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Sep 28, 2019

Shaik Kadir's Birthplace, a National Monument



The writer is a retired teacher and author of several books

[Source:  The Straits Times, 17 January 2011]

Not many people in their 60s these days have the good fortune of being able to see the building they were born in, so rapid has been the pace of development in Singapore.

I am one of the lucky ones.  My birthplace has not only been left intact by the inexorable march of development.  It is going to be rejuvenated.

I was born 65 years ago, in the Nagore Dargah, an Indian Muslim religious monument, located at the corner of Telok Ayer Street and Boon Tat Street.  My father was the caretaker there from 1940 until he died in 1953 when I was seven years old.  My younger sister and I were born in that building, in the caretaker's room.

Nagore Dargah is a replica of a shrine by the same name in South India, which houses the tomb of 13th-century Islamic preacher Syed Shahul Hamid.  The Singapore monument was built in his honour around 1828 by Chulia Tamil Muslims who migrated to Singapore.  It was gazetted a national monument in 1974.

The monument, with its unique blend of Indian-Arab features and three prominent minarets, has attracted the attention of those who walk past its distinctive facade - but they were unable to see its interior for it was locked most times for many years.

As Muslims become more educated, both secularly and Islamically, beliefs in superstitions and visits to shrines declined.  Islam prohibits the worship of humans, dead or alive, however pious they may have been, and asking for divine favours from the dead.

In my adult life, at least once in two years, I would take a trip to Telok Ayer Street to view the building and reminisce about my childhood days there.  The building became so dilipidated from disuse I feared its days would be numbered.

I was therefore delighted to hear of the community's efforts with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), which takes care of the property, to give the building a new function.  After restoration, the Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre, will open in May, 2011.

Nagore Dargah, once a centre of Indian Muslim activity, is more than a national monument to me.  For me, it holds a lot of personal and family memories.

The rooms in the building and the streets around it were my play area.  Telok Ayer Street would become a hive of activity in the evening.  Chinese medicine men came, clashing cymbals to explain their wares.  Elderly people listened intently to story-tellers spinning yarns of faraway provinces of China.

The food boy would make his rounds from Telok Ayer Street to Boon Tat Street soliciting home deliveries with his bamboo knockers , wounding tik-tok, tik-tok, tik-tok till somebody called him for orders.

Boon Tat Street too would come alive.  Here, roadside push-carts sold food.  While people ate, Chinese instrumental songs, often accompanied by the soulful sound of the erhu, blared from the Chinese association building in nearby Amoy Street.

Kreta Ayer was a Chinese area that also had a stron Indian presence.  There were many Indian "hole-in-the-wall" shops in this area, selling anything from ciagarettes to sweets and toiletries.

One was just across the road from my home, on the side wall of the coffee shop.  Once, the owner came to my father to talk about sponsoring food for the up-coming Kandhuri Urs or maulud, the 14-day annual religious celebration.

The celebration would begin after sunset with a flag-raising ceremony.  Flags would be raised on several masts erected from the open-air floor of the building against its lace-like upper walls.

During these two weeks, visitors, mostly South-Indian Muslims, would come to offer thanksgiving prayers and doa (blessing) to Syd Shahul Hamid.

On the 10th night, more people would come to keep vigil till dawn.  Musicians, sitting cross-legged on the matted floor, kept them awake with Tamil Islamic songs.

After the 14th evening of the celebration, the flags would be lowered and Nagore Dargah would be left bereft of visitors for the rest of the year, except for occasional visitor on Thursday nights.

Like many others in the Indian Muslim community, I am delighted that such a beautiful building will come to life again and hope its visitors will spend time learning about the history and contributions of the Singapore Indian Muslim community.

Please check out Shaik Kadir's blog here .

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