The Keramat Habib Syed Ismail was located across the road from Hume Industries in a tiny kampong area beside the KTM railway line.
You could see the keramat as you reach the top of the uphill climb towards the Ford Motor building after passing the black KTM train bridge. It was a small wooden building, circular in shape without walls and was painted green and yellow. Beside it stood a small wooden kampong house, presumably belonging to the caretaker family.
In my younger days, I thought that this was a mosque as I'd often saw worshippers gathering there for prayers. It was only after I shifted to the nearby Fuyong Estate that I learnt more of this place.
A keramat is a muslim shrine that contains the remains of someone who is revered as a very holy or pious person or religious teacher. Much like the Catholic tradition of shines to saints.
The keramat at Bukit Timah was said to contain the grave of Habib Syed Ismail, a holy man from India, who came to Singapore in the early years of the twentieth century and lived in that area beside Bukit Timah Hill.
|The keramat of Iskandar Shah located at Fort Canning.|
Over the years, there were many legends or myths that grew out from this place.
One legend was said that Habib Syed Ismail could communicate with the Jinns (or malay spirits) that lived in the forests at Bukit Timah. There was a small waterfall nearby at the Singapore Quarry that was said to be a sacred place because Habib Syed used to meditate and communicate with the spirits there.
Another legend was that due to the position of the keramat and its sanctity, the invading Japanese Army during WWII could not occupy that place and that the battle line for Bukit Timah actually stop right before the keramat. It was said that many Chinese kampong folks took shelter for safety at the keramat during the war to prevent their capture by the Japanese Imperial troops.
The practice of worship at keramats is actually frowned upon by mainstream Muslims, but like catholicism, it is tolerated as long as it does not detract from the main religious dogmas.
Other famous keramats in Singapore include the Habib Noh at Shenton Way and the keramat at Kusu Island.
I am now trying to contact my old friend, Buangino, who was my neighbour at Fuyong Estate.
Buangino is the only person that I know of who has photographs of the old keramat at "Batu Lapan" Bukit Timah. If I get them, I will post it here.
The keramat as well as the nearby malay kampong were all demolished in the 80s or early 90s and the area now is reclaimed by nature.
(*Keramat is sometimes spelt Kramat)
Related links: The Holy Rock of Batu Lapan