'Orang Puteh' (Malay for white person) stands out as Sultan Mosque guide

'Orang Puteh' (Malay for white person) stands out as Sultan Mosque guide
HELPFUL: Madam Atikah Sabine, who is from Marseille, France, is one of Sultan Mosque’s tour guides.

For the last few years, Madam Atikah Sabine has been a curious feature at Muscat Street's Sultan Mosque.

Twice a week, the bubbly French woman - who is now a Singapore permanent resident - volunteers at the 190-year-old mosque, giving guided tours to the hundreds of tourists who visit the landmark in the heart of the Kampong Glam district.

The 44-year-old is one of the heritage spot's tour guides.

Madam Atikah - who converted to Islam after she married her husband in 2006 - takes about 200 tourists around the mosque for four hours each week, "talking about the architecture and history of the mosque".

She added: "If they want to know more about the religion, we will tell them but we are not here to preach or convert the visitors."

The tours are held daily from 10am to noon.

The New Paper first met Madam Atikah earlier this month, when we saw her distributing food to children in Arab Street.

HELPING COMMUNITY

The housewife said it was normal to give alms during the fasting month of Ramadan and that she "likes to help the community here".

Her love affair with the district began when she first visited Sultan Mosque in 2006, some weeks after she moved to Singapore.

Madam Atikah, who is originally from Marseille in the south of France, said: "Kampong Glam was one of the first places I visited when I moved here. I fell in love with this place because I found it so peaceful.

"From then, I started praying at the Sultan Mosque regularly and in 2011, I was approached by one of the mosque's employees who asked if I would be interested to lead the tours there." Madam Atikah lives in a two-room flat at East Coast Road with her 53-year-old husband, Mr Azman Sapri, who works in the oil and gas industry, and their seven-year-old son.

The tour guide programme at Sultan Mosque was started in 2005, said the mosque's executive officer, Mr Asmawi Said, 60.

Back then, the mosque had only three local guides. Today, there are about 10 of them, comprising housewives of Japanese and African descent and locals, who are 40 years of age or older.

The foreigners are permanent residents married to Singaporeans.

Those who volunteer will be provided with training, said Mr Asmawi.

Madam Atikah admits that because she is a Caucasian who frequents a mosque here, she does get some curious stares.

She said with a laugh: "The tourists and expatriates I meet (at the mosque) are surprised that I am an 'orang putih' (Malay for a white person) who has assimilated into life in Singapore.

"I take the bus wherever I go, I live in a HDB flat and I volunteer at a mosque but I've always wanted a simple life and I am very happy with my life now."

zothman@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 22, 2014.
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