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The Form and Symbolism of Minbar Architecture in The Malay World

Mohd Sabrizaa B Abd Rashid Azizul Azli B Ahmad MARA University of Technology Seri Iskandar Campus, Malaysia

The development of Islamic art and architecture in the Malay world were closely related to its historical and cultural background. The pre-Islamic period of animism and Hindu-Buddhism until the rise of Islamic Kingdom in 13th century moulded the Malay world-view in developing its own culture and tradition. The transition of mind, thought and believes lead to an interesting art and architectural transformation and evolution. This article discuss and analyse the physical and spiritual aspects of minbar architecture in the Malay world. The study comprised of the historical background of the Islamic advent in the region. The formation of minbar design and its typology in the Malay world and its variety interpretations throughout the region became the main focus of discussion. Keywords : Minbar, Malay World, Islamic Architecture

1.0 Introduction : Definitions and Background As define by Wikipedia

A minbar (Arabic: , also spelt mimbar) is a pulpit in the mosque where the Imam (leader of prayer) stands to deliver sermons (khutbah ) .

The Consise Oxford Dictionary (Ninth Edition) define minbar as

a stepped platform for preaching in a mosque.

A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. (2006) by Oxford University Press define minbar as
Type of pulpit in a mosque, usually at the top of a flight of steps, consisting of a small standing-space with a parapet enclosing it and with a canopy above.

Perhaps the decription of minbar by Frishman (2002:35) is more elaborate :

The minbar or pulpit, is always positioned to the right of the mihrab and consists of a staircase of varying height, with or without handrails, leading to a small platform which is often crowned by a cupola-type roof, usually in some attractive shape.

Although minbar is a main feature in a present mosque, historically it started with a simple three steps platform during the beginning of Islam in Medina. Rasulullah SallAllahu alaihi wasallam initially delivered the khutbah leaning on a palm tree trunk which was positioned near the original Mihrab. During the eighth year after hijra, when the number of Sahabah had greatly increased, and it was difficult for the assembled crowd to see and hear the Messenger of Allah SallAllahu alaihi wasallam, it was suggested that a new raised Minbar be constructed. As mentioned earlier, a new three steps platform was constructed and placed in the masjid.1 Rasulullah SallAllahu alaihi wasallam used to sit on the third step, placing his feet on the second step. Later, Abu Bakr As-Siddiq RadhiAllahu anhu, would sit on the second step, placing his feet on the first step, and then Umar ibn Khattab RadhiAllahu anhu would sit on the first step, placing his feet on the ground. For six years Caliph Uthman RadhiAllahu anhu followed the habit of Umar RadhiAllahu anhu, but then began to deliver the khutbah from the third rung as did Rasulullah SallAllahu alaihi wasallam. The existence of minbar recorded a few important history in Masjid Nabawi in Medina. 2 During the lifes of the prophet, SallAllahu alaihi wasallam used to said, What is between my house and my minbar is a meadow of the meadows of Jannah, and my minbar is on my pool . Another hadis narated by Salama; The distance between the wall of the mosque and the pulpit was hardly enough for a sheep to pass through. (Sahih Al Bukhari, Vol. IX, p.321). After a few replacement due to deterioration and fire destruction, the present minbar of Masjid Nabawi was built and sent by Sultan Murad bin Saleem of the Ottoman empire in 997 A.H. It is made of an expensive marble with gold decorations. A dome sits on marble columns creating an elongated appearance. There are twelve steps, three which are outside the door, with nine inside.3 Minbar is considered one of the architectural element which existed since the building up of Masjid Nabawi in Madinah in 622. Compared to other architectural elements such as minarets, mihrab and dome; minbar was known earlier in the Islamic culture. Originally it serves not only for a place for the preacher to stand but also as a throne or judgement seat for prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) and the caliphs, who political as well as religious leaders for the community. From the minbar important decision were announced apart from the Friday sermons are given. The minbar became an absolutely necessary attribute of the head of the

Narrated Abu Hazim : Sahl bin Sad was asked about the (Prophets) pulpit as to what thing it was made of? Sahl replied : None remains alive amongst the people, who knows about it better than I. It was made of tamarisk (wood) of the forest. So and so, the slave of so and so prepared it for Allahs Apostle (may peace be upon him). When it was constructed and placed (in the mosque), Allah Apostle (may peace be upon him), stood on it facing Qibla and said Allahu Akhbar , and the p eople stood behind him (and led the people in prayer. He recited and bowed and the people bowed behind him................So, this is what I knowaou the pulpom;. (Sahih Al B ukhary, vol. III, p. 174) 2 Masjid Quba is considered as the first mosque of Isla m, but it is the prophet mosque (Masjid Nabawi) in Medina is the most renowned mosque in the Islamic history. The Masjid measured 35x30m supported by sixty four date-palm trunks. From how we see the Masjid today, the original one included the Rowdha, plus two rows of pillars on the western side and two rows on the northern side. And Nafi RadhiAllahu anhu said that Abdullah bin Umar RadhiAllahu anhu told him that in the time of Rasulullah SallAllahu alaihi wassalam, the Masjid was built from date-palm branches and its pillars were the trunks of the date-palm trees. 3 The richly ornamented door has the following written above it: Sultan Murad bin Saleem sent this to be rewarded on the Day of Judgement. May his kingdom be high forever. The best of cities be under his peaceful control. For the Garden of Prophet Muhammad SallAllahu alaihi wasallam. May Allah Subhanahu wa Taalas Graces and Honours be bestowed upon him since all people received guidance through him. This pulpit is built with full sincerity to seek guidance and blessing. May much guidance be imparted from the top of this pulpit to thise who seek this guidance. Saad composed these verses and the pulpit was made by Sultan Murad in 997 A.H.

Islamic state. It was stated that the first Umayyid caliph Muawiya 1 took his specially made minbar with him when he travelled to Mecca. (Prochazka 1986:34). During the next development of Islamic art and achitecture when mihrab was later introduced, minbar was located in the right-hand side of it. High minbars and more steps were introduced by Amr ibn al-As, the conquerer and first Islamic governor of Egypt. Most of the minbars are usually made of wooden in a form of straight flight steps.

Figure 1 Old photographs of minbar in Masjidil Haram in Mecca. Both are straight flight steps; one is without roof (left) and the other is with minaret-like roof.

Minbar of Masjidil Haram in Mecca also had gone through its own historical development. This minbar was produced by SL-Rasch GmbH for the Kaaba courtyard in the Masjid Al-Haram, Mecca. This minbar is mechanized so that it can be driven out of the courtyard during Hajj. The Kaaba Minbar is produced from white marble. The floral ornament was hand carved by the finest Muslim stone workers in Ajmir, India. The floral ornament is in the same panIslamic style as developed by Jay Bonner for the Sliding Domes at the Prophets Mosque in Medina. The floral panels in the Kaaba Minbar are of two types: high relief, and pierced . The high relief panels include inlaid semi-precious turquoise stones. The floral elements in the pierced panels are composed so that they have maximum contact with one another; thus providing structural security to each pierced panel. All ornamental design by Jay Bonner for SL-Rasch GmbH, Germany, 2002.4

From the website

Figure 2 Present day minbar of Masjidil Haram in Mecca (left) and minbar of Masjid Nabawi in Medina (right).

2.0 Islam in The Malay World The Malay Peninsula and its archipelago, geographically located between the two major ancient Chinese and Indian civilisations. For centuries it become the main trade route of the Eastern and Western world which developed many major South-East Asian political, commercial and cultural center. The region were unified under few earliest Malay Kingdom of Funan and Langkasuka in Malay Peninsula, Sriwijaya in Sumatera, Majapahit of Java and Sultanate of Malacca. The Malay world were continuosly enriched by Indian, Chinese, Arab and European elements. Islam spread throughout South-East Asia through two different main trading routes. First was through China. The Silk Road connection and later during the voyages of admiral Zhenghe of Mings Dynasty in the 15th century from southern China to the Malay archipelago including Malacca and Java. The second was through India and Arab by the Gujaratees traders via east coast of Sumatera and west coast of Malay Peninsula before proceeded to Java and other main island in the Malay archipelago.

3.0 Vernacular Mosque Architecture In Malaysia and The Malay World

According to Frisman (2002:13) in mosque architecture there are five basic category of mosque design occur in seven distintive regional styles : 1. The Arabian heartland, Spain and North Africa ; hypostyle hall and open couryard. 2. Sub-Saharan West Africa : the hypostyle hall using mud-brick or rammed earth construction. 3. Iran and Central Asia : the bi-axial four iwan type. 4. The Indian subcontinent : triple domes and an extensive courtyard. 5. Anatolia : use of massive central dome 6. China : detached pavilions within a walled garden enclosure 7. South-East Asia : central pyramidal roof construction. Central pyramidal roof construction are the main characteristics of early timber mosques in South-East Asia. The four main columns support the uppermost roof, separating it from the double-layered outer roof usually by timber louvres which admit light and ventilation to the central interior space of the main praying hall. In discussing the typology of Mosque architecture in the Malaysia, Tajuddin Rasdi (2006) classified mosque according to influence and styles. He divides mosque architecture in Malaysia into seven styles:


2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Traditional vernacular style represent idea and practices of mosques before colonialsm in Malaysia. Pyramidal roof. Timber post and beam construction system. Sino-Eclectic Style Chinese influenced. Pyramidal roof. Curvature roof ridge. Gateways. European Classical Style strong symetrical space composition. Elaborate exterior cornice work. Hipped gable roof. Masonry columns. North Indian Style Onion dome, more than one minaret, horse shoe or multifoil arches, over decorated columns. Modern Vernacular Style reinforced concrete, gable, small and large arches, small and large dome, community center Post-Modern Revivalism grandoise, used of eclectic array from Iranian, Turkish, Egyptian, Persian, lavish courtyard, monumental approach

4.0 Analysis of Minbar Design

4.1 Case study 1 : Minbar of Masjid Tengkera, Melaka (c.1728) The mosque is located in Malacca and was built around 1728 Sino-Eclectic Style. Pagoda-like minaret. Curvature ridge roof. Stylized by Oriental motifs and ornamentation, curved eaves and crown-like pinnacles on the roof

Figure 3 Masjid Tengkera , Malacca (left) and its minbar (right)

Figure 4 Minbar of Masjid Tengkera Side elevation (left) and front elevation (right)

4.2 Case study 2 : Minbar of Surau Langgar, Kelantan (1874)

Surau Langgar was built in 1874 and located in Kelantan.

Figure 5 The Minbar of Surau Langgar (left) and the lotus bud shape pulpit posts of the minbar

Figure 7 Gunungan of Pulpit . Surau Langgar, Kelantan, 1874, angsana and cendal woods The ornate headboard of the Mimbar (pulpit) is in the shape of a "gunungan" (cosmic mountain) carved in Langkasukan style, with the characteristic uptilted ends of the tendrils. The lower edge features a fine scroll of Islamic calligraphy containing a verse from the Koran.
Source : Spirit of Wood - Farish Noor & Eddin Khoo,

The philosophy of Malay art can be appreciated through the understanding of its art and architecture. Art and architecture is the manifestation of its culture and world-view. It involves not just the provision of shelter from the elements, but the creation of a social and symbolic space a space which both mirrors and moulds the world view of its creators and inhabitants. (Waterson, 1997:xv). The natural surrounding of sea and forests had developed the richness of its vernacular art and architectural tradition. The harmonious understanding and complimentarity of man and environment moulded the aesthetical conception in the Malay art and architecture. Anonymous Malay artist and craftsmen have produced some of the most spectacular and finest work of timber building in the world.

The coming of Islam to the Malay world had transformed some of the motifs, art forms and architectural elements. For instant, naga or dragon motifs and some other superstitous related motifs were used in the actual or clear forms and images in Malay art and architecture during the pre-Islamic era. These images can still be found in many carvings and decorations of old Malay weapon such as keris hilt, traditional music instruments such as gong and serunai (flute), traditional games such as congkak, fishing boats, bird cages and traps, jewelleries etc. During the pre-Islamic era, these motifs were associated with strength, magic, protection and mystical power. For generations the Malay world-view were constricted with these thought and believes. The gradual transformation can be seen in many forms of Malay arts especially in carvings and architectural elements (i.e sisik naga (literary mean dragon fin) and sulur bayung (literary mean tendril). These elements could be seen at old mosques in Kelantan, Melaka and Java which locally known as som. (Abdullah Mohamed, 1978:43-45).

Variety forms of Som found at five different mosques in Malaysia. From left Masjid Kampung Laut, Masjid Besar Serkam Tengah, Masjid Peringgit, Masjid Besar Tengkera dan Masjid Pengkala Rama. source : Abdulah Mohamed (1978)

5.0 Summary and Conclusion

6.0 References :
Frishman, M and Hasan-Uddin Khan (ed.) (2002), The Mosque, Thames & Hudson : London. Prochazka, A.B. (1986), Mosques : Architecture of The Islamic Cultural Sphere, MARP : Zurich Tajuddin M. Rasdi (2006), Mosque Architecture In Malaysia ; Classification of Styles and Possible Influence, Jurnal Alam Bina, Penerbit UTM : Johor Bahru. Tajuddin, M. Rasdi (2004), Hadith and Mosque, Utusan Publications and Distributors Sdn. Bhd. : Kuala Lumpur. Waterson, R. (1997), The Living House , Thames & Hudson : Singapore.