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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 it?


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 Patten


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 historical geography.


Tim Bunnell
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 modern aircrafts.


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







Available from:

Online at:


Book Depository
World Scientific Publishers
In Singapore, visit Wardah Books, 58 Bussorah Street (+65 6297 1232)
In Singapore, there’s Kinokuniya
and also Kinokuniya in Kuala Lumpur