Friday, April 21, 2006
Memories of Penang's Malay Town
(PIX: Sharifah Salmiah binti Syed Ali bin Syed Abdul Hamid bin Syed Abdul Rahman bin Tengku Syed Hussein Idid (1873-1958)- great grand-daughter of the founder of Malay Mosque, Acheen Street, Penang and great grand-mother of the Blogger).
When Capt Francis Light of the East India Company (EIC)set up the first British trading post in the Far East, that is in Penang in 1786, he wooed Tengku Syed Hussein Idid, an Arab from Aceh, to move to Penang to help spur on the island's economic growth.
Tengku Syed Hussein was the grandson of the Sultan of Aceh and a successful and influential trader. Syed Hussein set up his trading post and settlement fronting the sea. The settlement was recognised as the first township in Penang and was referred to as the Malay Town or Malay enclave.
His standing as a seasoned trader with a vast trading network influenced others, especially Arabs in the Malay archipelago, to migrate to Penang. By 1803, the Malay Town covered Acheen Street (Lebuh Aceh), Malay Street, Armenian Street and parts of Carnavon Street and Beach Street.
Syed Hussein and his clan moved to Penang in 1792 and Francis Light granted him exemption from English laws. It was recognised as the first instance that the colonial administration allowed the Muslim community in the Malay peninsula to practice the Islamic Law (Sharia) but with a condition that no capital punishment should be imposed. Aceh continued to be the source of much Arab immigration to Penang, which accelerated during the 19th century disturbances there.
By his will dated 1820, Syed Hussein created the wakaf for the Malay Mosque or Masjid Melayu which was constructed around 1800. The land comprises Lot 200 Town Subdivision XXII. Apart from the mosque, a total of 16 houses were erected namely houses nos 103, 105, 107, 113, 115 and 117 Chulia Street and nos 49, 55, 57, 59, 77, 79, 81, 81A, B and C Acheen Street. During the Aceh wars of 1870s, the Malay Mosque became one of the focal points of the resistance against the Dutch.
Syed Hussein was also responsible for the construction of Penang's tallest building (at that time and for several decades) - a four-storey house-cum-godown at the junction of Beach Street and Acheen Street, later known as Gedung Aceh, a local landmark which still stands today and referred to as "Rumah Tinggi" or Tall House.
The surrounding area of the Malay Mosque became the Arab quarter in Georgetown and remained so until the mid-20th century. The well known Islamic educational institution, Madrasatul Mashoor Al-Islamiah was established at the Arab quarter in 1916, then known as Madrasatul Al-Quran and its first teacher was Syed Abdul Rahman bin Sheikh Alhabshee, an Arab from Solo, Indonesia and father of the late Tan Sri Syed Abbas Alhabshee of Penang.
It was founded by seven Arabs namely Syed Mohdar Aidid, Syed Omar Almahdar, Syed Omar Alsagoff, Sheikh Hassan Albaghdadi, Sheikh Ali Bawazir, Sheikh Zakaria Basheer and Sheikh Muhammad Alhasawi. So, why it was later named "Almashoor" since no one from the Almashoor family was involved in the setting up of the school? Well it was named after Ayid Mashoor by Syed Sheikh Alhadi when he headed the school. Who is Ayid Mashoor? He was Syed Sheikh's father-in-law Syed Ahmad Almashoor, the penghulu of Jelutong and leader of the Muslim community respected by the British colonial masters.
Several years after Malaysia was formed, the school was taken over by the Education Ministry and is known today as Sekolah Menengah (Agama) Almashoor.
Since the early 19th century, Penang has been the transit point for the Haj pilgrimage to Makkah. The management of the pilgrims was started by one Pak Mas'um Mandailing. He was the first pilgrim agent or broker which were referred to as "Sheikh Haji" and the centre was Kampung Melayu Lebuh Aceh (Malay Town). The haj agency business survived up to the 1970s and became history when the government established the Tabung Haji (Pilgrims Fund and Management Board) to handle the annual pilgrimage.
With the demise of the "Sheikh Haji" and the "kapal haji" replaced by passenger jets, Kampung Melayu Lebuh Aceh suffered. One by one, its residents left in search of greener pasteurs.
The Penang State Government is keeping its fingers crossed anxiously awaiting the outcome of its submission to UNESCO to name part of old Georgetown and most of Kampung Melayu Lebuh Aceh as a world heritage.