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Sayyid Noh bin Sayyid Mohamad bin Sayyid Ahmad Al-Habshi (b. 1788, enroute to Penang - d. 1866, July 27, Telok Blangah, Singapore), or more popularly known as Habib Noh, is regarded as one of the seven wali (saint) in Singapore because of the many miracles attributed to him.
Habib Noh was born on board a ship in 1788, originating from Hadramaut, Yemen, and heading out of Palembang, Sumatra for Penang. Legend has it that a storm tossed the ship at the time of the saint's birth. His father vowed that his newborn would be named "Noh" in honour of Prophet Noh (Noah), upon which the storm calmed.
The family name- Habasy or Habashah- is Arabic for Ethiopia, a reference to an ancestor who had resided there for nearly 20 years. They were descendants of the Prophet Muhammed. Habib Noh's father, Habib Muhammad, was known for his compassion, housing and socialising would-be thieves who tried to steal from him out of poverty. The Penang Governor rewarded his efforts at reducing crime in Penang with a $30 monthly token. Habib Muhammad's tomb remains honoured in Penang, where he is known as "Tuan Putih" (White Master). Habib Noh grew up in Penang under the care of his aunt, Sharifah Seha. He began work at Telok Air Tawar, Butterworth.
In 1819, Habib Noh was invited by Habib Salim bin Abdullah Ba Sumayr to take up residence in the newly-founded Singapore. Throughout his stay of 47 years in Singapore, he was an influential figure in his community. He travelled throughout Malaya, teaching Islam. He was known for his compassion, especially to children and particularly orphans. He often gave sweets and money to them. More importantly, he gave regular talks and advice to the community and to children themselves. He is recognised for performing the tahnik, a ritual of offering honey to a newborn followed by a supplication. Such was his influence that even today, parents bring their babies to his maqam (tomb) for such blessings.
A reflective and religious man, Habib Noh was known to pray through the night, sometimes at Muslim graveyards where he would recite holy verses and pray for the dead until dawn. He often escaped to Mount Palmer where he would perform khalwat, a form of worship through invocation and contemplation.
He had unique spiritual abilities, such as transporting himself, purportedly as far as Mecca. Stories also abound of him miraculously healing people, particularly children, for whom he had a strong affinity. He also had an ability to pre-empt events, particularly of people with needs or illnesses.
Habib Noh was known to be fascinated with Chinese operas, often taking front row seats. Although he did not understand the language, he claimed to receive insights from these performances.
A controversial figure, Habib Noh was seen by the authorities as a Robin Hood of sorts, often obtaining goods from shopkeepers for the poor. He was imprisoned several times for petty crimes although shopkeepers were often more than willing to have him take their goods to help improve on the circumstances of the impoverished. Even so, his life of influence drew several Englishmen to the Muslim faith.
Habib Noh died at 78 years old on 27 July, 1866. Thousands from Singapore, Johore and the surrounding islands paid their last respects to Habib Noh at the home of Temenggong Abu Bakar, a Johore royalty at Telok Blangah. He was buried at the peak of Mount Palmer as he had requested. The tomb was refurbished once in 1890, and again in the 1980s with a building constructed over it for preservation reasons.
A Batavian merchant and close friend, Haji Mohammad Salleh, wanted to built a surau (a Muslim prayer hall) for Habib Noh but the later died before its completion. It faces the tomb of Habib Noh, and was demolished and replaced with a mosque (the present day Haji Muhammad Salleh Mosque) in 1903.
His wife, Anchik Hamidah, a Malay lady from Penang, died in childbirth. Their daughter, Sharifah Badaniah, married a certain Sayyid Muhammad bin Hasan Al-Shatrie from Penang and their daughter, Sharifah Ruqaiyah (Rugayah), was betrothed to Sayyid Alwi bin Ali Aljunied, of the Aljunied family in Singapore.
Father: Sayyid Muhammad bin Ahmad Al-Habshi, administrator in the colonial government in Penang.
Brothers: Habib Arifin (Ariffin), Habib Ahmad Salikin, Habib Zainal (Zain) Abidin
Wife: Anchik Hamidah, from Wellesley Province, Penang.
Daughter: Sharifah Badaniah (Badariyah)
Habib Noh bin Muhammad Al-Habshee. Baalawi.com. Retrieved July 7, 2009, fromhttp://www.baalawi.com/baalawi/biographies/293-habib-noh-bin-muhammad-al-habshee-singapore.html
Muhammad Ghouse Khan Surattee. (2008). The grand saint of Singapore: the life of Habib Nuh bin Muhammad Al-Habshi. Singapore: Masjid Al-Firdaus.
(Call no. RSING 297.4092 GRA)
Untitled. (1866, August 2). The Singapore Free Press.
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.