I have been to many diaspora micro towns such as China Towns in the Nanyang, and the Little India’s that dot almost every major international megapolis such as (Meena Bazaar in Bur Dubai is a mini Sindh) Dubai or even a mini Chennai feel in Brick Fields, KL or a Serangoon or a Veerasamy Road in the Tiny Red Dot. A very unique Bangladeshi diaspora area is the Hamriyah area in Muscat or a Rolla Bank Street in Sharjah where fresh Hilsa Fish from Chittagong is more readily available than Salt Lake in Kolkata!
Diaspora micro communities are a prominent feature of our globalized cultural landscapes. A major criticism with diasporic communities such as South Hall Ealing or a Brick Lane in London are that they are are ethnic ghettos where communities are are hesitant to integrate within mixed Britannia. Then what is the differentiating factor then between the pre globalization era where racial differentiation and segregation used to be major and a post Berlin Wall break up diaspora Europe. Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was pivotal in placing the Indian diaspora in to the mainstream public imagination when in released in 1995, with Raj and Simran on the Eurostar train ride!
Arab diaspora communities are placed in to the mainstream of the thought processes of global main street due to the negative public perceptions surrounding the community. There are Arab diaspora hamlets in Caracas, Rio to Berlin and Singapore. From Lebanese Christian traders who traded with Latin America, among whom was the Father of Global Pop Sensation Shakira to the entrepreneurial Hadramis from impoverished South Yemen who have dominated global trade maritime routes historically. The Saudi Bin Laden Group is from the Al Hadrami Tribe as well. The Al Hadramis have made their mark in Singapore around the Al Juneid and the Arab Street area.
The Arab Street area in Singapore simply enchants me. The Masjid Sultan is the most pretty mosque in an urban area i have been to outside the Middle East. It has a unique character to it. The eateries during during Iftar time during Ramadan are delightful with fare from the Middle East such as Halwa and Baqlawa, that are simply mouth watering. The promenade from the Masjid to the other end of the linear pathway is dotted with tiles and small shops which add to the charm. The Hukkah shops which serve Hummus and Turkish mint tea remind me of turkish cafes dotting the streets of the corniche in Muscat and Abu Dhabi.
The Salman Khan Starrer Ek Tha Tiger with its track Mashallah demonstrates the impact of Arab culture on Bollywood as the film is shot extensively near the Blue Mosque in Old Istanbul. Agent Vinod was shot in Marakkesh too.
Wardah Book Store which is a tony niche bookstore in Arab Street which keeps an extensive collection of Middle Eastern literature is one of the hidden gems of Singapore according to me. Couple of my most my favorite books are purchased from there, including European Muslim Scholar Tariq Ramadan;s book – The Arab Awakening.
The eateries and the beautifully paved Muscat Street funded by a Gift from His Majesty Sultan Qaboos of the Sultanate of Oman, make it a very unique ethnic hamlet. The place is full of Character, indeed.
Hope to have Turkish Mint Tea and Hummus on a Saturday Late Afternoon at Arab Street , Insha-Allah. Wishing my friends Eid Mubarak.