First Islamic Congress
The first Islamic Congress in Sarawak was held at a community hall in Jalan Haji Taha, Kuching from 3 to 5 May 1968. It was organised by Persatuan Kebajikan Islam Sarawak (PERKIS) and run by an executive committee chaired by Abdul Taib Mahmud (now Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri (Dr) Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud). The congress attracted more than 200 participants and observers comprising Islamic leaders from Sarawak and Sabah. Five working papers during the three-day congress discussed religion, economy, education and social matters of Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak. BINA, USIA, and Majlis Agama Islam Sabah (MUIS) were formed as a result of this congress which was officially opened by Tun Datu Mustapha bin Datu Harun, the Chief Minister of Sabah.
Sheikh Haji Sharkawi bin Sheikh Haji Othman was the first Sarawakian to graduate from Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt. Born in Kuching in 1920, he attended Sekolah Agama in Sambas, Indonesia, and continued his studies in Madrasah Al-Junied, Singapore in 1936. He taught at Al-Madrasatul Islamiah in Kuching from 1939 to 1947 and went to Mecca to perform the hajj in 1947. He was offered a scholarship from the Saudi Arabian government and attended Al-Azhar University from 1952 to 1956. Upon graduation, he joined the teaching division of the Jeddah Education Department. He also worked as a radio presenter with Nidaa Al-Islam, a radio station which broadcasted programmes from Mecca to Malaysia. He now resides in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
head of PERKIM
Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri (Dr.) Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud is the first Sarawakian to head the Persatuan Kebajikan Islam Malaysia (PERKIM). He took over from Tunku Abdul Rahman Putera Al-Haj in 1989 after serving as the deputy chairman of PERKIM for a few years. Under his leadership, PERKIM has held many dakwah activities throughout Malaysia.
First Malaysian woman
to head PERKIM
Datuk Amar Puan Sri (Dr.) Hajjah Laila Taib is the first woman in Malaysia to hold both the posts of Vice-Chairman of the Persatuan Kebajikan Islam Malaysia (PERKIM) Kebangsaan since 1980 and also Chairman of PERKIM Sarawak and Cawangan Kuching.
Currently, she still holds these positions up to the end of 2001, having been re-elected every two years since 1980.
First Institut Dakwah Islamiah
Institut Dakwah Darul Falah located at Mile 27, Kuching-Serian Road is the first Dakwah Islamiah Institution formed in Sarawak. Developed and run by Lembaga Amanah Kebajikan Darul Falah after it started operations on 18 February 1984, the objective of this institution is to provide Islamic education to new converts. A total of 22 students, mainly Muslim converts, were the pioneer pupils.
First Sikhs in Sarawak
Rajah James Brooke visited Singapore to recruit Sikhs to restore law and order in Sarawak after the 1857 uprising. Dewa Singh Akhara from Lundhiana district in Punjab was the first Sikh to arrive. He led the first batch of 13 Sikhs who came to work in the 1860s.
According to Amrat Kaur in “The Sikh Community in Sarawak” in the Sarawak Museum Journal Vol.XL No.61, December 1989, Brooke also authorized Dewa Singh, Pooman Singh, Arjan Singh and Naranjan Singh to recruit other Sikhs from India for service in Sarawak. Each man brought in about 50 others to Kuching.
First Sikh Temple
The first Sikh temple was built in Kuching in 1912. The second temple was built in Miri in 1915 and the third in Sibu in 1929. By the late 1930s, there were 400 to 500 Sikhs in Kuching and 240 Sikhs in Miri.
The Sikh Gurdwara (Temple) in Kuching is the largest. According to a document written by priest Gurdial Singh Ji on 16 December 1928, the temple had 11 office bearers. The report in Punjabi (Gurmukhi) was translated into English by Datin Savinder Kaur Hans and Major Dr. Inder beer Kaur Purba on 11 November 1999 and affirmed by Piara Singh Gill in his capacity as President of the Sikh Temple Kuching.
A Sikh temple was built in the early 1920s for the Sikh policemen and security personnel working for the gold mining companies in Bau. After the Second World War, the number of Sikhs in Bau decreased rapidly. In the mid-1950s, the temple was closed down as there were no more Sikhs in Bau.
In conjunction with the 300th anniversary of the birth of Khalsa, a religious procession was held in Kuching on 11 April 1999. About 400 Sikhs took part in the two-hour procession which started from the Sikh Temple at 7.30pm.
First Local Sikhs
The early Sikhs who arrived during 1860s to the early 1900s came alone leaving their wives back in their villages in Punjab. The first local born Sikh was Sardarni Harnam Kaur, daughter of Sardar Jawala Singh and Sardarni Phago Kaur. She was born in Tabuan Road, Kuching in 1926.
A Sub Inspector, the late Arjan Singh Cheema, popularly known as “dua-puluh” or “20” was honoured many times for outstanding services. He received awards from the Colonial Governor, the Commissioner of Police, Her Majesty the Queen, and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in 1966.
Constable Kartar Singh was commended for his heroic act in saving the lives of Mr & Mrs J. P. Jefferson from a burning house at 3am in Miri on 2 September 1939. He was given a scroll of honour on 12 October 1939 by Sir Charles Vyner Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak. Kartar Singh was born in India on 20 June 1906 and came to Sarawak on 25 July 1925. He died on 3 April 1989 at the age of 83 years.
First Sikh Doctor
Datuk Gurdarshan Singh Hans who was born on 24 November 1943 in Kuching, qualified as the first Sikh doctor with a MBBS degree from Bombay University in 1971. He underwent specialist training in Internal Medicine in United Kingdom obtaining his membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of UK in 1977. He underwent superspecialist training in Cardiology at HammerSmith Hospital at the Royal Postgraduate School of Medicine, London University from 1982-1983. Subsequently, he underwent further training in Cardiology in the United States of America.
He served as Senior Consultant Physician and Cardiologist, Sarawak General Hospital Kuching and State Physician of Sarawak from 1979 until 1987 when he went into private practice in Kuching. He is also Visiting Consultant to Normah Medical Specialist Centre, Kuching. He was awarded a Datukship by the State government during the Governor’s birthday in the year 2000.