Kampong Glam comes from the Malay word kampong, meaning “village,” and gelam, a particular kind of tree that at one time grew abundantly in the area and it is the traditional heart of Singapore’s Muslim community.
Long before the British arrived, Arab traders plied the coastlines of the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia, bringing with them the teachings of Islam. In the early1800s, the British made a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah, then sultan of Singapore, to cede the island to the British East India Trading Company. As part of the treaty, the sultan was offered a stipend and given Kampong Glam as a settlement. Sultan Hussein built his palace, Istana Kampong Glam, and sold off parcels of land for schools, mosques, and farms.
Trade grew in the area, as a wave of tradesmen moved in to serve the large numbers of pilgrims who debarked from here on their journey to Mecca each year. At the heart of the community is the Sultan Mosque, or Masjid Sultan. This was originally built with a grant from the East India Company to the Sultan of Johor.
The Arab District is a small area, bounded by Beach and North Bridge roads to the south and north and spreading a couple of blocks to either side of Arab Street. The area can further be divided up into the neighbourhood of Bugis. The pace of life here is slower than in both Chinatown and Little India and it is good place to meander and enjoy Muslim food at a simple café.
Attractions include the Sultan Mosque on Bussorah Street; the Istana Kampong Glam, the sultan’s Malay-style palace, built in the 1840s; the endearing Hajjah Fatimah Mosque; and the Malabar Muslim Jama-Ath Mosque; and, surprisingly, in an area predominantly Muslim, the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, one of Singapore’s most popular Chinese temples.