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Madrasah Al-Iqbal Al-Islamiah is officially opened 4th Feb 1908

Located at 107 Selegie Road,[1] Madrasah Al-Iqbal Al-Islamiah was officially opened on 4 February 1908.[2] The school was founded by Syed Syeikh bin Ahmad Al-Hadi,[3] who was at the time a prominent figure in Malay journalism and known for his efforts to improve the status of the Malays.[4]

Born in Malacca in 1862, Syed Syeikh was taken to Pulau Penyengat in Riau at the age of 14 and adopted into Riau’s royal family by the Raja Muda (heir apparent) Raja Ali Kelana bin Raja Ahmad.[5] Syed Syeikh often accompanied the sons of the sultan and the Raja Muda to perform the pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and on visits to Egypt and the Levant.[6] Through his travels to the Middle East, Syed Syeikh came into contact with and was influenced by the ideas of Islamic reformation that were being propagated in Cairo, Egypt, at the time by the reformist movement of Muhammad Abduh and the Al-Manar Circle.[7]

Syed Syeikh and his fellow reformists were known as the kaum muda, or “young faction”.[8] The kaum muda disagreed with the traditional method of teaching Islam, which involved learning the basic tenets of Islam through memorisation and repetition.[9] Instead, they called for a new method of teaching Islam that was based on “rational and intelligent re-interpretation” of the Quran and the Hadith (collections of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings).[10] They also believed that Islam was compatible with reason and modern science.[11] The kaum muda was, therefore, “open to changes, accepted modernity and ‘Western’ ideas that were not against Islamic teachings”.[12]

In line with the reformist ideals of its founder, Madrasah Al-Iqbal was radically different from other existing Islamic educational establishments.[13] The school veered away from the traditional memory method of study and organised activities such as debates.[14] Its broad curriculum offered a wide range of subjects, from religious topics like recitation of the Quran, worship and rituals, and Arabic grammar, to secular topics such as history, English and town planning.[15] The school also redefined the academic year, established a new examination system, and introduced proper rules and regulations.[16] The school became the forerunner of other reformist schools that were subsequently established throughout the Malay Peninsula in the following years.[17]

Unfortunately, Madrasah Al-Iqbal was forced to close and relocate to Riau within 18 months of its opening, upon which it was renamed the Ahmadiah School and came under the sole property of the Riau government.[18] The school’s closure could firstly be attributed to the substantial school fees.[19] Boarders had to pay 300 Straits dollars per year for accommodation, textiles for uniforms, stationery, laundry and medical expenses,[20] while non-boarders were charged between 24 and 96 Straits dollars.[21] These fees were unaffordable for the Muslim community in Singapore.[22]

Secondly, the religious traditionalists’ disapproval of the school’s “Westernised” education system could also have contributed to its closure.[23] Known as the kaum tua, or “old faction”, the religious traditionalists were made up of the official religious hierarchy, the traditional Malay elite and the rural ulama (“religious leaders”).[24] The kaum tua perceived English as profane, and teaching it together with the religious sciences in a religious school was viewed as deviating from traditional educational and social norms.[25] As such, Madrasah Al-Iqbal was not well received by the local Muslim community.[26]

1. Chee, M. F. (2006). The historical evolution of madrasah education in Singapore. In Noor Aisha Abdul Rahman & Lai, A. E. (Eds.), Secularism and spirituality: Seeking integrated knowledge and success in madrasah education in Singapore (p. 8). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic. Call no.: SING 371.077095957 SEC.
2. Sejarah penubuhan madrasah disingkap [Madrasah’s history is revealed]. (2000, April 21). Berita Harian, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. A. Ghani Hamid. (1991, March 4). Syed Syeikh Al-Hadi – tokoh sastera ulung [Literary pioneer Syed Syeikh Al-Hadi]. Berita Harian, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Yaakub Rashid. (1982, November 15). A writer and journalist hated and applauded. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Roff. W. R. (1994). The origins of Malay nationalism (p. 62). Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 320.54 ROF.
6. Roff, 1994, p. 62.
7. Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied & Dayang Istiaisyah Hussin. (2005, August). Estranged from the ideal past: historical evolution of madrassahs in Singapore. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 25(2), 252. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from http://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/mlsasmk/Madrasahs.pdf
8. Roff, 1994, p. 62; Khairudin & Istiaisyah, Aug 2005, p. 252.
9. Khairudin & Istiaisyah, Aug 2005, pp. 251–252.
10. Khairudin & Istiaisyah, Aug 2005, pp. 252–253.
11. Khairudin & Istiaisyah, Aug 2005, p. 252.
12. Khairudin & Istiaisyah, Aug 2005, p. 253.
13. Chee, 2006, p. 8.
14. Khairudin & Istiaisyah, Aug 2005, p. 253.
15. Chee, 2006, p. 8.
16. Chee, 2006, p. 8; Khairudin & Istiaisyah, Aug 2005, p. 253.
17. Roff, 1994, p. 66.
18. Chee, 2006, p. 8.
19. Chee, 2006, pp. 8–9.
20. Chee, 2006, p. 8.
21. Chee, 2006, p. 8.
22. Chee, 2006, p. 9.
23. Chee, 2006, p. 9.
24. Roff, 1994, p. 67.
25. Muhammad Mustaqim Mohd Zarif, et al. (2013, August). Creating creative and innovative Muslim society: Bid’ah as an approach. Asian Social Science,  9(11), 125. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from Canadian Center of Science and Education website: http://ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ass/article/view/30044
26. Khairudin & Istiaisyah, Aug 2005, p. 253.


The information in this article is valid as at 2014 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.

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