KAPAL HAJI – SINGAPORE AND THE HAJJ JOURNEY
In the time before long-distance air travel,
the journey to the hajj from Southeast Asia was by sea. In
the days of “steamships” Muslim pilgrims were
away from home for months; further back in time to sailing
ships they might be away for well over a year.
The journey was slow and the connections
could be uncertain. For many years the ships could be seriously
overcrowded and – in the nineteenth century –
often unseaworthy. Conditions on board could be very testing;
downright uncomfortable. But, like so many of the journeys
of “ordinary” people throughout history, those
who travelled left no records.
How do we get a feel for this journey? How
was it made? What did it “cost” those who made
Through maps, images, and anecdotes –
from those who served on the ships, and from some who sailed
– Kapal Haji: Singapore and the Hajj Journey by Sea
paints a picture of how these journeys were established and
how they were run.
Kapal Haji was published in September 2019.
For a preview of a few pages click here.
Why this book?
Looking at his own neighbourhood and community,
the Liverpool poet, Brian Patten wrote:
There was so much
I ought to have recorded,
So many lives that have vanished –
Families, neighbours; people whose pockets
Were worn thin by hope. They were
The loose change history spent without caring.
Now they have become the air I breathe,
Not to have marked their passing seems such a betrayal.
From The Betrayal, Brian
This book is prompted by the feeling that many
“lives that have vanished” should be remembered.
Reviews / Comments
In the era prior
to the take-off of commercial jet air travel, Hajj pilgrims
from the Nusantara region travelled to the Holy Land by ship.
This sensitively-researched book traces the seaborne journeys
of pilgrims who travelled via Singapore during the century
and a half up to the 1970s. Anthony Green and Mohd Raman Daud
focus not on colonial maritime infrastructure nor on the spiritual
force of ritual practice at Mecca, but on fleshing out human
experiences associated with shipping to, through and from
Singapore to the port of Jeddah. In addition to mapping social
lives, interactions and hardships that are a world apart from
how the Hajj pilgrimage is performed by Southeast Asians in
the twenty-first century, Kapal Haji is a sensitively-researched
contribution to work on Singapore’s connected and cosmopolitan
Professor of Geography, and Director, Asia Research Institute,
National University of Singapore
I think it is a really
empirically rich book, a well-illustrated and heartfelt documentation
of what is for many an emotionally charged experience as much
as it was also a logistically fascinating enterprise. There
are even wonderful snippets on religious architectural landmarks
in the Hejaz that have since then been destroyed. Many of
the images have also been analysed for content and information
has been gleaned directly from these visual sources. There
is a lot for the reader to respond to.
Imran bin Tajudeen Ph.D.,
Senior Research Fellow, Dept of Architecture, School of
Design and Environment, National University of Singapore.
Hajj is one of the
fifth fundamental pillars of Islam. It is an obligation upon
every Muslim, male and female and who are physically and financially
capable to do so. It is the ultimate spiritual experience
during which Muslims exert themselves to gain the pleasure
of their Lord and purifying their souls. Images of the hajj
journey was beautifully captured by Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya
(1292-1350) in the following couplets:
You see them on their
mounts, hair dusty and dishevelled, Yet never more content,
never happier have they felt; Leaving homelands and families
due to holy yearning, Unmoved are they by temptations of returning.
Since 2003, I have
performed the hajj about 15 times and have always been amazed
by the sight of Muslims from across the globe: Chinese, Malaysians,
Singaporean, Indonesians, Turkish and many others. Malay Muslims,
those coming from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore collectively
make up the largest group out of the two million or so pilgrims
who undertake this journey every year. During this auspicious
occasion, one gets the chance to see and speak with Muslims
representing the array of humankind.
I have always been
intrigued to understand the experiences and sacrifices of
pilgrims before air travel was available.
Kapal Haji gives us
a colourful insight of the hajj journey of South-East Asians
before the 1970s.
The book describes the development
of hajj shipping and the historical place of Singapore
in this network. Providing real stories of pilgrims,
the sacrifices they made and the difficulties they
endured, the book paints a vivid picture of what the
hajj journey entailed.
Green and Daud provide the reader
with a fascinating account, replete with images and
facts, that reconstructs the sacred journey of hajj
before the 1970s. They outline the significance of
Singapore as a port and a setting for the hajj, describe
who travelled and when, the nature of the ships they
sailed in, and the difficulties and wonderful experience
they encountered along the way. Beautiful examples
of pilgrims offer the reader an insight into the faith
and the desire of the pilgrims to perform the hajj
- a desire that drove many thousands to undertake
the journey by sea. A journey that led them through
places that offered services and possibilities and
connected them with a global Muslim community. The
book tells of the fortitude and desire of the many
men and woman who were willing to sacrifice everything
to perform the hajj.
Importantly, Green and Daud illustrate
the significance of Singapore as the administrative
centre of the Straits Settlements and perhaps the
major centre for hajj pilgrims from the region. Moving
beyond fragments of dry information often found in
editorials of newspapers, they provide the reader
with ample evidence illustrating Singapore’s
significance in the historical narrative of the hajj,
and the experiences of the pilgrims who travelled
in wooden sailing ships – not the comfort of
This book is a must read for academics,
journalists and writers wanting to gain deeper and
factual knowledge of the role of Singapore in the
hajj journey of South-East Asian Muslims before the
1970s; for Muslim scholars seeking to appreciate the
religious motivations, determinations and sacrifices
of those pilgrims; and as a source of inspiration
for all Muslims intending to undertake the sacred
journey of the hajj.
Professor Mohamad Abdalla
Director, Centre for Islamic Thought and Education, University
of South Australia