The Chulia in Penang: Patronage and Place-Making around the Kapitan Kling Mosque, 1786–1957

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Khoo Salma Nasution
2014. Areca Books
200+ maps, photographs and illustrations
Hardcover, 24.8 cm x 20 cm, 560 pages
ISBN 9789675719158



Winner, ICAS Book Prize 2015, Colleagues’ Choice Award

“an important work, a model of its kind and one to enjoy as well to enlighten.
The depth of research is remarkable, and the range of enquiry admirable.”
Citation, ICAS Reading Committee

50 Best Malaysian Titles for International Rights 2015

Tamil Muslims – once known as Chulias – prospered as traders of pelikat cloth, pepper and local products in the Straits of Malacca. In the nineteenth century, they enriched the port town of Penang with endowments for mosques, Sufi shrines, burial grounds, a water tank and an ashurkhanah, holding religious feasts and processions. The most valuable endowment in the Straits Settlements was that for a mosque and burial ground in George Town, granted in 1801 by the English East India Company. On this site, a South Indian vernacular mosque was founded by the leader of the Chulias, Kapitan Kling Cauder Mohuddeen, a Marakkayar shipowner, merchant and progenitor of the ‘Merican’ clan. In the early twentieth century, the colonial government enacted an ordinance to take back the lands and modernize the townscape. In the process, they co-opted the traditional leadership and refashioned the mosque into a grand Indo-Saracenic symbol of British patronage over its Muslim subjects.

The Chulias excelled as Malay scribes, clerks and land surveyors, and also as ship chandlers, stevedores and lighter owners in the port industry. Educated in English, Malay and Islamic schools, the local-born Chulias, called Jawi Pekan or Jawi Peranakan, became part of the cosmopolitan Muslim elite. They innovated the performing arts of Boria and Bangsawan and pioneered early Malay and Tamil print media in Penang, which helped give birth to modern vernacular discourses. Influenced by the Khilafat and Self-Respect Movements in India, they strengthened Tamil identity and started Tamil schools. For economic and political reasons, they formed the Muslim Merchants Society, the Muslim Mahajana Sabha and then the Muslim League, the last of which competed in Penang’s city and settlement elections in the 1950s. The book looks at how this diaspora community – living under the East India Company, then in the Straits Settlements and British Malaya – evolved in response to the changing terms of colonial patronage.

From the Foreword by Raj Brown

Khoo Salma, while providing a fascinating perspective on Chulias in Penang and the historical processes that defined their society, politics and Islam, also illustrates an important microcosm of the city and the state… The book is almost an encyclopaedia on the Chulias, with evocative images that sharply capture their Indianness and Islamic Cosmopolitanism. It is an excellent book which deserves to be at the top of the league in diasporic studies.
– Raj Brown, Emeritus Professor of International Business,
Royal Holloway, University of London


Praise for The Chulia in Penang

Khoo Salma Nasution’s The Chulia in Penang is a vital contribution to the study of Penang’s history. More broadly, it enriches our understanding of Southeast Asia’s cosmopolitan port cities, it adds depth to our knowledge of the history if Islam in modern Southeast Asia, and it presents in great detail the history of the Tamil Muslim merchant networks of the eastern Indian Ocean. The book is based on years of painstaking research, and mines a huge variety of written and oral sources. It is beautifully produced and sumptuously illustrated. It is an exemplary local history, rooted in a profound depth of local cultural knowledge, that also situates its subject in a wider transnational context. Khoo Salma is a leading light of Penang’s heritage scene, a publisher, and a renowned author: this is her finest work yet. The Chulia in Penang will be enjoyed by a wide readership, from professional historians of Southeast Asia to visitors to Penang interested in its cosmopolitan culture.
Sunil Amrith, University of London

The Chulia in Penang is a beautifully written book by Khoo Salma and published by Areca Books. It clearly illustrates and depicts the history of the Penang Chulia (Tamil Muslim), the founding of the Kapitan Keling Mosque and its surrounding from a period from 1786 to 1957. It brings back fond memories of Penang during the 50s and 60s and the Kapitan Keling Mosque is the subject of my current major painting.

Khoo Salma has put in tremendous effort to document the contributions of the Chulias, in terms of economic vitality, social diversity and rich cultural heritage, who formed an integral part of George Town and Penang , as a whole. Penang would not be what it is today without these contributions.
Syed Thajudeen, Malaysian artist

Book Reviews

“The Chulia in Penang will be an dispensable source of information for those interested specifically in Penang history, but it should also be a standard citation in bibliographies dealing with many other topics, from Indian migration and Muslim cultures to regional trade and colonial town planning. Recording and preserving a historical record that might otherwise be lost forever, The Chulia in Penang has set a benchmark for future explorations of communal pasts in Malaysia, and has provided a background to issues of identity that are still pertinent today.”
Barbara W. Andaya, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society

Khoo Salma Nasution’s The Chulia in Penang is a significant and unique contribution to understanding the dynamic development of a diaspora Tamil Muslim community in the island of Penang in Malaysia. With its cognomen Chulia or Kling, which reflects the tenth century connection between the Chola Empire and Malaya, these Muslims in less than two centuries have become totally integrated with indigenous Malays. The Islamic religious commonality between the two groups which is implicit in this research has, to a great extent, smoothened the process of integration.

The uniqueness of [Khoo’s] study is in its sociological approach to the history and development of an enterprising migrant Muslim community that evolved around a mosque built by the migrants on a piece of land granted by the English East India Company in the early twentieth century. The mosque is the most illuminative marker of any Muslim settlement and in the case of diaspora Muslim community there is usually not much of a gap between the year of the migrants’ first arrival and the year of the construction of the first mosque. The arrival of the Chulias in Penang and the building of the Kapitan Kling mosque are no exception to this universal reality.

The centrality given in this study to the Kapitan Kling mosque, its activities and management, its legal battles and mediations, and its politics and personalities, all written in lucid style makes [Khoo’s] book a fascinating but absorbing reading. Immaculately documented and pictorially presented the information gathered for this work is encyclopaedic and impeccable.
Ameer Ali, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs (2014), 34:4, 467-468.


List of Illustrations and Tables
A Note On Terms, Names And Orthography

A Living Place of Worship
The Port of Penang
An Entrepreneurial Diaspora
Tracing South Indian Muslim Migration
Place-Making and Endowment
Organisation of the Book

1 Indian Ocean Connections
The Land of Gold
Muslim Traders from South India
A Cosmopolitan Maritime World
Chulias in the Straits of Malacca
The Chulia Trade in Aceh
Francis Light and the Chulias of Kedah

2 Early Settlers and Mosque
Precolonial Antecedents
Chulias in the Census
Chulia Settlers
Locating the Early Mosques
Destruction and Death

3 Piety and Patronage
Sufi Pioneers
The Nagore Dargah
The Tanjore Association

4 The Kapitan Kling
Captain of the Chulias
A Shipowner and Merchant from Porto Novo
Land and the Law

5 Munshis and Malay Writers
A Literary Diversion
A Petition for the Batu Uban Mosque

6 Family and Legacy
A Saintly Wife and a Royal Wife
Cauder Mohuddeen’s Will of 1834

7 Penang as a Centre of Chulia Trade
The Consolidation of Chulia Trading Activities
Mahomed Noordin, the Most Munificent Merchant
The Bountiful Penang–Aceh Trade
Diminishing Returns

8 The Jawi Peranakan
The Evolution of the Jawi Peranakan

9 Pepper and Pelikat Tycoons
The Muslim Elite
The Ariffin Clan
Dalbadalsah and Yahyah Merican
The Noordin Clan
Shaik Nathersah

10 Women with Status and Property
Royal Connections
A Woman Scorned
A Suitable House
Family Fortunes
House-Proud Jawi Peranakan

11 Diversity, Difference and Division
A Heterogenous Population
The Dato’ Koya Shrine
Riven by Rivalries
Secret Societies and the Penang Riots
Alternating Mosques

12 Cultural Expressions
The Cosmopolitan Context
Awal Muharram

13 Religious Endowments
The Concept of Waqf
Tamil Muslim Waqf in Penang
Pious Endowments for Mosques
Endowments for Burial Grounds
Waqf for Water
Waqf for Education
Waqf for Feasts and Family Trusts

14 Land and Leadership in Dispute
A Pilgrim Agent
Leadership Dispute
Disputes over Land and Religious Position
Disputes over the Family Endowment

15 Reforming Muslim Endowments
A Crisis and a Commission
Courting Municipal Ambitions
Enquiry and Investigation

16 The Consultative Process
Penang Muslim Society
The Qadi Question

17 The Endowments Board
A New Ordinance for Endowments
The Endowments Board’s Mode of Operation
The Madrasah Haniah and the Madrasah Al-Mahmoodiyah

18 Urban Transformation
Towards a New Townscape
The Removal of Urban Villages
A New Phase of Urban Development

19 Reimagining Mosque Architecture
The Mosque in the Nineteenth Century
Indo-Saracenic Architecture: From India to Malaya
Remodelling the Mosque

20 The Press and Pan-Islamism
The Power of the Printed Word
Empire Fever
Modest Demands

21 The Mohammedan Advisory Board
War and the Impact of the Singapore Mutiny
Establishing the Mohammedan Advisory Board
Officiating the Minaret
The Advisory Board and the Endowments Board
The Cannon from Pulau Brani

22 Religious Reformists and Rifts
The Islamic Reformist Movement in Penang
Idaran Zaman
The Mihrab Controversry
Fair or Fowl
Bumi Putra Allegation against the Kaseda
The Prophet’s Birthday

23 Social Leadership
Labour Migration and Chain Migration
Two Trade Organisations
The Khilafat Movement
The Plight of Tamil Labour
The Indian Chamber of Commerce

24 Diverging Identities
Friendly Societies and Football
Representing the Malays
Malaya for the Malays
The Self-Respect Movement
Indian Nationalist Politics

25 Business Networks
Textiles and Piece Goods
Jewellers and Gem Traders
Mamak Food
Distribution and Retail Networks
Printing Presses

26 The Penang Port
Port Ecology
Harbour Pilots, Ship Chandlers and Stevedores
Lighter Owners
Boatmen and Lightermen
Labour Strife

27 The Japanese Occupation
War Comes to Penang
Bombing and Destruction
Japanese Policies towards Islam
The Indian National Army
The End of Occupation

28 Post-War Politics
The Nationalist Challenge
Starting Again
The Muslim League
The Partition of India
Electoral Competition towards Independence
The Mosque, City and Port




Weight 2000 g
Dimensions 24.8 × 20 × 3.6 cm


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