Remembering community histories

Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah student Mohamed Hussein, 17, recently documented the history of Singapore's oldest mosque.
Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah student Mohamed Hussein, 17, recently documented the history of Singapore's oldest mosque. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

At just 17, Mohamed Hussein has become a champion of history.

His fascination is with the story of Singapore's oldest mosque - the Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka - which was built in 1820 by pioneer Arab businessman and philanthropist Syed Omar Aljunied. "I think the bicentennial is a good opportunity for young Singaporeans like myself to find out about our past before 1965," said the Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah student, who recently documented the mosque's history.

He was one of 50 light bearers representing Singapore's earliest arrivals, at the bicentennial launch yesterday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the event in the Civic District yesterday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee - both of whom are co-chairs of the ministerial steering committee for the Singapore Bicentennial Office - emphasised the importance of community histories.

Mrs Teo noted that many people arrived with Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, bringing their cultures and customs. Eventually, they built communities and shaped the development of Singapore.

"The many communities that settled here, the many individuals, over time they learnt to support one another, they built hospitals, they started schools, and very importantly they found some ways to give back to society," she said.

Mr Alexius Pereira, 52, president of the Eurasian Association, a partner of the Singapore Bicentennial Office, said service to the community is still the way forward, noting: "In 1919, the Eurasian Association was formed. So, as Singapore celebrates its bicentennial, the association's 100th birthday will celebrate serving the community and our contributions to Singapore."

Mr Lee hoped the bicentennial would give Singaporeans a chance to reflect on the themes of openness to communities, trade and ideas, multiculturalism and self-determination, values that have allowed Singapore to thrive and hold firmly to the conviction that "we need to determine our own future ourselves".

Melody Zaccheus

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2019, with the headline Remembering community histories. Subscribe