The Sheikh Haikel connection

This band of Arabs comprising (from left) Abu Bakar Alwee Alsree, 24; Muhammad Hussein Alhindwan, 35; Agil Muhamad Ba'Arfan, 26; and Izzat Adnan Bin Afif, 21, performs with traditional Arab musical instruments. It was Alwehdah's main contribution to
This band of Arabs comprising (from left) Abu Bakar Alwee Alsree, 24; Muhammad Hussein Alhindwan, 35; Agil Muhamad Ba'Arfan, 26; and Izzat Adnan Bin Afif, 21, performs with traditional Arab musical instruments. It was Alwehdah's main contribution to Singapore HeritageFest 2015, which was held earlier this year.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Here are the roots of the home- grown rapper and actor Sheikh Haikel Sheikh Salim:

1. Singapore's original Arab settlers hailed from the region of Hadhramaut in southern Yemen. Its people are known as Hadhramis, and speak their own style of Hadhrami Arabic.

2. Broadly speaking, the Hadhramis have three social strata. The first are the Sada, who say they are direct descendants from Prophet Muhammad, and who are known by their singular honorific Syed for men, and Sharifah for women. In Yemen and elsewhere, many among them are revered religious scholars and administrators.

The second are the Mashaikhs, many among whom are scholars too and, sometimes, farmers.

Their family names often begin with "Ba-", such as Mr Khalid Bin Saleh Basharahil, the current president of Alwehdah, the Arab Association of Singapore.

Then there are the Gabails, also known as the Kathiris, who are a collection of tribes. Most among them are landowners. Among the prominent Gabail families are the Bin Talibs and the Bin Abdads, and the honorifics Sheikh - for men - and Sheikhah - for women - often precede their given names.

3. When trader Syed Mohammad Bin Alwi Aidid was president of Alwehdah in the late 1970s, he introduced a rule which was simply this: If, say, the association's president was a Syed, then his two vice-presidents had to be one Mashaikh and one Gabail. So each Hadhrami group has to be represented in Alwehdah's leadership. To be clear, the Hadhramis in South-east Asia respect and get on well with one another.

4. The average male Hadhrami is quite dapper in his appearance, pairing a white-collared shirt and trousers with a well-cut jacket, over which he wears the Indian sarong known in Malay as the kain pelikat. He tops it off with a fez, or tarbus in Arabic.

5. The Hadhramis believe in inter-marriage to keep their wealth within the family, and also because they trust relatives the most. In choosing names for babies, they tend towards names already within the family. But they will name their child only after someone who has died. So, for example, the grandson of the late aforementioned Mr Syed Mohammad Bin Alwi Aidid has the exact name as him.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2015, with the headline 'The Sheikh Haikel connection'. Print Edition | Subscribe