Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Singapore’s Muslim Saint: Habib Noh and the Haji Salleh Mosque

Singapore's religious traditions are varied. This does not mean simply a cohabitation of various major faiths such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Taoism. The diversity extends to include many strands within each religion.

So it is with Islam and Habib Noh, a Singaporean Muslim saint.

A view of Habib Noh's shrine which sits atop Mount Palmer, Singapore
Noh (1788-1866) came to Singapore around 1819 as a young man. The exact year is unknown. Noh's family, originally from Yemen, claimed descent from Islam's Prophet Mohammad. Moreover, Noh's father worked for the welfare of homeless people in Penang, Malaysia and remains a revered figure there.

In Singapore, Noh frequently sat for long hours in prayer and meditation atop Mount Palmer. Mount Palmer is located on the edges of modern Singapore's business district. Nonetheless, it was Noh's acts of kindness which captured the affections of his contemporaries. Noh was particularly recognized for his compassion towards children, particularly orphans.

Throw in 'miracles' and the Habib Noh tale is complete. Stories abound of Noh's miraculous spiritual abilities, such as curing sick babies and children. Additionally, he is believed to have 'pre-empted' adversities for many people through his ability to foretell dire events.  

Following Noh's death in July 1866, he was buried atop Mount Palmer. Noh's grave sits in a shrine atop a flight of 49 steps. In 1890, Noh's shrine was renovated by a descendant of the prominent Singaporean Muslim family, the Alsagoff's. In 1987, the shrine was refurbished and found its present structure.

A report on Habib Noh's death from the Singapore Free Press dated August 2, 1866
Next to Noh's keramat (shrine) stands the Haji Muhammad Salleh Mosque. The Salleh mosque is named after the Batavian (present day Jakarta, Indonesia) merchant and close friend who established the original prayer area where the mosque is now located. The prayer area was converted into a mosque in 1903. 

Noh embodies the purity of religious spirit. Thus, it is not surprising that almost 200 years after Noh arrived in Singapore, the holy man watches and protects Singapore and its residents from his shrine on Mount Palmer.

To learn more about Sufi Islam, please watch, 'Lifting the Veil: Sufi Mysticism Beyond Rumi' a presentation delivered by Imran Ahmed at the Esplanade, Singapore.

Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide. If you wish to arrange any personalized tours in Singapore, including of the Habib Noh shrine and / or other religious heritage sites, please contact Imran at

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