Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Syed Omar Al-junied

MP for Aljunied Islamic
Aljunied GRC College's logo

Syed Omar Al-junied
Syed Omar Al-junied, his full name Syed Sharif Omar bin Ali Aljunied, the patriarch of the Aljunieds now living in Singapore, was born in Hadramaut, Yemen in 1792. Although much of his family background and childhood years are not known, it is clear that his ancestors, being the descendants of the Prophet Muhammed, established themselves as traders in Southeast Asia long before immigrating to Singapore. One such member of the family was Syed Sharif Omar al-Junied and his uncle, Syed Mohammed bin Harun Aljunied, were probably the first Arabs to come to Singapore. The first in the family to leave Yemen, Syed Omar travelled to the East in 1816 in his effort to spread the Muslim faith. But when he landed in Palembang, Sumatra, through hard work, he became a successful trader in spices. His fame in Palembang was not only as a merchant but also as a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammed, for which he was honoured with the title of “Pengeran Sherif “or "Prince" of the Malays. He was well-known as a leader of the Arabs in the Malay Sultanate in the East, an upright and honourable man.
Syed Mohammed managed to set up business by June 1819, just four months after the founding of Singapore in 1819. Syed Omar soon followed and established himself as a businessman as well as an important leader of the Arab community in the East. He was personally welcomed by Stamford Raffles who was eager to court the wealth of the Arab traders who had then established a flourishing trade between the Far East and the known world. The Arabs in turn were attracted to Singapore's free port which contrasted with the heavy duties charged at ports held by the Dutch.
The Aljunieds along with the Alkaffs and Alsagoffs were the three most prominent and wealthiest Arab families in Singapore for some time. The Aljunied Islamic School (Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah) built in 1927 is attributed to one of the Aljunieds, Syed Abdul Rahman Aljunied. Large sums of money were also contributed by the family for the building of the Town Hall. The business moved to 737 North Bridge Road under the name Toko Aljunied which meant “Aljunied’s shop”, long famous for its atar, an alcohol-free perfume preferred by Muslims. The family also started the House of Batik.
With the support of Raffles, the Aljunieds profited a plot of land between High Street and the Singapore River. Soon after arriving in Singapore, Mr. Syed Omar built a house near the junction of High Street and North Bridge Road. He imported spices from Indonesia and exported them to the Middle-East and London, and imported cotton from England under his own brand name, then sent them to Indonesia for batik printing. With his acute sense for business, Mr. Syed Omar’s wealth grew.
Just as his business flourished, the charitable side of Mr. Syed Omar also became known and much appreciated. One of his biggest contribution to Singapore was his giving away of the land and the Masjid Kampong Melaka (Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka or Malacca Mosque) in Chinatown which was the first place of worship constructed in Singapore. In 1981 to 1982, after almost a hundred years of use, the original structure of a temporary timber building, was demolished and reconstructed into a brick mosque that had a tall minaret with a small roof dome which was added at the entrance of the mosque. This reconstruction coincided with the laying of a new road through Kampong Malacca which brought worshippers from the surrounding area. Today, the mosque is in much the same state as it was after the last reconstruction — a simple building that is well complemented by its surrounding space. With a sitting capacity of about 1,000 people, it is the focal point for office workers during daily and Friday prayers.
He also gave away the land for the St Andrew's Cathedral and the land for Dr Tan Tock Seng paupers' hospital which later became Tan Tock Seng Hospital and was resited to Moulmein Road.
Mr. Syed Omar did too donated a large burial ground at Jalan Kubor off Victoria Street and built another mosque in Bencoolen Street. Large wells with granite sides were also dug behind Fort Canning, Selegie Road, Pungulu Kisang and Telok Ayer with the rest of the Aljunieds to supply water to the early residents of Singapore.
When Mr. Syed Omar died on 6 November 1852 in Singapore, he left behind five sons and several grandchildren. He was buried with his uncle Syed Mohammed at the Syed Omar Cemetery. The family business was then carried on by his nephew, Mr. Syed Ali who was a community leader in his own right, contributing land and money in the spirit of the Aljunied clan and his son, Mr. Syed Abdullah Omar.
For Mr. Syed Ali, One of his earliest contributions was the building of four community wells at his own expense and the donation of land for the Bukit Wakaff Cementery at Grange Road. Mr. Syed Ali was also a philanthropist. He is best known for filling in a swamp purchased by his father, Mr. Syed Mohammed, who was also Mr. Syed Omar’s uncle-land that would become Weld Road and Jalan Besar. Three bridges in the area were also built at his expense.
As for Mr. Syed Abdullah Omar, he was the one who rebuilt the Masjid Kampong Melaka, and named the road next to it after his father - Omar Road.
The family home was eventually sold and the Aljunieds moved to a new house in Balestier Road owned by Mr. Syed Omar's other son, Mr. Syed Abu Bakar Omar Aljunied. Mr. Syed Abu Bakar is one of the Founders of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce and the only non-European member on the Board of Governors of the Singapore Harbour Board, now known as Port of Singapore Authority, in its pioneering years. Mr. Syed Abu Bakar later passed on the house to his daughter, Sharifah Alawiyah Abu Bakar Aljunied. Madam Sharifah is the wife of Mr. Syed Abdul Rahman Junied Aljunied. Mr. Syed Abdul Rahman is the Founder of the Aljunied Islamic School in Victoria Street.
Their contributions are recognised not only in the naming of Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka after its founder but also in the naming of Syed Alwi Road in Serangoon and Aljunied Road in Aljunied.
Aljunied Road which is now a sub-urban area located in the eastern part of the city-state of Singapore was officially named in 1926 after either Mr. Syed Omar or his family members. Aljunied Road was formally a piece of agricultural land which has since been heavily urbanised and presently comprises a variety of landuses. Today, Aljunied is a bustling neighbourhood with HDB flats with amenities like shops, schools, parks and recreational facilities. The area also has a constituency, the Aljunied Group Pepresentation Constituency (Aljunied GRC) with five Members of Parliament sitting in the Parliament of Singapore. Aljunied GRC was hotly contested in the 2006 general election.
Currently, there are about 300 Aljunieds living in Singapore. True to tradition, the Aljunieds continue to prosper in Singapore and the region. Like their forefathers, they have carried on the practice of giving to society what they have gained from it.
The Alkaff Mansion and Arab institution in Singapore are permanent reminders to Singaporeans of the affluence, the business acumen and contribution of the early Arab families toward the development and prosperity of Singapore. Their descendants are continuing their contribution to our Republic. We should also never forget Mr. Syed Omar, the patriarch of the Aljunieds in Singapore, who was unforgettably an Arab spice trader and businessman, philanthropist and important leader of the early Arab community.

Source of information: www.infonet.com

Done by: Shi Meng Qing(20)
Teow Yi Qin(23)
Wang Mei Qiong(24)


Mertylok said...

wow so detailed cool man

yadiy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
yadiy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jin ZI Yue said...

Wow! Thanks for the info man

Sharifah M Al-Adros said...

Not so accurate. Al-Junied Islamic School was founded by 4 Brothers.

Din Mohammad said...

My late father, Haji Mohd Shah was from Madrasah Al Junid, 1940...not very sure.