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In Loving Memory of Tan Sri Dr Surin Pitsuwansurin pitsuwan
Born in a Malay Thai Muslim community in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surin Abdul Halim bin Ismail Pitsuwan received his early education from his parents who were both teachers at Pondok Ban Tan, an Islamic educational institution established by his grandfather, Hj. Yaakob Abdul Rauf, a Pattani renowned scholar. 

Being raised in a strong traditional Islamic educational system, he was expected to inherit the pondok institution. But instead of choosing Islamic studies, he chose another path for the sake of ‘making a difference’. The decision stirred up dramatic reactions among his family. However, the untaken path was never regretted, and Surin never forgets his humble beginning as a pondok student. 

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He read political science at Thammasat University. His intellectual and leadership talent was discovered since his young age, as he was awarded the American Field Service Programme scholarship to the United States of America. He graduated cum laude from Claremont McKenna College, California. He later became a researcher for the Human Rights Studies Programme, Thai Studies Institute. He obtained his master’s and doctorate from Harvard University in political science and Middle Eastern studies. He was also a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation and a former scholar at the Institute of Higher Council for Islamic Affairs of Egypt.

Surin Pitsuwan taught political science before entering politics in 1989. Upon being asked the reason for leaving the classroom for politics, he answered: “I am still essentially a teacher; only the classroom is getting bigger, noisier, and more difficult to manage. So, in that Aristotelian mould of teaching – meaning trying to inform, trying to change and trying to transform the thinking and thought habits and behaviours of the young – a politician also has to be a good teacher. It is difficult and very challenging, but that is part of the profession. A good politician must also be a true teacher.”


Steward of South East Asia and Advocate of Diplomacy and Moderation
Surin’s charisma and moderate approach invoked a paradigm shift in his political career. From a Member of Parliament of Nakhon Si Thammarat, he was appointed as the Secretary to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Surin Pitsuwan served as Thailand’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs before becoming the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1997 until 2001. He introduced a dynamic way in facing contemporary challenges by installing human values and the principles of morality into Thailand’s public and foreign policies.  He believed in consultative leadership which entailed interactive and effective communication, maintaining good relations and creating partnership between the leaders and the grassroots.

Surin Pitsuwan was elected as the Secretary General of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) from 2007 to 2012. During his tenure, ASEAN played active roles in terms of facilitating the political, economic and social disputes in the region, through regional integration and cooperation. He envisaged a peaceful and outward-looking ASEAN that lives up to its global responsibilities. He reduced the territorial conflicts and encouraged the region to share their natural resources. The ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) was formed under his leadership.


Surin Pitsuwan and IAIS Malaysia

Tan Sri Dr Surin Pitsuwan attended quite a few events organised by IAIS Malaysia. The most notable one was his public lecture on ‘Peace Making Efforts among ASEAN Nations’ on 14 April 2014. In his lecture, Pitsuwan insisted the ASEAN community to respond to Henry Kissinger’s challenge to build a unified system, organised processes and strong institutions to handle the conflicts and the differences between the ASEAN nations and its surrounding neighbours.



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During the Fourth Yusuf Ali Memorial Lecture on 16 April 2016, he spoke on ‘English as a Modern Literary Language of Islam: The Significance of Yusuf Ali’s Translation of the Qur’an’, where he conveyed Yusuf Ali’s idea to make English as a universal Islamic language in the modern era, inspired by the motivation to make the message of the Qur’an accessible to everyone.


16.04.16 Book Launch

IAIS Malaysia is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tan Sri Surin Pitsuwan on Thursday, 30 November 2017. It was indeed a great loss to the whole nation of ASEAN. IAIS Malaysia, its staff and fellows extend their sincere condolences to his family and friends and pray for God Almighty’s blessing and forgiveness for the noble soul of Surin Pitsuwan.
He will be sadly missed and forever remembered as a remarkable statesman, a true teacher and an advocate of diplomacy and moderation.



1. “Surin Pitsuwan: A Bridge Between East and West” by Alpha Amirrachman (The Jakarta Post, published on February 6th 2007)
2. “What Makes the Muslim Leader” by Prof. Dr Mohammad Hashim Kamali (New Straits Times, published on May 31st 2010)
3.  “Peace Making Efforts among ASEAN Nations” by Emeritus Profesor Dr Surin Pitsuwan
             (Transcribed by Tawfique Al-Mubarak from a public lecture at IAIS Malaysia on April 14th 2014)
4. The Fourth Abdullah Yusuf Ali Memorial Lecture: “English as a Modern Literary Language for Islam: The Significance of Yusuf Ali’s Translation of the Qur’an” (Reported by Tengku Ahmad Hazri from a lecture at IAIS Malaysia on April 16th 2016)
5. “Dr Surin Pitsuwan: Pemergian Yang Mengejutkan Anak Sekolah Pondok, Wira Warga Dunia” by Azmi Nik, A Long Sojourn in London on December 1st 2017)
6. “Surin Pitsuwan: Scholar, Asean Internationalist” by Datuk Dr A. Murad Merican (New Straits Times, published on December 3rd 2017)


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