The mosque is one of the most noticeable places of worship in Malaysia, and the
call to prayer by the muezzin reminds foreign visitors that Islam is the
official religion of this country. Islam first arrived in Malaysia in the 13th
century when Arab traders sailed to the Golden Chersonese (old name for the
Malay Peninsula) in search of gold and spices.
During the expansion of the
Melaka Empire, Islam was disseminated along, necessitating places of worship to
be built in various parts of the land. These early structures were wooden,
thatch-roofed mosques. Over the centuries, however, the architectural styles of
mosques in Malaysia have demonstrated splendid growth and aesthetic
interpretations, making visits to mosques an educational and enlightening
experience in art, architecture and culture.
The design characteristics of a mosque can indicate the period in which it
was built. Traditional mosques dating back to the pre-18th century follow
certain design elements of a Malay house. These structures were made of timber
and clay tiles and erected on stilts. A high level of craftsmanship was usually
invested in such structures as intricate carvings are always found in the mimbar
(pulpit) and mihrab (niche denoting the direction of Mecca).
A fine example of an ancient traditional mosque is the Kampung Laut Mosque in
Nilam Puri, Kelantan, that was constructed without any nails. Built in the
1730s, it is the country's oldest mosque. Another traditional mosque is the
Kampung Langgar Mosque in Kota Bahru, built in 1871.
Alongside the period influences, there was also the impact of external
culture on mosque design. Admiral Cheng Ho of China brought along with him
Chinese design elements. Melaka's ancient mosques such as the Tengkera Mosque
features a minaret resembling a Chinese pagoda. Cultural influences also come
from other ethnic groups as Muslim merchants from Java, India and Pakistan
established their communities in Melaka and Penang. When the British arrived,
local mosque design drew heavily from Moorish architectural styles as many of
the British architects had previously served in North India. The most famous
being the Jamek Mosque in Kuala Lumpur. During colonial times, even Art Deco
elements were used in mosque design. One such example is the Sultan Sulaiman
Mosque in Klang.
After Malaysia's independence in 1957, local architects handled the design of
mosques. To capitalise on advancements in building technology, they used modern
materials such as steel, marble and concrete. Aesthetics was also given high
importance by incorporating landscaped gardens, paved pathways, fountains and
lighting. Latticed arches, onion-shaped and top-shaped domes as well as tall
minarets were popular features of early post-independence mosques.
Such elements can be seen in the National Mosque at Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin
in Kuala Lumpur. Completed in 1965, it is made of reinforced concrete and
Italian marble. Pools of water in its courtyard create a serene ambience while
Islamic geometric latticework adorns its walls, exuding elegant beauty. Another
impressive modern mosque is the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque in Shah
Alam, Selangor. Inspired by an Ottoman mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, and opened in
1988, it boasts the worlds tallest minarets and biggest dome. Its roof is made
of steel finished with vitreous enamel.
Currently, many newer mosques are based on the architectural styles from the
Middle East. Completed in 1998, the Al-Asyikin Mosque at KLCC is surrounded by a
moat and its twin minarets rise 45 metres, echoing the Petronas Twin Towers.
Marble and water features are prominent features of its design. One hour's drive
from Kuala Lumpur, the Putra Mosque is a big tourist draw. Overlooking the
scenic Putra Lake, it showcases Persian architecture from the Safavid period.
Completed in 1999, it has a 116-metre high minaret and paved courtyards. The
minaret is divided into five levels to represent the Five Pillars of Islam, and
is influenced by the design of the Sheikh Omar Mosque in Baghdad.
With so much historic and architectural grandeur, the mosques of Malaysia are
a true testament to the highly refined aesthetics of Islamic art that continues
to awe and inspire.