Keramat Habib Noh

The Keramat Habib Noh, located at 37 Palmer Road, is a shrine dedicated to the Muslim saint Sayyid Noh bin Sayyid Mohamad bin Sayyid Ahmad Al-Habshi, popularly known as Habib Noh. The shrine houses his maqam (tomb) and is visited by pilgrims from as far away as China.1

Habib Noh was a highly regarded mystic who died on 27 July 1866 at the age of 78.2 His coffin was said to have become immovable as it was being lifted for the journey to the Bidadari Muslim cemetery (the traditional Muslim burial place). It was only when someone recalled that Habib Noh had wished to be buried on the peak of Mount Palmer then could the coffin be lifted. Habib Noh often spent time meditating on this hill.3

Folklore has it that a Parsi (also spelled as Parsee) owned Mount Palmer and was reluctant to have a tomb on it.  He thus demanded an exorbitant fee for allowing Habib Noh’s tomb to be placed on the hill. The money was raised almost miraculously, but the Parsi was mysteriously struck dead in three days. As more family members of the Parsi became similarly afflicted, the family decided to return the money to Habib Noh's family, thus ending their tragic losses.

Haji Mohammad Salleh, a merchant from Batavia and a good friend of Habib Noh, had wanted to build a surau (Muslim prayer hall) for Habib Noh. Unfortunately, Habib Noh passed away before it was completed. The prayer hall was finally completed in 1902 and faced the tomb of Habib Noh. It was demolished and replaced with a mosque, the present-day Haji Muhammad Salleh Mosque, in 1903.5

The maqam sits on top of a flight of 49steps.6 The long flight of steps is flanked by yellow (colour of holiness) and green (colour of paradise) railings, and is lined with potted plants. The steps lead to the shrine that houses the maqam of Habib Noh. The entrance to the shrine is decorated with yellow curtains and green tie-backs. It opens up into an inner room where the maqam is located. The maqam lies within a four-post frame adorned with yellow curtains. A chandelier hangs over the tomb, with the tombstones wrapped with yellow cloth. On the floor lining the perimeters of the tomb are bottles of drinking water placed there by visitors who hope to have them blessed by the soul of Habib Noh.7

The tomb of Sayid Abdur Rahman bin Salim AlHabsyi, a cousin of Habib Noh's, rests behind the maqam. Abdur Rahman was Singapore's first qadhi (or qadi; a judge in a Muslim community) who died in 1867.8

The maqam receives visitors and supplicators who offer trays of food such as pulut kuning (yellow glutinous rice), bryani rice, eggs or bananas.9 The caretaker (khadam) receives cash donations that, along with the food, are duly given to the needy, particularly children. The caretaker also prays for the safety of visitors. The first caretaker was Habib Abu Bakar As-Saqaf (1866–1874), followed by Habib Husayn bin Abu Bakar As-Saqaf (1874–1907), Sheykh Muhmad bin Ahmad Bil Khair (1907–1963), Sheykh Hasan bin Abdullah AlKhatib (1962–2008), and Alfadil Syed Hussein Bin Syed Haroon Aljunied (2008–2009). Alfadhil Syed Taha Bin Syed Salim Albaar is the current caretaker.10

The tomb of Habib Noh was refurbished in 1890 by Syed Mohamad bin Ahmad Alsagoff (Nongchik), a member of the prominent Alsagoff family in Singapore.11 The steps and the structure, however, were constructed from donations. The tomb originally had 52 steps, but two steps were submerged by the tides. During World War II, bombs were dropped around the shrine but it was fortunately not damaged. During land reclamation in 1962, fears of the tomb being washed away by the sea were allayed. However, plans for the East Coast Parkway expressway to cut across the area12 in the 1980s threatened the ancient tomb. Legend has it that bulldozers on the brink of demolishing the maqam could not operate. Plans were then changed, and destruction of the maqam was averted. The foundations of the expressway, however, proved difficult to lay. It was reported that the construction company requested for prayers from the trustees of the maqam and water from the maqam to be poured over the foundation grounds. Construction works proceeded smoothly thereafter.13

The descendants of Habib Noh initially administered the maqam using the Habib Noh Trust Fund. It is said that the descendants of Syed Mohamad bin Ahmad Alsagoff also helped in maintaining the site.14 This responsibility was subsequently transferred to the Muslim and Hindu Endowments Board in 1936, and thereafter to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) in 1968. In the 1980s, the tomb was refurbished again, with a building constructed over it, and officially opened on 19 July 1987.15 

Bonny Tan & Marsita Omar

1. “Ceremony at Singapore's Most Famous Muslim Shrine,” Straits Times, 23 April 1940, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “$1M Facelift for Mosque, Shrine,” Straits Times, 15 December 1986, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Muhammad Ghouse Khan Surattee, The Grand Saint of Singapore: The Life of Habib Nuh bin Muhammad Al-Habshi (Singapore: Masjid Al-Firdaus, 2008), 51–53. (Call no. RSING 297.4092 GRA)
4. Surattee, Grand Saint of Singapore, 48.
5. Mohamad Ghouse Khan Surattee, ed., Lambang Terukir: Dalam Mengisahkan Manaqib Habib Noh bin Muhamad Alhabsyi Yang Syahir (Singapore: Masjid Al'Firdaus, 2010), 45, 69 (Call no. Malay RSING 297.4092 LAM); Surattee, Grand Saint of Singapore, 34, 51.
6. Surattee, Grand Saint of Singapore, 51–53; The Miracle Worker of Old Singapore,” New Nation, 1 September 1972, 11 (From NewspaperSG); Johannes Widodo, “Preserving the Memory of Place: Case for Support for Palmer Road Area Conservation in Singapore,” Asian Culture no. 28 (June 2005): 41–49. (Call no. RSING q950.05 AC)
7. Yg, “Keramat Habib Noh,” blog, 2 November 2009.
8. Surattee, Grand Saint of Singapore, 53.
9. Al-Mukmin, “Habib Noh Terkenal Dgn Kesalihannya,” Berita Harian, 30 August 1985, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Surattee, Lambang Terukir, 72; Surattee, Grand Saint of Singapore, 51–53.
11. Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Dhoraisingam S Samuel, 2010), 148 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); Surattee, Grand Saint of Singapore, 51.
12. “Last Section of ECP Opens Today,” Straits Times, 26 September 1981, 49. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Surattee, Grand Saint of Singapore, 51–53.
14. Survey Department, Singapore, Singapore Street Directory and Guide (Singapore: Survey Department, 1957), 17 (Call no. RSEA 959.57 SIN); Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 148; Dragons, Ensiklopedia Sejarah Dan Kebudayaan Melayu (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan, Malaysia, 1999), 824–5 (Call no. Malay R 959.003 ENS); Al-Mukmin, “Habib Noh Terkenal Dgn Kesalihannya.”
15. Surattee, Lambang Terukir, 70.

The information in this article is valid as of 19 August 2016 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.

Streets and Places
Religious buildings
Al-Habshi, Sayyid Noh, 1788-1866--Tomb
Muslim saints--Tombs--Singapore