When Madam Hajjah Zainab Khamis started volunteering 45 years ago, she had no idea her baking skills would have such an impact on Jamiyah Singapore (the Muslim Missionary Society of Singapore). Her weekly cooking classes and her rainbow kuih lapis raised much needed funds for the organisation founded in 1932 to help the Muslim community.
It all began in 1970 when her husband, the late Haji Abu Bakar Maidin, became the president of Jamiyah Singapore. With only $5.60 in its kitty and 190 members, the society embarked on a fund-raising effort as well as a membership recruitment drive. The aim was to rebuild its headquarters in Geylang and fund its welfare programmes.
Madam Zainab chipped in by holding cooking classes which became hugely popular among the women in the community and her now-famous rainbow kuih lapis (rainbow steamed layer cake) sold like... hot cakes.
Now 80, Madam Zainab, or Mak Nab as she is known around Jamiyah Singapore, remains the advisor to the society’s Women and Family Department. She organises charity carnivals, develops women’s programmes and even opens her home to people of different races and religions for major occasions. She also rolls up the sleeves of her baju kurung and cooks up a feast when required, often encouraging other women to join her. In 2015, she helped volunteers pack 10,000 packets of briyani to feed those who attended Jamiyah’s annual religious and cultural event Maulidur Rasul Jamiyah.
Jamiyah’s vice-president Dr H.M. Saleem knows the value of a veteran volunteer like Madam Zainab. He said: “When we call, volunteers hesitate to come. But when she calls, they come. They respect her.”
As for Madam Zainab, her decades of cooking and baking for Jamiyah have been worth it. “Jamiyah and the community are one family and that is very precious to me. I will sacrifice what I can for the good of the community. I will continue to serve for as long as I can,” she said.