It was a blistering end of June day in Paris, I was in the Aubervilliers neighbourhood of the city, presenting at the first in-person Euroseas conference since the pandemic. Taking refuge in between panels – it was both exhilarating and overwhelming to be surrounded by so many people, many friends at the same time after a long period of separation and isolation – I wrote a piece for the Penang Monthly. I had pitched a short article on the final home of pioneering novelist and Islamist social reformer Syed Syeikh al-Hadi on Penang island. Why he chose Penang is an interesting story in itself, one co-constituted by the island’s unique cross-cultural, religious, literary history. It proved to be a fitting destination after decades of peregrinations for al-Hadi, who went on to publish the periodicals and modern novel for which he is best known.
The Malay Literary Scene: The Influence of Syed Sheikh Al-Hadi. Penang Monthly, September 2022 Issue.
On 410 Jelutong Road in Penang sits an imposing house on brick piles divided into tripartite sections in the style of a traditional Malay family home. In the middle part of the house, the rumah ibu, are tall bay windows with elegant wooden shutters that stretch from the floor upwards to the ornately-carved kerawang border that trails along the bottom of the roof. When the window shutters are pushed open to let the familiar wafts of the Penang breeze in, they can only suggest glimpses of the extraordinary life and work that once took place here.One hundred years ago, the Muslim reformist and father of the modern Malay novel, Syed Sheikh Al-Hadi lived here. This was also where he ran the famous Jelutong Press, one of the earliest publishing companies in Penang. Al-Hadi moved his family to Penang in 1916, his final home after decades of peregrinations in the Middle East and around the Malay Archipelago.
Read the rest here.