Seminar-Cum-Book Launch: Singapore as Abode of Early Malay Journalism: Yusof Ishak and Nationhood




About the Seminar

Singapore was the hub of Malay cultural and intellectual expression. Malay journalism first began with the Jawi Peranakan community in 1876, and since then, Singapore was destined to be a site for Malay publishing. The growth of numerous newspapers became channels for intellectual, cultural and political expression, accommodation and resistance. What made this possible was that Singapore’s cultural-geographical location saw the collusion of colonial communication and maritime activities, to that of newspapers and journalism.  Until World War II, Singapore was a market-place for the Malay-Muslim community expressing a diversity of beliefs and identities.

Tolerance, and a tinge of republicanism were canons of the day.

Yusof Ishak was at the centre of this fateful interplay of history, geography and nationhood. The milieu and vibrancy of intellectual and journalistic activities inspired progress for the Malays alongside other communities. This culminated in his founding of Utusan Melayu – a newspaper that manifested a strong sense of Malay identity, but that was at the same time liberal enough to accommodate the views of other communities. Singapore was a world where diasporic communities converged, after all, and their search for expression ushered in an era of inter-ethnic cooperation that propelled Yusof ultimately to the position of President of Singapore.

About the Speaker

Professor Dato’ Dr Ahmad Murad Merican is a faculty member at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies (CenPRIS), Universiti Sains Malaysia, Pulau Pinang, and an adjunct professor at the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (ASWARA) in Kuala Lumpur. He was a visiting professor at Universitas Andalas in West Sumatera in 2006 and has helped to establish the media and journalism program there. Professor Ahmad Murad was the first recipient of the Honorary President Resident Fellowship, Perdana Leadership Foundation 2009-2011.

Professor Ahmad Murad began his career as a journalist with the Malaysian National News Agency (BERNAMA) in the early 1980s. He is a columnist for the New Sunday Times and the New Straits Times, and a contributor to Bahasa Melayu dailies and periodicals such as Utusan Malaysia, founded by Yusof Ishak as Utusan Melayu in 1939. His interest in journalism, social science, and public advocacy was inspired by the scions and descendants of a 16th-century Minangkabau family which runs to more than 11 generations now, among them Tun Yusof Ishak, and his younger brother Aziz, and also Sulaiman Ahmad (the youngest brother of Tun Yusof’s father, Ishak), an intellectual in his own right who was a journalist and editor in Singapore in the 1930s.

He has a PhD in the history and philosophy of science and baccalaureates in Political Science and Journalism and has written 11 books on media, social science and history. He founded the Institute of Journalism Studies in a Malaysian public university in 2005, and sits on the panel of the Malaysian Journalism Awards and has been chairman of the Malaysian Journalism Laureate Awards. His latest book is titled In Other Words: Ideas on Journalism, Social Science and Society (2017).

About the Book

ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute is proud to launch this pictorial volume on Yusof Ishak, which consists of a biography of the man and a large collection of pictures depicting his eventful life.

Yusof Ishak, the first president of Singapore, was very much a child of his times. Being in the thick of things, he had a pioneering role in many aspects of late colonialism and in the early nation building process in Singapore. Of his generation of young and gifted men and women, few would achieve the profound impact that he came to have on his society and country. It is often forgotten today that he was the man who established the highly influential Malay-language newspaper, Utusan Melayu. His principles as a journalist, however, did not allow him to continue running the newspaper for too long after independence came to the Federation of Malaya. Yusof Ishak’s good ties with the newspaper’s lawyer, Lee Kuan Yew, and the mutual respect these two men had for each other saw him rising to become the Head of State of Singapore for three terms, first as Yang di-Pertuan Negara in 1959, and then for two terms as President of an independent republic in 1965. Always by his side was his charming and capable wife, Noor Aishah. His life was a hectic and meaningful one, and remains an inspiration for future generations of Singaporeans and Southeast Asians.

About the Author

Dr Ooi Kee Beng is the Deputy Director of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore. His book, The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (2006) won the “Award of Excellence for Best Writing Published in Book Form on Any Aspect of Asia (Non-Fiction)” at the Asian Publishing Convention Awards 2008, while Continent, Coast, Ocean: Dynamics of Regionalism in Eastern Asia (Ed., 2007), was named “Top Academic Work” in 2008 by the ASEAN Book Publishers Association (ABPA).

His other noted works include The Eurasian Core and Its Edges: Dialogues with Wang Gungwu on the History of the World (2015); Merdeka for the Mind. Essays on Malaysian Struggles in the 21st Century (2015); The Third ASEAN Reader (Ed., 2015); Young and Malay. Growing up in Multicultural Malaysia (Ed., 2015); Lim Kit Siang: Defying the Odds (2015); Young and Malay: Growing Up in Multicultural Malaysia (2015); In Lieu of Ideology: An Intellectual Biography of Goh Keng Swee (2010); March 8: Eclipsing May 13 (2008); and Lost in Translation. Malaysia under Abdullah (2008). He is a columnist for The Edge, Malaysia (2011- ); editor of Trends in Southeast Asia (2013- ); and founder-editor of ISEAS Perspective (2012- ) and Penang Monthly (2009- ).

About the Discussant

Dr Norshahril Saat is a Fellow with ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in International, Political and Strategic Studies by the Australian National University (ANU) under the MUIS postgraduate scholarship scheme. His research interests are mainly on Southeast Asian politics and contemporary Islamic thought. In 2015, he published Faith, Authority and the Malays: The Ulama in Contemporary Singapore. In 2016, he co-edited Majulah!: 5o years of Malay/Muslim Community in Singapore. His articles have recently been published in journals such as Asian Journal of Social Science (AJSS), The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, Contemporary Islam: Dynamics of Muslim Life, Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, and Studia Islamika. Dr Norshahril’s pioneering work on Singapore’s first President, Mr Yusof Ishak, was published in 2015 on the occasion of the renaming of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) to ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.


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For registration, please fill in this form and email to <> by 3 May 2017.


May 05 2017


3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2