Malay/Muslim Mutual Benefit Organisations, or better known as badan khairat to my community, have existed in Singapore long before I was born. Like the badan khairat in my neighbourhood, these organisations have contributed immensely to their members’ lives and the wider community— at times, extending beyond the Malay/Muslim community.
Having lived in West Coast all my life, the badan khairat in my neighbourhood has helped my family and me, participating in many milestones in our lives, even before I was born. Until today, my family and I enjoy a good relationship with Badan Kebajikan Khairat Kampong West Coast Singapura, or BARKIS for short, and continue to benefit from their assistance and activities.
A photograph of baby me
In 1978, my family moved into a HDB flat in West Coast from a kampong in Batu Tujuh, Bukit Timah. In between homes, my family lived in a rental flat in Henderson, just behind Masjid Jamiyah Ar-Rabitah. To move from living in a kampong environment, with friendly neighbours who are easily accessible and never close their doors—to living in a dense and high-rise apartment building, with many neighbours of different races from all over Singapore—is a huge transition.
Often, people like my family look for opportunities to find activities or areas of interest to connect themselves with the wider community, akin to the kampong spirit they had experienced before. BARKIS was well-known in the West Coast community for organising many events for residents at the void deck in line with important dates in the Islamic calendar. These included nightly terawih prayers held throughout the month of Ramadan, followed by the morning Hari Raya prayers which I would attend and be acquainted with my neighbours.
Most importantly, they were present in times of need: when my late father passed away in 2014. I called BARKIS to inform them of the news, and they arranged for the needs of the entire funeral, such as the tukang mandi, a man who helped with bathing the body, an essential ritual in Islam. They also looked after the booking of the burial site, the burial permit and the vehicle for transporting the body. It was a relief for me because I was clueless about the process.
These mutual benefit organisations have helped migrants to settle down in Singapore, and residents moving from kampongs to public housing estates who needed help adapting to their new living environments. More importantly, they help to create a kind of extended family that once existed in a kampong.
However, as time marches on and these organisations age, badan khairat are lacking a younger generation of people willing to take up the mantle to continue important activities and practices for the community. The least I can do is to help these organisations recollect and document their stories. I hope this goes some way towards ensuring that their contributions to the Malay/Muslim community and the wider Singapore society will not be forgotten.
Co-author of Khairat Kita: A History of Malay/Muslim Mutual Aid in Singapore
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