The Hajj or the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the principle fundamentals of Islam. The greatest efforts are made in humble Malay households to enable at least one of the family to fulfil this obligation and acquire the distinction of wearing the white cap of Haji. Every year, thousands of Muslims of many races throughout the Malay Peninsula will gather in Singapore to take a ship for Mecca. In Singapore they are lodged in houses in the Arab Street and Jalan Sultan area, a district known as Kampong Glam. The pilgrim ships which carried thousands of Muslims from Singapore become so popular that they have been called “Kapal Haji”. Singapore is one of the most important pilgrim port in the Islamic world. It is not only the ocean port for a large number of feeder shipping lines but the port from which the specially chartered pilgrims’ ships sail.
Kapal Haji: Singapore and the Hajj Journey by Sea describes the long and hard voyage of a hajj pilgrim from Southeast Asia to Jeddah during the 1830s to 1970s. A ship is a unique space for travelling Muslim communities who spent a total of a month, sometimes far longer, in a space shared with more than 2,000 passengers and crew together. The mix and variety of people alone would open Southeast Asian pilgrims to a different world.
The personal accounts of the Kapal Haji are full of examples of old and seemingly frail men and women embarking on a journey where the prospect of returning was uncertain. The ship’s master was required to register any births or deaths that took place on a voyage. The book also looks at the legislations and regulations in place to ensure the safety and welfare of passengers, and how the health of the population is safeguarded by the colonial authorities during that period.
Through anecdotes and comparisons, images and maps, Kapal Haji paints a picture of sea-borne travel and the role of businesses, and conveys a sense of what this particular journey entailed.