Article by Ustaz Zhulkeflee, written for Masjid Sultan special training programe on Da'wah for mosque activists in addressing tourist visitors - April 1996
BACKGROUND & HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Singapore is known as a melting pot of various ethnic culture comprising the major groups of Malays, Chinese, Indians and others. When one speaks of places which evoke distinctness based on ethnicity, what comes to mind would be Chinatown [Chinese}, Litttle India of Serangoon Road [Indian] and Geylang Malay village [Malay]. Those who may not be aware of the unique history and background of Kampung Glam may also consider it to be distinctly representing the ethnic Malay, but this is an oversimplification. Unlike Kampung Ubi or Geylang Serai,Kampung Glam was once a cosmopolitant settlement of Muslims from diverse ethnic background, fused by a comman faith and way of life. It was singapore's earliest Muslim Quarter.
What's in the name ?
The word "KAMPUNG" literally means "village or settlement" and "GLAM" is the name of a particular tree, which grew in abundance here during the early period of S'pore.
The "GLAM" specie or Kayu putih -[melaleuca Cajuputi] is a botanic member of the Jambu family and related to the Australian Eucalyptus tree. This tree also called "Gelam" as pronounced in Javanese/Sundanese, is salt resistant and grows naturally in swamps and even in water. It has been used as stilts for kampong houses, kelongs and fishing traps. In the early days, this area was frequented by ships from other parts of the Archipelago, especially from the Sulawesi. Whilst waiting for the change in monsoon wind for their return trip, these Bugis traders would use the flakey white "paper-bark" of this tree and mashed it into putty to caulk up holes and cracks in their "Palari" and other sailing ship. Extracts from the leaves is the medicinal oil "Minyak Kayu Putih" which is useful to treat almost every known ailment then viz. from ear,tooth and headaches, muscular and athritic cramps, as well as for dressing wounds and treating sores.
"Kota Raja" - the King's enclave
When the British established themselves in Singapore 1819, Kampung Glam was designated for the Sultan of Singapore [Sultan Hussain Shah] to be his enclave. A palace or "Istana" was rebuilt for him here and his enclave extended outward beyond this residence, in a wide area bounded from the seafront [presently Beach Road] up to the Rochore river [presently Rochore canal] and traversed from what is now Rochore Road upto Jalan Sultan. Over the years much of this land was sold or leased or given for various use such as burial grounds, schools or madrasa, mosque or for cultivation. Although the whole area or enclave was called "Kota Raja", this term now refers only to the walled palace area called "Istana Kampung Glam".
Cosmopolitant Muslim community
Since the establishment of "Kota Raja" - other indigenous Malays from the various region of the Archipelago converge in this area - the majority being from Java, as well as the other dialect groups such as Bugis, Banjarese, Minangkabaus, Riau Malays, Baweans and Malays from the Peninsula Malaya. Significantly, this area developed into a bustling Muslim quarter to include Arabs, and Muslims from Ceylon and the Indian subcontinent. The commercial activity here also attracted a few non-Muslim Chinese and Indians who spoke the Malay language and assimilated well amongst the Muslims.
Bussorah Street - "the pilgrims' village"
In the early days, the most significant trade of the people here was to act as agents for the Hajj pilgrims and provided other such services connected with it. During those steamship days, S'pore was the most important port of departure for pilgrims from around East Asia destined for Mecca. These pilgrims from the Archipelago would housed by the agents temporariy in their lodging homes here. There were even some who came from China and these Chinese Muslims were called "Cina Kwangtung" [lit. "Chinese from Canton [Kwang-tung]"] which distinguish them as Muslims. The sheer number of these "Haji's" added colour to the community which make this area a miniature pilgrim's village. This was the reason why many of the streets around this area have such Middle-Eastern flavour - Bussorah [Basra] Street, Kandahar Street, Muscat Street, Aliwal street, Baghdad Street, Arab Street, Haji Lane, and Shaikh Madrasah lane - interspersed with Pahang Street, Bali Lane, and Sultan Gate.
REMNANTS OF UNIQUE TRADITIONAL TRADE
Originally, blacksmith trade thrive in and around Beach road and Sultan Gate [where some still exist], making ships paraphernilia such as anchors, hooks, pulleys and this now include other hardwares.
Along Pahang Street and Baghdad street, one can still find this trade. Probably because in the early days, amongst the goods off-loaded at Kampung Glam by ships from the Archipelago, would include granite blocks. As a growing community then, granite was much needed as one of the materials used in the pre-war houses. With the existence of a nearby cemetery at Jalan Kubur and Victoria street, regular demand for tombstones was assured. This trade somehow became a trademark of this place.
HISTORICAL BUILDINGS & PLACES
"ISTANA KAMPUNG GLAM" - royal residence
"Istana Kampung Glam" or literally "Kampung Glam palace" was the official residence of Sultan Hussain Muazzam Shah ibni Sultan Mahmud, who together with the Temenggong Abdur Rahman, ceded S'pore to the East India Company. In that agreement, the Malay Royal family relinguished all sovereign rights over S'pore to the British. The British on their part, recognised that Kampung Glam should remain in the Sultan's family and that annual stipend be given to him and his descendants. The present palace was rebuilt, with funds from the British. It is believed that this Istana was designed by George Coleman - S'pore's first European architect. It has three arches on the front and the fascade, windows etc. are very similar to other buildings designed by him then, such as the Parliament house and the Armenian church. The extensive compound was once beautifully lawned and the whole Istana ground was protected by a walled perimeter. Small kampong-style houses were built beside this perimeter wall for the Sultan's kin, servants and artisans.One of the Sultan's descendants, a sports enthusiast, founded a sports club [the first Malay sports club] the "Kota Raja Club" which is still existing within the Istana compound. The Istana is still lived in by the present royal descendants. Being the 'historic seat of S'pore Malay royalty,' Istana Kampung Glam was accorded a "National Monument" status by the National Preservation Board, and there are plans to restore and convert it into a museum and workshop showing the many traditional Malay cultural and handicrafts.
"GEDUNG KUNING" - the Bendahara's house !?
On the left of the main entrance just outside of the Istana compound, stands this large grand house. Because traditionally, it has always been painted with the royal colour - yellow, the locals called it "Gedung Kuning" [the yellow mansion]. Built by a son of Sultan Hussain Shah, it was onced occupied by his descendant upto Tengku Mahmud, but was sold upon the latter's death. Subsequently it was purchased by a local Javanese businessman, Haji Yusoff Bin Haji Mohammad Noor - who was known locally as "Haji Yusoff Tali-pinggang" [Haji Yusoff the belt merchant], and this mansion is still lived by his descendants. The mansion is also given the "National Monument" status and is in a much better condition than the Istana. Atop each side of the gate entrance stands a stone pigeon, a mark that is link to a large umbrella-shaped Dove-cote [perhaps the last in S'pore] perched at the left of the compound. It used to house doves until the Japanese Occupation , when rearing pigeons was strictly banned. Its garden is still reasonablly well-maintained, with beautiful old fruit trees such as mangoes, bananas, lime fruit, and papayas.
The main building, probably was designed by Coleman, and one could still see the two Roman columns at the entrance to the main building. The back of the building faces Kandahar street with its own statutary "five foot way", and has two exits. To the right side of the front compound is the gardeners quarters and stable/garage where at one time a horsecart was kept.
"RUMAH JAWA" - house where the Javanese lived !
Next along Sultan Gate, is a single-storey bungalow once referred to by the community here as "Rumah Jawa" [the Javanese house} or sometimes "Rumah Bujangan" [home of the bachelors/the single male]. This was because it used to be the lodging for the newly arrived males from Java who came to trade in food business here, notably Satay, mee-rebus, tahu goreng, soto, nasi etc. Here was where these culinary dishes were prepared before being sold on tricycle, or slung on the shoulder with bamboo poles or simply at outlets in town or coffeshops. This place thus was not just for residential use but served also like a central kitchen. As these people have yet to assimilate with the other dialect group, they tend to retain strong Javanese culture and some brought with them traditional Javanese art-form such as "wayang kulit" [shadow play], "ketoprak" [a human dance form], "kuda kepang" [horse-dance], "wayang golek" [puppet play] - all with the accompaniment of the traditional Javanese "Gemelan" orchestra. Presently, it has been acquired by the government and there are plans to restore it as centre for Cultural shows.
"MASJID SULTAN" or "SULTAN MOSQUE"
- the heart and jewel of Kampung Glam
In the treaty ceding S'pore to the British, the East-India Company promised a sum of money for the rebuilding of an old mosque in the Sultan's enclave. This mosque has since been rebuilt several times with added land conveyed by Tengku Alam and Tengku Halimah - the royal descendants. The old buiding was of humble design like that of mosques in Java [the Masjid Ma'aruf at Clyde Street still retain this design]. In 1925, with grants from the Royal family and substantial contributions from the Muslim community living in the area, they commissioned Dennis Santry of Swan & Maclaren to design the present structure. He adopted designs from the Taj Mahal, Dome of the Rock and a combination of Persian, Moorish, Turkish and classical themes to form a recogniseable Islamic Saracenic style. Many of its features also incorporate symbolism which explains some of the Islamic ideals and teachings. Upon its completion, a constitution was drafted for the mosque where henceforth the trustees of this mosque shall comprise of Malays, Javanese, Bugis, Arabs, Banjarese and Indian Muslims - a true representation of the original cosmopolitant nature of this Muslim community. In 1990, with the same spirit of unity and cooperation amongst the Muslims, an Annexe building was added, faithfully following the original architecture.
Thus although today there are over 80 mosques in various parts of Singapore, the Masjid Sultan still remains as the principal mosque and symbolises the unity and solidarity of the cosmopolitant urban Muslim community in Singapore. Their daily commercial activity is intermittently punctuated by the call to prayer from this mosque. The ideal of a Muslim's life which balances between the striving in worldly pursuit with that of seeking tranquility through spiritual devotions and righteous deeds, never fails to draw many faithfuls to attend the five daily prayers here. Standing shoulder to shoulder in well disciplined ranks they turned their remembrance to Allah, the One and only God. All else, pales into insignificance and their communion with God recharges them spiritually. Immediately after their prayer is done, they would hurriedly return to the hustle-bustle activity of business and work.
“O Believers ! When the call for prayer is sounded, hasten to the remembrance of God, and leave all worldly commerce : this is for your own good, if you but knew it. And when the prayer has ended, disperse freely on earth and seek to obtain something of God's bounty ; but remember God often, so that you might be successful.”
[Qur'an : Juma'ah: 62 : 9]
"MASJID MA'ARUF" - at Clyde street
Built much later in 1920's, the building followed the design of the original Sultan mosque. A typically, single storey Javanese design, it incorporated ornamental caste-iron grilles, popular at the time. It even retained the wide ablution pool, rarely seen today.
[At the time this article was written,this mosque had just been demolished]
"MASJID MALABAR" - the Malabari's niche
Built in the 1960's, the Malabari mosque at corner of Jalan Sultan and Victoria street, stands out with its gold-coloured and blue glazed tiles. The mosque provided a niche for the well-known Indian traders from the Malabar coast who settled here, who felt the need to provide religious instruction in their language to their growing numbers. But like all mosques, it is open to all Muslims.
SEATS OF ISLAMIC LEARNING
"MADRASAH ALSAGOFF AL-ARABIYYAH"
“If a group from every expedition remain, they could devote themselves to studies in religion and [thus able to] teach the people when they return, so that they [too, may learn] to guard themselves [against evil]”
[Qur'an : Taubah: 9 : 122].
In 1912, a local philanthropist, a Syed Mohammad Alsagoff built this Islamic school at Jalan Sultan. Although originally it catered for boys, with the building of another madarasah nearby, it is now exclusively for the girl students. A new wing to cater for larger intake has recently been added.
"MADRASAH ALJUNIED AL-ISLAMIYAH"
Located at Victoria street, the school was built by a well-known local philantrophist, Syed Abdur Rahman bin Junaid Aljunied in 1927. Since its founding, this school has been the seat of Islamic learning not only for the Muslims in S'pore but also for the South-east Asian region. Many of its former students became well-known Islamic scholars, teachers, shariah court judges and Mufti's in not only S'pore, but also Brunei,Malaysia and even Australia. At one time, the school attracted students from peninsula Malaysia, Brunei, Phillipines and Indonesia. Today, the increasing enrolment from local students has led to plans for expansion of the school to accomodate them.
THE FINAL LANDMARK
JALAN KUBUR - Royal tombs & cemetery of early settlers
Along Victoria steeet is found a road called "Jalan Kubur" which literally means "Cemetery Road". This is apt for on both sides can still be found the ancient royal tombs as well as the graves of the early settlers of Kampung Glam. The somewhat serene and peaceful atmosphere of the cemetery with shady Kemboja, Kenanga and Angsana trees, offers a contrast to the urban feature of Kampung Glam. But, Jalan Kubur offers the stark reality that death is the inevitable journey's end for those still alive. For Muslims, to be reminded of death is an important remedy against extreme materialism. It motivates them to live to the fullest and to utilise the available opportunity to do good. For we shall all be accountable to God, in the end.
"Verily, unto God do we belong and, verily unto Him we shall return"
[Qur'an : 2 : 156]
POWERPOINT PRESENTATION OF THE ABOVE