Wrestlemania 34 Review

I’ve been watching pro-wrestling since I was six. And yesterday marked another Wrestlemania that has come to pass. While I was watching it, I thought, ‘Hey, why not do a review?’ Not many people will care about it I suppose (I know just about ten people who still watch pro-wrestling). But I reasoned that whatever allows me to hone my writing skills at this point it time shouldn’t be passed up. Plus, I can justify spending seven hours of my life watching pro-wrestling. Why not then?

I’ll get straight to it!

Four years ago, this happened. It was one of the finest moments in pro-wrestling history, one of the best stories ever told. And one of the best matches in Wrestlemania history. This is by far my favourite Wrestlemania promo. Any chance that Wrestlemania 34 will be a hit like its predecessor four years before?

1. Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

The best part of this match was seeing Jerry “The King” Lawler and Jim Ross on the mic again. That was some nostalgia, especially given that I just watched Man on the Moon over the weekend (in which both featured). And I still hold that that watching WWE these days isn’t the same with the new commentary teams.

And speaking of nostalgia, my favourite bit was seeing the reunion of Goldust and R-Truth (who were the tag team duo the Golden Truth), with Goldust doing a dab right after eliminating him. And you got to give it to Goldust – I still believe him to be one of the most under-rated performers, even if he isn’t that great as a wrestler. He gave us some great entertainment throughout the match, especially that spot with him kicking the balls of Tye Dillenger.

The Battle Royal featured some past and some present mid-carders of note – Dolph Ziggler, Kane, Matt Hardy, Baron Corbin. I always liked Ziggler, and often root for him (I did in the last Royal Rumble) but he’s always falling short and falling further down the pecking order.

When JL commented on him hanging on to the bottom rope, JR summed it up nicely (and symbolically):

“But he’s always in trouble, he’s always in trouble, he’s always dangling.”

Then, there’s Kane. Seriously, what’s the point of Kane being around anymore? Especially when you compare Kane to Goldust, it has to be the most static gimmick ever, and one that has well passed its usefulness.

Matt Hardy’s altercation with Tye Dillinger was a joy. Him asking the latter, “Who are you?” was gold, really.

Bray Wyatt’s entry was excellent, but confusing. The crowd erupted when the lights when out and Wyatt appeared. But I think Wyatt’s involvement in Matt’s victory was botched to some degree. Why did he have to take a hit from Baron Corbin? And just lie there while Matt Hardy won the match on his own accord?

“We’re all confused here,” JR uttered. So was I.

But credit to Matt Hardy, who got the fans involved in getting Bray Wyatt over. And this is why he is a fantastic performer. He deserves more credit and exposure in the WWE and winning the Battle Royal seems to signal WWE’s faith in him.

Wyatt and Hardy

Bray Wyatt helps Matt Hardy win the Battle Royal. It’ll be great to see these two work together in the coming months.. (Photo from WWE.com)

2. WWE Cruiserweight Championship

I was actually rooting for Mustafa Ali, having followed him on Instagram lately. Him being the first WWE wrestler of Pakistani origin was something I was kind of excited about. It was obvious that he wasn’t as over as his opponent Cedric Alexander though. And while both men put in a great shift, it was rather disappointing that Mustafa Ali didn’t emerge champion.

3. Women’s Battle Royal

The match started with two quick eliminations – Carmella’s being significant. (Paige called the wrestlers ‘a pack of wolves’ for their ruthlessness.)

Naomi’s victory I feel was well-deserved, and a welcome break from one of the established names (Sasha Banks or Bayley). It was great to see Bayley’s mean streak in eliminating Banks but it was better to see someone else getting over this time.

4. Triple Threat for the Intercontinental Championship.

This was easily my favourite match of the night. The pace was frenetic, the storytelling was great and the overall performance by all three wrestlers was excellent.

I was rooting for Finn Balor to win, but to be honest, any of the three winning would have been great anyway. I was for one impressed with The Miz’s decision to send the Miztourage backstage in order for him to fight ‘clean’. An inevitable face turn soon maybe?

5. Smackdown Women’s Championship

Asuka’s grappling style was reminiscent of the old school WWF wrestling – something you don’t see too often nowadays. And the storytelling throughout the match was great. Asuka repeatedly targeted Charlotte’s left arm and shoulder and this was carried on to Charlotte’s victory at the end. Nice job.

I was rooting for Asuka to win and continue the streak, but I guess streaks are meant to end. I just hope they know what to do with Asuka now, that the one special thing about her has been taken away. The outcome of this match reminded me of Charlotte’s WM32 match with Sasha Banks. Banks was widely tipped for victory – so much so that she was escorted to the ring by her cousin, WWE hall of famer Snoop Dogg – only to lose.

It was a nice touch with Charlotte being all emotional and the two wrestlers embracing one another. Still, does Asuka have to scream into the mic each time she says something..?

Taker’s Here!

Up to that point, the camera kept on zooming in on John Cena as part of the audience. It was so obvious that something was gonna happen sooner or later. (Did you see the number of security guards who were guarding him?) The question wasn’t what but when?

So it came as little surprise when one hour into the main show, we had a referee running down to John Cena to tell him something. (That, made little sense. I mean, how did he know John Cena was seated there, and who told him to tell John Cena about whatever it was he was telling John Cena?) And it was equally entertaining to see Cena run to the locker room.

You should have caught the look on Asuka’s face though…

6. Fatal Four-Way for the United States Championship

“It’s Rusev Day!”

Bloody hell, it should have been. Despite the crap that WWE had thrown on to him since his invincible debut years ago, Rusev has continued to defy expectations and has pushed himself to revival and significance. And he did it pretty much on his own. (If you haven’t, do yourself a favour and follow him on Instagram. The guy is hilarious!)

Oh, how I wanted Rusev to win so badly.

Rusev of course, started strong and looked likely to overpower his three opponents to victory. And then there was Jinder Mahal, who looked completely out of sorts, barely even making an appearance in the ring before being tossed out repeatedly. I was thinking, it wasn’t too long ago that Rusev (in his feud with Roman Reigns especially) was in the position of Jinder Mahal – the wrestler no one took seriously, and was only there to be made a fool of.

Jinder Mahal was awful in the match – not because he is an incompetent wrestler but because he barely got involved in it. I was thinking, hell, they could have just replaced him with Santino Marella for the comic relief they wanted. It made me wonder whether Mahal’s downward spiral to irrelevance is delayed punishment for him holding on to the WWE championship for so long last year. (If you don’t get what I mean, you should have seen his Royal Rumble involvement.)

But who cared about all that? Who cared about all the other wrestlers. (Still I have to say, I love to hear Randy Orton’s theme song whenever he comes on.) I had never been so excited over or invested in a single wrestler in any single match. Please, let it be Rusev!

In the last moments of the match, as Rusev towered over a defenceless Jinder Mahal, with the entire Superdome chanting his name. I knew it was going to be Rusev Day!

Except that it wasn’t. It was, Jinder Mahal. United States Champion.

Jinder Mahal is that annoying insect bite that you scratch every now and again, refusing to heal.

jinder mahal

Jinder Mahal unexpectedly wins the United States Championship. Clearly it wasn’t Rusev Day. (Photo from WWE.com)

Way to go WWE…

7. Mixed Tag Team Match (the one with “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey)

The match starts off with another over-the-top Triple H Wrestlemania entrance. (This time though, Stephanie gets her own big bike…)

I’m not a big fan of Ronda Rousey. I think her acting skills need some major improvement. (Her Royal Rumble appearance – alternating between scowls and smiles in a split second. What the hell is that? I’m confused.) It was a major throwback to see Kurt Angle in his red and blue spandex though. (Unlike Spiderman, he didn’t really look too good in the black of The Shield, did he?)

I nearly injured myself looking at Ronda Rousey warming up! What intensity. This match promises to be great. And when Rousey was unleashed it sure was. She’s like the female Brock Lesnar (part-time and all no doubt.) The ending with Stephanie begging and apologising as Rousey was slipping the submission on her – simply fantastic. It would have been great if the whole feud was given months or multiple PPVs to build up though. This seemed a little rushed but judging by the ovation she received, the WWE fans didn’t mind at all.

You got to give it to all four wrestlers, for telling a major story in the ring almost flawlessly, and for lasting 30 minutes! I mean, Goldberg vs Lesnar didn’t last two!

But seriously, what next for Ronda Rousey? I suppose this match is supposed to give her the legitimacy of challenging for either of the Women’s Championship?

8. Triple Threat for the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship

“Soldier of armageddon at work, and it isn’t pretty.”

The Bludgeon Brothers (formerly of Wyatt family fame) made quick work of their opponents, the New Day and the Usos. It was the best entertainment I had watching – I simply cannot stand both the New Day and the Usos. The repackaging of Luke Harper and Eric Rowen in their new gimmick is amazing, and a wonderful nod to old school tag team gimmicks like the LOD and Demolition.

9. The Undertaker vs John Cena

You have to give it to WWE for the publicity (or lack thereof) for this one. You know that The Undertaker was going to make an appearance eventually (although I liked the theory that deleted Bray Wyatt would have made a reappearance as The Undertaker). I just didn’t like the fact that he didn’t say anything. And this wasn’t his first Wrestlemania in which he has appeared and not said anything.

WWE did brilliantly to troll the expectant fans with Elias. Never thought I’d see the day when the fans would turn on a wrestler in full force when John Cena was in the ring. Well, at least WWE didn’t screw the fans over with another Under-faker.

Cena was clearly heel going into this match, and WWE should have really build it such. It would have made the squash match understandable as a comeuppance for an arrogant wrestler. (But, no of course, Cena had to sit with the fans and drink beer with them.. pfft..)

And then the match went underway, and ended in all of three minutes! It took him longer to get into the ring! (Guess I spoke too soon about Goldberg vs Lesnar). It was (to me at least) the stupidest, most pointless match in all of Undertaker’s Wrestlemania career!


Cena should have stayed with the crowd. At least he lasted longer with them.. (Photo from WWE.com)

10. Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon vs Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens

“If you fight for your dreams, your dreams will fight for you!”

“Daniel Bryan hasn’t missed a beat!” one of the commentators mentioned. Shane looked good too, but the night belonged to Daniel Bryan. It was great to see him back in action (in the same venue he won the WWE Championship in WM30 no less!) and the pace and action he brought to the match, the intensity and purpose, is something we have not seen in WWE or Daniel Bryan himself since he retired.

I was for a prolonged storyline involving Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens but there was no way it seemed that WWE was going to keep Daniel Bryan from a victory in his first in ring return.

An emotional Daniel Bryan embraced his wife Bree Bella after the match. (Why she wasn’t with Nikki is anyone’s guess. But my guess is that Nikki probably knew the Undertaker would mop the ring with her fiance John Cena). Nevertheless, we wrestling fans are suckers for emotional payoffs like this one, no?

11. Raw Women’s Championship

Nia Jax’s victory over Alexa Bliss was a classic example of emotional investment paying off in a classic good-over-evil victory.

12. WWE Championship

It was built as a dream match – a battle between arguably two of the most over wrestlers in WWE’s current roster. But honestly, I felt the match was a letdown. It wasn’t the fast-paced and high-energy match I anticipated. Rather, it felt slow at times. And the crowd was quieter than expected. Six hours into the show, lethargy was perhaps setting in among the audience as well. Yet, after a slow start, an exchange of submission moves and picking up the pace, the crowd started to pick up as well.

Shinsuke Nakamura

Rocker chics are always hot.. (Photo from WWE.com)

“This is a pure battle of attrition” (if the commentators thought this match was such, wait till they watched the main event.)

At the end, no one can say Styles was an undeserving winner, but the way the match ended was simply anti-climatic. True that Styles has performed incredibly since signing with WWE (his match with John Cena at Summerslam ranks amongst my favourite) but it felt like both wrestlers were holding back – a signal that this rivalry is going to stretch past Wrestlemania. Again, with all the hype surrounding the match, I’m not sure it delivered completely at Wrestlemania.

Yet, the post-match heel turn was plain delightful. It felt a bit overdrawn that the match would end with the same feel-good sentiment as Charlotte and Asuka’s. I haven’t followed Shinsuke Nakamura much but I believe he has so much to offer as a heel. “Knee to face!” chants showed that the crowd loved getting behind Nakamura as a heel. Still, you wonder whether WWE booked this correctly. The face trying to regain the title is always a more compelling story than the heel trying to win it at all cost. (Christian’s underwhelming 2011 title run, anyone?)

13. Raw Tag Team Championship

“I know everyone of you want to know who my partner is…”

WWE really built up expectations and excitement by keeping this match to the penultimate. I’ll admit, I wasn’t concerned two weeks leading to Wrestlemania but by the time Braun Strowman stormed in for his match with the promise of a mystery partner, I was psyched to see the return of a superstar – the way the Dudley Boyz did at Royal Rumble (2015 in Philadelphia) or the way the Hardy Boyz did just a year ago at Wrestlemania 33. Would it be hall of famer Mark Henry maybe?

But then again, knowing the way WWE often threw curveballs these days just to, I don’t know, mystify fans? Or maybe annoy them? – I was half-expecting Hornswoggle, or maybe Doink or even the Gobbledy Gooker.. But they wouldn’t, would they? I mean, it’s the match before the main event!

But yes, they did.

Welcome Nicholas.

I almost wished it was Hornswoggle.

You couldn’t screw your fans any more than you can screw Roman Reigns can you, WWE?

Braun Strowman

Arguably the best moment from the match, when Braun Strowman had to school poor Nicholas on how to enter the wrestling ring. “Get in there!” the monster bellowed to this poor ten year old.. (Photo from WWE.com)

14. Universal Championship

I have to admit, every time I hear Brock Lesnar’s music hit, and I see Paul Heyman coming down the aisle with him, I get goosebumps. If everything I read about Brock Lesnar is true – how he is only concerned about himself, and money – then his presence and sheer monstrosity often makes me forget about it all. And of course, WWE played this up during the build – Roman Reigns’ main point of contention was Brock Lesnar’s preferential treatment by the management despite his status as a part-timer in WWE, while all other wrestlers had to put in full shifts.

I had always been vocal about Lesnar’s recent role in WWE. Not just Lesnar, but other part-timers who come in as and when they please and getting top-billing, in the last five years or so – Lesnar, Batista, The Rock and Goldberg (and now we can possibly add in The Undertaker’s name to that hat). WWE’s preference for them to sell PPVs is the reason why wrestlers like Rusev, Cesaro, Seth Rollins and Finn Baylor are under-utilised, and the reason why others like CM Punk and Cody Rhodes have left.

And news of Brock Lesnar leaving for the UFC is good news to me. At least, it will thrust a few more names to main event status. I don’t mind of course, if Roman Reigns is meant to be the intermediary. And the way WWE has mishandled Roman Reigns is just sad. Really, I feel for the guy. His run at the main event should have been great. But it hasn’t. Fans, and non-fans alike are tired of him. And unlike John Cena (who we are mostly tired of anyway) he doesn’t have the natural charisma to justify his position as the company’s top babyface. Roman Reigns has no doubt improved since his main event with Lesnar at Wrestlemania 31, but has his gimmick changed? Not one damn bit. I can write a paper analysing WWE’s failure to properly invest in Roman Reign’s character, but I shall just highlight this one bit – Roman Reigns is the only member of The Shield who is still wearing the group’s outfit and he still comes out to the group’s music.

Maybe for this reason, and the fact that Wrestlemania 34 had dragged on for nearly seven long hours (the way that this entry has dragged on for far too long as well..) the fans seemed lethargic and unimpressed with the main event. Poor Roman Reigns, every time he kicked out of a Lesnar pin, the crowd didn’t seem to care less. Maybe it is for this reason that Brock Lesnar decided to make Reigns bathe in his own blood. But it wasn’t such a good idea was it Brock, when fans started chanting, “THIS IS AWFUL!!” It seems WWE is going out of their way to make Brock Lesnar the most hated heel in the company.


A bloody Roman Reigns. This image of course deserves to be a meme, and will be iconic 10 years from now.. (Photo from the internet, because Vince McMahon doesn’t allow blood on WWE programming these days..)

So when Brock Lesnar finally pinned the hapless Roman Reigns, everyone was left stunned.

“The reign continues!” (Oh what irony to those words..)

What now for WWE? What now for Roman Reigns? Seriously. I’m not a big fan of him, but to see the way he was walking by himself, dejectedly, from the ring to backstage, with fans didn’t seem to care or connect at all – that was sad on a whole new level.

The post-WWE rumour it seems that Roman Reigns was expected to defeat Lesnar at Wrestlemania 34 and win the Universal Championship. But Vince McMahon made a decision to reverse that during the match as Reigns wasn’t getting over the New Orleans crowd. Roman Reigns is now widely expected to win the rematch between the two at the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia on April 27. The reason being that Vince feels that the Saudi crowd will take to him better. (Uhmm.. Okay..)

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

What seemed to be a promising start to one of the biggest WWE PPVs in history – with the Intercontinental Triple Threat – dragged on for seven hours, draining the fans and leaving us all perplexed and uncertain of things to come.

What are your thoughts about Wrestlemania 34 and the upcoming months in WWE?


Embed from Getty Images

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.

Angullia Mosque 1

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:

Angullia Mosque 3

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..

Embed from Getty Images

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?


Religion, Gender and Identity Construction amongst Pakistanis in Australia

Nadeem Malik, “Religion, Gender and Identity Construction amongst Pakistanis in Australia” in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

Australia – Pakistan: Historical Links

According to the other view forwarded by Syed Atiq ul Hassan, the history of Pakistani migrants can be divided into three phases. The first phase (1860-1930) is the one in which the British (and later the newly ‘federated’ Australia) brought cameleers from areas (Sindh, North West Frontier Province, Balochistan), that became Pakistan after 1947. The second phase started after the Second World War. In this phase, it was mostly students and professionals who came to Australia under the Commonwealth Scholarships and the Colombo plan. And the third phase started from 1973 when the White Australia Policy was abandoned and professionals were able to migrate under a points scheme (Syed 2003). (p.167)

… The cameleers that came in the first phase are represented in most written records, according to Syed, as Afghans (Syed 2003). The reason for this, he argues, may be because the majority of them came from the Northern Frontier, close to what is now the Pakistan/Afghan border. Amongst them were also those Afghans who were settled in the areas, which are now part of Pakistan. According to Syed, around three thousand people came to Australia from the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent between 1860 and 1930, the majority from present-day Pakistan. (p. 167-168)

… if we follow Syed’s argument, that most cameleers who are popularly known as Afghans in Australia, were from the areas that became Pakistan after the partition of [the] Indian subcontinent, the question arises whether we should consider a number of Australian born Afghans as Pakistanis as well. (p. 169)

The Afghan Cameleers have always fascinated me since a friend first introduced me to them. I have been to Australia numerous times, and what’s nice is that they are indeed recognised for their contributions to Australia. The above-mentioned Syed describes them as ‘pioneers in the development of the Australian infrastructure.’ They were also responsible (to an extent) for bringing Islam to Australia.

One of the themes discussed in this chapter is the construction of identity. And something we must bear in mind is that identity is constructed with different reference points. What do I mean by this? Take for example, if someone migrated from Pakistan to Singapore in the late 1990s, he will easily identify as Pakistani because the national identity of Pakistan had been around for over five decades. But if someone migrated from the Punjab – specifically the part of that became Indian Punjab – in 1940, and his family had to move west to Lahore, what does that make him? Similarly, I have had people refer to themselves as Afghans or as having Afghan ancestry when their forefathers came from the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan. So really, in that sense, identity is fluid and it is constructed with different reference points.

Identity Construction

There are many sites of identity construction for the Pakistani diaspora in Australia. However, three stand out as the most important to both external sources of differencing and internal self-identifying: Islamic religion, patriarchal family traditions, and the gender relations that are so often implicated in religious and family matters. (p. 169)

What about the sites of identity construction for the Pakistani diaspora in Singapore? In my research thus far, the three that stand out are: (1) ancestry and heritage (2) language (3) culture. I will be discussing them in my thesis.

Family Traditions and Identity

…based on Berry’s formulation of a two pronged strategy of ‘cultural maintenance’ and ‘contact participation’ of diasporic communities, it is observed that Pakistani women are mostly supposed to adopt the former strategy and men the latter. Women are usually expected to maintain the cultural traditions within the family and men to establish contact with the wider society. (p. 173)

From interviews, I find that what happened in Singapore is somewhat the reverse. Migrant mend tend to socialise within their male migrant communities – with some interaction with locals at the mosque or as colleagues. It is their wives who interact with the wider society – primarily the neighbours. This is true for both Pakistani and non-Pakistani wives.

With regards to religion,

As mentioned elsewhere, most Pakistanis are not orthodox Muslims and do not engage in the ritual practices of Islam. In most cases, this is even true for those women who accept the traditional gender roles. Religion is usually rediscovered by men as part of a diasporic revanchism [revanchism = a policy of seeking to retaliate, especially to recover lost territory] that involves maintenance of patriarchal family values and gender hierarchy. It is commonly observed that Pakistanis at times become more religious abroad than they were in their own country. Men advocate religion within their families to justify gender roles. While this might be true in their country of origin as well, advocating religion and justifying patriarchal family traditions through religion becomes even more important in a western society. (p. 174)

The unique thing about Singapore and Malaya (as compared to the UK and other parts of the western world) is that there are Muslims in the host society. The pressure to be in an endogamous marriage is lesser, as long as there is a potential spouse from the same religion. The effects of such mixed marriages will be explored in my thesis as well.

On the whole, it can be argued that the process of identity formation lies in-between the needs to relate to the new culture whilst maintaining the actual or newly perceived patriarchal family traditions… the families in which both men and women have integrated well into the wider society have to face community pressure. They are seen as westernized and away from their own culture… Such families are therefore at times isolated from their own community. They have more interactions and relations with Australians than Pakistanis. Community pressure, therefore, also impacts upon the integration process of identity formation of individual immigrant families… (p. 176)



Kinship Obligations, Gender and the Life Course

Kaveri Harriss and Alison Shaw, “Kinship Obligations, Gender and the Life Course: Re-Writing Migration from Pakistan to Britain” in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

Male Labour Migration

From men’s narratives it would be easy to imagine it would be easy to imagine migration as a harmonious collective decision, as indeed the household migration theories of the early 1980s assumed… Significantly, too, these decisions were often made without regard to the views of the women of the ghar and wider family – particularly wives, but mothers and other female relatives – who would also have to endure the emotional turmoil of separation and subject their households to upheaval due to the absence of the migrant. (p. 111)

Generally speaking, we don’t think much about the emotions behind a migrant forefather’s migrations – and one reason for this is because it is hardly discussed. In reality, there is much that is suppressed. Imagine simply – for many migrants, there never was a chance for them to see their parents again after leaving their homes. Off-hand, I can recall at least three stories in which mothers of migrants suffered emotional and psychological trauma after their sons left. The fact that migration stories are often one-way (told by the migrant from his perspective) there is a lot that remains unsaid. Additionally, I believe there is a gender expectation for men not to talk about separation and emotions. All the migrant males I spoke to never talked about how they felt leaving, and even when subtly probed, they never revealed their sadness. In comparison, women  interviewees tend to be more open in their feelings of being uprooted and resettled.

With regards to chain migration and the changing idea of biraderi,

Men’s opportunities for migration were thus shaped by their gendered roles as producers, and by their access to migration networks. Male networks, mostly consisting of male kin or friends from the home village or town, formed the bedrock of early migration and settlement, providing the information and contacts needed for travel, accommodation, employment and starting up business… Within male networks, the ideology of biraderi that motivated flows of mutual aid and reciprocity between ‘brothers’ enabled chain migration to develop, giving rise to the patterns of local kinship that characterise most Pakistani settlements in Britain today… Indeed, the important of fictive kin has prompted a semantic shift in the notion of the biraderi in the context of migration to Britain. British Pakistanis sometims talk of biraderi to refer to those people who come from their home place, regardless of their clan, caste group or notions of blood. (p. 112)

And the reason why few women migrated from Pakistan,

The ideology of purdah or female seclusion means that Pakistani women have been less involved in labour migration than women from other parts of South Asia, such as Kerala and Sri Lanka (Ballard 2004; Mooney 2006). Female labour migration is constrained by Pakistani women’s limited public roles in education and outside employment, and a relative lack of access to migration networks. (p. 113)

Family Reunion

After being sufficiently ‘set’, pioneer male labour migrants generally marry or call over their wives and children. This represents a shift in orientation towards Britain as a place of temporary residence, where they would work and earn money for their families back home, to one in which they are sufficiently rooted to settle. (p. 114)