Moments in Mosques

One of the roles played by mosques is as a pit stop for travelers, fulfilling spiritual as well as physiological needs. But then, each mosque has its own story to tell. Either the story of the builder, the community, or the era it hails form. As such, it is possible for ‘normal’ mosques to be the destination itself. ‘Normal’ in the sense that it is not prescribed as a holy site in Islam. A quirky itinerary brought me travelling to six mosques in Penang, Perak and Singapore within five days. The mosques are; Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque in Penang, Masjid Ubudiah in Kuala Kangsar, Bencoleen Mosque, Masjid Khadijah, Masjid Abdul Ghafoor, and Masjid Sultan in Singapore. Syukur & Nazar The northern pair of Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque and Masjid Ubudiah speaks of gratitude although in a slightly different manner. The 2004 tsunami reached the shore of Penang and Tanjung Bungah is one of the hardest hit areas. Miraculously, the mosque is spared from the wrecking wave that swept the surrounding area. The floating mosque is built not far from the original mosque as well as the accompanying new settlement for tsunami victims beside it. The gratitude expressed is not only for those who live on nearby but also recounting the blessings that Malaysia is largely free from devastating disasters. As for Masjid Ubudiah, it is a product of the nazar made by Almarhum Sultan Idris of Perak. He vowed to build a mosque in Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar once he is cured from maladies. The construction was hampered when a pair of elephants clashed at the construction site, ruining the imported Italian marbles. In the end, the mosque is completed a year too late when Almarhum Sultan Idris passed away in 1916. Islamic Identity? Masjid Ubudiah & Masjid Sultan is an interesting study of how colonial architects shaped ‘Islamic’ architecture in both our physical and psychological landscape. By adapting ‘Moorish’ & ‘Saracen’ image, it lends to the image ‘Arabization’ of Islam in this region rather than imbuing the traits of Malay, Chinese, and Indian Muslim community. Masjid Sultan in Muscat St., Singapore originally sports the traditional two-tiered pyramidal roof. The watercolor painting by John Thomson in 1846 shows that the original mosque even incorporates Chinese influences. It is the 1925 design by Denis Santry of Swan & MacLaren that plants a foreign design in the heart of Singapore Muslim community.

In the case of Masjid Ubudiah, it’s a colonial team all the way. Colonel Huxley did the early design, then perfected by a certain Mr. Hubback and it is Mr. Caulfield the Perak State Engineer who oversaw the completion of the mosque. Integrated Due to space constraint, mosque in inner Singapore took a creative approach by integrating itself among the city blocks. One of it is Bencoleen Mosque which is not far from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Rather than having a clearly demarcated compound, it is housed within a commercial building and has an inner courtyard. This integrated design gives it the opportunity to engage city dwellers in a closer way. A huge poster is put up at the walkway explaining the basic tenets of Islam. Should any curious soul wanted to know more, the mosque entrance is just right next to it. The mosque is also rather vibrant with a sizeable number of regular attendees that fill its main prayer hall every time. During Zohor, Indian Muslim businessmen working nearby took a mid-day break and attend the congregational prayer. Other mosque that took similar approach is al-Falah Mosque and Moulana Mohd Ali Mosque. Both are located within the Central Business District of Singapore. Enterprising Spirit Masjid Abdul Gafoor is erected from the enterprising scheme of Shaik Abdul Gafoor, a chief clerk at a legal firm. From 1887 to 1903, he constructed sheds and shops around Masjid al-Abrar to generate income which is used to fund the new mosque constructed next to it. He even secured the future of the mosque by bestowing the mosque and all its properties waqaf status. If Masjid Abdul Gafoor represents the past era, Bencoleen Mosque mimics the enterprising scheme for the new millennium. When the original mosque hailing from 1845 was demolished, it is redeveloped in 2001 to incorporate commercial centre and a 12-storey residential building. Instead of soaring minaret, the landmark of the mosque now is the Somerset Bencoleen service apartment which income is used to sustain the mosque. Gracious Generosity It is rare to have mosque named after a lady and at a glimpse one might think that Khadijah Mosque is named after Prophet Muhammad’s wife. It turned out that a lady named Khatija binti Mohamed has endowed a fund of $50,000 for the development and operation of the mosque. Four other ladies are also recorded as co-founder of the mosque namely Moona Meydin Kandoo Marican, Amina Binte Mohamed Tamby, Mayna Soona Ahmad Nachia and

Kavena Mana Mohamed Nather. Similar to Almarhum Sultan Idris, Madam Khatija passed away in 1916 before the completion of the mosque in 1920.

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