Ibrahim Tahir

Peter Guest

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Illustration: Janelle Retka

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So much of Kampong Glam is fiction. Pivoting around the golden dome of the Sultan Mosque, the district’s roads are named for distant cities — Muscat, Baghdad, Bussorah — speaking of links to old Arabia. On Muscat Street, an archway commemorates the long historical ties between Singapore and Oman.

There was no Omani community to speak of. The street names were decided by a poll in the early twentieth century; the area’s Malay residents chose the exotic settings of bangsawan operas. Even the mosque is an orientalist confection, designed by an Irishman for the British colonial government. It is quite possibly the only such building in the world with an aisle down the middle and space for an altar.

“So many things are mapped onto this canvas that is Kampong Glam,” says Ibrahim Tahir, owner and founder of Wardah Books.

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