Noor Mohamed Hassanali TC (August 1918 – 25 August 2006) was the second President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (1987–97). A retired high-court judge, President Hassanali was the first Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonian and Muslim to hold the office of president and was the first Muslim head of state in the Americas.
The sixth of seven children, Noor was born in San Fernando and was educated at Canaan and Corinth Canadian Mission (now Presbyterian) Primary Schools and Naparima College. After graduating he taught at Naparima from 1938 to 1943. In 1943 he travelled to Canada, where he studied at the University of Toronto. While in Canada he served as a member of the Canadian Officers Training Corps from 1943 until the end of the war in 1945. He was called to the bar at Gray’s Inn in London in 1948.
Noor Hassanali worked as a lawyer in private practice from 1948 to 1953, when he was appointed as a Magistrate. In 1960 he was appointed Senior Magistrate and later that year was appointed senior crown counsel in the attorney general’s chambers. In 1965 he was appointed assistant solicitor general and the following year he was appointed judge of the High Court. In 1978 he was appointed to the Court of Appeal and retired on 14 April 1985. He was elected president in 1987 following elections which brought the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) to government. Although the office of president was largely ceremonial (similar to that of governor general before the country became a republic) he was such a popular national figure that he was re-elected in 1992 by the People’s National Movement (PNM) administration.
Hassanali was described as “one of the most neutral, reserved, and dignified figures in the history of T&T politics”. When he was inaugurated as president in 1987 he was described as “a person of impeccable credentials who has a reputation for honesty and humility of the highest order.” As a Muslim, Hassanali chose not to serve alcoholic beverages at President’s House. Despite reservations on the part of then-Prime Minister A. N. R. Robinson, the decision was never seen as controversial by the public.
He was married to Zalayhar Mohammed and had two children, Khalid and Amena Hassanali-Sutton. Together with his brothers, Noor Hassanali was an avid and skillful footballer, playing both for Naparima College and for his club Spitfire. In 2003 he published a book of his speeches entitled Teaching Words in conjunction with the Naps Charitable Foundation. His brother, Fyzul Hassanali has written two books on cricket. His cousins include Manny Ramjohn, who was an Olympic long-distance runner, and Dr. Jean Ramjohn-Richards, first lady of Trinidad and Tobago and wife of its fourth President, Professor George Maxwell Richards.
Hassanali succeeded president Ellis Clarke (1976–1987) and was himself succeeded by Arthur N. R. Robinson (president 1997–2003).
Former President Hassanali died on 25 August 2006 at his home in Westmoorings, Trinidad and Tobago, at the age of 88. He had suffered from hypertension for the preceding year. Hassanali was buried later in the day in the Western Cemetery in Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago.
Hassanali was survived by his wife, former first lady Zalayhar Hassanali, and their two children, Khalid and Amena