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Photographer's Note

I had slept barely an hour in my night flights from Delhi to Singapore via Bangkok. I thought I would catch up with some sleep after checking in into the hotel. But an hour later, I was out on the roads, camera in hand, eager to discover Singapore. A MRT ride to Bugis, I headed to Arab Street. Walking down, I left the skyscrapers behind & was entered into an area which was un-Singapore-ish (I am referring to the images of Singapore we have in mind) – an area of old world charm.

Singapore is a multicultural community with four official languages - Mandarin Chinese, English, Tamil, and Malay. While those four languages represent the country's largest ethnic communities, Singapore's diversity is much greater then that. And among the history components of Singapore's ethnic diversity there is a small community of Arabs.

Arab Street was probably named to honor the Arab community, not to reflect its size. But the place of the Arab community is the history is significant. And it must be remembered that when the region's colonial history began, Singapore was a Muslim area; the Chinese community in both Malaysia and Singapore were transplanted to the region by the British to serve as laborers.

When the British took over the Island of Singapore the ceded and area called Kampong Gelam to the Sultan of Johore. He built a palace and a mosque there and the area became the heart of Singapore's Muslim community.
Today, "Kampong Gelam" (sometimes spelled "Glam") and "Arab Street" are terms that get used as synonyms.
A visit to Arab Street will allows a glimpse into the various Muslim communities that come together in Singapore. While Malays are perhaps the largest part of that community and the small Arab community holds a significant place in it, there are also Javanese, Bugis from Sulawasi, Minangkabau from Sumatra, and Indian Muslims.

Arab Street is the centre of the Muslim community where it used to be the main selling place of Muslim men’s headgear (or songkok), the holy Quran, prayer mats and textiles.

There are two explanations why the road is called “Arab Street”. The first being, that the area was owned by an Arab merchant, Syed Ali bin Mohamed Al Junied and the site of an Arab kampong (village), hence the name being known as Arab Street. The other explanation is tied to the situation already preexisted at the time of the nation's founding father Sir Stamford Raffles. He allocated the area to community of Bugis seamen and merchants which already existed near the Sultan's palace, near where their boats were sheltered in the river, bringing their annual cargo to a barter basis.

Today, the real glory of Kampong Glam and Arab Street is the textiles. Bales of gorgeous chiffon, silk, cotton georgette and other luxurious fabrics crowd the pavements, in rainbow hues and intensities. The area is also renowned for batiks from Indonesia and Malaysia, exquisitely hand-made by the wax-resist dye method and typically sold in sarong lengths. Machine-printed batik with traditional designs is also available by the metre or in ready-made shorts, sundresses, ties, table linen and more.

The Arab District is a small area, bounded by Beach and North Bridge roads to the south and north and spreading a couple of blocks to either side of Arab Street. It's a place to meander, taking time to browse through shops or enjoy Muslim food at a simple cafι. I did just that and ended up spending about two hours browsing through the wares in shops, burning a hole in my pocket buying laces and crystals & finally eating my lunch (lovely Biryani) at 4 pm.

I tried to bring in my first impression of Arab Street in this shot. The building with the golden dome in the BG is the Sultan Mosque (or Masjid Sultan) at Bussorah Street, the largest mosque in Singapore with the capacity to accommodate up to 5,000 Muslims in congregational prayers. Built in 1928, the mosque features a massive golden dome and is one of Singapore’s most imposing religious institutions. I waited for some one and caught this tourist scampering across the road just before the signal lights turned green.

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Additional Photos by Angshuman Chatterjee (Angshu) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 7851 W: 324 N: 16060] (56760)
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