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Penang Islamic Museum

A Restored Villa that was once the Residence of Syed Alatas

Penang Islamic Museum

A few houses away at 128, Armenian Street is the Penang Islamic Museum, which was once the residence of an Arab pepper trader Syed Mohammad Al-Attas from Acheh.

The Penang Islamic Museum highlights the history of Islam on Penang and other Malaysian regions, from its beginnings until today.

The exhibits are organized by theme in different galleries. The mansion's architecture is incredibly eye-pleasing, incorporating a mixture of Indian, European and Malay influences.

My two trips with some Muslim friends helped me to understand the culture and tradition. Penang Islamic Museum helped me to understand the history of Muslim influences in early Penang.

Objectives of the Museum

  1. To enshrine for posterity, the role and contributions of Malay leaders in the development and propagation of Islam in Pulau Pinang.
  2. To retrace the impressive history of Acheen Street and to preserve Malay historical heritage in the midst of the rapid physical development taking place in Pulau Pinang.
  3. To draw the interest of historians and other visitors to the historical heritage of the area.
  4. To disseminate knowledge to interested historians and others and subsequently to enhance efforts towards documenting historical facts of the vicinity.
  5. To provide a resource centre for students, researchers and the general public on the history of Islam in Pulau Pinang.
  6. To establish a new tourism product with the concept of an Islamic Heritage Trail.

Ground Floor of the Museum

The ground floor of the museum has various sections. An introduction to the History of Penang, Islam and Culture. You will also get to view Outstanding Muslim Personalities.

I will try to list some of their achievements to be placed in this hall of fame.

  • Sheik Omar Basheer, the Iman of Acheen Street Mosque who is well respect by the British. During the Penang Riot in 1867, he made the Muslims members swear in front of him not to be involved in the Red Flag and White flag secret society, the earliest secret society in Penang.
  • Sheik Muhammad Tahir Jalaluddin. Publication of the Al-Iman magazine, promotes Islamic movements based on Quran and Sunnah
  • Syed Sheik al-Hadi, he set up the Madrasah Al Mashoor or school aimed at expanding the Islamic reforms. He worked to eradiate wrong teachings, which masqueraded behind religious school of thoughts like the Taslim or Matahari.
  • Ahmad Rashid Talu: Pioneer of Malay novels and a literary leader. He wrote two books "Kawan Benar" meaning true friend and "Ia-Kah Salmah" also translated as It is Salmah.
  • Haji Abdullah Fahim, grandfather to Ex Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. A religious leader and independence warrior who made many contributions to Malaysia especially Penang.
  • Datuk Haji Ahmad Badawi, father to Ex Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Strived for excellence in the field of education and spread of Islam in the state of Penang.
Syed Sheik Al-Hadi photo in Penang Islamic Museum

It was so educational and especially the Architecture and Interior Decoration, and Religious Teachings. For me seeing the photographs of a few rituals and ceremony of the Muslim does brings back great memories.

Big explicit pictorial photos guides you through the marriages, Akad Nikah, Bersanding, confinement days customs and traditions.

Childhood Memories

Circumcision, an important ritual for a Muslim

My Muslim friends would share their us their school holidays activities. Circumcision is one of them. Come school holidays all young boys of ten years will be lined up for Sunnat or Berkhatan.

It has to be performed in the village surau(mosque). A banana log is placed for the boys to sit down for the ritual. In front of him sat a man who is the circumciser.

He then took out from his bag a forceps looking thing and planted it into the stem in front of the boy.

The boy was then helped to lift up his sarong - a piece of cloth sewed at one end and used to wrap round the body, to expose his penis.

A few men then gathered behind the boy and held each part of him. One on each hand and one each on each leg spread-eagling him.

The circumciser then toyed with the boy's penis until it was semi-erect, pulled his foreskin forward and slipped it onto the forceps, recited some Koranic verses and then with a swift movement cut the end of the foreskin that was sticking out the other side of the forceps with a scalpel/sharp knife.

The boy yelled out with a scream and it was all over. The men released the boy and he was lead to another part of the surau to rest holding onto his sarong so as not to have it touching the sensitive cut area.

The next boy was lead to the enclosed area and the same process is repeated. We were so cheeky after their stories and would often asked what they do with the chopped off foreskin.

Sometimes, my girl friend Rohani cheekily replied, they fed the chickens with it. We roared with laughter.Penang Islamic Museum

Other photos too bought back many memories but none as unforgettable as the one above. So for me it is really an eventful day, very fulfilling and our guest enjoyed the tour and heritage visit to Penang Islamic Museum.

Upper Floor of the Museum

Bangau perahu, a boat decoration display in Penang Islamic Museum

The upper floor shows the growth and development of Islam in Penang through trade. Among the interesting exhibits at the museum are dioramas depicting the early days, an ancient grinding stone (batu giling), a replica of the Terengganu Stone, Arab calligraphy, paintings, old photographs of Muslim personalities and the bed of Achehness nobleman.

Syed Mohammad Al-Attas legacy

Heavily craved Chest box displayed in Penang Islamic Museum

Syed Mohammad Al-Attas left behind a beautiful mansion of the mid-19th century Straits Eclectic style with Islamic elements in 1860.

Heritage conservationists regards the building as good example of upper-class Muslim residence of the 19th century, incorporating European, Indian and Malay cultural influences.

In its heyday, the mansion hosted Muslim-related cultural events, one of which was the homegrown Boria, usually performed during Awal Muharram (or the Muslim new year). But most of all, the mansion served as home to both Syed Alatas and his son.

From 1930 to 1960, the Syed Alatas Mansion had been used as a junkyard. The Indian Chettiars buys and sell scrap metal thus ruining the beautiful facade of the historical building. Even a kopi tiam (coffee shop) occupied the place till 1995.

Penang Heritage Center

It was then taken over the Penang Heritage Center. The Penang Heritage Center was formed as a center to inculcate an awareness in the cultural and architectural especially in the restoration and its preservation.

The Municipal Council owned the premises for several decades and had proposed to be demolished for road widening.Penang Islamic Museum

It became the subject of a pilot restoration project financed by federal, state and municipal governments and will be headed by the world famous conservation architect Didier Repellin, head conservator of Lyons, France.

Today the building are owned by the Municipal Council but the Heritage Centre is run by the State Government.

If you have the time, the Penang Islamic Museum will proved to be an interesting place to visit. The museum is open to the public every day save Tuesdays, from 9:30am to 6:00pm. Ticket for admission is Adult RM3 and school kids RM1.

Let me be your travel agent if you are going home or visiting other destinations. Hotel combined, an affiliation I trust has most of the hotels anywhere in the world which are affordable, even the pricey ones.

Have fun in Penang Islamic Museum and have a safe journey when you leave Penang.

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