The Alkaff Mosques
Nestled in a quiet Potong Pasir estate is Singapore’s 68th National Monument, the Alkaff Upper Serangoon Mosque. As only the sixth mosque on the list, it brings to awareness the Alkaffs, a prominent Arab family who made significant contributions to the local communities at the turn of the 20th century.
The Alkaffs were Arab traders who made their fortune as merchants and property owners. As philanthropists, they gave back to the local Muslim community. The Alkaff Upper Serangoon Mosque is one of two mosques built by the Alkaffs in the 1930s – with the lesser known being the Alkaff Kampong Melayu Mosque in the Bedok Reservoir area.
Modern Singapore quickly established itself as a successful British trading port under Raffles’ vision and Farquhar’s stewardship and attracted traders from around the world. Among the first Arabs to arrive in Singapore were the Alkaffs, who came from the Wadi Hadhraumaut region (present-day Yemen).
As a mercantile and landowning family, the Alkaffs traded in coffee, spices, sugar and textiles. They invested in real estate and established themselves as one of the largest property owners in Singapore. Their properties included the luxurious Hotel de l’Europe that previously occupied the site of the Former Supreme Court wing of the National Gallery Singapore, the Arcade Building, a Moorish-styled waterfront commercial building that was demolished in 1978, and Alkaff Mansion, their holiday home on Telok Blangah Hill which is a conserved building occupied by an Italian restaurant today.
The Alkaffs were also involved in the construction of the now-defunct Alkaff Lake Gardens by the site of the former Bidadari Cemetery. Most significantly, two of their contributions remain today in the figure of the two mosques they built in the 1930s.
The Alkaff Upper Serangoon Mosque (located at 66 Pheng Geck Avenue) was situated between the former Bidadari Cemetery and the Alkaff Lake Gardens. Funded by Syed Abdul Rahman bin Shaikh Alkaff, the head of the Alkaff family, the mosque was constructed from 1931 to 1932 and was opened for public worship on 24 June 1932. The mosque has undergone several expansions with the most recent in March 2014 but still retains some of its earliest structures. Today it can accommodate up to 2,500 worshippers, who are mainly residents from the Bendemeer, Kallang Bahru and Potong Pasir estates.
Catering to Bedok residents was the Alkaff Kampong Melayu Mosque. While it stands at 200 Bedok Reservoir Road today, its original site was at Jalan Abdul Manan, approximately 1km away. Its original site is occupied by Bedok North Secondary School today.
Known as just the Alkaff Mosque then, it was built in 1932 to cater to the large Muslim community living in the area. In the late 1980s, with rejuvenation works in the area, all the buildings save for the mosque were demolished. The mosque was renamed Alkaff Kampong Melayu Mosque in 1989, and groundbreaking works began in its location today in 1992. In 1994, the mosque was relocated to the larger compound at Bedok Reservoir Road which can accommodate up to 3,000 worshippers. This mosque is one of a few that offer religious classes for the disabled and hearing-impaired.
A few places still bear the Alkaff namesake in Singapore, like the colourful Alkaff Bridge (built in 1997) at the Singapore River which is shaped like a tongkang. The bridge is situated near the former Alkaff Quay, which was named as such because there were 17 godowns that were owned by Alkaff and Company. The Alkaff mosques still serve the local Muslim communities today and are a reminder of the contributions of the Alkaffs and early traders in Modern Singapore.