Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wan Yahya bin Wan Mohd Taib (1870 - 1935) - His hajj story


I am yet to properly read the "One Thousand Roads to Mecca" - edited and introduced by Michael Wolfe. I would love to read Shafiq Morton's "Notebook from Makkah and Madinah". I am yet to watch the documentary of Martin Ling's pilgrimage. I dream of writing about my own hajj experience someday InshaAllah but no way would it be as interesting as this hajj stories of Haji Wan Yahya bin Wan Mohd Taib (1870 - 1935).

I learned about his fascinating hajj experience from a write-up given out during the recent "Penang and the Hajj" conference. It's written by Mohd Isa Othman of USM and Mohd Kasri Saidon of UUM. For the benefit of our foreign readers/visitors, USM and UUM are two top universities in the northern part of Peninsula Malaysia.

Haji Wan Yahya was working with the Kedah state government when he performed the hajj in 1914. Kedah is a state in the northwest of Peninsula Malaysia, neighboring Penang to its southwest. Haji Wan Yahya was not just an ordinary staff, he was considered among the state's elite officers because of his credentials having served as a Police Inspector, a District Officer, Chief Magistrate, and the Judge of Kedah's Court of Appeal, among others. He is remembered for being the first to initiate the construction of a 7km waterways for padi irrigation, known to this day as "Sungai Korok Wan Yahya", and a road connecting Jitra and Kodiang in Kedah circa 1902. His father was remembered as a Kedah hero who fought and died defending the state against Siam [now Thailand] in 1838.

Haji Wan Yahya wrote about his hajj stories in the Malay language but opted for an Arabic title - Tarikh al-Siyahah Ila Makatul Mukaramah (Notes on Travels to Makkah). As a government officer, Haji Wan Yahya had to apply for hajj leave. The Crown Prince who was heading the State Council granted him a leave of 8 months and also advanced his salaries for six months, on top of a loan of 500 riyal. Haji Wan Yahya also enjoyed other state's privileges. He boarded Darulaman (a Kedah state's sea vessel) from Alor Setar to Penang where he was to officially depart for hajj. In Penang, he, his wife and their adopted child stayed for 12 days at the Kedah State's House in Kelawei, while waiting for Nova - the ship that would take them to Port Said in Egypt before continuing on their journey to Cairo via train and back to Port Said on a Russian vessel and afterwards, a train ride to Syria, Jerusalem and lastly Madinah. A stark contrast to their first class cabin on Nova, the last leg of their journey from Madinah to Makkah was on a camel for 11 nights. An experience which was way too uncomfortable compared to the elephant-rides he was accustomed to in Kedah.

Nova according to Haji Wan Taib’s narration was a 6000 ton vessel belonging to the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company. His first class return ticket, purchased through the P & O Company cost him around $340 [not sure if it was riyal or pound]. The ship left Penang Port at 7 a.m. on 19 November 1914. After three days, they stopped by Colombo before making another stopover in Aden. Unlike the many stories about hajj voyage heard from my mother, Haji Wan's experience was unique in that it sounded more like a cruise ship where passengers were expected to wear evening dress for dinner. Adults and children would eat separately. Passengers would be fined 500 pounds if they had brought matches with them. By comparison, most other pilgrims on board other ships had to bring their own stove, gasoline, pots and pans as they had to cook their own meals.

One lady who attended the Penang and the Hajj conference, related her experience being a 9 year old pilgrim. She, her siblings and parents, all ten of them chartered an entire train coach from Perak to Penang before traveling on one of the popular hajj ships - Serombong Biru (the Blue Funnel). They brought 10 gunny sacks of rice, and food supplies such as anchovies, pickled chilly, soy sauce and dried fish. Their hajj arrangements were handled by a Shaykh Haji named Shaykh Arshad who lived in Kelawei, Penang. Upon arrival in Mekah another Shaykh Haji by the name of Shaykh Abdul Manan took care of them. As a 9 year old girl, she remembered seeing thousands of people at the Penang Port. She remembered vividly when the Blue Funnel made a stop in Aden, the locals would swim around their ship begging for money and passengers would throw coins into the sea for the beggars to catch. And of course she remembered suffering from sea sick. I think that is why my great grandmother would prepare loads of tamarinds as snacks for the would-be hujjaj in our village.
To be continued Insha Allah.      


  1. Good to read some old stories and experiences of those before us. This form of sharing let us know the difficulties faced by pilgrims in the olden days. We are now pampered with so much convenience that sometimes lead us to become ungrateful to Allah SWT for very short term discomfort.
    However, being an ex-mariner I find the Company's name and the ships name not so accurate. The shipping company is called Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and in short (P & O) a UK based Shipping Company. The ships name is Nova. I believe the currency used should be £ Pound Sterling.

  2. Masha Allah Captain. Thanks for pointing out the errors. I have corrected them.

    I wish there's a way for me to introduce you to my boss. He is retiring soon, so he is buying a sailboat but he knows next to nothing about sailing! We are worried sick about him. LOL.
    I will most definitely ask him to check your blog.

    Thanks : D