Arab Singaporean

Arab Singaporean

Most Arab Singaporeans have come in the past from Hadhramaut region in Yemen and are Muslim. Some of Singapore's Arab population has assimilated into the Malay ethnic group through intermarriage. Others have preserved their ethnic lineage.

After Singapore's independence, ethnic Malays enjoyed educational benefits. Some Arabs changed the ethnicity of their children to Malay to receive these benefits. Most Arabs, even the poor, did not. Arabs who changed their children's ethnicity continued to maintain their Arab identity in other ways such as marriage to other Arabs. Arabic cultural practices were not abandoned.

Because of intermarriage between Malay or Indian Muslim men and Arab women, some Malays and Indians have Arab ancestry. People of part-Arab descent matrilineally are still not accounted for, as Malays carry only their father's name, not their mother's.


Hadrami immigration

From Hadramawt in Yemen, the early settlers came to Singapore with wealth made in Indonesia and being already familiar with local customs, they were easily accepted by the Malays. The Arabs brought Islam to the Malays.

Arab role in trade

The Arabs had played a dominant role in South East Asian trade since the fifteenth century and when Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819, he attracted the Arab traders to his new city. By 1824, there were 15 Arabs out of a population of 10,683 and Raffles anticipated a rapid growth in Arab immigration. His blueprint for Singapore included plans for an Arab district. In instructions to a Singapore housing committee in 1822, he stated, "The Arab population would require every consideration. No situation will be more appropriate for them than the vicinity of the Sultan’s residence."Fact|date=February 2007

The first Arabs to arrive in Singapore in 1819 were two wealthy merchants from Palembang in Sumatra. Their numbers gradually increased and by 1846, there were five important Arab merchant houses. The al-Junied [al-junaid] الجنيد family in Singapore grew to be a rich and influential as did the al-Kaffs [al-kāf] الكاف and the al-Saggoffs [al-saqqāf] السقاف. There are numerous streets and a town council named after them.

The al-Saggoffs were spice traders and became influential by marrying into a Sultanic family from the Celebes and acquired many properties, like the other Arab families, including the "Perseverance Estate" where they grew lemon grass. The estate is now considered the heart of the Muslim community in Singapore. As well as being successful merchants and land owners, the family became involved in civic affairs and family members held civic office on and off from the 1870s until independence. The al-Kaff family arrived in 1852. All these families lived in mansions of considerable opulence. The al-Kaff house is now a restaurant called the al-Kaff Mansion, as a gesture to preserve the name, but has no other Hadrami connection, either in architectural style or ownership.

Arab business domination

The Arabs dominated the businesses in Singapore, principally in oil and trade, during the British colonial period. Arabic culture had a strong influence on the local Malay culture through its religion. This is seen in the architecture of mosques in Kampong Glam.

Many Arabs in Singapore came from Hadramawt, which is now part of the republic of Yemen. In the heyday of Arab prosperity, the Arabs of Singapore maintained close links with Hadramawt and large amounts of money were sent back to the homeland. The rich built themselves splendid houses, the most magnificent being the al-Kaff palaces. They also sent their sons back to Hadramawt for periods of time to enhance their identity as Hadramis. This custom maintained their language and Hadrami culture and even resulted in some Malay being incorporated in the spoken Arabic of Hadramawt (see Hadhrami Arabic). Hadramawt was regarded as a cultural training ground and the time spent there the final preparation for manhood. Upon their return to Singapore, these youths would take their place in the family businesses.

After World War II

During World War II it was impossible to travel, but the practice was resumed thereafter. However, after the Rent Control Act came into effect, Hadrami incomes were frozen and it became clear that the wakaf (trust) incomes would not be sufficient for the next generation. Then the families took a keener interest in the education of their children; the richer families sent their children to London to study and the children of others spent time working in Aden rather than just going to Hadramawt. The cultural and linguistic links were more or less maintained. But the family incomes continued to decline.

The 1960s

In the 1960s came a major change. The independence of South Yemen with a communist government in power put an end to the Singapore Hadramis returning home. At the same time, the economic developments in Singapore made the importance of the English language and of obtaining an education even more essential. The new Arab generation has grown up without Arabic and has lost both its identity and its affiliation with Hadramawt. Some families, in the oil boom of the 1970s, tried sending their sons to the Persian Gulf or Saudi Arabia, where there and their Arabic enhanced, but it was not a success. The young men did not like living in Saudi Arabia and their prospects in Singapore were better than on the Arabian peninsula.

Present day

Identity crisis

The Hadrami community in Singapore is now facing an identity crisis. The younger generation does not speak Arabic and has lost its affiliation with Hadramawt, partly because Hadramis have stopped sending their children back there. The Arab community recognises the lack of knowledge of Arabic is a major problem and an Arabic language centre has been set up. It is hoped that the younger generation will learn both the language and about their culture and heritage. The challenge facing the community is to ensure that the new generation maintains its identity. The link with Hadramawt needs to be re-established and travel to Hadramawt needs to be encouraged.

ingaporean Arabs census today

Singapore is a cosmopolitan city state made up of various races. The 1990 census shows the Chinese as the majority with around 74% of the population, the indigenous Malays with 14%, the Indians at less than 10% and the balance placed in the category of "others". This "others" category includes Filipinos, Eurasians, Vietnamese, Arabs and all other "others". The census shows Arabs to be around 7,000, but unofficial estimates place the number of Arabs at 10,000. The difference is due to a large number of the Arab community being classified as Malays in official statistics. The Arab community is almost all of Hadrami origin.

Arabs and wakaf (waqf وقف ) properties today

The Singapore Hadramis were major landlords, the large families having substantial properties held in wakafs (waqf = trusts), which ranged from private family trusts to public charitable trusts. Most of the land in today’s central business district of Singapore was once owned by Hadrami wakafs. These wakafs, bearing the family names, whether private or charitable, gave considerable prestige to the Arab community among the Muslims in Singapore.

In recent years, four factors have affected the wakafs and undermined the status of the community. The first three factors have been a direct result of government policies.

First factor

The first was the enactment of the Administration of Muslim Law Act 1968. The Singapore Islamic Council is the corporate body now empowered to oversee the administration of charitable wakafs in Singapore. The Arab trustees were in total control of their wakafs prior to the Act. With the transfer of the wakafs’ administration to the Council, the Arabs’ authority over them was considerably undermined. The association of wakafs with Arabs and the reputation of Arabs as benefactors diminished as their connection with the charitable functions of the wakafs became invisible to the public.

econd factor

The second factor was the Rent Control Act 1947. The rents of pre-war properties were controlled and, in effect, frozen. As the Arab wakafs were mostly pre-war properties, the income of the Arab families correspondingly diminished. The decline of income from the wakafs resulted in Arab economic influence diminishing. The Arabs were also, unfortunately, not prepared for such a drastic drop in income; they had not given their children a Western education. Many Arabs went to madrasahs (Arab schools) and some families never sent their children for any formal education at all. The development in Singapore since the 1960s has made it difficult for the Arabs to compete.

Third factor

The third factor was the Land Acquisition Act. Land is scarce in Singapore and it is government policy to have complete control over land usage. The Land Acquisition Act empowered the government to acquire land required for urban renewal and compensation is paid on a predetermined formula. The compensation amounts were significantly lower than the prevailing market value. The government embarked on a major acquisition campaign in the 1970s and 1980s. Pre-war properties were the major target for acquisition as Singapore underwent a modernisation programme. These pre-war properties were subject to rent control and had tenants that could not be removed.

The wakafs were not in a position to develop these properties. Significant properties owned by Arab wakafs were acquired and minimal compensation paid. This eroded Arab wealth and influence. It also diminished the Arab identity as substantial landlords.

The Sheikh Salem Talib Family settlement, for example, used to have more than three pages in its audited accounts listing the properties held, but the current accounts have less than one page. More than half of the properties were acquired by the government. The al-Saggoff Perseverance Estate was acquired in 1962 for urban renewal. Another 10 acre plot of land in a prime area was donated by the al-Junied family to the Muslim Trust Fund (a wakaf created by the al-Saggoffs) to be developed so that the income could be used for welfare projects. The Trust wanted to build a mosque and a madrasah, but building permission was not granted by the government. That piece of land was acquired in 1985. In present-day Singapore, the Arabs are no longer considered as the main landowners. Many Singapore Arabs regard the land acquisition policy as the main reason for both their loss of status and identity.

Fourth factor

The fourth factor is the use of professional trustees to manage the wakafs instead of family members. Most of the large private family trusts had problems of mismanagement or breaches of trust and legal disputes. In many cases a professional trustee was then appointed, which had a similar effect to the Administration of Muslim Law Act: the management of the wakafs became impersonal and the Arab families lost the social status of being associated with them.


People of Arab descent in Singapore hold the following surnames arranged alphabetically:

(Notes on pronunciation:Pronunciation of names is that of Classical Arabic or Standard Arabic. Dialectal pronunciation may slightly differ in some sounds, e.g. Classical [q] may be pronounced [g] . Classical vowels such as unicode| [ai] or unicode| [aw] are pronounced in colloquial Arabic as unicode| [ē] or unicode| [ō] respectively. Thus the name Bagushair (Baq'shir) [Unicode|bā qushair] باقشير is [Unicode|bā gishēr] . Note also that Arabic glottal stop < ء > [hamzah] is transliterated in Malay, e.g. Barajak [unicode|bā rajā’] بارجاء . Below is a list of names preceded by a table showing the transliteration system of consonants together with their values. Transliteration and Arabic spelling of names with ??? need checking.) :

* Aboed [Unicode|‘abūd / ‘abbūd] عبود/ عبّود
* Aidid [Unicode|‘aidīd] عيديد
* Al Bin Said [Unicode|āl bin sa‘īd] آل بن سعيد
* Al Bukhari [Unicode|al-bukhārī] البخاري
* Al Idrus [Unicode|al-‘aidarūs] (also spelt Alaydrus) العيدروس
* Alatas [Unicode|al-‘aṭṭās] العطاس
* Alaydrus [Unicode|al-‘aidarūs] العيدروس
* Albar [Unicode|al-bār] البار
* AlHabshi [Unicode|al-ḥabshī] الحبشي
* AlHadad [Unicode|al-ḥaddād] الحداد
* Alhadi [Unicode|al-hādī] الهادي
* AlHadry [Unicode|al-ḥadrī] الحدري
* AlHajri [Unicode|al-hajrī] الهجري
* AlHamid [Unicode|al-ḥāmid] الحامد(different from the Bin Hamid [Unicode|bin-ḥāmid] بن حامد)
* AlJufry [Unicode|al-jufrī] الجفري
* Aljunied [Unicode|al-junaid] الجنيد
* Alkaff [Unicode|al-kāf] الكاف
* AlKhairid [Unicode|al-khirid] الخرد
* Alkhatib [Unicode|al-khaṭīb] الخطيب
* AlKhatiri ???الخاطري (but if Al Kathiri, pronunciation is [Unicode|al-kathīrī] الكثيري)
* AlMadihid ??? [Unicode|āl mudaiḥij] مديحج
* AlMahdaly [Unicode|al-mahdalī] المهدلي
* AlMushaiya ??? [Unicode|also al-mushaikh]
* AlNahdi [Unicode|al-nahdī] النهدي
* AlNaziri ??? [Unicode|al-nadhīri]
* Alqadri [Unicode|al-qādirī] القادري
* AlQudsi [Unicode|al-qudsī] القدسي
* Alsagoff [Unicode|al-saqāf] السقاف
* AlShahab [Unicode|āl shihāb] آل شهاب (other names : Bin Shahab & Bin Shihab بن شهاب - all belong to the same family).
* Alsree [Unicode|al-sirī] السري
* Altuywai [Unicode|al-tuwai] التوي
* Alwaini [Unicode|al-‘wuainī] العويني
* Alyahya [Unicode|āl yaḥya] آل يحيى
* Ashiblie [Unicode|al shiblī] الشبلي
* al-Zair ???(possibly also Az-zair)
* Baashin [Unicode|bā ‘ashin] باعشن
* Badib [Unicode|bā dhīb] باذيب
* Bafadhal [Unicode|bā faḍl] بافضل
* Bafanah [Unicode|bā fana‘] بافنع
* Bages [Unicode|bā qais] باقيس
* Bagharib [Unicode|bā gharīb] باغريب
* Bagushair (Baq'shir) [Unicode|bā qushair] باقشير
* Bahajaj [Unicode|bā ḥajjāj] باحجاج
* Baharon [Unicode|bā hārūn] باهارون
* Bahashwan [Unicode|bā ḥashwān] باحشوان
* Bajrai [Unicode|bā jirai] / [Unicode|bā jurai] باجري
* Bakhbireh [Unicode|bā khubairah] باخبيرة
* Balidram [Unicode|bil-ladram] بالدرم or بن لدرم [bin ladram]
* Bamadhaj [Unicode|bā madḥaj] بامدحج
* Banafe' [Unicode|bā nāfi‘] بانافع
* Bana'ma [Unicode|bā nā‘imah] باناعمة
* Ba'Arfan [Unicode|bā ‘arfān] با عرفان
* Bajammal [Unicode|bā jammāl] با جمال
* Baobed [Unicode|bā ‘ubaid] باعبيد
* Barabbah [Unicode|bā rabbā‘] بارباع
* Barajak [Unicode|bā rajā’] بارجاء
* Barosh ??? [Unicode|bā ruwish] باروش
* Basalamah [Unicode|bā salāmah] باسلامة
* Basharahil [Unicode|bā sharāḥīl] باشراحيل
* Basrawi [Unicode|baṣrāwī] بصراوي
* Baswedan [Unicode|bā swaidān] باسويدان
* Bathef ??? [Unicode| bā ṭahaf] باطهف
* Belwael [Unicode|ba l-wa‘l] بالوعل / بلوعل (also known as Balweel or Balwael or Belweil [Unicode|bil wi‘il] ) (Classical Arabic أبا الوعل)
* Bin Abdat [Unicode|bin ‘abdāt] (also [Unicode|bin ‘ibdāt] ) بن عبدات
* Bin Diab [Unicode|bin dhiyāb] بن ذياب
* Bin Hamid [Unicode|bin ḥāmid] بن حامد
* Bin Hassan [Unicode|bin ḥasan] بن حسن
* Bin Rabak [Unicode|bin raba‘] بن ربع (possibly [Unicode|bin rabbā‘] بن ربّاع )
* Bin Shahab [Unicode|bin shihāb] بن شهاب
* Bin Shaykh Abu Bakar [Unicode|bin al-shaikh abu-bakr] بن الشيخ ابوبكر
* Bin Shelham ??? [Unicode|bin shalham] بن شلهم
* Bin Tahir [Unicode|bin ṭāhir] بن طاهر
* Bin Talib [Unicode|bin ṭālib] بن طالب
* Binsmit [Unicode|bin ṣumaiṭ] بن سميط
* Harharah [Unicode|(bin) harharah] بن هرهرة
* Jawas [Unicode|jawwās] جواس
* Lahdji [Unicode|al laḥjī] اللحجي
* Lajam [Unicode|la‘jam] لعجم (Classical Arabic الاعجم)
* Magad ???المقد
* Mattar [Unicode|al-maṭar] المطر
* San'ani [Unicode|al-ṣan‘ānī] الصنعاني (previously Al-Jaisi - the name change occurred after they moved to San'aa).
* and a lot more


* Article: For the impact of Hadrami migration to South-East Asia on Hadhrami Arabic, see:
* Book: "The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean" by Engseng Ho, a professor at Harvard. California World History series. A 500-year history of Hadramawt's diaspora, the most comprehensive account to date. ISBN 978-0-520-24453-5 (hb); ISBN 978-0-520-24454-2 (pb)
* Book: [ Hadhrami Traders, Scholars and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s-1960s] Edited by Ulrike Freitag and William G. Clarence-Smith.

* Article: Talib, Ameen, 'Hadramis in Singapore', Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, vol 17no1 (April 1997): 89- 97 (UK).

ee also

* Jawi script
* Arab diaspora
* Tarim, Yemen

=External links=.
* [ Reminder of the Arab Presence in Singapore]

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