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From time to time, I listen to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s talk in Singapore. And this is one of my favourite anecdotes.

Click here to listen to the talk in full.

I was in Mauritania, and our student housing was burlap sacks that were sewn together by the women, and we took the branches of trees to build what they called a housh. And this is how the students live where I studied in the Sahara. [They are] very poor people.

One of the Americans came to study there after me and he went… and he was trying to cut down a tree. And one of the illiterate people, when he saw him doing that, he ran to catch up with him. And [when] he caught him, and he said, ‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m cutting the tree down?’

He said, ‘What for?’

And he said, ‘To build a housh.’

He said, ‘No no no… Take branch from this tree, and then take a branch from that tree. And take a branch from that tree. Don’t take the whole tree.’

That man should be in the United Nations teaching them about environmentalism and how to preserve our natural resources.



Farewell, Masjid Angullia…

Last Friday, I was brought to (rather serendipitously) to Angullia Mosque. The culprit was my hunger for some chapati and butter naan from the nearby Tekka Market. I stayed on for what would be the last ‘asar prayers before the 48-year old mosque* would be closed for major rebuilding works in the next two years.

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The interior of the mosque. I never really noticed the words in green until my cousin pointed it out to me.

*The original mosque was built on the land which was bequeathed (wakaf) in 1890. It stood for more than seventy years before it was demolished in 1969 and the existing mosque was built in its place. Of the original structure, only the gate-house (entrance) remained and is a conserved structure under the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Draft Master Plan for the district.

To learn more about the mosque’s redevelopment plans and progress, visit the official website of Masjid Angullia here and here.

The mosque is arguably a national monument in Singapore. It sits along the busy Serangoon Road and is a stone throw from Mustafa Centre. It is unique for its South Asian flavour – the Friday khutbah (specifically the pre-sermon) is given in Urdu and the mosque adheres to the prayer times recommended by the Hanafi school of jurisprudence.

Here’s a little history of the mosque:

Angullia Mosque 2

And a little more on the founder of the mosque – Mohamed Salleh bin Eusooff (MSE) Angullia:

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Mohamed Sallah Eussoof (MSE) Angullia, the founder of Angullia Mosque was a merchant from Rander, Gujerat in India.

His father (Eussoofji) and his grandfather (Ebrahimji) had arrived in Singapore earlier to trade, in around 1820 to 1860. MSE Angullia had took over the family business and eventually settled in Singapore. His son – Ahmad Mohamed Salleh (AMS) Angullia was born in Singapore in 1875.

In the beginning, MSE Angullia traded small commodities. When his business prospered, he traded in spices and imported other commodities from India. His business networks expanded to Burma, Batavia (Indonesia) and Mauritius (island off East Africa). MSE Angullia invested in property and real estate. He built a house for his family at 77 Bencoolen Street.

On 8 January 1904, MSE Angullia had wakaf-ed (donated) wealth and property to the poor and needy in Makkah, Madinah, Baghdad, Singapore and his birthplace Rander (in India).

He passed away on 24 September 1904. His son, Ahmad (pictured) held the ‘amanah wasiat’ of the MSE Wakat.

The Angullia Mosque is an icon of what MSE had bequeathed through his Wakaf. The 113 year old heritage is still managed well till this day.

Mohamed Salleh bin Eusooff (MSE) Angullia passed away in 1904 and was buried at the Bukit Wakaf Muslim Cemetery at Grange Road. The cemetery was a popular burial site for Muslims until its closure in 1929. The graves of MSE Angullia, his daughter in law Fatmabibi (wife of AMS Angullia) and their relatives were re-interred to the Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery (sometime in the 1970s or 1980s I believe) where it still resides:
 Angullia Mosque 4
This was a piece I wrote about the family some time back (with sources mentioned):

The late Mohamed Salleh Eusofe Angullia was born in the city of Rander, in the Indian state of Gujerat. He came to Singapore in 1850 and established himself in the business of timber and soon prospered as a result.

He was dressed in the manner typical of Indian Muslims at that time – wearing a white skull cap known as Suratee and a long, loose-fitting coat. He worked hard day and night to advance his business. He was naturally kind-hearted and he often made donations for charitable purposes.

From his earlier marriage in India, the late Mohammed Salleh Eusofe Angullia had one son named Ahmad, and a few daughters. He came to Singapore with his son Ahmad. Here in Singapore, he married a Muslim lady and had another son named Musaji.** After he passed away on 21 September 1904, both his sons continued his business. They were also the first trustee to their father’s will.

Mohammed Salleh Eusofe Angullia passed away on 21 September 1904 and was buried in the Bukit Wakaf Muslim Cemetery in Grange Road, and was later moved to Pusara Abadi. His sons Ahmad passed away in August 1939 (age 65), followed by Musaji a few years later. The trusteeship to the Wakaf of M.S.E. Angullia was then handed to Ahmad’s two sons – Mohamed Ahmad Angullia and Kasim Ahmad Angullia. And in 1954, it was handed to Haji Mohamed Khan and the British and the company, Malayan Trustees Ltd.

The spirit of charity lived on within the descendants of Mohammed Salleh Eusofe Angullia. In 1981, one of his grandchildren, Hajjah Rahimah Bee Ahmad Angullia donated $1.6 million from the sale of a land inheritance from her late father to the building of a new mosque in Kebun Limau (Kim Keat Road). In honour of her, the mosque was named Masjid Hajjah Rahimabi Kebum Limau. Her elder sister, Hajjah Mominbi donated $800,000 to the building fund of Jamiyah (The Muslim Missionary Society Singapore) in 1984 to rebuild the building into a 4-storey modern centre. In addition, she donated a total of $1.2 million for the building of two mosques in India and Malaysia.

The wakaf of M.S.E. Angullia includes the iconic Angullia Mosque along Serangoon Road, as well as contributions to busaries and scholarships such as the LBKM and madrasahs in Singapore and has provided for Muslim pilgrims in Mecca and Medina.

(Extracted and translated from the article “Jiwa Dermawan Terus Diwarisi Turun-Temurun” which was published in Berita Harian on 30 October 1983. It was written by Ismail Pantek, in part based on an interview by the late Haji Mohamed Khan, a close family friend of the deceased as well as a business partner of his son Ahmad.** Haji Mohamed Khan himself was the President of the Singapore Pakistan League in the 1960s. He passed away on 19 May 1987 at the age of 84.)

I am unsure if the date of arrival of MSE Angullia was indeed 1850. Perhaps it was his year of birth? Or did he come at a young age with his father?

I was told that the MSE Angullia had trading links with the Piperdy family in Mauritius. The family name of Piperdy (or Peepory) was registered in Mauritius in the 1850s by Goolam Hossen Piperdy and later his son Ajum Goolam Hossen Piperdy. The latter was joined in business by Ahmoodie Ajum Piperdy in 1891. (Ahmoodie was born in Rander and came to Mauritius in 1883. Later, Ahmoodie’s brother Cassim Ajum Piperdy was also made a partner in 1900. (Cassim was born in Mauritius). Members of the Piperdy family still live in Mauritius today.

Source: Mauritius Illustrated: Historical and Descriptive, Commercial and Industrial (Pg 380)

 ** I have my doubts on the veracity of these information. They need to be verified by members of the Angullia family.

Remembering the Japanese Occupation

Singaporeans will be familiar with the 15th of February. It is remembered as the day the British surrendered Singapore over to the Japanese, beginning a period of Japanese Occupation in the colony.

While the fall of Singapore is often also commemorated with the sacrifice of Lieutenant Adnan bin Saidi and the Malay Regiment who defended Singapore to their death, I recently came across a rather unexpected anecdote relating to a lesser known person from Singapore’s history.

The said person is the former head of Singapore’s Special Branch – a Pakistani by the name of Ahmad Khan. His story which I reproduce below, was taken from the National Archive’s Oral History Interviews.

What truly is amazing about his story is the role of ‘providence’ – how often does the course of a person’s life change drastically because of a small deed done for another person? In the case of Ahmad Khan, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but saved because someone else was at the right place at the right time…

Happy Total Defence Day to all…



Newcastle 1 Man Utd 0

Today I take a break from discussing my thesis, heritage, history and simply bask in the joy of my favourite football team getting three precious points from one of the most disliked teams in football..

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That’s Matt Ritchie, scoring his first goal for Newcastle this season. That’s incredible, for one of Newcastle’s most consistent performers last season in which he scored 16 goals in all competitions (12 in the league). And what a game to break his duck, against Manchester United no less!

Last November when Newcastle took the lead away from home through Dwight Gayle, I knew better than to celebrate prematurely. You bask in the happiness when you can, but as a Newcastle fan, you’ve pretty much accustomed yourself to believing that some things are too good to be true. A Newcastle win, against Man Utd, away from home? Well, Paul Pogba made sure that didn’t happen – as the Toon were thumped 4-1 in the end.

And just as I was about to sleep and tell myself it’ll all be over sometime when Mike Ashley sells the club, a dear friend – who I have not heard from in months – decides to check on how I was doing, apologising for the defeat. Well, he is a Man Utd fan. And I sensed that he was full of glee that his team won. So gleeful that he couldn’t wait to gloat over the victory. I was pretty annoyed, not so much at the defeat but at his sheer joy in rubbing salt in my wounds. To gloat over a hammering of Newcastle is pretty much like kicking a half-dead man when he’s down. Apparently, he didn’t realise that Newcastle’s entire first team did not cost as much as Pogba himself!

So yesterday, as I tried to catch bits of the match amidst putting the restless and crying 14-month old son to bed, I was simply awaiting the moment where Man Utd would put the ball at the back of Newcastle’s net. I didn’t think it would be a repeat of the 4-1 mauling, but I didn’t think that they’d get any more than a draw. 1-1 maybe. I mean, let’s face it – Pogba, Lukaku and now Sanchez? But when the score remained 0-0 at half-time, I could sense a little optimism in the air. Come on ah Newcastle! my cousin sent me a message…

The second half was when I soon realised that Newcastle may just about keep a clean sheet! And who would be the architect of that but Florian Lejeune – tracking back superbly to deny Sanchez an open goal! The Frenchman may not have had the strongest of starts to the Premier League, but he looked assured on the ball and commanding off of it. If he keeps up this level of performance, 8 million pounds (a ninth of what Liverpool paid for VVD – sorry Liverpool fans, I just had to…) would seem a bargain!

And then, less than 10 minutes later, Chris Smalling decided that he would like to pretend being a forward and fake a ridiculous foul in front of the referee in Man Utd’s own half. I mean, seriously, what the hell was that Chris? And that needless dive of course contributed directly to Newcastle’s goal. Who else but Shelvey (who Smalling tried to ‘frame’ in the first place) to float the ball into the edge of Man Utd’s box as the away side were left watching when Lejeune (again) rose to head the ball down for Gayle to superbly heel in the direction of Ritchie. And if you’ve followed Newcastle last season, you know that if there is one player who will deliver, it is Matt Ritchie. And he did, calmly and spectacularly slotting the ball past de Gea into the bottom corner of the net. Well done Matt! That’s how you hit the target, Joselu!

Then Man Utd brought on the former Wallsend boy Carrick (his first game since forever) and Mata and the latter proved to be a thorn in Newcastle’s game. If there was a way back for Man Utd, it would have been through Mata. Man Utd kept up the pressure. And it was through Mata’s corner that Martial had two glorious chances to score. But he didn’t. (I don’t watch many Man Utd games but does Martial look so dull all the time? Come on dude, smile a little..) Gayle and Yedlin both blocked his asal main rembat shots.

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Towards the end when Man Utd heaved and tried to break down the Toon, they simply couldn’t. Dubravka had an amazing debut in goal. Diame continued his resurgence in front of the defence. And Shelvey.. Shelvey was everywhere! It was as if the ghost of Lotthar Matthaus possessed him just before this game. His defensive positioning, his tackling and his distribution were excellent. It’s almost like he’s starting to focus on the pitch (would you believe that?)

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And when the match ended, I threw my hands in the air, jubilant and beyond belief! What a way to end a winless run of eight matches at home? Against second-placed Man Utd. Sure, Newcastle were criticised for their approach against Man City at home recently, but you couldn’t say the same this time around. Yes, 35% possession does not speak much about their dominance during the game, but when it mattered, they delivered. They attacked, the made the most of a set piece situation (seemingly a hall-mark of Benitez’s Newcastle) and they defended with heart.

And the best thing about this is that I slept soundly yesterday and Facebook seems awfully quiet on a Monday morning – just the way I like it…

A Socio-economic and Cultural Perspective on Pakistanis in the Netherlands

Waqas Butt, “A Socio-economic and Cultural Perspective on Pakistanis in the Netherlands” in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

One of my favourite chapters – and its contents pleasantly surprising for its interesting discussion on caste (or quom).

According to a Pakistani sociologist, Hameed Tigha: ‘the social status of every Pakistani is determined by his ancestry, economic resources, occupation, education, sex and caste’ (Tigha Hameed 1978: 47). Ancestry, caste and occupation are very closely related with each other, because usually the occupation of the ancestor determines the caste or quom, of a person…

Some anthropologists equate ‘qoum’ with ‘caste’, others with ‘clans’ and still others with occupation. [Here, he quotes two anthropologists – Barth (1965) who studied the people in Swat; and Eglar (1960)] The general meaning of the word ‘quom’ is tribe, sect, people or nation. Both of them describe how each quom is named and membership of quom is achieved by birth which is not changeable. (p. 301)

There are some cases when the change of profession or class has enabled some families to change their quom names… A rise in economic status or change into a better occupation may lead to a change in status group membership, although this is not always immediately accepted by others. (p. 302)

Three of my informants in the Netherlands during my fieldwork admitted that they were working as a sweeper or cleaner. They are all male and belong to the highly ranked quoms in Pakistan, namely Arain, Mian and Awan. These quoms were positioned second and third on the ranking system of Barth (1965, 1981) and Ahmed (1977). A Pakistani from the Sayyed quom which is on the top in both the ranking lists came across me when he was working as a sweeper…

…the jobs of waiter, dish washer and carrier are considered to be low ranking jobs. But in the Netherlands many respectable Pakistanis from high ranking quoms do these sort of jobs. In the Netherlands, they consider work as a job, and their attitude to work has nothing to do with their quoms. (p. 303)

These excerpts are definitely to be cited in my thesis when dealing with caste. Speaking of caste, I cite Ibbetson’s definition as explained in Bayly (1997):

For Ibbetson, the Punjab contains at least four distinct manifestations of ‘caste’, once again overturning the idea of the dim ‘colonial’ taxonomiser forcing all Indians into the same stereotyped jati or varna classifications. These four different forms of caste in Ibbetson’s analysis may be summarised as follows: (1) caste as a bond of blood association; (2) caste as an homogenising designation for immigrants; (3) caste as a Bhramanical measurement of rank for those opting into the game of competitive status-marking; (4) caste as an occupational or trades-guild classification. (p. 210)

excerpt from Susan Bayly, “Caste and ‘Race’ in the Colonial Ethnography of India” in The Concept of Race in South Asia, edited by Peter Robb, published in (1997) by Oxford University Press in Delhi, India.

Social Life (Language)

The social life of migrants is in someways similar to that of Pakistan. Urdu is thought to be the language of the elite and Pakistani parents tend to speak to their children in Urdu rather than their indigenous language, Pakistani immigrants in Netherlands also follow suit and hardly teach their local languages to children… These figures clearly show that majority of the Pakistani immigrants in the Netherlands with a Punjabi mother language are changing their language because of their social conditions. They know that Urdu is the language of the Pakistani ruling class. Urdu is a language of the rich and the use of this language enhances their social status. (p. 306)

It is worth noting that in cases where second-generation Singaporean Pakistanis had migrant parents (both from Pakistan and speak their native languages to one another), Malay was used to communicate with their children instead. I argue that this is a conscious decision on the parts of their parents to give their children a head start in a foreign environment while increasing their prospects of an enhanced social status. Language then can be seen as a social capital invested in their children in order for them to survive in a new environment.




Multiculturalism, Religion and Identity

Munira Mirza, “Multiculturalism, Religion and Identity in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

The argument put forward in this essay is that the rise of religiosity represents a major shift in political life; it is not simply the continuation of traditional religious beliefs in Pakistan, nor is it a re-branding of old anti-colonial struggles. It is rather an expression of the new politics of identity, which has transformed the individual’s relationship to society. Being a Muslim today and practising one’s religion is something quite different to previous generations. It needs to be understood as a politicised reaction to the alienation of the contemporary world, which is globalised and depoliticised. (p. 275)

Although my interviews did not touch much on religiosity, I do get a sense that there are those within the younger generation who are (1) more religious than their parents and (2) are more in tune with a global religious identity (yes, the Ummah) than say an ethnic identity. I argue that for some of them, a lack of ethnic identity has resulted in a vacuum which is filled by a religious identity. For this reason, some of these interviewees are part of certain schools of thought and tariqahs which arguably offer some sort of common religious identity.

Religion as Identity

In our research, over half of the respondents, who articulated a high level of religious belief, said that they were more religious than their parents. Many of them explained this by pointing out that their parents had arrived in Britain as poor migrants and probably had less time to reflect on spiritual issues. Some also mentioned that their parents were actually disapproving of their increased religiosity, preferring their children to concentrate on educational achievement and getting a good job. (p. 275)

Personally, I grew up in an environment that fore-grounded religiousness as compared to ethnic consciousness – and look how that turned out. A desire to know more about my heritage has led to this. There are at least two other interviewee said the same about their parents. Their parents stressed more about religious consciousness and less (if any) on matters of ethnicity and heritage, leading them to seek answers about their ethnic identity when faced with questions about their origins.

Now I wear the headscarf to say, ‘yes I am a Muslim and it is an important part of my identity and it shouldn’t be threatening to you…” – Female interviewee from Birmingham.

This religiosity is not driven by social mores or their belonging in a community, but from a personal commitment or sacrifice that requires public recognition… The religiosity of younger Muslims is therefore much more centred on the self and the individual’s relationship to God, rather than the wider established community. (p .276)

Finally, this extract below (though referring to the context of anti-western sentiment) can be applied to individuals attuned to their ethnic culture have turning towards religiosity – because they find certain cultural practices counter to Islam.

But at a deeper level, the turn towards religiosity suggests a profound unease with the wider social framework and its values. (p. 282)

Migration – Ritual Attrition or Increased Flexibility?

Cora Alexa Doving, “Migration – Ritual Attrition or Increased Flexibility? A Case Study of Pakistani Funerals in Norway” in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

This chapter begins with one of my favourite recounts:

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I shared this with my most informative research participant, Uncle MS with the following words, “A short yet enlightening account on the ritual arrangements of a Pakistani in Norway back in 1973. It sets a contrast to the Muslim society our early forefathers settled in – something we may perhaps take for granted.

His reply: “Yes, especially when they went to a country with no Muslim presence. It would have been very challenging. In Malaya, they did not have to contend with these challenges because the indigenous people were fortunately the Malays [who were Muslims].

The most important duties a community has towards the dead can be summed up in four points: ritual washing, enshrouding of the body, funeral ceremony with prayer and the funeral itself. In addition to this the time between death and burial consists of many more Pakistani traditional ceremonies [including the] Khatam-e Quran ceremonies. The goal of the ceremony is to recite the whole of the Quran. The household has previously obtained the Quran divided up into 30 separate sections (siparas). When people arrive they are given a booklet from which they silently read. In this way they manage to get through the Quran during the ceremony. When this is done a platter with fruit is placed on a sheet on the ground. The chapter al-Fatiha is read and afterwards everyone prays dua (supplication) to bring peace over the dead. The most important khatm-e Quran ceremony is held the third day after the burial and is completed with a meal distributed to the poor. (p. 215)

I have attended a few funerals of some Pakistani elderly, and I have not come across such practices. Usually, the tahlil and doa selamat are recited instead. These are ritual practices among the wider Malay society in Singapore which Pakistanis have noticeably adopted as well.

Transnational Rituals

On the occasions when the ritual is completed in Pakistan, one or two members of the closest family usually travel with the body, although the funeral itself is organised by family members in Pakistan. Once in Pakistan, the body is usually delivered by the airline’s transportation branch to the family. The house will be full of friends and family in mourning. The dead person’s face will be looked at here. The coffin is then carried to the cemetery where an imam will lead the janaza prayer by the grave. Parallel to the rituals carried out in Pakistan, the remaining family in Norway will perform quran khwani, a ceremony which is held both on the third and fortieth day after death and which consists of readings from the Quran… (p. 222)

The Meal for the Poor

A ritual which forms an important element of a funeral is that of arranging a meal for the poor three days after the burial. On this day, poor people and beggars collect outside the home of the family to receive a meal, showing their gratitude by praying for the deceased… An important point here is that the meal is not simply a gift to the poor, but a gift which entails a return favour in the form of prayer… (p. 223)

The Meaning of Place – The Grave as a Metonym of the Migration Process

Metonym = A word, name, or expression used as a substitute for something else with which it is closely associated. In this case, the grave (whether in Pakistan or Norway) is used as a substitute of the entire migration process.

Although we will not know for sure, I believe that most Pakistani migrants who passed away in Singapore are buried in Singapore – whether the have families here or otherwise. However, commonly in old age, these Pakistani migrants express their desire to return to Pakistan to pass away and be buried there. What accounts for this desire?

When asked why so many are buried in Pakistan… they stress that the country of burial is the country where the main part of the family lives; where parents live is particularly important… The importance of the presence of the family has at least three elements: the family has to have a chance to see the deceased face as a last farewell; the funeral has to show respect for the older members of the family; and it is important to be buried in the country where the majority of the family lives. (p. 229)

I think in the context of desiring to be buried in Pakistan, there is more than just the desire to be with family, because for many of these migrants they have settled in Singapore for decades. Perhaps then it is a sense of nostalgia that drives them?