Haji Ya'acob bin Mohamed



Haji Ya’acob bin Mohamed (b. 25 January 1925, Kelantan, Malaya1–d. 11 October 1989, Singapore2) was a former politician and diplomat. He was a staunch advocate of Malay interests in Singapore and played a key role in winning Malay support for the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the early 1960s.

Early life
Haji Ya’acob was born in Sungai Pisang, Kelantan, Malaya, to a family that included several relatives who had been prominent public figures. His family moved to Johor when he was an infant. His parents died when he was young – his mother passed away when he was eight years old, followed by his father when he was 12.3

He continued his education with the help of various teachers, one of whom eventually adopted him. In school, he was regarded as hardworking and intelligent, and often topped the class. To fulfil his childhood ambition of becoming a teacher, he sat for the examination required to become a teacher in Johor. Despite having grown up in Johor and topping the teachers’ examination, his application to the Tanjong Malim Teacher Training College was rejected because he was not born in Johor.4

He was deeply unhappy with this outcome and moved to Singapore, where he stayed with relatives and studied at the Madrasah Khairiyah, a religious school.5 His disillusionment with British colonial rule led him to join the left-wing Malayan Nationalist Party and its offshoot, Angkatan Pemuda Insaf (API), in Johor.6 When the British outlawed these parties in 1948,7 Haji Ya’acob returned to Singapore, where he joined the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in 1949 and became head of its Bukit Panjang branch.8

Political career
In 1954, Haji Ya’acob declined an invitation to join the PAP but chose to remain with UMNO then because he believed that its negotiations with the British for Malaya’s independence would also secure Singapore’s independence through merger. When UMNO later indicated that Singapore’s independence was not a priority and it became clear that UMNO could not advance the interests of Malays in a multiracial party, he joined the PAP in 1958,9 sparking the defection of 30 other UMNO members. UMNO saw this as a betrayal and condemned the defectors as traitors of the Malay community, but Haji Ya’acob remained committed to the fight for Singapore’s independence through merger with Malaysia. Highly regarded as a devout Muslim and a charismatic orator, he swiftly gained popular support as well as the confidence of the PAP leadership, and within months was made chairman of the Bukit Panjang branch of the PAP.

In 1959, Haji Ya’acob won the Bukit Timah seat in the Legislative Assembly, followed by the Southern Islands seat in 1963.10 As the assemblyman for the Southern Islands, he worked to improve living conditions on the islands. In 1964, he officially opened a school on Pulau Blakang Mati (now known as Sentosa),11 and a mosque on Pulau Sebarok for Muslim workers of the oil company Esso.12

From 1965, he held various appointments including being parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of National Development, and minister of state and then senior minister of state for the Prime Minister’s Office.13 In 1968, he became the first member of parliament for the Kampong Ubi constituency,14 a seat he held for three terms after winning the elections in 1968, 1972 and 1976.15

When Haji Ya’acob stepped down from Parliament in December 1980, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew paid tribute to the veteran politician for his key role in the early 1960s in winning Malay support for the PAP.16

Diplomatic appointments and awards
Haji Ya’acob served as Singapore’s first ambassador to the Philippines from 1969 to 1971, and high commissioner to India from 1977 to 1984. In 1984, he became the ambassador to Egypt, an appointment he held until April 1986 when he resigned due to poor health. During his tenure as ambassador to Egypt, he drew attention to the living conditions of Singapore students at Al-Azhar University and initiated a fundraising drive to set up a hostel for them.17

In 1962, Haji Ya’acob was awarded the Order of the United Arab Republic (present-day Egypt) by then Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser.18 As ambassador to the Philippines, President Ferdinand Marcos decorated him with the Ancient Order of Sikatuna in 1971, a national order of diplomatic merit conferred upon individuals who have rendered exceptional and meritorious services to the Philippines. In 1981, he was conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the National University of Singapore in recognition of his contributions to the creation of a harmonious multiracial nation.19

Political views
Haji Ya’acob was a champion of Malay interests. He advocated the recognition of the special position of Malays in Singapore and the promotion of the Malay language, and held that the first head of state should be Malay. He sought to improve the educational achievements of Malay students, and lobbied for the introduction of Malay secondary education in Singapore. Despite his dedication to safeguarding Malay interests, however, he remained a staunch supporter of multiracialism – in his opinion, he was an advocate of the Malay community not because he was Malay but because it was the ethnic community in Singapore that required the most assistance.20

After his retirement from politics, Haji Ya’acob remained vocal about important issues and government policies. While he enjoyed a good relationship with the PAP government, he continued to express his views through public forums and letters to Malay-language newspapers. He believed that it was the right of every citizen in a democratic country to contribute views on and constructive criticism of government policies without intimidation.21

Other contributions
Haji Ya’acob had varied interests outside of politics. He served as deputy president of the Asian Sepak Takraw Federation and president of the Singapore Amateur Sepak Takraw Association. He was also involved in the Singapore Silat Federation. In addition, he helped to create the Lembaga Biasiswa Kenangan Maulud (Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday Memorial Scholarship Fund), which provides financial aid to needy Malay students.22

Death
On 20August 1989,23 Haji Ya’acob suffered a heart attack in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He later died of leukaemia at the Singapore General Hospital on 11 October 1989 at the age of 64. Haji Ya’acob was buried at the Muslim cemetery at Jalan Bahar in Jurong.24

Posthumous awards and honours
In the 1990 National Day honours list, Haji Ya’acob was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order for playing a vital role in Singapore’s political development, particularly from 1961 to 1965.25 Two years later, the Haji Ya’acob Mohamed Scholarship and Bursary were created in his honour to provide financial assistance to needy students in the Kampong Ubi ward.26

Family27
Wife: Hajah Hasmah binti Awang
Children: Three sons, five daughters and 16 grandchildren28



Authors
Joshua Chia & Joanna HS Tan




References
1. Sulaiman Jeem & Abdul Ghani Hamid. (1990). Ya’acob Mohamed (dalam API, PKMM, UMNO, PAP). Singapore: Penerbitan Wisma, pp. 22, 253–254, 277–278. (Call no.: Malay RSING 324.2092 SUL); Who’s who in Malaysia and Singapore, 1983–84 (Vol. 2). (1983). Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Who’s Who Publications, p. 209. (Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM)

2. Who’s who in Malaysia and Singapore, 1983–84(Vol. 2). (1983). Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Who’s Who Publications, p. 209. (Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM)
3. Sulaiman Jeem & Abdul Ghani Hamid. (1990). Ya’acob Mohamed (dalam API, PKMM, UMNO, PAP). Singapore: Penerbitan Wisma, pp. 22, 253–254, 277–278. (Call no.: Malay RSING 324.2092 SUL)
4. Sulaiman Jeem & Abdul Ghani Hamid. (1990). Ya’acob Mohamed (dalam API, PKMM, UMNO, PAP). Singapore: Penerbitan Wisma, pp. 22, 253–254, 277–278. (Call no.: Malay RSING 324.2092 SUL); Yaakub Rashid. (1990, September 26). Pioneer leader. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Sulaiman Jeem & Abdul Ghani Hamid. (1990). Ya’acob Mohamed (dalam API, PKMM, UMNO, PAP). Singapore: Penerbitan Wisma, pp. 22, 253–254. (Call no.: Malay RSING 324.2092 SUL)
6. Yaakub Rashid. (1990, September 26). Pioneer leader. The Straits Times, p. 9; Salim Osman. (1989, October 13). Haji Ya’acob – the ‘real politician’ who never retired. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Salim Osman. (1989, October 13). Haji Ya’acob – the ‘real politician’ who never retired. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Yaakub Rashid. (1990, September 26). Pioneer leader. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Who’s who in Malaysia and Singapore, 1983–84 (Vol. 2). (1983). Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Who’s Who Publications, p. 209. (Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM); Salim Osman. (1989, October 13). Haji Ya’acob – the ‘real politician’ who never retired. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lam, P. E., & Tan, K. (Eds.). (1999). Lee’s lieutenants: Singapore’s old guard. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, pp. 124–127. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 LEE)
10. Veteran politician Haji Ya’acob dies at 64. (1989, October 12). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Blakang Mati new school. (1964, July 21). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Mosque for 40 Esso workers. (1964, September 4). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Salim Osman. (1989, October 13). Haji Ya’acob – the ‘real politician’ who never retired. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Haji Ya’acob agrees Raja’s words were ill-chosen. (1986, December 14). The Straits Times, p. 2 Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Who’s who in Malaysia and Singapore, 1983–84(Vol. 2).(1983). Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Who’s Who Publications, p. 209. (Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM)
16. Salim Osman. (1989, October 13). Haji Ya’acob – the ‘real politician’ who never retired. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Salim Osman. (1989, October 13). Haji Ya’acob – the ‘real politician’ who never retired. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Who's who in Malaysia and Singapore, 1983–84(Vol. 2). (1983). Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Who’s Who Publications, p. 209. (Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM)
19. Who’s who in Malaysia and Singapore, 1983–84 (Vol. 2). (1983). Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Who’s Who Publications, p. 209. (Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM); Yaakub Rashid. (1990, September 26). Pioneer leader. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Sulaiman Jeem & Abdul Ghani Hamid. (1990). Ya’acob Mohamed (dalam API, PKMM, UMNO, PAP). Singapore: Penerbitan Wisma, pp. 22, 253–254, 277–278. (Call no.: Malay RSING 324.2092 SUL)
21. Salim Osman. (1989, October 13). Haji Ya’acob – the ‘real politician’ who never retired. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Who's who in Malaysia and Singapore, 1983-84(Vol. 2). (1983). Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Who’s Who Publications, p. 209. (Call no.: RSING 920.0595 WWM); Salim Osman. (1989, October 13). Haji Ya’acob – the ‘real politician’ who never retired. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Veteran politician Haji Ya’acob dies at 64. (1989, October 12). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Ministers and MPs pay last respects to Haji Ya’acob. (1989, October 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. National Day honours list 1990. (1990, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Haji Ya’acob scholarship set up. (1992, October 23). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Sulaiman Jeem & Abdul Ghani Hamid. (1990). Ya’acob Mohamed (dalam API, PKMM, UMNO, PAP). Singapore: Penerbitan Wisma, pp. 22, 253–254, 277–278. (Call no.: Malay RSING 324.2092 SUL)
28. Sulaiman Jeem & Abdul Ghani Hamid. (1990). Ya’acob Mohamed (dalam API, PKMM, UMNO, PAP). Singapore: Penerbitan Wisma, pp. 22, 26, 253–254, 277–278. (Call no.: Malay RSING 324.2092 SUL); Ministers and MPs pay last respects to Haji Ya’acob. (1989, October 13). The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Haji Yaacob to Malays in Singapore: Have patience. (1964, July 16). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Man who engaged in mortal fight with enemies. (1981, September 7). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

PAP veteran’s backseat role. (1986, May 11). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Politicians
Law and government>>Political process>>Leadership
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Haji Ya'acob Mohamed, 1925-1989
Politicians--Singapore--Biography
Diplomats--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders