The Waliullah: Habib Noh
Not much is known about the early life of this famous 19th century saint except that he came from the northern Malaysian state of Kedah and lived for a while in Penang an island off the coast of Kedah. He was a direct descendant of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). He was an Arab from Hadramaut, the area of southern Arabia that is now known as Yemen.
He made his appearance in Singapore after the island became a British colony in 1819. He came into prominence because being a majdhub he did things that are out of the ordinary. He loved children who liked to accompany him everywhere he went. He would enter a shop, take out all the money from the cash drawer and throw it to the waiting children. Those shopkeepers who were aware of his holy state did not make any attempt to stop him and were rewarded by Allah with prosperity in their business thereafter.
Such activities however, were frowned upon by the British colonial masters who tried to put him in jail a number of times. However, after doing this many times, they finally gave up and left him alone. The reason? Each time he was arrested, and put in jail, he mysteriously disappeared from his cell and was seen outside walking free. This is one of the signs of awliya, their service to God has set them free from man.
People in those days flocked to see him and sought the blessings of his sincere invocation. Since those were the days of sailing ships, traveling by ship was often hazardous and it took a few months to sail from Singapore to Jeddah, Arabia. Muslims planning to sail back to Indonesia, India and Arabia made it their practice to come and ask him to pray for their safe journey.
Stories on Habib Noh often revolve around his miracles–especially his incredible ability to appear in a number of places at the same time. He had been seen in Mecca when it was known that he has not left Singapore. He has been known to say farewell to travellers leaving Singapore with the words ‘I will be there when you arrive’. When the traveller reached his destination months later, Habib Noh would be there to welcome him at the harbour.
Once a prominent Singapore businessman was about to set sail before lunch-time on a certain day. He received word that Habib Noh wanted to have lunch with him in his house that very day. Because of his love for this great wali, he did not depart on the ship that day but stayed behind to have lunch with Habib Noh.He did not know at that time that Habib Noh–who was also known for his gift of knowing about events to come and his state of unveiling (kashf)–had come to lunch with a purpose. That was to prevent him from sailing on a ship that was doomed to be shipwrecked near Penang a few days later, going down with most of its passengers.
A gentleman by the name of Tok Mat, who owned a horse carriage, used to take Habib Noh on rides in his carriage. One night Tok Mat was returning home alone in his carriage felt quite frightened, as Singapore, one-hundred years ago, was not a safe place as it is now. Robbers and bandits were everywhere, waiting to take unwitting travelers by surprise. Tok Mat felt fearful and wished Habib Noh was there to protect him. He turned around and was shocked to see Habib Noh sitting in his carriage and smiling at him.
Numerous stories like these are still talked about till this very day in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and even in far away India and Yemen, among people who accept the miracles of awliya as commonplace. Speak to the present caretaker of the Habib Noh shrine, 51 year old Hassan Al-Khatib, and he will share with you his rich repertoire of stories on the life of Habib Noh. He will also tell you of unsuccessful attempts by local Wahabis and their Saudi friends to stop people from visiting this maqam.
Habib Noh died peacefully on Friday 14 Rabi`ul Awal 1283 Hijra (1866 CE ) and was buried on the hill at his own prior request. As with the martyrs and great saints, his spirit lives on and many miracles are still happening to those who have strong certainty and ask Allah for help with the baraka of this Saint of Singapore