WILLIAM Shellabear was a soldier, missionary, planter, and scholar whose life was deeply entwined with the development of Malaysian society from his arrival in Singapore in 1887 until his death in1948. Scholars know him best as an avid collector and publisher of classical Malay manuscripts, and as the author of seminal studies of the Malay language. Member of the business community recognize him as the founder of the Malay Publishing House who farsightedness in bringing modern printing techniques to Singapore contributed to the growth of the Southeast Asian publishing industry. Methodist Christians know him as one of the founders and early leaders of Methodism in Malay, and as a translator of the Bible and many other religious texts into Malay. Among Islamicists his contributions as an editor and writer for The Moslem World journal, and his studies of mystical texts in Malay, are still acknowledged.
The biography of William Shellabear bring together these varied facets of his life to show more fully both his contribution to Malaysia, and how his life highlights the changes in Malayan society from the high colonialism of the 19th century to the political and religious ferment on the eve of independence. Central to this exploration of Shellabear life is his contribution to the rise of Methodism, and particularly his ongoing efforts to persuade the Methodist Mission to take seriously the aspirations of the Malays for vernacular school, a greater place in economic development, and developing as Islamic society.
Shellabear life thus becomes a revealing window on the changing attitudes of booth Christians and Muslims in pre-independence Malaya. Perhaps most importantly, however, it demonstrates the fruitfulness, for people of all races and religions, of a life which combined personal integrity with sincere appreciation and love for those of different faiths.
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