|Remembering the Japanese Occupation and how it affected the Malay – Muslim community in Singapore.
I am deep in gratitude to my father who gave me the opportunity to
delve into his past and thus provided a great insight into the period that
represented the darkest hours of Singapore’s history. Mr. Yahya Bin Hussein
was born in Province Wellesley, in Perak, Malaya. He spent his early years in
Malaya before migrating to Singapore in his late teens. As such, his
experience of the Japanese Occupation are those of a 7 – 10 year old. His
school experience was limited to primary 2 level and he still remembers the
teacher , Cikgu Darus, who offered him a place in school while he was playing
aimlessly all day long. Although he is an uneducated man, he possesses
excellent health and a good memory. I interviewed him on one occasion at his
home in Tampines and the transcript is a vetted and translated copy of the
interview session. I started the interview by asking my father about his family
prior to the war. He remembered quite well that his family was well to do
as they had a bullock cart. In those days, a family who had a bullock cart
can be considered to be rich and he also remembered that his father had many
When his parents died, he was cared by his siblings who mistreated him.
After years of abuse, he decided to migrate to Singapore. Hence, all of his
relatives are in Malaysia and I remembered the two trips that we made there
while I was in Primary 1. When asked about the Japanese soldiers, the first
thing that came to his mind their cruelty to the Chinese but they were kind
yet strict towards the Malay – Muslim community. This is in sync with what
most historians as well as other Malays would testify. He remembered the
respect that the Japanese had shown towards the places of worship of Muslims.
However, according to Abu Talib Ahmad whose article can be found in a
book titled “ Malaya and Singapore During the Japanese Occupation”, there
was a report of soldiers violating the sanctity of a mosque by holding parties
that served alcohol and non – halal food within the premises ( a mosque in
Batu Uban in Penang). 1
The use of Tokyo time in Malaya had caused confusion as
prayer times was determined by the sun. Similarly, the Japanese showed scant
Paul H Kratoska (Ed), Malaya and Singapore During the Japanese Occupation, Singapore 1995 – The impact of the Japanese Occupation on the Malay – Muslim population by Abu Talib Ahmad.
regard for conventions in how the start of the fasting month is determined as
well as the celebration of Aidil Fitri.
When asked whether he had any face to face encounter with a
Japanese soldier, he replied that the sight of a uniformed Japanese soldier in
his kampong was rare and Japanese officials in the kampong were in their
civilians at all times. One example is the choken or governor. As noted by
Abu Talib Ahmad, the “choken would attend Muslim prayers at the mosques
which ended up into farcical political shows. The congregation had even be
forced to face and bow towards the direction of the Imperial Palace rather
than the Ka’baa2. This represented a serious breached of Islamic practice that
they had to commit in order to save their lives.My father had also recollect
the effect of Japanese benevolence towards the Muslim community in that they
allowed the growth Arabic and religious schools and punished those who did
not attend Friday prayers. In this aspect, Abu Talib Ahmad had confirmed my
father’s recollection and he even added that the Japanese had made the
2 Paul H Kratoska (Ed.) Malaya and Singapore During the Japanese Occupation, Singapore 1995. The impact of the Japanese Occupation on the Malay – Muslim population by Abu Talib Ahmad
collection of zakat ( tithe money) smoother and continued to allow Muslims to
celebrate religious and non – religious activities with public holidays. But the
Japanese’s kindness was only to extract further collaboration in its’ cause.
Religious leaders were asked to preach to the Muslims on how kind the
Japanese were towards their religion while Malay teachers were forced to learn
Japanese and to teach the language at schools. All these represented the
Japanese methodical approach towards winning the minds of the Malay –
Muslim community. Even though my father had limited memory of the
Japanese Occupation, I have come across information that was interesting with
regards to the way the Japanese’s manipulative strategies tried to weaken the
spirit and the loyalty of the Malays by allowing them to carry out their
religious activities but at the same time attacked their moral values by
providing and encouraging them to visit gambling and prostitution dens.
Although several Malays had crossed over to support the Japanese for their
own profit or lust for power, the majority remained steadfast in their loyalty
to their fellow Singaporeans and to their country.
Transcript of interview with Mr. Yahya bin Hussein
Where did you live during the Japanese Occupation ?
I was born in Perak….in 1935. I was probably at 7 or 8 years old when the Japanese ruled Malaya. I lived in a kampong near a river. My parents died while I was still young and I did go to school until a kind teacher, Cikgu Darus, invited me to attend school. But the Japanese soon came and that’s the end of my school days.
What do you recall about the way the Japanese had treated the people of the different communities?
I remember that the Japanese were very cruel and acted horribly vicious towards the Chinese. However, they were quite relax in their attitude towards the Malays and the Indians…. Of course, as long as we did not loot or go against their orders, we were quite free to carry out our lives as normal as it was possible during those tough times…….
Did you come face to face with any Japanese soldiers?
No…… The Japanese that can be seen was the officials that wore civilian clothes such as a judge for example. They had local spies who would report to them….. therefore there was no need to spread fear through a display of military presence in the kampongs.
How about the mosques? Did they disturb or destroy them?
Oh, no! The Japanese were very respectful of the mosque. Nothing was done to disturb or prevent the Muslims from performing their prayers in the mosques.
Why do you think the Japanese was so kind to the Malays then?
Well…… I think that the Chinese was targeted because they supported China…. which Japan had attacked…..For the Malays, I think that the Japanese had the perception that the Malays were a simple kind of people and thus see them as posing little threat to them.
What did the Japanese did that help the Malay – Muslim community?
Well….. I can’t remember that much…… But what I know is that stealing or looting was unheard of after they came…. Other than that, they let us thrive as a community by simply letting us live our lives almost unmolested.
What else can you remember?
Nothing much really…… except that I remember being very happy when the British came back to Malaya…….
End of interview