Maimunah – The Royal Connections
By Wan Mohammad Yusoff
Maimunah was indeed a princess. Born in 1915 in Mekkah, she was number four among the surviving family of Sheikh Abdullah and she was the prettiest among the three daughters of Sheikh Abdullah.
In 1916, Sheikh Abdullah brought the whole family back to Terengganu, Malaya with the intention of settling down in a new environment. But he died in Patani in 1919 and her uncle Sheikh Muhammad Noor brought the whole family back to Mekkah.
In 1924, Siti decided to bring her family to safety to live in Terengganu for good. By this time, the Head of Abdullah Family would be only 12 years old Yahya.
It was a heavy burden for the young Yahya but he managed to set up a business in Balik Bukit printing books authored by the grandfather Sheikh Nik Mat Kecik. All oral records indicated that Yahya was a stern
personality, feared by the 3 sisters Maimunah, Asiah and Hafsah and his younger
brother Kamil. That was the environment Maimunah grew up in. She never went to school. Young girls in Mekkah or in Malaya were kept indoors until they were ready to get married. The strict brother and the strict mother had resulted in refined mannerism of Maimunah. As a girl from a family coming from Mekkah Maimunah was expected to be more “proper” than the local Terengganu debutante. She spoke Arabic from Mekkah days. That placed her in a different category altogether. Maimunah was a simple gigglish house girl. She never dreamt of marrying somebody from the palace. She did not know much about anything royal or anything beyond the walls of her house but her fortune was already ordained. Soon enough at 18, on 9 October 1933 Maimunah was married off to Tengku Hitam Omar bin Tengku Muda Osman. Tengku Hitam Omar was the State Secretary of Terengganu (1923-1940) and later he was appointed as the Menteri Besar (15 .7.1940 - 9.12.1941). When Sultan Sulaiman attended the Coronation of King George VI in London in 1937, he was the Acting Sultan. He was decorated with the title Tengku Seri Setia Raja.
Maimunah’s life quickly transformed when she became part of the royal family. She was the third wife of Tengku Seri Setia Raja. They lived in a big residence in Air Jernih. The sprawling 3-acre compound was decorated with pink bourgainvillaes and fruit trees such as jambu air, rambutans of various varieties acquired from nearby Asian countries and a big tree called pokok setia.
Maimunah later called “Khala” or “Amatinah” by nephews and nieces or “Mi” by her grandchildren lived in this big house with servants and gardeners. She had one daughter Tengku Wook Safiah who married Tengku Awang Hasan bin Tengku Ali aka Tengku Lela Segara and had 10 children, Tengku Mustapha, Tengku Muhammad Salim, Tengku Abdillah, Tengku Intan Morni, Tengku Kamaluddin, Tengku Shamsuddin, Tengku Fatimah Murni, Tengku Adnan and twins Tengku Amir and Tengku Amirah.
Tengku Lela Segara was appointed to the highest position of public office in the State of Terengganu (State Secretary) before he retired.
Maimunah had only one son Tengku Abdul Jalil aka Tengku Seri Bijaya Raja who married Tengku Khalidah binti Tengku Hussain of Negeri Sembilan Royal House. Tengku Seri Bijaya Raja had 2 daughters Tengku Alawiyah and Tengku Fathiyah, 2 sons Tengku Omar Hussain and Tengku Farok Hussein. Tengku Farok was later bestowed the same title as the late father Tengku Seri Bijaya Raja by Sultan Mizan and was appointed as the State Secretary of the State of Terengganu in 2021.
Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah of Terengganu married Tengku Ampuan Intan Zahrah binti Tengku Seri Setia Raja who was the step daughter of Khala. She was the daughter of Tengku Seri Setia Raja with the earlier wife Raja Zainab binti Raja Alang. Tengku Intan Zahrah, She became the 4th Raja Permaisuri Agung of Malaysia from 1965 to 1970 (The First Lady).
After Tengku Seri Setia Raja passed away in 1945, Maimunah stayed with her mother Siti, looking after the mother like a faithful daughter until Siti passed away in 1967.
As part of the royal family of Terengganu, inevitably she had to bring up her 2 children in line with the norms of the royal households. For example, she would address her grandchildren with the title “Tengku” before their name even at home.
In the Malay culture, one would avoid referring to self by the word “saya” (“I”), normally the word “kita” (“we”) would be used, but when speaking to a Tengku, the first party pronoun used would be “patik”. Nothing happens if one did not used that etiquette but it will somewhat discolor the character as being rather unpolished. This refine tuning of conduct would probably carry some weight only if one was being evaluated to be married to a “Tengku” otherwise for normal business of the day it was not relevant. Khala would adhere to all these refinements.
Khala, however, did not mind nieces and nephews from the “Nik” family and “Wan” family who never took the etiquette seriously. She remained a sweet and humble lady mixing freely with kampong folks. At times she was quite stern though, not unlike her late brother Sheikh Yahya. When Hafsah had to follow her husband Wan Othman who was transferred to Port Swettenham (later known as Port Klang), 2 of Hafsah’s sons Mahmud and Zaki were left behind to live with Khala in the big house at Air Jernih. They both experienced a stricter lifestyle under Khala compared to the carefree household of Hafsah. When she said “don’t climb the rambutan trees”, she really meant it.
Another aspect of her as observed by her niece Najiah was her meticulous nature in arranging or keeping things. She would remember where items were supposed to be kept or displayed. If anybody messed around with her standard operating procedures, a sharp sign of disapproval would certainly be registered. Her 2 granddaughters Tengku Intan and Tengku Fatimah (Tuty) inherited these qualities too. It was not clear whether she picked this up from Siti or from Tengku Seri Setia Raja. The whole package made Khala the special lady that she was.
Siti and Maimunah shared the same predicament. Both were ibu tunggals (single mothers) for many years, 48 years for Siti and 59 years for Maimunah. After Siti passed away in 1967 Maimunah lived alone in a simple house for 37 years. She frequently visited her sister Asiah and cousins in Mekkah and stayed for three or four months where her nieces and nephews would enjoy the Malay delicacies specially cooked by her. She was still a citizen of Saudi and was qualified to receive daily allowance from the Caretaker of the Family Aukaf while she was in Saudi. The relatives in Mekkah loved her and wanted her to stay there and her departure would bring tears before her return journey to Malaysia. At that time her sister Asiah was still alive and her sister-in-law Nafisah, the wife of the late Sheikh Yahya were her regular companions. They all lived in the 6 storey house next to Masjidil Haram, the Big House of Qushashiyya. She was as much at home in the Mekkah culture as she was in the Malay culture.
Because of Khala Maimunah and Khala Asiah, many Saudi relatives, till today, were familiar with Malay cuisines like rojak, laksa, wajid, cendol and even nasi kerabu with budu. The common names came to light when the younger generations came to Malaysia for the Reunion of The Clan of Sheikh Nik Mat Kecik in 2017 held in Besut Terengganu.
Walking in Mekkah or Madinah to her was a special event because she said she could be stepping exactly on the footprints of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him some more than 1000 years earlier. Such was her love for the Prophet, peace be upon him.
She maintained a close relationship with the wife of her husband, Raja Zainab, regularly exchanging food gifts as a sign of love between them. Tengku Ampuan Intan Zaharah became a close step-daughter. They both would attend religious classes together on Friday mornings and Saturday mornings organized by Tengku Wook at her house in Jalan Wireless. Tengku Ampuan accompanied her to go to Mekkah for umrah many times and at one instance insisted on helping her by pushing her wheel-chair in Masjidil Haram. Khala was deeply moved and humbled by this gesture of respect and love by no other than the First Lady of Malaysia at one time.
Despite her honorable status she remained a humble servant of Allah till her last breadth. She moved around using the popular trishaw, like any ordinary kampung folks in Terengganu not wanting to inconvenient anybody in the family who could have helped her. In her quiet ways she liked to invest any extra money into buying land. Whenever she heard of news about any land for sale she would go and see the location. If she was in no position to buy she would persuade Hafsah to buy. If Hafsah was in no position to buy, Hafsah would persuade one of her children to buy it. This shows her wisdom about investment in land ownership because she knew its scarcity.
Even as she grew older one could not help but to admire her sweet shiny smooth fair face while listening to her reminiscing the interesting vivid montage of her life from childhood to the royal residence at Air Jernih, Paya Bunga, Balik Bukit, Mok Pear, Jalan Wireless and Qushashiyya Mekkah. She would spend hours and sometimes until late, talking about her Saudi family members whom she knew very well explaining the connections in the family tree. Her face would light up every time she wanted to recall someone from the Saudi side.
She had to convince herself that it was not a dream, it was real, she was certainly the lucky one and had a lot to thank Allah for.
Her sister Hafsah left her in 1986 followed by her sister Asiah in Mekkah in 1996 and followed by brother Kamil in 1999.
By the turn of the millennium 2000, Nik Maimunah was the only one left from the children of Sheikh Abdullah Alfatani. After a long illness, at 88 years old she passed away in 2004 in Tengku Wook’s house in Kuala Terengganu. The charismatic lady was laid to rest at The Graveyards of Sheikh Ibrahim next to the graves of Hafsah, Siti and Kamil. During the wake, her jenazah was visited by Tengku Ampuan Hajah Bariah as a tribute to a lady who once added color to Terengganu Royal Household.