Thursday, 12th May, 1938 fell on twelve Rabiulawal which is the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). It was a joyous day for the entire Muslim community of Singapore. Buntings of green flags flapped here and there showing the greatness of Islam and serving as a reminder of the birthday of the Great Prophet.
On that day, the Aljunid School and Kampong Gelam Girls School became the central places for the Muslims in Singapore because it was there that the al Jam’iayatu’d-Da’watu’l-Islamiyyah provided a feast for children and the poor. A series of lectures was also delivered there. After the feast, the children participated in a procession on floats hoisting green flags adorned with crescents and stars. It passed through several central places in the city of Singapore.
From Thursday night to Friday night, the Singapore Muslim community joyously celebrated the grand day. The children in particular were very happy because they could join the procession and were taught to sing melodious Arabic songs in praise of the greatness of God and commemorating the benevolent deeds of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
As the old saying goes: each joy beings along with it unhappiness.
That was what in fact occurred on that Friday night. Members of the family of Cik Abdul Kadir were busy looking for a lost boy, Kassim the son of Cik Abdul Kadir, and who was about seven years old.
Encik Abdul Kadir was a chief clerk at the Land Office in Singapore. At that time, he was on vacation together with his wife, Cik Wok, and one of their children. They had left for Kelantan two weeks before. Those left at home were two of his sons who were attending school, and young and blooming daughter named Siti Hajar and an old woman, who was Siti Hajah’s maternal grandmother, mother-in-law of Cik Abdul Kadir.
At ten o’clock that Friday night, all the children were at home except for Kassim. The occupants of all the houses in Lorong S, Telok Kurau (where Cik Abdul Kadir resided) had been approached but none knew his whereabouts or had seen him.
Siti Hajar, her brothers and grandmother busily searched several nearby places but in vain. At eleven that night, Siti Hajar accompanied by her grandmother went to report the matter at the Joo Chiat Police Station. They were attended to by Inspector Othman who was dumbfounded when he heard Siti Hajar speaking fluent English. His faith was also shakened when he glanced at her face, which was like a full, enchanting moon. Her reddened cheeks caused by her attempt at holding back her tears, while lodging the report about her lost brother while her parents were away, enhanced the beauty of her face.
Inspector Othman, who was attracted to Siti Hajar and felt sorry for her, promised to search for the missing boy until he was found. “Cik Hajar, you may go home now. The job is done,” said Inspector Othman. “In a short while, a policeman and I will come to your house and begin our investigation.” Thanking him, Siti Hajar and her grandmother returned home.
Inspector Othman was left all alone in his office. He placed his hand upon his chest because he felt his heart beat faster than normal, and he began to fantasise. Before his eyes he saw clearly the face of Siti Hajar, the beautiful daughter of Cik Abdul Kadir. “Oh, I must be mad”, he said as he tried to awaken himself, “it is because I am still a young bachelor that I am dreaming such. It is not because Siti Hajar is really beautiful”. That was how Inspector Othman comforted himself.
That very midnight, Inspector Othman and another police detective went to conduct an investigation at the house of Cik Abdul Kadir. Once again Inspector Othman felt his boy shivering while walking together with Siti Hajar in the dark to inspect the well and several secluded places in the compound of her residence. After an exhausting search, the boy was still not found. Inspector Othman and the constable returned. At the gate he informed them that he would continue the search the next day. “If there is anything I can do to help, it would be best to inform me now so that I can take immediate steps.” Inspector Othman told Siti Hajar’s grandmother.
The old woman was perplexed as she tried to remember what should be told to Inspector Othman. Because her grandmother was silent, Siti Hajar interrupted, “If you can, please sir, send a telegram to my parents in Kelantan. Tell them that their son is missing and ask them to return immediately.”
“Very well,” said Inspector Othman. “I will send a telegram this very night.” Siti Hajar took out some money to pay for the telegram but Inspector Othman declined to accept it. He only wanted to know Cik Abdul Kadir’s address in Kelantan.
With a smile mixed with sadness, Siti Hajar thanked Inspector Othman for his help. As if he had found a mountain of precious stones, Inspector Othman was overjoyed to receive a word of thanks coupled with a smile from Siti Hajar. Before he left, he remembered that he ought to have a photogrpaph of the lost child and proceeded to ask for one. Siti Hajar then remarked, “A picture of him alone, we do not have encik, but there is a picture of all of us together.”
“A group photograph is acceptable as long as in it his face is clear and can be recognized.” Inspector Othman replied.
Siti Hajar ran into the house to fetch the photograph and then handed it to Inspector Othman. He then bade Siti Hajar, her brothers and her grandmother goodnight and returned home.
At the station, he took out the photograph and studied the face of the lost child. He also gazed at it often because he wanted to look at the face of Siti Hajar to whom he was attracted.
On Saturday morning, Cik Abdul Kadir returned to Singapore deeply distressed. News of his missing child created a commotion in the entire village of Telok Kurau. There were those who said that the boy had been taken away by Bengali head hunters, others claimed that he had been hidden by devils while some believed that this was the work of those who deliberately wished to spite the family. There were also others who said that the boy was kidnapped in the American way for a ransom. Many other suspicions were raised. However, the majority of the people subscribed to the belief that the child was hidden by the devil. They suggested that the help of traditional medicinemen should be sought. These medicinemen usually used a kind of heart shaped winnow made from bamboo as a drum to call for the missing person. Many strange and false stories were conveyed to Cik Abdul Kadir by his friends. Some of them even told him the tale of ‘Nyai Loro Kidul’ a story firmly believed by many Javanese.
To exhaust all possibilities in getting his son back, Cik Abdul Kadir summoned several diviners, among whom was an Arab gentleman who was adapt at influencing Cik Abdul Kadir and his wife. Many talismans and charms were given by the syekh, who said that God willing, the child would return safely in two weeks’ time at the most. Neither man nor satanic spirits would dare disturb the boy when prayers were uttered in the name of ‘Gembala Seribu’. As they listened to the words of the syekh, Cik Abdul Kadir and his wife felt somewhat relieved, but they had already spent several hundred dollars in listening to his advice.
After two weeks, Cik Abdul Kadir’s trust in the syekh waned as his son had not been found and there was no news of him. But the syekh cleverly excused himself so much so that Cik Abdul Kadir had no opportunity to put the blame on him. Not long after, Cik Abdul Kadir declared that he would give a five hundred dollar reward to anyone who could bring his missing son home. When this news was released in the press and the police station, the story of the missing child became more widespread and was conveyed from mouth to mouth. During that week in every village, no one dared to permit their children out of the house, especially at night. Even those who had to attend to the call of nature had to do it in a spittoon.
In the village of Pulau Tekong, the Malays were involved in a serious fight with Chinese fishermen. Twelve Malays were injured and one Chinese died. The fighting started over an incident were several ducks belonging to the Chinese entered a Malay village. The village boys chased them and threw stones at the ducks until several broke their legs. One day, the owner of the ducks took revenge, beating the naughty boys. As a result a serious clash broke out between the Chinese and Malays causing deaths and serious injuries.
Because of this, Inspector Othman and several police detectives went to Pulau Tekong to investigate the matter. Having completed his task, he visited Pulau Tekong School where he met Cik Khalid, the principal of the school. In the course of the conversation, Cikgu Khalid informed him that he had found a lost boy in a lorry comprising students who had gone to celebrate the feast on Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. The boy’s name was Kassim and his father’s Hitam. According to the boy, he lived in Katong. “Perhaps it is the son of Cik Abdul Kadir who has been missing, Cikgu,” said Inspector Othman. “But his father’s name is Hitam and when I asked where his father was, he informed me that his father was not in Singapore,” replied Cikgu Khalid.
“Perhaps his father has two names,” said Inspector Othman, “as is common with the Malays. When the boy was missing, his father was not in Singapore. He had gone to Kelantan. Is the boy here Cikgu?”
“It’s a pity. He has accompanied by assistant and will return a little while later.”
Inspector Othman took out the photograph from his pocket and showed it to Cikgu Khalid. “Oh it is! This is the boy” exclaimed the Cikgu loudly. “If only I knew he was the son of Cik Abdul Kadir who has been missing, I would have handed him over and would have received the five hundred dollars for myself”. “the money does not desire to be your sole fortune. It wants you to share it with me,” Inspector Othman replied laughing.
“But I am curious” said the cikgu again “Why does the picture in the newspaper not resemble the boy?” “Because that photography was taken when he was much younger. Perhaps when he was only two or three years old,” answered Inspector Othman.
“Perhaps so,” replied the Cikgu. “Now it is clear that the boy is the son of Cik Abdul Kadir,” said Inspector Othman as he kept the picture in his pocket. He was pleased not only because he would receive a part of the reward but also because Cik Abdul Kadir might accept his other requests since he had done the family a good deed.
Having discussed with Cik Khalid concerning the boy, Inspector Othman returned with high hopes in his heart. That night, he visited Cik Abdul Kadir and informed him that the missing Kassim was safe and expressed the belief that the child would be returned without much trouble. “If you can bring my son back the reward I have promised will be yours,” remarked Cik Abdul Kadir happily.
“But you must bear in mind encik,” said Inspector Othman with respect, “I do not want that reward. I was only doing my duty. Actually in this world, who does not want money. I am no exception but that is not my desire.”
The conversation between Inspector Othman and Cik Abdul Kadir was overheard by Siti Hajar from behind the walls. The words of Inspector Othman “that is not my desire” shook her heart. She knew that Inspector Othman did not want money but instead wished to ask for her hand in marriage. However her father was not quick enough to catch this message. A little later, Cik Wok, the wife of Cik Abdul Kadir served drinks and cakes. Having finished, Inspector Othman then asked for permission to leave. As he was descending the staircase, Siti Hajar gave him such a sweet smile that it could have melted the heart of any human being!
He felt like turning back but because he was embarrassed and had no reason to do so, he unwillingly forced himself towards his car.
One night, two days after the incident, Tuan Haji Ihsan and Datuk Abdul Hamid visited Cik Abdul Kadir bringing with them the ceremonial betel leaves. Cik Abdul Kadir already knew of their intended visit to propose to his daughter though but he didn’t know on whose behalf they had come.
Datuk Abdul Hamid spoke in a meandering manner initially (that is how the Malays usually speak, they do not go straight to the point). Then only did he say that his coming was for Inspector Othman. When she heard it, Siti Hajar was overjoyed and prayed to God that her father would accept the proposal straightaway.
When she heard that her father had asked to consider the matter since he had earlier accepted the proposal of Syed Mokhtar Alkudsi, she felt weak and began to doubt the integrity of her father. It was clear to her that he was a greedy and inconsiderate man. He had chosen Syed Mokhtar because of his wealth and also because he was a Sayid. But he failed to understand that happiness in a marriage did not depend on wealth and status but on compatibility between husband and wife for as the saying goes “that which is heavy is shouldered together and that which is light is carried together”.
If Cik Abdul Kadir had to decide that night he could certainly have done so since Syed Mokhtar had not sent any token but he was greedy and hence rejected the proposal. His real motive was to see Syed Mokhtar to remind him of his intention and to ask of him five hundred dollars to pay the reward for his missing son.
A week later, Cik Abdul Kadir informed Datuk Abdul Hamid that the proposal of Inspector Othman had been rejected because it had been preceded by that of Syed Mokhtar’s.
When the decision was conveyed to Inspector Othman, he was very upset but did not lose hope because Siti Hajar had written him a letter. Kassim who had been missing had been brought home by Inspector Othman and he had received the reward which was shared with Cikgu Khalid.
The money did not belong to Cik Abdul Kadir but Syed Mokhtar. Cik Abdul Kadir’s greed for the five hundred dollars affected his sense of self respect and caused him regret.
Siti Hajar was upset because the engagement ring from Syed Mokhtar was accepted by her parents. She became even more upset when she received a letter from Inspector Othman who was to be transferred to Malacca. However she was not one who lost hope easily. It never crossed her mind to hang herself or to consume poison. “Those are stupid and cowardly things” said Siti Hajar to herself, “they only occur to those who are short sighted and who have a narrow view of the world. I will not take that stupid path.”
Day after day, she thought of a way which would ensure that the rights and authority her parents had over her based upon custom and religion could be relinquished. Finally she recalled the article on “Mohammadan Law” which had been discussed by Warta Malaya several months ago. With some effort, she searched for the newspaper which contained the relevant article. One issue which she understood clearly was that pertaining to Malay youths who converted to other religions because they sought to escape from being trapped by such laws.
Since then, Siti Hajar’s behaviour had been outrageous and her relationship with Eurasian girls had become very close. A Methodist priest whose name was Sir Meller was willing to give her a job should she convert to Christianity. Siti Hajar’s only thought was of freeing herself from the authority of the old and her guardian in accordance with custom and religion. She did not intend to dishonour the name of her parents by doing anything immoral and indecent.
A week later, with a strong sense of determination, she was converted to Christianity by priest Meller and was sent to Sarawak as a school teacher. Her conversion created a commotion throughout Singapore. But the people did not know the actual story. Their only suspicion was that the conduct of girls in this modern age could no longer be checked. They would finally leave home to follow boys of other races, and consume pork.
As a result of this incident, many parents in the village refused to send their daughters to English schools, lest they should turn out to be like Siti Hajar. Cik Abdul Kadir himself was extremely remorseful, but he did not realize that all these wrongdoings stemmed from his own actions.
After several months, the story of Siti Hajar, was gradually forgotten by many. That is the custom of the world, each new event crates a furore among the people but many only parrot the words of others, adding several untrue remarks. Only a few would investigate the matter calmly and think over a matter deeply. Several months later, there was another uproar among Muslims in Singapore because at Pulau Sudong, a priest had established a school. It was said that there were two teachers in that school, a man and a woman.
The woman was Siti Hajar who informed the inhabitants of the island that her name was Halimah bte Long. While she was in Singapore she had not known that the people on this island were very backward compared to the Malays in Singapore. The island was only an hour’s ride by motor boat from Singapore and about two hours ride by an ordinary boat. Only when she arrived did she discover that the inhabitants were ignorant and incompetent in many aspects of life, religious knowledge and so on. There was only one Chinese provision shop which was patronized by all the inhabitants of the island.
Their houses were rather well built but not well arranged. Many were found on the northern beaches. The western and eastern beaches had only a few houses while the southern side of the island was desolate. In the middle of the island several coconut trees were scattered as if they had been uncultivated. Towards the South, the palm trees were more scanty and tall. Apart from that, in the centre of the island could be seen pockets of mounds covered with secondary forest. Stunted cocnout trees could also be found there.
Apart from being shopkeepers selling groceries and other provisions the Chinese there were also middlemen in the buying and selling of fish and jelly. They were also enterprising in making unslaked lime from corals which were burnt and pounded, while some of them also reared poultry. In short, they tried hard to accumulate money. The Malays however were not wise in that way. Their condition remained the same since the time Raffles arrived in Singapore, that is, they continued to live in poverty and were not aware of all that was happening around them. What a pity!
Although Siti Hajar lived in isolation there, she did so willingly because she wanted to help the Malays who were so backward that they were still considered primitive. Her main difficulty was that the island lacked fresh water, which had to be taken from Pulau Pawai, another island across. The water from the well was so brackish, it was not even suitable for bathing. In a month, Siti Hajar succeeded in gathering fifty girls.
News that a mission school had been opened at Pulau Sudong became the topic of conversation of the Malays in Singapore, in particular the Malay Union. Without delay, several officials went there to investigate and to seek confirmation on matters relating to the school. Priest Meller had rented a house and converted it into a school. Every morning boys attended classes while the girls did so in the afternoons. When the officials arrived, the school holidays had begun and the teachers were not available. However, from the books which they saw, it was clear that the teaching was based upon Christianity.
On that same day, the headman of the village gathered all the inhabitants because the officials from the Malay Union wished to address them. After half an hour of discussion, it was decided that the Malay Union would build a mosque as soon as possible. Apart from that, the people were made aware that the school recently established was not a government school but a missionary one.
“SO we have been deceived! We are like the naïve deer,” remarked an old man. “We hope that with the initiative of the Malay Union, a regular Malay school will soon be established so that our children can acquire knowledge,” he continued.
When the officials of the Malay Organization were about to return, several reminded the villagers again to look after the mosque and use it for prayers and other acts of worship, let it not be like before when the mosque was used for storing fishtraps and fishing nets.
It appeared that the island did have a mosque before but it became a storage place for fish traps and nets until it finally collapsed after a Haji who had led it passed away. At that time, there was not a single person willing to succeed him. Thus the major problem of the spiritual development of the island was to ensure a religious teacher who was wise and spirited, not merely one who knew how to recite prayers for the dead or to perform prayers to drive away misfortune.
What was the fate of the mission school? Because parents prevented their children from studying in the school, it was forced to close down. Siti Hajar returned once again to Singapore, but not long after she succeeded in getting a job as a typist in a ‘Singer’ factory in Malacca which produced sewing machines.
The transfer of Siti Hajar was carried out discreetly. In Malacca she assumed the name Miss Stone. Before long she came to know that Inspector Othman was in Jasin and was engaged to the daughter of a retired Sargent Major there. To ascertain the truth of the matter, Miss Stone went to Jasin as a dealer in sewing machines. Her business was successful and she also succeeded in meeting Inspector Othman.
Initially, Inspector Othman was afraid to meet her lest he too be converted. But because he was overcome with love for her, his worry and fear gradually disappeared, letting love overcome all.
Miss Stone explained to Inspector Othman that she converted not because of her belief in Christianity but as an excuse to escape from the bondage of her opportunistic parents.
Inspector Othman could no longer contain his feelings. He persuaded Miss Stone to marry him but Miss Stone sought to convert him first. Inspector Othman was shocked and asked for God’s forgiveness. “Isn’t it enough that you alone converted? Why do you want me to convert as well?” asked Inspector Othman.
“I asked you because I have a plan,” she replied.
“What is your plan?”
“I will not reveal it to you as long as you do not agree to convert and meet the priest.”
“If that is the case, allow me a week to consider the matter,” replied Inspector Othman.
“I do not wish to entertain your request. The matter has to be settled now.”
Inspector Othman pondered. He was speechless. His face revealed two conflicting forces which troubled his mind namely love against religion.
With tears in his eyes, Inspector Othman persuaded Miss Stone again that he be allowed a week to think over the matter. “Since you plead persistently, I will let you have a week, but I hope that in as much as you would consider the advantage or otherwise this will bring you, you must also bear in mind that I have gone this far only because of my love for you. If you are unable to sacrifice as much as I have, I will know who you really are,” Miss Stone answered.
Inspector Othman did not respond but the meeting ended with a firm agreement such as that between Hitler and Mussolini.
Why did Miss Stone asked Inspector Othman to convert? This question is somewhat difficult for us to answer accurately. However for Miss Stone the matter was merely a ploy. Firstly, she wanted to put to the test the extent of Inspector Othman’s feelings for her for though men are usually quick in professing their love for women, seldom can there be found true love. Love not only fades with each passing day, it also does so with no remorse. Flirtation and licentiousness have always been the traits of almost all men, no matter how pious. It is not unusual for a pious man to marry dozens of wives, divorcing and then marrying one after another leaving behind a mass of widows. To test Inspector Othman’s feelings, Miss Stone behaved as a devil who could even ruin the faith of ascetics. Her intentions were not bad, she only wanted to determine that genuine love is beyond comparison with anything in this world, such as money, race, religion, status and such like. Secondly, she wished to conceal the matter from her friends of different races who propagated Christianity so that they would raise no objection to her marriage to Inspector Othman.
When Miss Stone introduced Inspector Othman to a Methodist priest in Malacca and informed him that Inspector Othman wished to embrace Christianity, the priest was overjoyed and gave thanks to God.
Not long after the wedding between Inspector Othman and Miss Stone took place in a Methodist Church in Malacca. A week later pictures of the wedding appeared in the Sunday Times. Inspector Othman’s parents cried when they heard the news. But what was done could not be undone. Several friends and relatives of Cik Ahmad, Inspector Othman’s father, had inquired why this had happened when Cik Othman had been taught religious knowledge, was fluent in reading the Quran and knew well the twenty attributes of God. Furthermore, the man was faithful to his religion and never missed his prayers and fasting.
“This is the evil consequence when young children acquire western education, interact with the opposite sex freely in clubs and cabarets as found in the modern lifestyle. Not only are our customs violated, even religion is abandoned. God is great. The world is coming to an end,” said one of Cik Ahmad’s friends who sighed as he spoke. “What can I do?” said Cik Ahmad. “Please pray for him because he grew from the seed of Islam which is the true religion. If God wills, He will direct him towards the right path.”
From that day one, Miss Stone was never mentioned by her relatives because many no longer wished to associate themselves with her. Perhaps they felt annoyed or embarrassed, Cik Abdul Kadir and family cried when they saw the situation and prayed to God that He would provide their daughter with guidance.
Siti Hajar willingly assumed the name of Miss Stone. What was Cik Othman’s name then? His was ‘Osmeno’. Now both A. Osmeno and Mrs Osmeno were on vacation. They were on honeymoon at Brastagi. However before they left, both husband and wife had gone to visit Tuan Kadi Jasin.
Only then did the Tuan Kadi realize that the conversion by both husband and wife to Christianity was merely a ploy. Since they possessed the offiial documents and letters from witnesses, the Kadi solemnized the marriage between Siti Hajar and Inspector Othman. Datuk Sidang and Datuk Sarjan were the witnesses. All these were secretly planned. Six months after this, Inspector Othman was transferred to the Police Depot in Singapore. When they arrived they were greeted by Siti Hajar’s family as if they had returned from their pilgrimage to Mecca. Cik Abdul Kadir also helf a feast at his residence.
Not long after, Siti Hajar received an invitation to lecture at the Singapore Malay Mothers’ Federation. She spoke of the responsibility of mothers to the race, such as child education, homemaking, eradicating negative customs and finally believing in religion. She explained that Christianity is a religion which is rich and beautiful in its teaching but asserted that Islam is richer and more encompassing, based upon a comparison between the Bible and the Quran.
She explained that the truth of other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity cannot be ascertained because their scriptures had been transformed by man. Only the religion of Islam can withstand any tests because its scripture, the Quran has not changed since the time of the Prophet Mohammed till today and will not change in the future. However all other Holy Books cannot be ensured of its originality.
“You must all remember,” said Siti Hajar “even though I assert that Islam is a religion which has no comparison, the Muslims themselves have since several centuries ago, introduced erroneous teachings into the religion. Islam, since its original teachings have been marred, has not been able to provide the torch for its followers. In short, Islam is analogous to a river the water of which has become dirty because many drains have brought filth into it. If you want fresh water from the river, you must get it from its source, the place where the river begins. And that which is the source of the religion is the Quran.”
“Now with joy, I wish to say to you that Muslims today have realized this and they have returned once again to the Quran. Because of this Islam has spread both in the East and in the West. In the West today, Islam has slowly succeeded in correcting the misconceptions of many who are highly educated. As a result, many missionaries there are looking for new places were the people have no religion so that they may preach their religion to them. This is what is happening in our land and the entire Malay archipelago.”
Only when they heard her speech did the Muslims believe that Siti Hajar was true to her faith. However many still disliked her due to her modern lifestyle and they would often remark “She is making a mockery of religion.”
Ah! That has always been the custom of the world. Not everyone can come to an agreement on a particular matter.
By Mahmud Ahmad
Translated by Noor Aisha bte Abdul Rahman