Syed Sharif Omar al-Junied
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Syed Sharif Omar bin Ali Aljunied (al-Junied, Al-junied, al Junied) (b.1792 ,Hadramaut, Yemen - d. 6 November 1852, Singapore), the patriarch of the Aljunieds in Singapore, was a noted Arab spice trader and businessman, philanthropist and important leader of the early Arab community.
The Aljunieds, descendants of the Prophet Muhammed, had established themselves as traders in Southeast Asia long before coming to Singapore. One such member of the family, Syed Sharif Omar al-Junied and his uncle, Syed Mohammed bin Harun (Haroon) Aljunied, (d. 22 February 1824, Singapore) were probably the first Arabs to come to Singapore. The first in the family to leave Yemen, he travelled to the East in 1816 set on spreading the Muslim faith. He landed in Palembang, Sumatra and established himself as a successful trader in spices. Syed Omar's fame in Palembang was not only as a merchant but also as a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammed, for which he was honoured with the title of Pengeran Sherif or "Prince" of the Malays. He was well-known as a leader of the Arabs in the Malay Sultanate in the East, an upright and honourable man.
Meanwhile, Syed Mohammed set up business by June 1819 just four months after the founding of Singapore in 1819. His nephew, Syed Omar soon followed and was personally welcomed by Stamford Raffles eager to court the wealth of Arab traders who had established a lucrative trade between the Far East and the known world. The Arabs in turn were attracted to Singapore's free port which contrasted with the heavy duties charged at ports held by the Dutch.
Through Raffles' support, the Aljunieds gained a plot of land between High Street and the Singapore River to set up their home. A platform with a shaded roof, a balei, served as the meeting place for fellow Arabs who often consulted the Pengeran Sherif. It was also here that a vengeful Arab merchant, Syed Yasin, attempted to kill the Pengeran for having him incarcerated for debts owed the Aljunieds. However, Syed Yasin was spotted by the Pengeran and killed in a violent battle with the police, but not without wounding Colonel Farquhar who was assisting in the arrest. When Syed Mohammed died in February 1824, the business was passed on to Syed Omar who served as guardian for the heir apparent, Syed Ali bin Mohammed Aljunied who was only 9 years old then. Syed Omar carried on the business under Syed Ali's name rather than his own, multiplying the already great wealth of his uncle's.
Syed Omar bought land at the southwest corner of High Street and North Bridge Road. The family home was also where the merchant conducted his business, with transactions extending between London and Indonesia. His spice trade spilled over into other products, with even a personal brandname on cotton purchased from Britain and traded with Indonesia for batik printing. The Aljunied home was sold to the Seah Eu Chin family and Omar's nephew, Syed Ali, moved the Aljunied home to Balestier Road.
Apart from his successful trading business, Syed Omar was also noted as one of the first religious leaders and one who was a generous contributer to charitable causes. He donated land for religious buildings such as St Andrew's Cathedral and the Masjid Kampong Melaka (a.k.a Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka or Malacca Mosque) in Chinatown. He had commissioned the building of the mosque in 1820 for the Malay fishermen, Bugis merchants and Malaccan businessmen who traded with the Chinese in Chinatown. It was the first place of worship constructed in Singapore. Another mosque in Bencoolen street is also attributed to him. He then contributed land for the Pauper's Hospital in 1844 which later would become Tan Tock Seng Hospital for which his nephew Syed Ali would also donate land between Victoria Street and Arab Street. The large plot of land between Victoria Street and Rochore Canal was originally an Arab-Muslim burial ground named after Syed Omar himself after he was buried there.
When he died in 1852, he left behind five sons and several grandchildren. He was buried with his uncle Syed Mohammed at the Syed Omar Cemetery.
Uncle: Syed Mohammed bin Harun (Haroon) Aljunied
Syed Abdullah Omar Aljunied, who carried on the family business with his cousin, Syed Ali. He also rebuilt the Masjid Kampong Melaka and named the road on which it stood, Omar Road.
Syed Abu Bakar Omar Aljunied, who was a founding member of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce and the only non-European on the Board of Governors of the Singapore Harbour Board, the precursor to the Port of Singapore Authority.
Nephew: Syed Ali bin Mohammed Aljunied (d.1858), son of Syed Mohammed bin Harun, headed the family busines with Syed Sharif Omar's son, Syed Abdullah Omar. He was a community leader in his own right, contributing land and money in the spirit of the Aljunied clan. Some commendable deeds included:
- Ensuring the supply of drinking water to the community by financing the building of four community wells dug behind Fort Canning, at Selegie Road, Pungulu Kisang and Telok Ayer.
- Donating land for the Bukit Wakaff Cemetery off Grange Road.
- Donating the land in 1857 between Victoria Street and Arab Street for the new site of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
- Rebuilding the Masjid Melaka in 1855.
Grandnephew : Syed Alwi, son of Syed Ali bin Mohammed Aljunied.
The Aljunieds along with the Alkaffs and Alsagoffs were the three most prominent and wealthiest Arab families in Singapore for some time. The Aljunieds (the family name al-Junied coalesced to form a single word in the last century) were notable residents at Balestier Road for over 100 years. The Aljunied Islamic School (Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah) built in 1927 is attributed to one of the Aljunieds, Syed Abdul Rahman Aljunied. Large sums of money was also contributed by the family for the building of the Town Hall. The business moved to 737 North Bridge Road under the name Toko Aljunied (meaning "Aljunied's shop"), long famous for its atar, an alcohol-free perfume preferred by Muslims. The family also started the House of Batik. Today, the Aljunieds are more than 300 strong, many still residing in Singapore.
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(Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC)
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(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 PEA)
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(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM)
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The spice of life that is Aljunied. (1996). Singapore: The Oracle Works: PAP Aljunied Branch.
(Call no.: RSING 307.76095957 SPI)
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The information in this article is valid as at 1998 and correct as far as we can 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.
Syed Sharif Omar bin Ali Aljunied, 1792-1852
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