(1882 – 22/01/1956)
92 years of age
A well-known Islamic educator in Singapore, Syed Abu Bakar bin Taha Alsagoff hailed from Hadramaut, Yemen. He received his early education in his birth town, Seiyun. Later, he went to Mecca to further his studies at the feet of some of the most prominent ulama at that time.
After completing his studies in Mecca, he decided to travel to Singapore to propagate Islamic da’wah. Upon his arrival, he was asked to sit in the building committee for Madrasah Alsagoff at Jalan Sultan. He was already married when he arrived in Singapore.
In 1920, he returned to his home country to fulfil his dream of building a modern madrasah. He called it Madrasah Nahdah Ilmiah, and became its first Headmaster.
In 1927 he came back to Singapore and this time he stayed for almost 30 years. His arrival coincided with opening of a Madrasah Aljunied at Victoria Street. The philanthropist who built it saw that no one was more eligible to sit in the Headmaster’s chair except Syed Abu Bakar Alsagoff. He agreed but on two conditions: that Arabic Language was the medium of instruction, and that its educational system must be modern.
His conditions were well-received, and he ran the Madrasah with tight discipline. As Headmaster from 1927 to 1955, he built up the Madrasah’s reputation as a premier Islamic educational institution in South East Asia. Students from all over the region came to the Madrasah to be his students. He even allowed a section of his house at Java Road to be used as free accommodation for these students, who also received free education at the Madrasah.
Consequently, his students ran to hundreds, and many became prominent ulama themselves in their countries. Among them was Yahya Rajai from the Philippines who set up no less than 106 madrasahs all over Sulu and Palawan islands.
During his tenure as Madrasah Aljunied’s Headmaster, he wrote several famous books such as “Tauhidul Khaliq wa Risalatu Anbiyaa-ihi” which was printed ten times, and “Addurusut Tadrikiyah” which was printed 15 times. The book Tauhidul Khaliq remained in use well into the early 1990s, more than 30 years after his death.
Syed Abu Bakar bin Taha Alsagoff also sat in several committees, such as Majlis Penasihat Islam (before the creation of Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura), and the Muslimin Trust Fund. He was also instrumental in establishing Jamiyah in Singapore in 1932, and Kolej Islam in Kelang, Malaysia in 1949. And for 25 years, he was also the Headmaster for Madrasah Khairiyah at Still Road.
It was due to his tireless contributions in the field of Islamic educational that he was named by several newspapers at that time as ‘Pendidik Ulung’ (Great Teacher), ‘Tokoh Pendidik’ (Prominent Educationist) and ‘Pendidik Suatu Generasi’ (A Generation’s Teacher).
In 1955, he returned to Hadramaut, after serving Singapore for more than 28 years. A year later, on Sunday, 22 January 1956, corresponding to 8 Jamadil Akhir 1375, he passed away peacefully. He left behind 11 children from his only wife Sharifah ‘Aisha Alsagoff. Among his children was the famous Syed Ali Redha Alsagoff (almarhum). Another of his son, Syed Taha was a teacher in Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah.
May Allah bless his soul.
(Source: Sulaiman Jeem, Abdul Ghani Hamid, Aktivis Melayu/Islam di Singapura, Singapore: Persatuan Wartawan Melayu Singapura, 1997; Syed Ali Zainalabideen Alsagoff )