As centres of religious and community activities, mosques bring the faithful together in their common goal to reach a higher level of spirituality and unity with the Almighty. In Malaysia, each of the 13 states has a state mosque with a unique architectural story of its own rooted in the history of the people. *Jannah refers to paradise in the arabic language
Words: Efi Hafizah Hamzah
Masjid Putra | Putrajaya, Federal Territory
The Putra Mosque is one of Putrajaya’s most distinctive landmarks. It sits serenely by the Putrajaya Lake adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Department in this new city that is now Malaysia’s administrative hub.
Putra Mosque is a structure epitomising the evolution of mosque design in Malaysia. Its Islamic architecture combines traditional designs, local craftsmanship and the use of indigenous materials with modern technology, and it is modelled after Persian Islamic building styles of the Safavid period. The hi-tech sound system here is designed so the call to prayer reverberates throughout the central part of the city giving the effect of surround-sound. The mosque is hard to miss with its imposing 116-metre high minaret – the tallest in the region, and its dusky rose hue, reﬂected by the rose-tinted granite used in its construction. There are three main features here: The prayer hall, the courtyard and the facilities area that can be used for conferences and symposiums. The mosque complex itself may accommodate up to 10,000 people at any one time while the courtyard area can accommodate an additional 5,000 people comfortably.
Masjid Kapitan Keling | Penang Island
Built by the Indian Muslim community in Penang in 1801, Masjid Kapitan Keling is very much a landmark of the island state. Located along Pitt Street (now called Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling), it remains the largest historic mosque in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of George Town in Penang.
The core design of this mosque is is similar to the mosques of South India, where scalloped arches and curlicue reliefs on the pillars are prominent features. The interior of the mosque boasts white marble floors while an open concept creates superb ventilation keeping the mosque cool even on the hottest of days.
This mosque functioned as the state mosque before the official Masjid Pulau Pinang was built in 1979. It has since undergone several renovations and refurbishment works without affecting its original aesthetics, the last of which was in 2003 with a MYR5 million grant awarded to the Penang state government to enlarge the main prayer hall by doubling its height for more light and better ventilation.
Masjid Negara | Kuala Lumpur
Masjid Negara, Malaysia’s National Mosque, is seen as a shelter for local Muslims with its main roof design reminiscent of an opening umbrella and surrounding minarets mimicking folded umbrellas that tower 73 metres high.
The 18 points in the folded spine of the main roof symbolises the Five Pillars of Islam and the 13 states of Malaysia. Despite its location in one of the busiest parts of the city, the mosque offers serenity with reflecting pools and fountains spread across its grounds of 53,000 square metres.
During the zohor prayer on Friday afternoons, thousands of men make their way to the mosque, which can accommodate 15,000 worshippers in its main prayer hall. This mosque also represents Malaya’s freedom from British rule. It was originally to be named after the country’s .rst Prime Minister, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, who led Malaya to independence. But the selfless leader named it ‘Masjid Negara’ meaning ‘National Mosque’ in gratitude for the nation’s peaceful journey to liberation in 1957. The mosque is home to the Heroes Mausoleum, where prominent statesmen like the nation’s second and third prime ministers have been laid to rest.
Masjid Ubudiah | Kuala Kangsar, Perak
The Ubudiah Mosque continues to top the list as one of the most beautiful mosques in Malaysia with its opulent golden domes and elaborate minarets set amidst lush green surroundings.
Ubudiah means ‘to surrender to the will of God’. The mosque was aptly named by Sultan Idris Murshidul’adzam, the 28th Sultan of Perak, who vowed to build a beautiful mosque to give thanks to God for his full recovery from a mysterious illness.
The Ubudiah Mosque erected on the grounds next to the Royal Mausoleum in Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar was completed in late 1917. Sultan Idris had passed away by then, and it was of.cially opened by his successor, Sultan Abdul Jalil Karamtullah Shah.
The Ubudiah Mosque’s Moorish architectural in.uence and its interior featuring rubycoloured glass windows, Italian marble floors and intricate panelled arches make it a grand house of worship.
Masjid Zahir | Alor Setar, Kedah
Masjid Zahir is one of Malaysia’s oldest mosques to have been designed with a Moorish influence. It is Kedah’s state mosque, located in its capital city, Alor Setar.
Since its completion in 1915, this mosque has received accolades and been listed on numerous occasions as one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. Its architectural design is heavily influenced by the Azizi Mosque in Langkat, North Sumatra. The five main minarets surrounding the dome that shelters the central prayer hall of the mosque depict the Five Pillars of Islam. The land on which it was constructed is a historic site where many soldiers sacri.ced their lives in the war between Kedah and Siam (now Thailand) in 1821. The mosque is built with many verandas for both aesthetic and ventilation purposes.
Masjid Negeri | Seremban, Negeri Sembilan
The Negeri Sembilan state mosque is the only mosque in Malaysia that does not feature a dome. In fact, its central prayer hall roof mimics the general architectural lines of traditional Minangkabau design where the spine of the roof is concave. The Minangkabau people are Malay people who originated from Minangkabau in Sumatra, Indonesia; they practise a rare matrilineal culture whereby property and land are passed down from mother to daughter.
But back to the mosque – This dome-less mosque features nine pillars around the circular and concave main roof. These represent the nine districts in the state – hence its name: Negeri Sembilan. The word sembilan means nine in the Malay language. An aerial view of the roof and pillars reveals the shape of a star.
The beauty of this mosque lies in the simplicity of its structure as well as its location amid the lush greenery of the Seremban Lake Gardens. The white mosque stands out with its white-washed exterior that signifies purity, while the interior is fitted with contemporary wooden and glass finishing making it a unique and modern house of worship.
Masjid Kampung Kling | Melaka
Erected in 1748, Masjid Kampung Kling is one of the oldest mosques in Malaysia. Originally a wooden building, it was rebuilt in brick and concrete in 1872, and has become emblematic of Malaysia’s multiracial community as diverse architectural styles can be seen in this mosque.
Masjid Kampung Kling is located along Jalan Tukang Emas (also known as Harmony Street due to its proximity to the Sri Payyatha Viyanagar Moorthi Temple and Cheng Hoon Teng Temple) in one of the busiest and most developed parts of the Melaka city centre. Interestingly, its architecture does not exemplify conventional Islamic design; instead, this mosque blends a vast array of styles to tell the history of Melaka. Masjid Kampung Kling was built during the Dutch occupation that followed the rule of the Portuguese, and European elements reveal its British colonial past. Its minarets look like Chinese pagodas while its roofs are triple-tiered and pyramidal in shape, and the arches and columns within the mosque are very much Corinthian in design. The roofs, walls and floors are ornamented with a combination of Chinese ceramic and European tiles. Moorish elements are observed in the courtyard where the fountain for ablution lies with intricate cast iron lampposts. Its unique design, which combines Sumatran, Chinese, Indian, Malay and European influences, is due to the complex past of this historic state, which was a major trading port between the 14th and 18th centuries.
Masjid Kristal | Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu
Floating on the Terengganu River in Kuala Terengganu is Masjid Kristal, also known as the Crystal Mosque. This shimmering structure looks as though it were conjured from the pages of a fantasy novel.
It is the only mosque in the world to be built purely from steel, glass and crystals. It took three years to construct this mosque but when it was finally completed in 2008, it received unwarranted criticism as its architecture was not seen to embrace traditional influences.
However, the uproar was soon put to pasture when modern Malaysian Muslims came to its defence and the Islamic Heritage Park of Man Wan Island, where it is located in Kuala Terengganu, suddenly became a major attraction for domestic and foreign tourists – enlivening the slow economy of the state at the time.
The Crystal Mosque is one of the most hi-tech mosques in Malaysia featuring WiFi connectivity and full IT facilities with tap sensors at ablution pools. This modern place of worship is an illuminating assertion of how God works wonders through mankind, giving us creativity and the ability to make the impossible, possible.
Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu | Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Located along the shores of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, this mosque overlooks the South China Sea and was constructed on reclaimed land beginning in 1989. The mosque appears as though it is floating on a lagoon.
It is surrounded by wide roads that lead to the mosque, created with some of the most spectacular landscaping designs. The area in which it sits is shared by various official government buildings including the Malaysian Sabah University within Kampung Likas.
It is an imposing and stately structure with a gleaming blue dome and four main minarets. The design represents contemporary Islamic architecture and shares many similarities with the Nabawi Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. It can accommodate 12,000 worshippers, and its main prayer hall houses three madrasah (Islamic schools). At night, when the moon is full, the mosque reflected in the tranquil coastal waters is a glorious sight to behold.
Masjid Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah | Shah Alam, Selangor
Known as the Blue Mosque, Masjid Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah is the largest mosque in Malaysia and the second largest in Southeast Asia; it can easily accommodate 24,000 worshippers at any one time. The mosque also lays claim to having the largest dome in the world at 51.2 metres in diameter and 106.7 metres in height.
The mosque was commissioned by the late Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, who declared Shah Alam (originally a suburban residential and industrial area) as the new capital of Selangor in 1974 in line with plans to commercialise and develop the area.
Construction began in 1982 and the mosque was completed in 1993. The most distinguishing feature of this beautiful mosque is its vast silver and blue dome made primarily of aluminium and blue enamel-coated steel panels, seemingly ‘guarded’ by some of the tallest minarets in the world at 143.2 metres in height. A visit to the mosque will not disappoint as the intricacies of its design become more apparent at close range. Elaborate Islamic calligraphy and Quranic verses adorn the interior and exterior of the structure, as well as the dome.
The Mosque During Ramadan
Mosques are most active during the month of Ramadan, which begins around July 10 this year, and runs till around August 7.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, and gather in mosques each night to perform congregational tarawih prayers. tarawih comes from the Arabic word ‘to rest’, and is performed after the fifth prayer of each day (i’sya).
Mosque committee members usually host iftar (breaking of fast) for the congregation before the tarawih. The community will break fast before performing maghrib prayers. Breaking fast with dates is an encouraged practice as it provides an instant jolt of energy after a day of fasting.
The end of the fasting month is celebrated with Eid-ul Fitr (Aidilfitri, in Malay). On the first day of the month of Syawal, Muslims rise early in the morning, wear their best clothes and proceed to the mosque for the Eid congregational prayers. On this morning, you will hear the takbir, a beautiful chant reverberating from the mosque:“Allah is the Greatest, there is no god but Allah and all praise belongs to Allah”. After the prayers, the faithful head home to celebrate with their nearest and dearest.
The date for Eid-ul Fitr is determined by the sighting of the Syawal crescent moon.
- Minbar – Also called mimbar or mimber, the minbar is a platform or pulpit at the main prayer hall from which the imam (prayer leader) delivers sermons.
- Mihrab – A semi-circular niche (half-dome) in the main wall of a mosque indicating the qibla: the direction of the Ka’abah in Mecca in which all Muslims face to perform prayers.
- Dikka – A tribune raised upon columns from which the Qur’an is recited and prayers intoned by the imam of the mosque.
- Maqsurah – A small prayer chamber in a mosque for smaller congregations, usually enclosed with a screen.
- Muqarnas – An ornamental support structure that sometimes resembles stalactites.
Malaysian mosques can be classified into three architectural types:
- Vernacular (18th Century To Date)
The majority of Malaysian mosques are vernacular, reflecting the characteristics of traditional Malay houses, and providing good ventilation in Malaysia’s tropical climate. Building materials include timber, bamboo, bricks, stone, clay tiles and attap. Craftsmanship is important with elaborate carvings in the windows, fanlights, wall panels, fascia boards and minbar. Example: Kampung Keling Mosque, Malacca
- Colonial (1795 to 1957)
Onion-shaped domes became the key feature of the main prayer hall at this time; turrets, columns, pilasters, pointed arches, keystones, pediments and plastered renderings on cornices and capitals were combined with Moorish influences to portray an Islamic image. After the 1930s, Art Deco elements made an appearance. Example: Masjid Sultan Sulaiman, Klang, Selangor (Colonial/Moorish/Art Deco)
- Modern (1958 to date)
With greater access to exotic building materials, designs have evolved in line with structural and technological advances. Landscaping and contemporary designs using concrete, bricks, steel, stone and marble have become common. Examples: Masjid Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, Shah Alam, Selangor.
Source: The Historic and Urban Developments of Mosque Architecture, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Vol. 2, 1999 – Paper published by Dr A. Ghafar Ahmad