Arabian Quarter (Kampong Glam)
Situated slightly east of the colonial city center, the Arabian Quarter is considered to be Singapore’s Muslim center. It was one of the first quarters to be formed and developed in the country. At first, Kampong Glam was just a small fishing settlement, after which, in fact, the quarter would named: Kampung is Malay for settlement and gelam is the name of the tree that grows here. Malayans produced curing oils from it and caulked boats with its paper-like bark.
In the early 19th century, Kampong Glam became home to the Malay aristocracy: accommodating the residency of the sultan and his family as well as the houses of the ruler’s entourage, which were located nearby. By that time, in addition to the Malays, a compact Arabian community consisting primarily of traders who came to Singapore from the Middle Eastern countries was formed here. Chinese and Indians also lived in the Kampong Glam, but the Muslim community was the largest one, therefore the quarter was subsequently nicknamed Muslim or Arabian.
The Kampong Glam Center of Malay Cultural Heritage tells about the extremely rich history of the Malay community and its influence on Singapore’s culture. It is situated inside the former palace, which was built for the last Singaporean sultan back in 1843.
The modern Arabian Quarter, as it was in early times, is first and foremost a trading district. It is often called the ‘textile district,’ owing to the local shops that are filled with a great number of quality textiles, accessories and colorful Arabian rugs with intricate patterns. In addition to this, Kampong Glam is famous for its small trading booths, where customers can buy original jewelry, hats, clothing and semi-precious stones, as well as famous Arabian perfumes from natural essential oils.
The Arabian Quarter’s major attraction is the Sultan Mosque, with its shining cupolas and huge praying hall. It is rightly considered as one of the most treasured cultic buildings in Singapore. The Mosque was built back in 1928, in place of its hundred-year-old, dilapidated predecessor. The Temple’s distinctive feature is its massive golden dome, the base of which is made of from the bottoms of glass bottles. This reminds guests that Singapore’s Muslim community used to return empties in order to collect funds, which had been sorely lacking for the first mosque’s construction. The Temple’s floor is carpeted with a magnificent fitted carpet, presented to the Singapore Mosque by a Saudi Arabian Prince.
Besides the Sultan Mosque, the Arabian Quarter has another two remarkable mosques: the Hajjah Fatimah Mosque - with its so called falling minaret - and the Malabar Mosque.
Numerous restaurants with traditional Arabian cuisine stand along Kampong Glam's streets. Famous murtabak (the Singapore equivalent to Italian pizza), rendang (meat with spices), sayor lodeh (mixed vegetables cooked in coconut sauce), or ikan bakar (fish, grilled on open fire and served with soy sauce, onions and green chili) are worth trying here.
Important! Remember that on Friday noon some shops and restaurants close, as the Muslims go to their nearest Mosque for prayers.
Getting here. Take a subway to the station Bugis.