Monday, 7 November 2011

Singapore Mosques


Singapore was initially an island where tigers lived. So goes the myth. Tigers do not cross the Straits of Johore (Selat Johor), so how come they came to be in Singapore? Were there actually tigers in Singapore? I doubt it. Tigers need roaming space and Singapore is not a place for tigers. Tigers don't live by the sea - they live in the jungle thickets. 

Singapore has a strange history. It was Indian since time immemorial, Malay for a brief period, British for quite some time and now it is predominantly Chinese. In an area where it is part of the Malay Archipelago, it is strange to find an island dominated by Chinese, very far from mainland China. How did this happen? What happened in our history?

Since Singapore had influences from many conquers and takeovers, we would expect to see remains of a Hindu past, Malay past, British past, and today, Chinese influences. 

I am interested about the mosques where the early Indians, Arabs and Malays prayed. Where are these mosques? Since the island is now in the hands of non Muslims, do the Muslims in Singapore today suffer as in many countries that are dominated by non Muslims? Australia is a good example.

I went on foot to discover the mosques in Singapore on 22-23 July 2011. I got to see a few mosques, but missed a lot of mosques as I did not have time.

Masjid Sultan (built 1826)
This mosque is in 3 Muscat St, and faces Bussorah St. It is indeed a big mosque. Its history in displayed in the lobby - it showed a much smaller original mosque. The mosque had belonged to the Sultan of Johore (from which the mosque derives its name). It was built in exchange for yielding the island of Singapore to the British. This mosque and the palace in Kg Gelam are all that were left to the royal family. This is the story we have at present. I have not heard from the royal family itself. The royal great-grandson is still alive (in Facebook, add Tengku Shawal?). This was the first mosque I entered on 23 July 2011 when I first arrived in Singapore.

How to get to Masjid Sultan:
From Woodlands train terminus, take the bus to the nearest MRT station. Ask the officers there for assistance for how to get to Bugis MRT. Take the MRT to Bugis MRT and get off at Bugis MRT. Walk through the Raffles Hospital lobby and exit at the front entrance. Continue walking to Arab St-North Bridge Road junction. The Sultan Mosque is a big mosque but the main entrance is to the left. Cross the street and go round the mosque periphery to the main entrance, which is actually the rear of the mosque (the front is the Qiblat). Enter the mosque ground via Gate 4 (near toilets) or Gate 5 (near shops). The red paved brick street is Bussorah Street.

Ladies prayer space:
The ladies prayer space in on the second floor (go in through the main entrance of the mosque and take the stairs at both sides). Slippers can go on the shoe rack outside the mosque, before the steps.

Friday prayer:
The men pray in the large main prayer hall where the mimbar and mihrab are (that is the direction of Qiblat or front of the mosque). The mosque is packed on Friday. It is better for women to wait till the men have completed Friday prayer before entering the mosque to pray.

At Bugis MRT, there are no roadsigns that tell which way is to the mosque. We had to ask the people there.  Schoolboys showed us the way from Bugis MRT to the Sultan Mosque. This is the front of the Sultan Mosque, it faces North Bridge Road. The main entrance is at the rear (go round to the right in this pic). This junction is at Arab St and North Bridge Rd. Just follow the schoolboys with songkok as they are going for Friday prayer too.
Masjid Sultan, main entrance at rear, fronting Bussorah St.
Masjid Sultan in Facebook
Syed Habib lecturing. Photo from Picasa album of Masjid Abdul Aleem Siddique.
Same as above
Arches and roof lighted in green. This is the men's prayer hall which is the largest hall. It is a huge hall. The carpet is red and without mosque design. Affandi is performing Solat Dhuha (he blends with the carpet! - camouflage?).
Enormous chandelier in the lobby. The white frosted light bulbs bear light blue Islamic calligraphy, accompanied by light pink floral motifs. This is the cover photo for the book, Biography of the Early Malay Doctors 1900-1957 Malaya and Singapore.
Different view of the same chandelier.
Front lawn and nursery
Map showing all the entrances (gates) of Masjid Sultan and the 4 roads that surround it. The main road where you see buses and traffic lights is North Bridge Road. Kandahar St separates the mosque from Istana Kampong Gelam. Muscat St separates the mosque rear from the shops. Arab St runs parallel to Kandahar St.
Entrance to Makam is closed off
Makam Sultan in front of Masjid Sultan. The last sultan of Singapore at the time of Raffles, Sultan Hussain, was not buried here. He was buried behind Masjid Tranquera (Masjid Tengkera) in Malacca. There are better photos in the Facebook album of Tengku Aziz, a descendant of the last Singapore Sultan.

Masjid Abdul Gaffoor (built 1907)
This is a big ornate mosque by the street. It was under repairs when I passed by it on 23 July 2011. I did not enter this mosque. I didn't know how to get to the other side or the main entrance/front side as it was being repaired. There were some labels but I couldn't make out what was written on them.

Masjid Abdul Gaffoor

Masjid Angullia
 This is an interesting mosque that I found using Google maps. It is small and the architecture is quite unique - looks like a small fort. I have not seen a mosque like this before. The name Angullia strikes me. So I went to the USM library in Penang to look up that word. I know there is an eel species that bears the same name as I had researched on the eels in the mid-1990s. It is named after its founder, Angullia or reflects his home country (India).

Second generation Ahmad Mohamed Salleh Angullia in The Who's Who in Singapore 1963. (Article  was obtained from USM library in Penang.)
Second generation AMS Angullia and family as featured in The Straits Times, Friday, 5 August 1988. From humble traders to rich land-owners. (This newspaper article was received from Dr Mohamed Tahir, who in turn received it from AMS Angullia. The article was e-mailed to me on 22 March 2012.)
Masjid Angullia (from Google Maps).

Masjid Abdul Aleem Siddique

This mosque was recently renovated in 2005. It is a beautiful mosque today. I passed by it once at night on 22 July 2011. I will try and visit it next time, in sya Allah. As for history of the mosque, Abdul Aleem Siddique was a sufi master who had worked closely with one of the early Malay doctors, Dr Mohamed Ibrahim bin Ismail. His son, Tan Sri Prof Ahmad Ibrahim had also worked with the sufi master. Abdul Aleem Siddique was also known as The Roving Ambassador of Islam, which is also a title of a book written about him by Tan Sri Prof Ahmad Ibrahim. I haven't seen the book yet. Some websites mentioned him but there is no mention of the book.

Abdul Aleem Siddique
Abdul Aleem Siddique
Footprints on the Journey of Human Fellowship, written by Zainudin Mohd Ismail, Jamiyah Singapore. Download from:

His Holiness Hazrath Maulana Shah Mohamed Abdul Aleem Saheb Siddiqui Al'quadri, etc., the well-known qualified theologian of Meerut City, India, addressed a large gathering at the Aljunied Islamic School, Victoria Street, last Sunday on the subject "How to understand the Holy Quran." Among those present were Mr Soon Kim, Syed Abdul Rahman Aljunied, Mr A.M.S. Angullia, Haji Manjoor Saheb, and many other prominent Mohammedans. Dr H.S. Moonshi also addressed the gathering.

Masjid Abdul Aleem Siddique (from Google Maps).
Masjid Abdul Aleem Siddique (via StreetView in Google Maps).

I was informed by Dr Mohamed Tahir that this mosque now has a beautiful interior. The front wall and the mihrab (prayer pulpit) have a lot of Islamic calligraphy relief and they were made by artisans from Morocco, who were specifically flown in just for the renovation of this mosque in 2005.

All photos below are from Masjid Abdul Aleem Siddique gallery which I found in 
Interior of dome and spacious prayer hall
Qiblat, mihrab and front of mosque interior
Al-Asma al-Husna calligraphy all over on the walls. Syahadah calligraphy inside the mihrab. Even the mimbar/lecturn has Islamic geometric designs and objects.
Beautiful al-Asma al-Husna calligraphic relief on the back wall
Spacious prayer hall

Masjid Kassim
Can be found using Google maps. It is a "flat" mosque, with tiny steps leading up to the mosque. It is at a busy intersection. There are many Muslim eateries nearby. Parking is a problem. 

Masjid Ba'alawie
Can be found using Google maps. It is a small old mosque. Tan Sri Prof Ahmad Ibrahim used to come here. The Arabic Al-Attas (Alattas) family used this mosque. The Al-Attas families can be found in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

Masjid Chander Road

The location can be found using Google maps - it points to an empty plot, just grassland with a blue zinc fence. This is an old mosque and has been pulled down. A 1984 photo can be found here:
Among the jemaah here were Ismail Ballah, Dr Mohamed Ibrahim bin Ismail and Tan Sri Prof Ahmad Ibrahim. When the newspapers published Ismail Ballah's demise, it could have pointed to the Muslim community here. "Arab" was used to refer to the Indian Muslims. Today, the Indian Muslims are grouped as Malay. The Chander Road mosque was within Little India.

Street scene in Little India
Masjid Haji Muhammad Salleh
Nearby is Makam Habib Noh which has an interesting history. The descendants of Habib Noh can be found in Penang and elsewhere. Habib Noh's close friend was Haji Muhammad Salleh @ Nakhoda Nan Intan, whose grave lies at the graveyard adjoining Masjid Batu Uban in Penang. Batu Uban was the first Malay settlement in Penang before Captain Francis Light arrived on the island.

Other mosques:


Anonymous said...

Salam, thank you for your entry on mosques in Singapore. Indeed, there are many more mosques in Singapore such as Masjid Hajjah Fatimah, Masjid Al-Abdul Razak, Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka, Masjid Kampong Siglap and others.

Just to correct one point about Indian Muslims today being grouped with Malays. This is not true.

Indian Muslims in Singapore is divided into two component - those who still speak their mother tongues whether Tamil, Punjabi, Malayalee, Bengali or Urdu - and those who now speak Malay as their mother tongue.

Indian Muslims - whether they speak their mother tongues and practice their native culture - or those who now speak Malay, eat Malay food and self-identify with the larger Malay community - are identified in the census as they choose to be identified.

This is the same case with Singaporean Arabs - some are officially identified as Malays but most are officially identified as Arabs. This is the result of self-identification.

While some Malay-speaking Indian Muslims are indeed identified officially as Malays, most are not. These Malay-speaking Indian Muslims are identified as Indians on official papers.

Thank You.

Unknown said...

Indian Muslims in Singapore are mostly from the Southern state of Tamil Nadu (There are others from all over India such as Kerela, Gujerat ect.). There were two ports from Tamil Nadu namely Nagappattinam and Madras (now known as Chennai).

Nagappattinam port has been in use even way before British. Chola Kings used that port to travel the Bay of Bengal and South China Sea... They even ruled pats of Malay archipelago like Bali in Indonesia and Kedah in Malaysia.

Back to Tamil Muslims, they arrived at Singapore from Nagappattinam port for Business and work. They stayed around Singapore River to conduct their Businesses.

Both the Muslim and Hindu traders built their places of worships.

Masjid Chulia and Masjid Maolana (Raffles Place) are at the heart of CBD built by Indian Muslims.

The other Indian Muslim Masjids are around Serangoon Road area also known as Little India. They are masjid Bencoolan, Masjid Abdul Gafoor, Masjid Angullia (primarily Urdu) and Malabar Masjid (primarily Malayalam).

Faridah said...

TQ both for clarifying matters on the Indian Muslims and Arabs in Singapore.

Katibiyev said...

There were tigers in Singapore back then. The last one was shot dead in Chua Chu Kang Village. Forgot which year, though.