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:

Indian Convict Labour in Malaya and Singapore


We all know our bitumen roads were not laid down by the locals; they were made by Indians. Who specifically laid down our roads? Indians or Indian convict labour? How did we get that labour to pave our roads? 

The British had taken the natives of India as convicts and brought them to Malaya and Singapore, in a similar manner they brought white British convicts to Australia and New Zealand. Who were these Indian convicts and what happened to them? Were they chained? Did they make the roads while still being chained? When were they freed? What happened to them right after they were freed? What happened to their descendants in the colony? Can we trace them? Are any of them our early Malay doctors? The answer is YES! Isn't that great?!

We know from history that the Indians who arrived in Malaya and Singapore never returned except to visit their families or to bring them here. The Indians stayed on. 

In a newspaper report, it mentioned, as convicts they built the Johore Causeway which was completed in 1924. it also mentioned the Indians were hired, preferentially over the locals as they were honest and worked earnestly.

From Isabella Bird's book, the Golden Chersonese, we know there were mainly 2 European groups - the British and Germans. We are interested in the Germans as they operated steamers (ships) that plied between Singapore and the European ports.

So far on TEMD record, we have only one highly educated Indian who worked his entire life as a free man with the German Embassy which opened in Singapore in 1892. We have difficulties tracing his origin in north India. His original Indian village is unknown.

There are 2 books that mention/illustrate Indians/Indian labourers in Malaya.

MALAYSIA. A Pictorial History 1400-2004.
Wendy Khadijah Moore
ISBN 981-4068-77-2

Of note are pages 45, 56, 103 and 116.

Page 45 - Penang port, showing Fort Cornwallis in the far background; in 1860s. There is an Indian in loin cloth waiting at the water's edge.

Page 56 - The first hospital at Butterworth; circa 1869. There are a few Indians in knee-length cloth standing outside the hospital building.

Page 103 - There is an Indian in ankle-length cloth by the rail crossing near St Mary's church in Kuala Lumpur; circa 1891.

Page 116 - There are 2 Indians in loin cloth working on paving the road at the Esplanade in Penang; circa 1906.

MALAYA. 500 Early Postcards
Cheah Jin Seng
ISBN 978-981-4155-98-4

This is a book of postcards and real photographs with captions. Of note are pages 228, 275 and 279.

Page 228 - Mentions Weld Quay, Penang was built in 1880s (photographed in 1924). Weld Quay housed many European companies: Boustead & Co; Schmidt Kustermann & Co; Behn Meyer & Co Ltd; Shiftman, Heer & Co; Behr & Co.

Page 155 - Before the Johor Causeway was ready in 1924, ferryboats were used to transfer people and food from Johor Bahru to Singapore. Even the train wagons were ferried to Woodlands in Singapore. The photo shows a ferryboat pulling a roll-on railway track. The vicinity was all jungle.

Page 275 - Shows the Johor Causeway in 1925. It was 1,056 metres long and was officially opened on 28 June 1924 by Sir Laurence Guillemard, in the presence of Sultan Ibrahim (Sultan of Johore). The photo was taken from the Johore end of the causeway, facing Singapore.

Page 279 - Mentions Phot Kleingrothe, Deli, Sumatera in a caption. My understanding is "Phot Kleingrothe" is Port Keling Roti in Dutch? Is Kleingrothe, keling roti? Were the Indians baking bread in Sumatera? Did it mean the Indians were already selling the Indian bread, roti chanai (roti canai) in Sumatera as they do all over Malaysia today?

Page ? - There is mention of Norddeutscher Lloyd in 1910 which exported tobacco to Europe. 

The Malays


For my book, The Early Malay Doctors (TEMD), the word "Malay" is all encompassing. It includes all Muslims, regardless of ethnic origin. So, "Malay" would mean: a label to include all who eat mainly rice as their staple (nasi putih, nasi biryani) either with their right hand/fork & spoon/chopsticks, or breads as alternative (roti canai, roti jala, murtabak) and sometimes noodles (mi goreng, mi bandung, spaghetti) and wear clothes according to their various cultures and customs, covering most parts of their torso, that go to show modesty rather than revealing clothes. So a Malay may appear very Chinese, very Indian, very Orang Asli, very Mat Salleh, very Black, very Melayu, to the moderate not so Chinese, not so Indian, not so Orang Asli, not so Mat Salleh, not so Black, not so Melayu, to pan-Asian features.

A Malay wedding reception

The JHEOA describes the Orang Asli (Orang Asal) here: Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli

The book by Isabella Bird, "The Golden Chersonese: Travels in Malaya" in 1879 is available online and is hosted by Digital Library at

There is mention of the people who make up the population in Malacca, Penang (Pinang) and Singapore at the time of her visit.

The Malays
She described the Malays as follows: "The people lead strange and uneventful lives. [....] They seclude their women to a great extent, and under ordinary circumstances the slightest courtesy shown by a European man to a Malay woman would be a deadly insult; and at the sight of a man in the distance the women hastily cover their faces.

Singapore Census 1881
For the Singapore census of 1881, the people were grouped as: Europeans and Americans, Eurasians, Chinese, Malays and other natives of the Archipelago, Tamils and other natives of India, and Other nationalities. The Arabs were not categorised with the Malays. Among the Europeans, the Germans were next largest after the British. It mentioned Manilamen instead of Filipinos.

Europeans and Americans     823
Eurasians     930
Chinese     32,194
Malays and other natives of the Archipelago     6,954
Tamils and other natives of India     637
Other nationalities     559

The European resident population, exclusive of the soldiers, is only 1,283. The Europeans comprise 19 nationalities, including the British (largest) and Germans (second largest).

The Chinese population is 86,766; the Malay, 22,114; the Tamil, 10,475; the Javanese, 5,881; and the Eurasian, 3,091.

"Malays and other natives of the Archipelago" included, Achinese, Boyanese, Bugis, Dyaks, Jawi-Pekans, and Manilamen.

"Other nationalities" included Arabs.

Settlement of Malacca Census 1881
The total population of the territory is 93,579 (52,059 males and 41,520 females), an increase in ten years of 15,823. The Chinese population has increased by 6,259 or 46.4 per cent., and the Malays by 11,264, or 19.3 per cent.

European 32 (23 males and 9 females)
Eurasian (mainly of Portuguese mixed blood) 2,213
Chinese 19,741 (4,020 being females)
Malay 67,488 (the females being 2,000 in excess of the males)
Tamils or Klings 1,781
Arabs 227
Aborigines of the Peninsula 308
Javanese 399
Boyanese 212
Jawi-Pekans 867
Other 174 (stray Achinese, Africans, Anamese, Bengalis, Bugis, Dyaks, Manilamen, Siamese, and Singhalese)

Natives of India 42%
Other nationalities 48.9%

The town of Malacca contains 5,538 houses, and the country districts 11,177. The area of the settlement is 640 square miles, and the density of the population 146 to the square mile; only twelve of the population are lunatics.

Penang Census
- there is mention -