A mosque built by a prominent Arab family 84 years ago became Singapore's latest national monument yesterday.
The Alkaff Upper Serangoon Mosque at 66 Pheng Geck Avenue is the 68th to be gazetted, and the sixth mosque on the monument list - the highest order of preservation status in Singapore. The building is now legally protected by the Preservation of Monuments Act. All works under it must be approved by the National Heritage Board's (NHB) Preservation of Sites and Monuments division.
The monument was originally opened by the Alkaffs, who were Arab traders from Yemen dealing in spices, sugar and coffee between India and Indonesia. The family came to Singapore from Indonesia in the 1850s to join the spice trade.
The Alkaff Upper Serangoon Mosque is one of the two mosques established by the family in the 1930s. The other one is the Alkaff Kampong Melayu Mosque in Bedok Reservoir Road, which is not gazetted as a monument.
NHB's director of the Preservation of Sites and Monuments division Jean Wee said: "The Alkaffs... are known as (being among) the earliest Arabs to arrive in Singapore after 1819. Alkaff Upper Serangoon Mosque is gazetted as a reminder of the significant contributions by the Alkaff family."
The mosque's chairman, Haji Abu Bakar Haji Jaafar, 62, told The Straits Times: "We are very happy, and we plan to hold a celebration among volunteers at the end of the year. Now, tourists may come and we will continue to ensure the mosque is in tip-top condition."
The mosque has retained most of its earliest structure despite undergoing several expansions and renovations - the most recent of which was completed in March. "The European-Arabian style of the mosque remains," said Mr Abu Bakar. "This is the heritage and the history of the mosque."
Now managed by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), the Alkaff Upper Serangoon Mosque can accommodate up to 2,500 worshippers. It mainly serves the Muslim community in the Potong Pasir, Bendemeer, Kallang Bahru and Bidadari areas. Muis' director of mosques Mohd Helmy Isa said: "With the preservation, Alkaff Upper Serangoon Mosque will continue to be a hub of activities for the local Muslim community."
There are now 29 religious institutions on the NHB's list. The others include the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, a Hindu temple in Dhoby Ghaut that was gazetted as a national monument in October, St Andrew's Cathedral, and the Sultan Mosque in the Kampong Glam area.
Mosque-goers are happy about the preservation.
Mr Kamsani Abu, 60, an environmental officer, who first went to the mosque when he was 15, said: "There is always a story behind older mosques. It's good to preserve it, then the younger generation will know about its story."
This article was first published on December 19, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.