A Heritage Worth Saving?: The Case of the Acheen Street Malay Mosque Village

Abstract

This case describes a conflict between historic preservation and economic development in Malaysia in a multicultural environment where issues of race, religion and economic class complicate the preservation versus development debate. The case focuses on the battle over the preservation of Kampung Masjid Melayu Lebuch Acheh (Acheen Street Malay Mosque Village) in the inner city of George Town, the second largest city in Malaysia. George Town hosts the largest collection of urban Muslim heritage in the country and the mosque village was the historic center of the spice trade in Penang, a center of Muslim learning, and the site of the first Malay printing press. The city of George Town, however, is perceived by local Muslim Malays as Chinese-dominated with a primarily Chinese and British colonial heritage, without important cultural heritage. In early 2002, the Federal government allocated funds for the development of Kampung Masjid Melayu. The residents of the community, impoverished descendants of the original Arabic inhabitants, expected that the compound would be restored to its former glory. Instead, the trustee of the land, the Penang State Islamic Religious Council (MAIPP) decided to demolish and redevelop the Kampung as an apartment complex and shopping area. The heritage significance of Kampung Masjid Melayu subsequently becomes the center of an on-going dispute between the council and the Kampung residents. The Penang Heritage Trust (PHT), a local nongovernmental organization composed largely of non-Muslim ethnic Chinese, takes up the resident's case. The climax of the case is a public demonstration organized by members of MAIPP that intimidates both the Kampung residents and PHT.

The case presents the preservation proposal of PHT and the re-development proposal of MAIPP and asks students to analyze the proposals and devise a strategy for PHT, taking into account the complex cultural and political environment.

This case was initially developed for graduate-level core courses in the Public Affairs curriculum at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Washington. This case also fits well in courses on international development, ethnic politics, policy analysis, and ethics NGO management.

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