Monday, June 11, 2012

Shrine of Syed Shahul Hamid, George Town, Penang
Honouring pious Muslims
Shrines of devout Muslims, such as Caliphs and Sufis for example, are quite common and can be found in many parts of the world. Some of these include the 8th century shrine of Hadhrat Masoumeh in Iran and in Bangladesh the shrine of Hazrat Shah Jalal who died some six centuries ago. Until today, the latter's shrine is visited by many devotees of every caste and creed, some of whom journey from distant lands. 

Even on a relatively small island like Penang, several shrines and tombs of famous Muslims dot the landscape. These include the shrine of Syed Mustapha Idris aka Dato' Koyah, from Malabar, India and the Noordin tomb. According to Penang historian Khoo Salma, Dato Koyah reportedly worked miracles, healed the sick and fed the masses.

In Penang, a shrine built in honour of a well-respected 13th century Muslim sufi called Syed Shahul Hamid is found on the corner of Chulia Street and King Street. Syed Shahul belonged to the Qadiriyah Sufi order, a movement founded by Shaykh Abd al-Qadir Jilani. Similar shrines dedicated to Syed Shahul are also found in Singapore and Sri Lanka.
Incidentally, the word Chulia (as in Chulia Street) came from the name given to Tamil Muslims traders from the Coromandel coast on the east coast of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Even today, Chulia Street is lined on both sides with Indian Muslim restaurants and shops.

Who was Syed Shahul Hamid? Throughout history, saints have been credited with uncommon and metaphysical powers. Muslim saints are no exception, although it should be noted that in the Quranic tradition, a saint is known as a wali, and any miracles performed by them are a gift from God, rather than from any miraculous power inherent in or acquired by the person. This special gift is known as karama, from which the word keramat is derived (Malay Folk Beliefs, Mohd. Taib Osman).
Syed Shahul's gift was in the rescue and protection of seafaring ships, according to Prof. Dennis B. McGilvray, an American anthropologist from the University of Colorado. Thus, he continued, the location of the shrines were found at Southeast Asian maritime trading networks of his chief patrons, the wealthy Marakkayar Muslim shipping magnates.
As Penang is an important port city still, the presence of the Nagore shrine is of importance to the shipping agencies owned and operated by Indian Muslims.
The Nagore shrine today Built in the design of a miniature Moghul monument, the shrine has retained its original architecture since the 1800s. The little shops built into alcoves of the temple's sidewall still house petty traders and a songkok maker. These shops are called butica or boteca (from where the word boutique comes from) which was a common word in Ceylon for a small native shop or booth (The Concise Guide to the Anglo-Sri Lankan Lexicon, Richard Boyle).
These days, the shrine is mostly a sanctuary of sorts to people, mainly Muslims, who need a place to pray, rest or eat. In the cool and quiet interior of the building, the noise and bustle of the traffic just outside seem suddenly far away. Worn prayer mats and well thumbed prayer books are a tell-tale sign of the shrine's popularity as a place to pray. Visitors in need of a drink can help themselves to the jerry cans of water and plastic cups.
Abu Bakar, who has been caretaker of the shrine for over 14 years said that many people drop by the shrine –- these include tourists, well-wishers and old acquaintances. Abu Bakar is often seen sitting on the concrete platform outside chatting with friends. He is friendly, approachable and willing to answer questions in Malay or Tamil.
Visitors should bear in mind though that this humble shrine is not a typical tourist attraction – its main purpose now serves as a quiet place to pray and to rest.
The costs of upkeeping the place is provided for by the State Religious Council, and through donations made at the shrine. There are no fixed visiting hours but you should ideally visit the place in the day, and not during prayer times. Shoes must be left at the entrance, and clothing should be modest.

A short history of Saiyed Shahul Hameedi According to the shrine's records (see picture), Hazareth Saiyed Shahul Hameedi Qadir Gunjasavoy Andavar Avargal (the Saint's full name) was born in Manickapur near Ayodyah in India on a Friday in the 14th century. His father, Hazareth Saiyed Hasan Kuddus Sahib was the 21st lineal descendant of the Prophet Mohamed. Like the birth of all great men, Saiyed Shahul's coming was announced by a Messenger of God to his mother Beebi Fathima in a dream. Beebi was told that she would be blessed with a son who would be the Saviour of the people and the Captain of Islam.
The records then go on to explain that even as a child, Shahul showed signs of great wisdom, intense piety and divine communion. He mastered the Arabic language by eight. After several years of training with a guru in divine knowledge, he went to Manickapur with 404 disciples and then toured Afghanistan, Baluchistan and other places performing innumerable miracles like raising the dead, giving speech to the mute, healing the lame and curing various diseases.
At a mosque in Lahore, we are told, Shahul met a childless but wealthy and pious man by the name of Kazi Hazareth Noordin Sahib, who asked that the saint bless him with children. This did the saint agree to do, and gave some betel nuts to Noordin to hand over to Beebi Johra, his wife. Noordin was also instructed to stay by the saint's side for 40 days without seeing his wife. A son was soon born to Beebi, in the year 959, and was named after the saint's brother, Saiyed Muhammed Eusoff Sahib.
One of the last miracles performed by Shahul was when he cured the King of Tanjore of a grievous illness, according to the records. He also blessed the Queen with many children which soon came to pass. The grateful king offered the saint rich rewards, which he refused, and instead asked for a piece of land upon which to build his shrine. It was here where he was laid to rest when he died at age 68.
Soon after, the shrine became a place of great veneration for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. His anniversary is marked annually by a celebration called Kandoori Festival, which lasts 14 days starting from the first day of Jamadilakhir.


Tomb of Ismail Nagore, George Town, Penang  

Tomb of Noordin Sahib, George Town, Penang (His actual official name is Maulana Miskin. The board at the entrance says Makam Maulana Miskin Jalan Masjid, Palua Pinang)  

Tomb of Syed Mustapha Idris a.k.a. Dato' Koyah, George Town, Penang
Will be closed by Magrib Time so appropriate time is between Zohar to asar)

Tomb of Wali Mohammed Salleh, Batu Uban,Penang - frequented by Naqshabandi Malays.

Dargah of Alim Shah.

The name of the Dargah is Makam Saidina Kaful Ali Wali Allah.  

Another dargah in Penang is that of "Yusuf Wali"
Two dargahs in Melaka, Pulau Besar:
- Sultanul Arifin Shaile Ismail (Wali)
- Abdul Jalil (Wali)