Scholarly article on topic 'Socio-economic and Cultural Sustainability of Muslims in Georgetown World Heritage Site'

Socio-economic and Cultural Sustainability of Muslims in Georgetown World Heritage Site Academic research paper on "History and archaeology"

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Abstract of research paper on History and archaeology, author of scientific article — Jamalunlaili Abdullah, Rahmat Azam, Reevany Bustami

Abstract Georgetown World Heritage Site (GWHS) is known as a potpourri of various ethnic groups who have settled in the area during various periods of the past 300 years. Chinese are the majority although Muslims (Malays) were earliest settlers and once the majority. This paper analyzes the socio-economic and cultural sustainability of the Muslim around Masjid Kapitan Kling and Masjid Melayu, known as the Muslim enclave. While the Indians Muslims are doing rather well socio-economically, the same cannot be said of the Malays. This has grave implications to the socio-economic and cultural sustainability of the Muslims, especially the Malays.

Academic research paper on topic "Socio-economic and Cultural Sustainability of Muslims in Georgetown World Heritage Site"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 85 (2013) 217 - 226

AcE-Bs 2013 Hanoi ASEAN Conference on Environment-Behaviour Studies Hanoi Architectural University, Hanoi, Vietnam, 19-22 March 2013 "Cultural Sustainability in the Built and Natural Environment "

Socio-economic and Cultural Sustainability of Muslims in Georgetown World Heritage Site

Jamalunlaili Abdullah015*, Rahmat Azamac, Reevany Bustamib

aFaculty of Architecture, Planning and Surveying and MASMED, Universiti Teknologi MARA, 40450 Shah Alam, Malaysia

tSchool of Housing, Building and Planning, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia _cCENPRIS, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia_


Georgetown World Heritage Site (GWHS) is known as a potpourri of various ethnic groups who have settled in the area during various periods of the past 300 years. Chinese are the majority although Muslims (Malays) were earliest settlers and once the majority. This paper analyzes the socio-economic and cultural sustainability of the Muslim around Masjid Kapitan Kling and Masjid Melayu, known as the Muslim enclave. While the Indians Muslims are doing rather well socio-economically, the same cannot be said of the Malays. This has grave implications to the socio-economic and cultural sustainability of the Muslims, especially the Malays.

© 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Centre for Environment-Behaviour Studies (cE-Bs), Faculty of Architecture, Planning&Surveying,UniversitiTeknologi MARA, Malaysia

Keywords: Georgetown World Heritage Site; muslim enclave; socio-economic; cultural sustainability

1. Introduction

The Georgetown World Heritage Site (GWHS) together with Melaka were accorded recognition by

UNESCO for their multicultural city life which evolved for almost 5 centuries. The GWHS is the most

significant part of Georgetown due to its historical and heritage status. It consists of the core zone and the

buffer zone. The area has witnessed much change, physically and socially over the centuries that it has


During Georgetown development of almost 250 years, especially within the present GWHS, Muslims,

specifically the Malays were the earliest settlers and comprised a significant percentage of the population

within the area, and exerted much economic and political influences. When Francis Light landed at Point

Penaga in 1786, he found a small population of Malays of about 30. There was also a group of 58 Malays

Corresponding author. Tel.: +600192627100.

E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Centre for Environment-Behaviour Studies (cE-Bs), Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia

doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.08.353

found collecting gum-damar a short distance inland, and he also found a small remnant of Malays at Dato' Keramat. The enterprising Chulias soon came from South India as well as from Kedah. T he Muslims were the pioneers and the largest ethnic groups in Georgetown until the arrival of the Chinese in 1850s and Hindu Indians from in the1920s.

Over the years, especially since 1960s, the significance of the Muslims within the GWHS in terms of the number and economic performance has been on the decline. This paper analyzes the historical development of the Muslims in Penang and their current situation. It focuses especially on an area surrounding the Masjid Kapitan Kling and Masjid Melayu Leboh Acheh, known as the Muslim enclave.

2. Methodology

The main methodology used in this paper is a descriptive analysis relying on historical records of the Muslims within the GWHS. This is done to provide an understanding of the rise and decline of the Muslim community within the GWHS. An observation of current economic activities within the Muslim enclave was also conducted. A pilot survey of a few businesses and households within the enclave was initiated, and the results are presented in this paper. A more extensive survey will be carried out in the future and will be included in future papers. They are not completed yet to be included in this paper.

3. Historical analysis of muslims within GWHS

Through analysis of various historical documents, it was ascertain the Muslims were the earliest inhabitants of the present site Georgetown and Penang Island. Also, over the years they were the largest group until the arrival of the Chinese in large number since the mid 19th Century. The presence of the Malays are acknowledged by Francis Lights and other colonial documents.

Tengku Syed Hussein, an Achehnese leader from Sumatra, settled in Penang in 1792 and founded the Masjid Melayu, or Acheen Street Mosque. There were about 300 Acehnese traders who lived in this community in the mid 19th Century. The group was politically active and powerful that Gedung Aceh was the meeting place of the Council of Eight, the Acehnese resistance against the Dutch in the 1870.

The Muslims then were generally of the Malay descents as well as those who hailed from South India. In 1833, the Muslims comprised about 66 percent of the Penang Island population. The Malays alone accounted for 16,435 people which was 41 percent of Penang island population of 40,322 (Braddell, 1861).

The Indian Muslims who were among the earliest settlers in Penang had a significant population (9,208) that surpassed that of the Chinese population (8751). In 1863, the Chuliahs (7,886) and the Bengalese (1322) constituted 23 percent of the population in Penang. The Indian Muslims settled mostly around Kapitan Kling Mosques on Chulia Street which also boast of a number of Indian Muslim mosques and keramat such the Nagore shrine (early 1800s) and the Noordin tomb (1870s). Ibrahim Munsyi who visited Penang in 1872 remarked that the area around Kampung Masjid Melayu and Chulia Street had a large ethnically mixed Muslim community.

® Fort Cornwalis

I Penang Heritage Boundary

1:10,000 400

H Meters

Fig. 1. Temporal (historical) and spatial spread of muslim community in Penang world heritage site (Core Zone)

In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, pilgrims from northern Malaya, southern Thailand and northern Sumatra would come to Penang before boarding ships to perform their hajj in Mecca. Consequently, many lodges were developed around Acheen Street. There could be found Arab traders,

sheikh hajis, Minang food vendors and Rawa textile and book traders plying their trades. Table 1 shows the population of Muslims and their economic activities in Georgetown from 1794 until 1833.

Table 1. Muslim population and their economic activities, 1794 -1833*


Muslim Group


Additional Notes



Georgetown - Datok Keramat, Jalan Perak, Lebuh Leith, Port Cornwallis, Jalan Armanien. Georgetown Lebuh Armenians

Lebuh Aceh/ Lebuh Leith/ Datok Keramat

(Indian Muslim)

3,446 (Chuliahs) 30,435 (Malays)

1,322 (Bengalese) 214

(Arabs/ Parsees/





Agriculture, Fisherman, Business

Business Business


1833 1833

1833 1833

Some of them supplied hand manufactured tobacco-products such as cigars, (beedi) and snuff-powder

The businesses include Small- & Medium-size Enterprises (SMEs)

publication of newspaper and books

Source: Straits Settlement Report of Penang 1800 -1900 and Manuscript of Light Letters

The number of Muslim population started to dwindle from the 1840-1870 period when much of the Muslim settlements at Acheen and Armenian Street were bought over by Straits Chinese merchants. Cheah Kongsi, followed by other Hokkien clan associations such as the Yeoh, the Khoo, the Lim and the Tan, started to purchase properties from the Muslims and moved into the area. They bought up large plots of land to build their clan temples and surrounding row houses for their clansmen.

Table 2: Malay population in Penang (1786 - 1860)+

Year Malay

1786 100

1812 6,504

1820 8,681

1830 11,943

1842 18,442

1850 16,570

1860 8,887

Source: Adapted from Braddell (1861)

Currently Malays constitutes 9.7 percent of the population while Indians (comprised mostly of Hindu and some Muslim) constitutes 13.1 percent. Even the small percentage of the Malay population is boosted by a number of policemen and their families living in the police quarters. Socio-economically, the situation of the Muslims seems worse especially compared to that of the Chinese.

Marginalization of the Muslim community is due to several factors. The first is due to the Muslim's socio-cultural dynamics and need for money. Due to pressing daily needs, many Malays sold off their land to Europeans and other ethnic groups.

New politico-legal environment also had pushed the Muslims from owning lands which they had worked on for years. These include Leith Proclamations of 1801 that had made land transfers from the ownership of local Muslims to foreigners and non-locals much easier and in effect contributed to a substantial number of legal grant transfers. The proclamations changed the legal landscape of land ownership.

In addition, the dominance of European land ownerships had overwhelmed the Malays and other Asians. Europeans obtained not only large area of lands but also lands in more valuable areas. A large part of their lands were under grant titles before the introduction of the leasing system.

The need to acquire land for buildings and production of cash crops had led the Europeans to acquire a large amount of land. The capital imperative played a pivotal role in favouring the Europeans in land acquisition. The cash-rich Europeans had high purchasing power compared to the Muslims who could not even afford to pay property taxes.

Unfavorable institutional environment which did not favor the Malays who had been working for a long time on their land had caused them to abandon the land. The process to obtain land ownership titles took too long, in addition to the high tax burden if they were to register the lands.

Yet it was in part the non-competitive and accommodating nature of local Muslims, and by extension the business community, that allowed other groups to take root and to benefit from their stay in Penang Island. Nevertheless, the process and forces of marginalization had taken place.

In addition to the above conditions, urban development undertaken by the governments and organizations had also negatively impacted the Muslim community. Large scale urban renewal projects undertaken by the Muslim endowment Board had uprooted some Muslim residents. Houses in the Kapitan Kling mosques compound and adjacent Kampung Kolam and Kampung Kaka were cleared. The creation of Ah Quee Street and Lumut Lane had cleared Kampung Taka and Kampung Wahab, respectively at the turn of the 20th Century. These were the areas were Muslims were numerous.

It was very clear that Muslims were the dominant group in Georgetown during at least the first half of development of Georgetown after the landing of Francis Light. However, land law changes initiated by the British had caused them to lose some of their land to the British and other ethnic groups. This, coupled by their lack of capitals and understanding of the concept of capitalism brought about by the British had caused them to be marginalized economically. In addition, urban renewal projects initiated by the government and organizations had caused the number of Muslims to reduce significantly over the years. The loss of Penang free port status and the change of hajj mode of transport from sea-shipping to air planes were two other momentous events that negatively impacted the number and socio-economic conditions of the Muslims within the GWHS.

4. Pilot survey and observation analysis

A pilot survey of 14 households and 28 businesses were conducted in the vicinity of Masjid Kapitan Kling and Masjid Melayu on a few occasions. A more extensive survey will be conducted in the future. This paper relies on the pilot survey to give some indications about the aspirations of the people. In

addition, observations of socio-economic activities within the study area were also conducted. The analysis below is a summary of findings of these observations and surveys.

4.1. Household survey

Ethnic settlements define the delineation of residential patterns in the study area. The majority of residents are of Indian origins, settling in the shop houses along Lebuh Chulia and Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. The Malays are found scantily in and around Lebuh Acheh. The survey reveals that 60 percent of the respondents are India Muslim while the remainders are Malays.

The Indian Muslims reside mostly within the surrounding of the Nagore Shrine on Lebuh Chulia while the Malays around Masjid Melayu, revealing the importance of the mosques as focal points. Most of them live in shop houses, remnants of the colonial period dating back between 20 to 50 years of residency with an average length of stay of 28.3 years. All of the respondents have shown the desire of staying in this area for generations to come.

The household consists of generally nuclear types of family consisting of two adults (parents) and children. In this area, the survey shows that the average household size is 4.25, much higher than Pulau Pinang average of 3.94. The family units within the area are generally "older" by looking at the cohort age structure of the household members. The head of the households recorded an average age of 59 years old while their spouses at 43 years of age. Most of the respondents work in the area in existing business enterprises. 50% of them work as traders in the area while another 40% are pensioners. Another 10 percent works for government and private firms. It was also found that 75% of their spouses are homemakers, whereas 25% are working women. Their children are mostly still in school (75%) and colleges.

Majority of respondents live in the shop houses in the area. In terms of length of stay within the areas, 64 percent of respondents had been staying in the areas for more than 20 years. This indicates that most of respondents have roots in the area and have intimate knowledge of it. An overwhelming majority plan to stay in the area, indicating their strong bonds with the place.

In terms of educational level, it was found that the respondents have a low level education when the findings show 55% of them are primary school leavers while 36% educated with high school certificate.

Only 21 percent of respondents indicates that the socio- economic of the Muslim is good. However, in terms of the economic competitiveness of Muslims, an overwhelming majority (71 percent) feel confidence in the economic competitiveness of Muslims in the area.

When asked what to do with areas, the three recommendations in order of importance are to develop the areas, to improve the administration, and to have a seminar between the authorities and the residents. This indicates residents are looking forward for the area to be developed and improved from the present situation. A large proportion of the respondents firmly believed that inducement of the population is key to uplift the Muslim community. This can be done through rent control and promotion of the area as tourism attractions.

4.2. Business operators survey

Of the 28 businesses surveyed, 60 percent were Malay businesses while the other 40 percent are Indian Muslims. 57 percent of business operators lived within the GWHS while 43 percent live outside the area. Interestingly almost all of Indian Muslim business operators live within the area while almost all Malay businesses live outside the heritage area. This perhaps explains why the number of Malay is very small in the area.

In terms of business performance, almost 90 percent rates their businesses as medium to very good. 50 percent rate it as medium. As for the number of Muslim businesses and their performance overall in the area, an overwhelming majority rates it as medium. Significantly, 95 percent of businesses would like to stay as it is on the current site or expand their businesses at current premises. This augurs well for Muslim businesses as whole in the area.

The respondents are almost unanimous about the strategy to cope with current business uncertainties. The majority of them proposed a concerted effort to widen promotions and publicities about the Muslim enclave, especially in capturing tourist attentions. They believe that the area should be brought back to its glorious olden days not only in terms of offering Muslim related products but also promoting its culture and arts.

4.3. Observation analysis

Observations were also conducted within the enclave by researchers. These are divided into the sub categories below.

4.4. Spatial

The demarcated site of the Muslim Enclave in George Town is bounded by Lebuh Chulia, Lebuh Acheh, Lebuh Carnavon and Lebuh Pantai. It is made up by several numbers of smaller streets within the site generating intricate walkways mixing with medium volume of motorized traffic. In most parts, land uses are dominated by colonial types of buildings made up by rows of shop houses.

By observation, Lebuh Chulia, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and Lebuh Buckingham seem to be "active" in terms of human activities with most of the business premises located here. Aside from being most accessible, the location of the Masjid Kapitan Keling along the Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and Lebuh Buckingham has an added attraction, behaving like a focal point for the area. It can be seen that a large proportion of businesses is situated on one of these roads. Most of these premises are designed as typical colonial types of shop houses although some buildings are newly constructed such as the MARA building on Lebuh Buckingham.

The site is characterized by a mixture use of shop houses and some grandeur, historic buildings such as the Khoo Kongsi, the Yap Kongsi, the Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh and even the World Heritage office located nearby. Spatially the site can be divided into distinct but broad agglomerations. Lebuh Buckingham for instance houses generally the service types of businesses including some of the community or governmental related services including PERDASAMA and Pusat Urus Zakat while Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling, Lebuh Chulia and Lebuh Pantai are dominated by businesses and services including the sales of jeweleries, textiles and other suppliers. Food shops are scattered on almost every street within the sites, responding perhaps to the availability of customers.

Apart from these busy locations, the internal enclave areas are less 'active' by observation. The inner areas are also made up of shop houses and some stand alone buildings most of which seems to be empty. Consequently, except for a few "office type" businesses, commodity suppliers and souvenir shops, the inner site is a contrast to the bustling outer areas on the streets previously mentioned.

4.5. Socio-economic

It was observed that most shop houses are literally used for shops and houses just like the olden colonial days. People within the site live mostly in shop houses except for a few who reside in stand alone

housing units. It is a typical "urban" George Town scenario. Along with the agglomeration of businesses within the site, it is noted that, population also agglomerates according to ethnicity.

As mentioned earlier, mosques seem to play the role of nodes and focal points for the population concentration. The Nagore Shrine located on Lebuh Chulia for example is surrounded by residential settlements of the Indian Muslims. The Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh, on the other hand is surrounded by mostly the Malay ethnics although the numbers are much smaller than the Indian Muslim counterparts. As already mentioned, the Masjid Kapitan Keling acts as a focal point, especially during praying times, to visitors and residents alike. Chinese ethnics can be found residing on most streets within the site.

The most dominant economic activity seems to be related to the retailing of specialized products. The Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling is well known to offer mainly jewelery sales and money changer services while Lebuh Chulia concentrates on textile retailers and suppliers. Again, such economic activities are dominated by the Indian Muslims.

The area of the Masjid Melayu which is surrounded by a few Malay residents and shops is filled with souvenir and art and craft shops promoting mostly Malay cultural products such as Batik. Food shops, on the other hand, are made up of mostly Indian food, particularly Nasi Kandar, scattered within the site although the site inventory shows that Lebuh Ah Quee and Lebuh Chulia are two of the most popular spots for Nasi Kandar such as Kassim Mustafa, Kapitan, MAJ, Ramzan and the famous Nasi kandar Beratur next to Masjid kapitan Kling.

It was also noted that much of the socio-economic activities are related to tourism activities. The agglomeration of money changers at Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and the sales of souvenir and cultural products on Lebuh Acheh are targeted to the tourists.. Places such as the mosques and the Chinese Kongsi appeared to be the main attractions to these tourists.

4.6. Religious use

Mosques act not only as focal points but also important in terms of its sphere of influence towards generating other kinds of activities. On one hand, it serves as the nodes for the local residents who live and work there. This can be observed with the congregation of people during prayer times. As previously stated, the surrounding of the Nagore Shrine for example is filled with a number of shop house residents for as long as 50 years old if not earlier. The mosques and shrine namely the Nagore Shrine, Masjid Melayu and Masjid Kapitan Keling are strategically located within the heritage site. The shrine anchors the Lebuh Chulia vicinity associated with Indian Muslims ethnic settlements while the Masjid Melayu affixes the Melayu ethnic at Lebuh Acheh cultivating Melayu cultural products in terms of tourism products.

Based on historical perspectives, the site has had a long life experiences on religious events such as the Haji related activities in the olden years. Until today, the fragments of such activities are being echoed through the existence of shops offering Haji products and various other products like the Songkok production. However, it is believed that the number of entrepreneurs involving in these types of activities have been declining drastically over the years. There also several other mosques in the WHA. During the study, the following data were observed to give indications the number of Muslims who performed prayers in these mosques.

The data indicates that Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh has a very small jemaah, although it is the only "Malay mosque" in the WHA and despite its sheer size. Its number of jemaah is increased through the presence of police officers in nearby police station.

Table 3. Number of Jemaah during prayers, various mosques, Aug - Oct 2012

Date Mosque Prayer Number of jemaah (approximate) Notes

5th August 2012 Kapitan Keling Terawih 225 Majority Indian

6th August 2012 Masjid melayu Terawih 26 Majority Malay

6 Sept 2012 Jamek Benggali Lebuh Leith Maghrib 175 Tabligh group (about 70)

6 Sept 2012 Alimsyah Waley Lebuh Chulia Isyak 25 90% Indian Muslims. A 50 unit apts in compound

6 Sept 2012 Surau Amjunal Himayatul Islam, Lebuh Chulia Isyak 20 Closed immediately after Isyak

7 Sept 2012 Masjid Al jamiul Azzakirin, Perangin Solat Jumaat 500 Mixed group (Khutbah in Malay)

2 October 2012 Kapitan Keling Maghrib 150

4 October 2012 Masjid Melayu Isyak 40

5 October 2012 Masjid Melayu Jumaat >400 Alternate Friday with Masjid kapitan Keling

Source: Own observations, various dates

5. Conclusion and future research

This paper has analyzed the socio-economic situation of an area known as the Muslim enclave within the GWHS. It should be noted that at this stage it is based only on a pilot survey which may not be a true representative of the whole population. However, it should be enough to provide some indications about the aspirations of the people. It has shown that the Muslim population within the GWHS was once the pioneers and the largest ethnic group in Georgetown. However, due to several factors, especially historical events and colonial government policies, their significance, demo graphically and socio -economically, has declined over the years.

A more extensive survey and analyses will conducted in the very near future to understand better about problems and issues of this Muslim enclave. These analyses would include the main Muslim institutions in the area and the people's relationships to these institutions. An Action Plan to revive the Muslim enclave is envisioned to be proposed at the end of that more extensive study.


The authors are grateful to Think City Sdn Bhd (a subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional) for funding a consultancy of which this paper is based.


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