wife Toh Puan Noor Aishah officiated many events including:

Yusof Ishak also opened schools and institutions including:

And also that of his wife Toh Puan Noor Aishah including:

Other achievements:

  • 1932 - Boxing Champion, winning the Aw Boon Par cup 1932
  • 1933 - Weightlifting Champion, National Lightweight category

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 10 August 1910 – 3 September 1959: Inche Yusof bin Ishak
  • 3 December 1959 – 16 September 1963: Paduka Yang Mulia Yang di-Pertuan Negara, Inche Yusof bin Ishak
  • 16 September 1963 – 9 August 1965: Tuan Yang Terutama Yang di-Pertua Negeri, Tun Yusof bin Ishak
  • 9 August 1965 – 23 November 1970: His Excellency, President of the Republic, Inche Yusof bin Ishak

Awards and honours[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Encik Yusof Ishak". Istana Singapore. Retrieved 6 April 2016. 
  2. ^ "Yusof Head of State. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG". 2 December 1959. Retrieved 4 April 2016. 
  3. ^ Seet, K. K. (2000). The Istana (pp.88–89). Singapore: Times Editions. Call no.: RART 725.17095957 IST; Singapore rejoices. (1959, 4 December). The Straits Times, p. 1
  4. ^ The Istana – index
  5. ^ "The Singaporean Yusof Bin Ishak". The Singaporean. Retrieved 6 April 2016. 
  6. ^ "Biography - Yusuf bin Ishak". Knowledge Net. Retrieved 6 April 2016. 
  7. ^ "First issue of Warta Malaya (1930–1942) is published - Singapore History". History SG. Retrieved 6 April 2016. 
  8. ^ a b Kuntom., Ainon (1973). Malay newspapers, 1876-1973: A historical survey of the literature (pp. 27–32). 
  9. ^ "Life and times of Yusof Ishak, Singapore's first president". The Straits Times. 18 August 2014. Retrieved 6 April 2016. 
  10. ^ "Yusof Ishak: The man and his passions". AsiaOne. 25 August 2014. Retrieved 6 April 2016. 
  11. ^ State of Singapore. Government Gazette. Extraordinary. (G.N. 62, p.1055). Singapore. 3 December 1959. 
  12. ^ "Straits Times: Iseas to be named after Yusof Ishak on Aug 12". Ministry of Foreign Affair Singapore. 
  13. ^ "Cabinet pays last respects.". The Straits Times, (Retrieved from NewspaperSG). 24 November 1970. Retrieved 6 April 2016. 
  14. ^ "Growing up in the Presidents' shadow". AsiaOne. 
  15. ^ "History of Girl Guides Singapore" (PDF). Girl Guides Singapore. 2010. 
  16. ^ "Changing Lives: Puan Dr Noor Aishah". Channel NewsAsia. 
  17. ^ "Set of six SG50 commemorative notes unveiled". TODAY. 19 August 2015. 
  18. ^ "Yusof Ishak Mosque opens in Woodlands". Channel News Asia. 14 April 2017. 
  19. ^ http://video.toggle.sg/en/series/men-with-a-mission/ep1/368862
  20. ^ http://video.toggle.sg/en/series/men-with-a-mission/ep1/368862
  21. ^ http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/lee-kuan-yew-singapore-will-survive-look-back-countrys-founding-father-1492582
  22. ^ http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1072_2010-03-25.html
  23. ^ http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1072_2010-03-25.html
  24. ^ http://www.haaretz.com/a-deep-dark-secret-love-affair-1.128671
  25. ^ https://global.britannica.com/event/September-30th-Movement
  26. ^ https://global.britannica.com/event/September-30th-Movement
  27. ^ http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_62_2004-12-17.html
  28. ^ http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/article/yusof-bin-ishak-first-head-of-state
  29. ^ http://ifonlysingaporeans.blogspot.sg/2014/08/yusof-ishak-man-and-his-passions.html
  30. ^ http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/article/yusof-bin-ishak-first-head-of-state
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir William Allmond Codrington Goode
Head of State of Singapore
Succeeded by
Benjamin Henry Sheares
Preceded by
Sir William Allmond Codrington Goode
Yang di-Pertuan Negara of Singapore
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Post created
President of Singapore
Succeeded by
Benjamin Henry Sheares